Originally, Thomas Gansch was supposed to be interviewed about rather mundane topics: Which mouthpiece? Which bore size, and why? But the game of question-and-answer pingpong turned into a game of memory. Literally and figuratively. The seminal trumpeter delved into his memories and recounted some of them to TrumpetScout.
Thomas Gansch’s story is harrowing. Because it is so unexpected. Some say that as a child this Austrian Obelix-type man fell into a cauldron filled with magic potion which grants musical ability. Which would have meant smooth sailing towards a career with an instrument. However, the reality of it is quite different, especially with regard to the trumpet, studying in Vienna, and having a brother named Hans Gansch. Thomas Gansch’s story should provide solace and motivation for many burgeoning professionals, as well as amateurs, regardless of whether they are classical or jazz trumpet players.
„I know a total of two trumpeters who don’t have to practice.“
Thomas Gansch and his main band, Mnozil Brass, are known for their rich and unamplified sound, and long concerts. I asked him what the secret behind his stamina is. The answer was as sobering as it was simple: practice, practice, practice. „Playing the trumpet is like bodybuilding.“ The exceptions to this rule are few: „I know a total of two trumpeters who don’t have to practice. James Morrison and Andy Haderer [lead player of the highly respected WDR big band].“ Furthermore, Gansch says Morrison doesn’t care which mouthpiece he uses, and Haderer is able to sit down on the lead chair and play with aplomb – even after having spents weeks away from the trumpet. „Andy is a master of efficiency. Out of one hundred notes, he hits one hundred notes.“ He says that is due to Haderer’s technique, which makes do mostly without pressure. Gansch is different. He admits to playing with much pressure, which is why he needs a deep mouthpiece such as his Bach 3B Megatone, which he has been using for 20 years. Using a flat cup tends to make his lips clog the throat, furthermore, he feels that using this particular mouthpiece can produce sharp sounds as well as broad sounds. Perhaps that is why Andy Haderer doesn’t need to practice: because he can’t press hard and hence can also work well with a flat cup.
Adam Rapa’s playing, for example, is based entirely on air, he can play for hours. Once, he stated before a concert that he was having a bad day, „but then played like there was no tomorrow.“ As with many trumpeters, machismo plays a role, says Gansch: To say one thing, and then do something entirely different while playing. Plus, the ones that play really high notes don’t exert themselves as much. „They don’t press as hard, and don’t play so loudly.“
A long way down: “I was Gansch’s little brother.”
But practice alone is not enough. Even practicing a lot. It has to make sense. Thomas Gansch knows this better than anybody. He always felt a lot of pressure from others’ expectations – a burden that sets him apart from most of his colleagues. “When I was only a small child people were already telling me I’d be a trumpeter, and that I’d be better than Hans. I didn’t really want that.” Hans is Hans Gansch, the equally accomplished (as a classical trumpet player), 23 year-older brother of Thomas Gansch. Even though he wanted to give up playing when he hit puberty, he moved to Vienna at the age of 15 to pursue studies in classical trumpet. The name was well-known there: at the time, his brother Hans was serving as solo trumpeter with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. “I was Gansch’s little brother.”
In Vienna, he went through Josef Pomberger’s tough training. “I’m very grateful to him, because he taught me all the things I don’t want.” So in that sense, it wasn’t just lost time, even though his trumpeting skills deteriorated drastically. “After three years I couldn’t play a single tone anymore. The mouthpiece was engraved on my lips in white, and after two lines they began to bleed. The professor just said: ‘You’re too lazy and you don’t practice enough.’ “ At the age of 15 he believed everything his teachers said, and naturally used all the mouthpieces and trumpets prevalent in Vienna, bowing to the dictatorial style. Following alternative paths was usually punished, as was the case when Gansch admitted to his mentor that he had participated in a class taught by Malte Burba.
He negates the question as to whether such an absolutist course of studies aims for musical expression and the development of style. “It was just an incubator for orchestra trumpeters.” These medieval methods and the general „paedagogical cluelessness“ resulted in coming in last at auditions, frustration and shame – not only for the young student: “During the biggest crises everybody always told me it was my fault, the teacher couldn’t help me because of my laziness. My best friends, my brother, all were devastated that I wasn’t able to follow in his footsteps. My brother was ashamed, I was ashamed, everybody was ashamed.”
