Creating ‘History of the CSO Brass: Legacy of Excellence’

As part of "History of the CSO Brass: Legacy of Excellence," John Hagstrom, the CSO's Pritzker Military Museum & Library Chair, talks about historical CSO brass instruments showcased in the video. The free program premieres Dec. 7.

When I was asked earlier this year if I would create a CSO brass history video presentation, I immediately replied I would be happy to do so. I have been interested in the history of the CSO brass since I was 15 years old, at an age when I was beginning to listen to the orchestra more often and more seriously. I was then most interested in the trumpet players (of course!) and how they could possibly produce the sounds I heard in concerts and on recordings. Over time, I realized that the energy and excitement I heard from the trumpets was really coming from the whole orchestra at once, leading me to become a student of CSO history and especially CSO brass history.  

The challenge

I knew that the challenge of creating this program would be how to cover as much information as possible within a 45-minute period. Before producing this program, I had performed several live presentations at Symphony Center over the last several years about CSO brass history. I started with the content of those presentations and worked to broaden its interest to a larger audience with varying levels of connection to the CSO.

Anyone listening to someone passionate about historical detail can find themselves on the receiving end of long lists of facts that are fascinating for the storyteller, but not having as much appeal for the listener. Within this presentation, I therefore tried to balance historical detail with more personal recollections from several prominent CSO musicians. 

By the end of this program, “History of the CSO Brass: Legacy of Excellence,” I hope that viewers not only will have learned about significant CSO brass musicians, but also will have gained insight into the mindset and work ethic that maintains the quality of the entire orchestra. It is important to note that the CSO brass section does not somehow stand above the rest of the orchestra in quality. The brass section is just another demonstration of the professionalism and personal pride that drives all CSO members to make the extra effort to create transformational performances.

Adolph Herseth (CSO principal trumpet 1948-2001) talks about creating excitement for listeners as a CSO top priority.


One of the benefits of working within the orchestra is the opportunity to build rapport with colleagues. In 2004, I started to record on digital video many interviews with CSO players. At that time, I interviewed every living CSO trumpeter — past and present — and one of the most significant of these interviews was with Adolph Herseth. He was still principal trumpet when I joined the CSO in 1996, and the years I spent playing alongside him created a bond that allowed me to film his answers to questions that in many instances he had shared many times with me before these interviews.

The same collegial comfort made possible interviews I did a few years later with Dale Clevenger, Jay Friedman and Jim Smelser. I included in this presentation some of their most insightful comments about CSO recollections and ideals for maintaining high standards. At the end of the program, I assembled a timeline of their thoughts in order to create a brief but meaningful opportunity for understanding more about the experience of being a CSO member.

Jay Friedman (CSO principal trombone 1965 to present) speaks about CSO musicians always striving to do their best.

James Smelser (CSO horn, 2000 to present) speaks about the dedication of CSO section players in supporting the leadership of principal players.

Additional imagery

This presentation is greatly enhanced with numerous photos and videos that were provided with permission from many individuals who are listed in the video’s end credits. I am grateful to have been able to illustrate the stories told with these materials. One of those resources is a short video clip of me playing for Arnold Jacobs in August 1991 as a United States Marine Band member. Jacobs was hired by the band to come to Washington, D.C., for a week of lectures and individual lessons. My time with him that day was pivotal for my development as a musician; like so many of his other students, I would never have been able to progress as much as I did without his influence. 

Future influence 

The greatest wish I have for this program is that it will be seen by students at a formative age, and that it will influence their choices to develop and aspire toward the same ideals inherited by CSO musicians. I am hopeful that teachers will share it with their students and that students will share it with one another. There is rarely enough time within any program of formal study for students to fully fathom the commitment and skill needed to carry on the responsibilities of making great music within a world-class performing ensemble.  

My greatest insights have come from working alongside committed CSO musicians and also from studying musicians’ lifetime aspirations. I encourage students of any age to expect that the study of history offers a rich reward in exchange for their efforts, presuming that what is taught in school is only the beginning of what we must learn to stand on the shoulders of our predecessors.

Dale Clevenger (CSO principal horn 1966-2013) discusses how the brass section always works to raise musical standards.

Instruments seen in the program

It would have taken too much time during the program to explain them more fully. I did speak specifically about several instruments, and here is more information about the origins and significance of each.


F.A. Schmidt rotary valve trumpet in Bb/A: Owned by the CSO but originally owned and played by Albert Ulrich (CSO trumpet, 1891-1925). Donated to the orchestra upon his retirement. The fourth valve allows the player to switch keys rapidly between Bb and A.

F.Besson piston trumpet in C: Owned by John Hagstrom (CSO trumpet, 1996 to present) but originally owned and played by Otto Schubert (CSO principal trumpet, 1907-1911). Its bell shape was copied by Elden Benge (CSO principal trumpet, 1933-1939) as part of the trumpets in C he designed and built under his own name in the early 1940s. Renold Schilke (CSO trumpet, 1936-1951) later copied this bell again as part of an Eb/D trumpet (Model E3L) he designed and built under his own name, beginning in the late 1960s. 

F.Besson piston trumpet in Bb: Owned by John Hagstrom but originally purchased as a new instrument in 1948 by Adolph Herseth (CSO principal trumpet, 1948-2001).

Vincent Bach piston trumpet in C (229L): Owned and played in the CSO by John Hagstrom. This trumpet is the next serial number after one owned by the CSO (in a set of four) played by Adolph Herseth and now played by the CSO’s current Principal Trumpet Esteban Batallán (2019 to present). They were built as a set by Vincent Bach in April 1955, especially for the CSO trumpet section.


C.F. Schmidt double horn (F/Bb): Owned by the CSO and originally owned and played in the orchestra by Frank Brouk (CSO horn, 1962-1978; principal horn, 1962-1963 and 1965-1966). Donated to the CSO upon his retirement in 1978.


Vincent Bach bass trombone: Owned by Charles Vernon (CSO bass trombone, 1986 to present), 50B bell with two independent rotor extension triggers (F/Gb).


J.W. York and Sons tuba in C (5 valve): Owned by the CSO, one of two of the same model brought to the CSO in 1944 by Arnold Jacobs. Sold to the orchestra upon his retirement in 1988.