- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

The silver strains of Haydn, Tomasi and Hindemith were reverberating through the air this weekend in Fairfax.

Students are on spring break now at George Mason University, but you wouldn’t guess it by all the commotion on campus. The recipe for cacophony: 500 young trumpet players from around the country convening this weekend for the National Trumpet Competition to hash it out for bragging rights to one (or more) of a dozen titles, ranging from the top junior-high soloist to the most seasoned master.

The competition, an annual rite for the past 16 years, is spearheaded by Dennis Edelbrock, a passionate trumpet professor at George Mason University.

“My wife hates it,” Mr. Edelbrock said, joking. “It runs my life.”

Despite the potential for a splitting earache, this mix of students instead produces lovely music, either by a soloist, in an ensemble or both. It’s no doubt due to the seasoned professionals who make the trek, this year from as far away as Russia, to teach classes and offer private instruction.

The application to compete is rigorous: Students must submit an electronic recording to a panel of judges, who sift out the most promising trumpeters.

“It’s not a local yokel deal,” Mr. Edelbrock said. “They come from all over the world to play for eight minutes. But the big deal is not the prize, necessarily. It’s getting their name in lights and being able to put something on their resume when they’re in junior high.”

One such protege is Natalie Dungey, a 9-year-old who traveled to the District with her father, a junior high and high school band teacher from suburban Seattle. On Friday, she competed in the junior solo division, beating out some of her father’s older students with her rendition of a selection from Hummel’s trumpet concerto.

Natalie seems a typical tween. That day, she was sporting a leopard-print headband and stonewashed flared jeans and talked about her Build-A-Bear birthday party — but she’s got the embouchure of a mature practitioner. She begged her father to teach her trumpet at age 6, though her mother wishes she’d favor the violin.

But “It’s not as [much] fun as the trumpet,” Natalie said.

Natalie received one-on-one instruction from Adam Rapa, a Boston native who is lead trumpeter for the Broadway show “Blast!” now on tour in the United States, Japan and Britain.

“Your lungs are elastic,” Mr. Rapa told about 120 students in a class earlier in the day. “You can be granola like me and do yoga, or not, but you have to access all that torso space that you’re just wasting.”

Mr. Rapa explained the correct way a trumpeter should use his or her tongue to get the most vibrant sound.

“You can shape it to be a resonate chamber,” he said before demonstrating.

Students learn how to deal with performance jitters — and even a bit of life philosophy.

“Be curious. Be disciplined,” says Vince DiMartino, a prominent trumpet soloist and former president of the International Trumpet Guild. “You should never practice any more than you listen, and if you have to err, err on the side of listening more and practicing less.”

Sean Maness, a trumpet performance master’s student from Houston, grew up hearing about the competition and finally was able to attend this year. His weapon of choice is Joliet’s Concertino, and he’s got high hopes.

“I’ve really enjoyed the chance to be here and hope to do well,” Mr. Maness said.

Most students handle their losses deftly.

“Most of these students are poised, and they’re used to disappointments,” Mr. Edelbrock said. “Their teachers are pretty sophisticated as well. They know that you’re not made or broken by just eight minutes of their life.”

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