“The decision to think for myself was my salvation.”
After three years of continuous setbacks, Thomas Gansch had to make a decision: quit or start anew. He decided on the fresh start and switched to his teacher’s rival, Adolf Holler. He says the cockfight over who got to teach the great Hans Gansch’s little brother made that possible. So he began to take only what he thought was good, and got the rest elsewhere. Along with his teacher, Gansch also switched mouthpieces – and his attitude. From that moment on he began to listen predominantly to his own gut feeling. By the time he was 21, the still relatively young Austrian was able to leave auditions with his head held high, because he was satisfied with himself. He was sure he’d make it as a classical trumpeter, but wanted to try out jazz. The rest of his career is history. His self-perception of his development as a trumpeter is interesting: It’s as if it had been a slow maturing, even though there are always moments when he reaches some kind of crossroads. “Your playing becomes relaxed only at an older age.” Thomas Gansch feels that this happens around the age of 30.
The Gansch-Horn: Formerly light and small, today large and heavy
And so it happened that a mishap brought about a positive change. One night, after 27 years of trumpet-routine, the man with the inconsistent hair style flung his gig bag over his shoulder without having closed the zipper beforehand… With things having changed towards lighter elements in the meantime, Schagerl did not provide him with a new old one, but with a thick-walled Large Bore trumpet. The difference was palpable from the stage. “Back in 2003, the Vienna Mozart Hall still had the right dimension for a Mnozil-premiere. Six years later, it was too small. You fill the spaces.”
“Hall” is a cue. Mnozil Brass performs all over the world. Where is their favorite location? The most important things are the acoustics and the contact with the audience. It’s boring when you can’t see anything but spotlights. Which is why Thomas Gansch prefers the small venues, such as the Jazzland in Vienna, which are, however, usually equipped to accommodate other kinds of line-ups.
“I could write a book about stage fright.”
Next year, Hans gansch’s little brother will turn 40. Which begs the question as to how relevant stage fright is once you reach a kind of certitude in playing. “Of course,“ he answers immediately, „I could write a book about stage fright.“ But over the years, he has learned to keep it in check. “The answer to all my problems is consistency. When was I nervous? Either was wasn’t well prepared or we went out for drinks the night before. Pretty mundane reasons. “ Hence, his strict practice routine helps him relax: Two hours at 6 AM, two in the afternoon, and two in the evening. During the run-up to a tour a tour he will practice 3.5 to 4.5 hours every day. After a concert he follows the golden rule: Holding long notes for 30 Minutes. Always. „That way, I’ve eliminated a number of elements of uncertainty. I don’t go to the bar, but rather to my hotel room.”
Thomas Gansch on Mnozil Brass: “We are an old married couple.”
Mistakes do happen, even with the seemingly perfect Mnozil-troupe. Gansch does concede that it makes a difference if you make a mistake in playing Mahler’s 5th versus a mistake made in a program that no one has ever heard before. “With 10,000 notes per concert, 200 mistakes don’t carry much weight.”
How do you rehearse such an elaborate program? For the current one they rehearsed throughout the entire month of January, four days a week at seven hours each. That does not include practice at home. Though there are different approaches and different levels of studiousness: Some learn things by heart, some have a gradual approach to fading out the score, and some “can only do it at the tenth concert.” The fact that the band never has any bad days is impressive. If one member is not up to speed, the others will compensate – the recordings always end up sounding good. Consistency cannot be replaced by anything: “ We are an old married couple.”
Even if Thomas Gansch likes to talk about stability and routine, his life is still somewhat marked by fissures. When he was ready to join the orderly ranks of orchestra players – which many had foreseen for him – he switched gears and tried something new. If he hadn’t done that, he would probably have stayed where he started: in the shadow of his brother. Instead of receding into the shadows of the orchestra pit, he radiates in the spotlights of the world’s stages
Mission self-discovery: accomplished.
Kindly translated by Kerstin Schütz-Müller