Trumpeter  Ross  Beacraft

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Ross Beacraft joined the faculty of DePaul University in 1976 as a lecturer in applied trumpet and served in that capacity and as chair of the brass department until 1996.  He now oversees all aspects of admissions, and chairs the financial aid committee for the School of Music.

He continues to be a very active performer as Principal Trumpet with the Chicago Brass Quintet, Chicago Opera Theater and the Elgin Symphony Orchestra. In addition, he has performed often and recorded with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera, the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, Concertante di Chicago, Chicago’s ballet and theater orchestras, and in many radio and television commercials.

Former appointments include principal trumpet with the Norwegian Opera and Ballet Orchestra in Oslo, and third and assistant first trumpet with the North Carolina Symphony.​​

In April of 1997, the Chicago Brass Quintet was about to give a special concert in their regular series, and to promote the event I had a conversation with their First Trumpet, Ross Beacraft.  As usual, in addition to the specifics of that one performance, we chatted about other musical ideas, and after presenting a portion of this interview on WNIB, Classical 97, I am now pleased to be able to place the entire encounter on this webpage . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   Who were the founding members of the Chicago Brass Quintet?

Ross Beacraft:   James Mattern [trombone] is the only current member in the Quintet who was a founding member.  The group was formed in 1963, and the rest of the original people were Paul Tervelt, who was Principal horn in the Milwaukee Symphony for a number of years; Charles Geyer, who was the Fourth and Second trumpet of the Chicago Symphony for a number of years, who went to Houston and played Principal there, and has been teaching at Eastman in the last few years; Brian Perry, who is Principal trumpet with the Lyric Opera; and Robert Bauchens, who’s the tuba at Lyric.  Over the years the commitments took them in various different directions, and some other people came in.


:   When did you join?

Beacraft:   I joined the Quintet when Charlie left to play in Houston, which was in 1976.  I had just come back from playing in Norway.  I subbed with the Quintet for a while, and they decided to make it official, and asked me to join permanently.

BD:   So, you’ve been there more than twenty years.

Beacraft:   I guess I have... wow!  [Laughs]  It does add up, doesn’t it?

BD:   Do you also play orchestra gigs?

Beacraft:   Oh yes.  I do a lot of different kinds of things in Chicago.  I came for the interview this evening right from an Elgin Symphony concert, where we played the Franck Symphony in d minor.

BD:   Is there a lot of difference playing trumpet in an orchestra, as opposed to being one of five in a quintet?
Beacraft:   You use the same kind of sensibilities.  You listen to your colleagues, and you have to have a keen sense of time, pitch, phrasing, and style.  All those things are similar, whether it’s a solo piece, or a chamber music, or an orchestral piece.  The dynamic levels in the symphony orchestra are probably wider on the fortissimo end than anything we would reach with just the five of us in a quintet.  Although we can play fairly strongly, we wouldn’t reach the super triple fortes you would with a hundred-piece symphony orchestra.  In the Quintet, you typically have some control of what you do and when you do it, more than you can with an orchestra where you are one of a bunch of people, and you have to go with what the conductor says, and the architecture of the piece that the conductor is putting forth.  In the Quintet, you only have five, so you have a lot more give-and-take to argue or fashion with the other four members how eventually we come across.

BD:   Is it like a five-sided marriage?

Beacraft:   Sometimes it feels like that yes, very much so!  Each person has his say, and some people you know what they’re going to say.  If you play with them for a long time, you sense what that person will do.

BD:   Is that a good surprise or a bad surprise?

Beacraft:   Oh, it not a surprise at all.  Actually, it’s a good thing.  Good chamber music doesn’t happen in a year.  It happens over many years together of sharing your ideas.  Then, each new person to the group establishes his or her personality on that group after some period of time.

BD:   How long has this current group been together?

Beacraft:   The newest member of our group is Matthew Lee, who joined us just a year and a half ago.  He’s the other trumpet player.  The tuba player, Dan Anderson, and the French horn player, Greg Flint have been with us for about five years.  Jim’s the grandfather of all of us, and he’s been there since the beginning.

BD:   Does that give him any more say so about what goes on?

Beacraft:   He brings a unique contribution to the Quintet in that he has done many of the arrangements over the years, and a number of original compositions which we have premiered and been major exponents of.  In that way alone he’s put a very major stamp on the Chicago Brass Quintet.  Since joining, Dan Anderson has brought another ability to the Quintet.  Dan is a marvelous jazz string bass player, as well as being a great tuba player for both classical and jazz.  He’s done a number of arrangements for us in that vein, which is something we’d never done before.  He has also coached us and helped us play in those styles, so it’s expanded our horizons.  It
s fun to play Bach, and Handel, and Vivaldi on the same concert that we’ll be playing things by Dizzy Gillespie and Stanley Turrentine.

