We are very excited to present our interview with Mary Bowden, international trumpet soloist and founder of Seraph Brass.
1. From several tours, the recent CD, and its fundraiser – Seraph Brass is quite an impressive group. Tell us about your experiences! How did the group get started?
I founded Seraph Brass in 2014. It was a dream of mine to have a touring brass group. I love traveling, performing a variety of styles of music, and working with other musicians in a chamber music setting. Brass quintet is a wonderful platform for this.
Last season, we performed 55 shows throughout the U.S. and we were on the touring list for the Allied Concert Services. This is our 4th season and we start our fall tour in León, Mexico and continue performing across the U.S. at many community concert series and universities. This summer, we were the featured artists at the International Women’s Brass Conference and at the Lieksa Brass Week in Finland. We recorded our debut studio album in Nurmes, Finland, and it will be released on Summit Records in January 2018. We commissioned two new works by women composers, Rene Orth and Catherine McMichael, and we also recorded original arrangements for the group by trumpeter Jeff Luke. We raised funds through Indiegogo, and we are so incredibly grateful to our fans for their support for this project.
2. What have you done as a group/individually to get to where you are today? Any secrets for success?
I always aim for the highest quality performance level for myself and for the group. I keep the same high standards for our website, photos, videos, marketing materials, and programming.
Goal setting is very valuable. I set short and long term goals for my solo career path and the path for Seraph. Then, I make “to do” lists to make my goals happen. A lot of administrative work is involved, requiring constant networking and organizational skills. When I first formed Seraph in 2014, performing at the Lieksa Brass Week was a dream goal for maybe 5-7 years forward, and we were asked to perform there this past summer! Having a clear vision and acting on it makes opportunities happen. Planning ahead and taking risks are necessary, as are investments in the future of the group.
3. What do you love about being a female brass player?
I am not convinced there are aspects of being a female brass player in particular that I love (I just love being a brass player!), but I do make a point to showcase women artists through Seraph Brass. The group celebrates women brass performers and I’ve made a point to commission new works by women composers. We perform and commission works by men as well, but we want to be sure to continue to balance the gender gap.
I love being a brass player for a lot of reasons. I have the relentlessness to fine-tune my craft and work on small details. I see myself sometimes as a craftswoman-every morning I warm up and do lip bends and Clarke exercises, getting the gravel out of the sound and finding the resonance. I love the process of improving and finding ways to push the boundaries of my technique. The really fun part is performing and sharing music with audiences. I hope that I can be an inspiration to young, aspiring brass players.
4. Do you think we have a specific role or responsibility as female brass players? How do you incorporate that (or not) into your own life as a musician? Do you have any advice for young female musicians?
I was very lucky in my youth to have a very strong female role model, my teacher Kari Lee. In my early years in the school band, I always tied for first chair with two other girls, so I didn’t start by thinking it was strange to be a female brass player. I think women are breaking gender stereotypes in many areas, and we are part of that movement.
Growing up, I did notice that my favorite performers and groups were all male, like Canadian Brass and Dallas Brass. I made Seraph an all women group to highlight women brass performers, and to be role models for musicians of any age. On our tours last season, it brought tears to my eyes to see handfuls of young girls jumping up and down after our shows because they were so excited to see professional women performing. I hope we can give them confidence and inspiration to keep making music.
My advice is the same to female musicians as it is to males: it is a quote from a plaque my parents had hanging in our kitchen growing up: “Everything cometh to he who waiteth, so long as he who waiteth, worketh like hell while he waiteth.”
As I mentioned above, goal setting is really important. This is something I have in common with Joanna Ross Hersey, which she discusses in her interview. We both make not only short term goals, but long term goals. These can be practicing goals and career path goals. Even making a daily plan is helpful: What is my list today? What do I need to cover in my sessions? Articulation? Range? Make a list of upcoming music you have to learn for the semester/year, and make sure you are covering what you need. I often make these lists, and I make notes of the parts that I am the worst at and focus on those first.
5. Is there anything you wished you had known as a student or young professional that you know now? Any advice that you’d like to share with younger musicians?
Be inspired. Be curious. Practicing is a lot of work, but anything you want to master requires work. Listen to all types of music. Go to live performances. Seek out lessons with many people. Live out of your comfort zone.
In my youth, I was so worried about paying rent and bills. I let this worry consume me sometimes, and would fret that I had to work summer non-music jobs while my friends got to go to festivals. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that it’s ok: through working these jobs I became very grateful to be a musician. I feel grateful being able to earn my living now as a performer, and through the jobs I developed administrative skills and a thick skin to be able to run and lead my own organizations. I want to make it clear to those musicians who have to work and study at the same time that you can earn a living playing music, you just have to work that much harder to achieve your goals. In a way, this will force you to be even more efficient in your practice sessions.
Taking risks is also important. I took my big risk in my late 20’s by deciding to start a solo career from scratch after meeting my mentor, Jens Lindemann. It’s what I had always wanted but never pursued because I was told I could not make a living from it-that getting an orchestral position was the only way. I love playing in orchestra, but now I see that performing in a variety of setting fulfills me-concertos, recitals, chamber music, opera, orchestra. I could not have gotten where I am today without a clear vision for my career and goal setting.
My advice is that if you are going to pursue becoming a professional musician, plan on working hard for a very long time.
6. Any resources you recommend? Books, podcasts, recordings that changed your life etc.