New trumpet adjunct professor Alex Noppe came to UW-Madison this fall to teach both classical and jazz trumpet. While he hails from Green Bay, his career has taken him all over the world, as a member of the Mirari Brass Quintet, which he co-founded, of the Louis Romanos Quartet, which plays new Orleans-style jazz, and as a performer and soloist in orchestras and as a clinician at brass conferences. He’s also a composer and arranger. In Madison, Alex is a member of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, which recently returned from a Big Ten performance tour, and will next perform in Rhinelander (February 22); and in Madison (February 24). Click here to read Alex’s full biography.
Interview conducted by Kyle Johnson, a dissertator in piano performance.
What approaches do you take when teaching jazz trumpet vs classical trumpet?
I don’t really treat different styles of music all that differently. In my opinion, the “umbrella” under which all study is organized is trumpet fundamentals—all of the skills, concepts, and techniques that go into becoming an excellent player on your instrument. Underneath that are various bins of styles & repertoire that get studied individually—baroque, jazz, orchestral, mariachi, etc. But the techniques for learning each individual style don’t really differ that much. I suppose jazz players tend to do a lot more ear-development exercises, but that’s something that everyone else should be doing as well.
You’ve had a diverse array of performance opportunities, which include orchestras, chamber groups, and jazz ensembles. Do you have a preference for any one type of performance setting or musical style?
Not particularly. I’m at my happiest when I’m involved in a variety of different performing activities, so I enjoy the challenge of rapidly switching back and forth between genres and groups. Having said that, the majority of my playing these days is in small chamber groups.
Tell us about the Mirari Brass Quintet (pictured above).
Originally, it was a group of graduate students at Indiana that formed the group, but over the years we changed a few members (adding Stephanie Frye, UW-Madison MM 2010 & DMA 2013). We’ve always had a bit of an interesting model in that we live in four different states scattered across the country, which definitely presents some challenges for rehearsing and performing.
Mirari is in its ninth season together and we spend most of our time doing concert tours, educational residencies, and new music commissioning. We play a fairly eclectic mix of music that we’ve affectionately dubbed “stylistic whiplash”–everything from Renaissance to jazz to contemporary classical to Latin to musical theater, and on and on. At this point we’ve performed in about 30 states and did our first international concert tour this past summer in China. We have one album out from a few years ago and another one being released in just over a month on Summit Records.
What works have you arranged for Mirari?
I do the bulk of the in-house composing and arranging for the group, and at this point I’ve probably contributed about 20 pieces to our book. I’ve done a few jazz arrangements from composers like Charles Mingus, Thad Jones, Chick Corea, and Pat Metheny, some original compositions, a piece for quintet and vocals, one for quintet with piano, and one for quintet and wind ensemble.
Above: The Mirari Brass Quintet performing “Spires,” a commissioned work from Rome Prize winner and Guggenheim Fellow Eric Nathan. “Spires” may be heard on Mirari’s 2012 CD, also called “Spires.”
What is your most memorable musical experience? What is your most embarrassing musical experience?
Tough question—not sure if I have only one answer for this! Some of the more memorable performances include performing in Thailand and China with my chamber groups, a jazz festival in Maui that included a home-stay with not one but two infinity pools, and getting to work with an amazing array of great musicians including Leonard Slatkin, Wycliffe Gordon, John Clayton, Randy Brecker, and many others. Oh yeah, and sharing a duet on an album with “Yes” lead singer Jon Anderson.
As for embarrassing experiences—probably too many to count, but they definitely include dressing up as pop star Michael Jackson for an orchestra concert, passing out while playing a high note during my freshman year of college, and recording a marching band version of “Spider-Pig” (yes, from the Simpsons movie!).
Your bio lists that you were a “cellophonist” in a concerto for cellphones and orchestra. What was that?
Definitely one of the more entertaining gigs. My mentor in grad school, David Baker, was commissioned to write a concerto for cell phones and orchestra—especially amusing since he could barely use his own. My role included juggling 3-4 different phones at the front of the stage and triggering off various ringtones, accompanied by the orchestra and several hundred phones from the audience. The music director of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra coined the term ‘cellophonist’, and I’ve found it hilarious ever since.
Contact Alex for a visit and/or a sample lesson: firstname.lastname@example.org