"One thing that was great about my parents — if we wanted to try something, they let us try it," says trumpeter Mary Elizabeth Bowden. "Like my oldest brother came home from school one day and said, I want to play the trombone. I have no idea where that came from but he's the reason why I am a professional trumpet player. He had this crazy idea to play the trombone. Of course the next brother wanted to play the horn and I was like, I'm not going to pick the tuba and I want to be in the brass family so I picked the trumpet."
Like any little sister, Mary was tormented by her big brothers. As she continued to practice longer and harder the teasing subsided. She went on to study at the Curtis Institute of Music and Yale University. Now this young Chicago–born artist lives in Naples, Florida, "My husband is a trumpet player also," she explains, "he's in the Naples Philharmonic. And we have a studio of about 15–20 kids we share. And so if I'm traveling, he teaches everybody, so that kind of works out nicely."
Mary's latest adventure is one she's been pondering for quite a while. It's her debut recording as a solo artist, "I've been thinking about this for years. And I would always come up with different programs and would sculpt out what would be best. About a year before recording, I decided to focus on American composers, and I didn't just want to do something that someone has done before," she explains, "I was thinking, if I'm going to release a trumpet album, how can I make it accessible yet innovative to the public? Something that people want to listen to but that also features new works that haven't been recorded before as well."
Mary Elizabeth is pretty pleased with the end result, which is titled, Radiance.
"My aunt, who isn't a musician, listens to it at work every day. So I think it's very melodic and interesting music. But also some of these composers are good friends of mine, like the composer Joseph Hallman who wrote the sonata for me. And David Ludwig was a teacher of mine at Curtis. And Jim Stevenson — he used to be a trumpet player in the Naples Philharmonic and now he's a full–time composer. And I found his piece and I recorded it with one of my best friends, Mercedes Smith. And so it was a collaboration of friends and people from my past who'd meant a lot to me and creating a song list of music that I found very compelling and that really showed the different colors and characters of the trumpet."
The title track was composed by David Ludwig. It was inspired by those hazy late summer nights in upstate New York, "I'm still a member of the Richmond Symphony," she explains, "And I was going through some of the old symphony recordings and I found that piece, Radiance. It was actually commissioned by the Richmond Symphony for the principal oboe at the time, Katherine Needleman. And I listened to it and I thought it was so beautiful and trumpet players are known for playing works for oboe and making them their own. And I just thought this piece, Radiance, would be great on the trumpet and adds a new color and sparkle of sound that...definitely a different take on the piece, which I think is really neat."
One of Mary Elizabeth's favorite pieces on this recording, is the second movement from the Sonata for Trumpet and Piano by Joseph Hallman, "I love the sound of the flugelhorn and I love it's a very smoky character, loungey chords in the piano and you just have this very tranquil melody in the flugelhorn above. There are moments in the piece that remind me of Gershwin, the very end of it reminds me of Satie and so he kind of does these little character shifts within this beautiful movement as well."
On the "Arabesque for Two Trumpets and Piano," by Joseph Turrin, Mary is reunited with her former teacher at Curtis who is also principal trumpet of the Philadelphia Orchestra, "That was really great because when I was in school and the first time I hear David Bilger play in the orchestra I thought that he had the most beautiful sound on the trumpet. It's a very clean, precise sound but it rings like a bell. And it's a sound that I've always had in my head for myself. So to play a duo with him, it was really fun. My mom said she couldn't tell who was playing which part it was really fun to work with him."
As she celebrates the release of her debut recording, Mary Elizabeth Bowden is grateful her parents allowed her to find her own path. Now that path leads to destinations all around the globe opening doors to an extended family, "My mom has had pen pals all over the world for about 20 years. And so on some of my musical adventures and tours I've stayed with some of her pen pals and have gotten to meet them, people that she has written letters to for over 15 years. That's been really fun and I know she's a little jealous. I stayed with a pen pal of hers in Australia and New Zealand and Sweden. So these families have become like second families to me and so that's been really cool."
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