Trumpeter Caleb Hudson Takes Center Stage at Musical Masterworks’ Spring Concert

Trumpeter Caleb Hudson (Bo Huang Photography).

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Trumpeter Caleb Hudson will be the featured guest at Musical Masterworks’ first spring concert on Feb. 3 and 4 at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme.

Hudson, a native of Kentucky, has helped reintroduce the trumpet to contemporary audiences. Approaching the trumpet with a vocal-tone warmth and fluidity, he has performed in solo and ensembles around the world, including NPR’s “Performances Today” series and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” at Carnegie Hall. Hudson was a part of the savvy suits-and-sneakers ensemble Canadian Brass for 10 years.

Now living in Austin and teaching at the University of Texas, Hudson has just completed his first solo album “years in the making,” he said. Musical Masterworks Artistic Director Tessa Lark and other musicians will join Hudson for a celebration of this project, “Nothing Less,” giving Connecticut audiences a live experience of the album nearly two months before its release. Hudson recently talked about early influences and the power of collaboration.

Clare Byrne: How did music first become a part of your life? 

Caleb Hudson: My first music memories were in my church. My mom was the church pianist, and she also sang quite a bit. I grew up singing the old hymns. I remember congregational singing, the traditional stuff — not the worship bands, with drums and bassline — but the old strophic hymns. My first trumpet performances were in church too, playing with my mom on piano. Right from the beginning, I was instilled with this respect for performance not being about myself, not my own glory. I grew up playing in the context of a worship service. It really centers the focus outside of yourself. 

When I think about my earliest musical influences, of course there were trumpet stars like Wynton Marsalis and Louis Armstrong. But for me, my most formative influence was my mother. She always sang with such heart and expression. 

CB: How did you find your way into playing trumpet?

CH: I grew up in a household with four children. There was an out-of-tune upright piano, and there was always music in the house. 

It was a family rule that when we turned 10 in fifth grade, we had to pick up an instrument and join the school band. My older sister was a pianist, my older brother played saxophone. My younger brother still plays trombone; he’s a professional musician in the Air Force Academy Band. 

There was a trumpet player in my sister’s class named Matt Dillinger. I heard him play Leroy Anderson’s “The Trumpeter’s Lullaby.” He had this velvety smooth tone. It wasn’t the fanfare, the bombastic side of the trumpet that spoke to me first. He was my first introduction to the unique colors of the trumpet. 

I don’t know if Matt Dillinger is playing trumpet anymore, but I always tell my music education students that it’s not always the famous names that will inspire talent. It’s often the local influences. 

CB: What kinds of purpose do you find in music?

CH: There’s a lot of truth in music. Exploring music in a chamber music ensemble can be one of the best ways to grow. A lot of times the tendency is to have a pragmatic approach to developing one’s career. I remember my freshman year at Julliard, I would try to arrange chamber music readings. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to find people to explore music for the sake of its own beauty. People would shut themselves up in a room to practice their technique.

The entire process of music as a social vehicle: It’s about exploring with people, not only for the musical growth but the social growth. If you really want to grow, join a chamber music ensemble. Learn how to respect, how to communicate, how to solve problems, how to negotiate. Solo recitals are nice, and I love playing in an orchestra. But in a chamber ensemble, there is an artistic responsibility you have to the group.

And there’s the transformative power of music. It’s something most people can relate to, whether they are a trained musician or not. You can have a strong opinion about Bach and have never taken a class in it. It’s not like heart surgery where you can’t have an opinion on it without intensive training in it. But everyone is welcome to the table in music. 

CB: How did composing happen for you?

CH: I’m not sure composing is happening for me. I don’t consider myself a composer. but it kind of came about through arranging and transcribing. I put together a brass quintet when I was at Julliard. We were part of this program where we would go to underserved populations throughout the five boroughs, and curate programs that would connect with audiences. And often that involved arranging the music, things that had never been arranged before for brass, from Bach through American songbook pieces. I really grew to love arranging and transcribing. Eventually, as I started to add my own creative input into the arrangements, I started to try my hand at composing.

While I was in Canadian Brass, I was asked to write about the White Rose, which was a resistance movement in Germany during World War II. For that, I stuck with what I knew: brass and piano. But I don’t think without that incentive, I would have ventured into composing.

CB: Let’s talk about the new album, “Nothing Less.”

CH: I played for 10 years in Canadian Brass. So, I decided to venture into something new with my first solo album. It’s really about collaboration, with not-so-traditional instrumentation.

Playing in Connecticut are most of the musicians on the album. There’s Emi Ferguson on flute, who just received an Avery Fisher Career Grant. The clarinet player is a friend of mine for about 10 years, Gabriel Campos Zamora, and cellist Michael Nicolas of Brooklyn Rider. And Tessa Lark on violin, there’s something about her playing that is just honest. In my mind, the musicians I was able to get for this recording are so top notch. I’m humbled and amazed that I was able to work with them.

I was intimidated to write for that unique instrumentation, but I decided to try my hand at it. All the musicians were super helpful, and it was a creative, collaborative vision. We changed notes in the recording process a lot.

“Nothing Less” is the piece I wrote. It takes its cue from the Old Testament story of Elijah. It’s a meditation on the tendency to forsake truth for self-exultation. In the story, the people of Israel have fallen away, and through what happens in that story, there is a spiritual reawakening. This element of the story tied into the making of a solo record — the tendency in classical music, especially solo classical music, to be about showcasing virtuosity, instead of sharing a story. 

I tried to be really aware of that, even in choosing the instruments. I was thinking of doing an album with string quartet and trumpet, but realized that was too much [of a]  standout for the trumpet. With this instrumentation, I could come forward and recede as just another color. 

I hope that the music will have a significant effect on the listener, even if they don’t know the story behind it. I think that these themes are core to the human condition. Our postmodern culture tends to look at art and say that the most significant meaning is what “I, the listener, makes of it.” I can see the appeal of that, but I think there is also value in reflecting on the artist’s intent. 

Musical Masterworks’ 33rd season runs through April at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme at 4 Lyme St. For more information, visit www.musicalmasterworks.org or email admin@musicalmasterworks.org. Hudson’s album, “Nothing Less,” will be released March 15. Visit https://orcd.co/chnothingless to pre-order.