BD:   Is it true that music is music is music, no matter what it is?

Beacraft:   It depends on each personality, but the members of our Quintet enjoy making all kinds of music.  I’m a music junkie.  I literally like all kinds of music.  I can easily listen to [Strauss’s] Elektra, and an hour later be listening to Country & Western.  You listen on different levels, and for different kinds of enjoyment.

BD:   Do you listen differently because you generally are a music-maker rather than just a music-consumer?

Beacraft:   It’s a hard question for me to answer because I’ve been a music-maker since I was eight years old.  So, I don’t know what it’s like to just be a consumer.  Honestly, I couldn’t answer that.

BD:   Are you conscious of the consumer
the audiencethat is there each night when you’re playing?

Beacraft:   Yes, I think so.  I’ve done a fair amount of studio playing in my life, and it’s a whole different feel when you’re playing just for a microphone than when you’re playing for human beings.  For me, the real thrill is playing for people, and you can sense very much when you have an audience that becomes on the same wavelength that you are on, and they join you.  Then that concert becomes a very special evening when you begin to feed off their energy, and they feed off yours, and the whole thing rises to a different level.  So yes, it’s impossible not to be aware of the audience as a performer.

BD:   Is there a different kind of awareness when you’re playing chamber music as opposed to an orchestral performance?

Beacraft:   Yes.  As an orchestral player, you get wound up in this incredibly great music.  Many of the great composers of past centuries have done some of their greatest works for large symphonic forces, and when you get rolling around with that sound you become part of it, and it just takes off from you.  You don’t get quite the personal connection to the audience and their involvement with the music.  As a performer of only five, you have a connection with your audience, which you don’t get when you’re one of one hundred.  You don’t get the overwhelming sound pillow in the Quintet that you do in a symphony orchestra.  When you’ve done something somewhat very special, and it’s only you doing it, you can get a real connection with an audience.  So, each one has its unique thrill.

BD:   A number of conductors have said they like to try and make their orchestra play as if it
s chamber music.  You’re a chamber musician and an orchestral musician.  Is it really possible to play chamber music in an orchestra?

Beacraft:   All great orchestral musicians play it that way.  It’s impossible not to.  Music is an aural skill more than a visual one, so although you watch a conductor, you listen, and listen, and listen, and listen while you play.

BD:   Then let me ask a really easy question.  What’s the purpose of music?

Beacraft:   [Bursts out laughing]  I don’t even think there is an answer to that!  I know what I get out of music, and that’s enough for me.  It’s probably something very unique to each person, and maybe that’s how it should be.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Chicago is known for its brass players.  Is it special to be an established brass player in Chicago?

Beacraft:   That’s what drew me here.  When I got out of school I got a job right away with the North Carolina Symphony.  It was a good job, and it was great to have a job right out of school.  Many musicians don’t get that luxury, but there was something missing in my own playing and in the playing I heard around me that I needed to have.  I got on a bus to Chicago with nothing in my pocket.  The first day I was here I found my way to Orchestra Hall, and they were doing Also sprach Zarathustra at 1 o’clock on a Friday afternoon.  I went up and sat in the gallery, and I cried my eyes out.  I couldn’t believe it could sound like that.  I’d heard the record many times, and this was so much better.  I knew at that point I had to move here and learn to play like that.  There are great brass musicians in this town, not only the fine members of the Chicago Symphony, which is world-renowned, but there’s probably a greater depth of brass playing of anywhere that I’ve ever known.
BD:   I would think that it would be almost infectiousthat in order to stay here, you really have to be on that level.

Beacraft:   Yes.  There are so many fine players, and it’s a great place to be a freelance trumpet player.

BD:   Is there perhaps too much competition?

Beacraft:   No.  That’s a subjective thing.  What’s too much, or what’s enough for me?

BD:   Is there enough work for everybody?

Beacraft:   My experience has been that those people who are really fine musicians, and are willing to work very hard, and have a great deal of endurance, they eventually find their own niche, and they have a number of really fine things to play.  If you’re a young person coming into Chicago, very rarely does someone get all the premier jobs the first day or two.  You have to pay a few dues along the way.  But if you show-up, and you play well each time, and you have the sensitivity to play with those around you, and to not try and take over with your own personality, you will ultimately be very successful here.

BD:   Do you always play the standard trumpet, or do you also use a baroque trumpet, or a little trumpet, or a big trumpet?

Beacraft:   I play all the trumpets.  I have occasionally played the baroque trumpet, although I would not consider myself a specialist at that.  I have to work very hard to play the natural trumpet, and I need some time to do it well.  But the other instruments I play with great frequency.  I practice every day on a B-flat trumpet, on a C trumpet, on a piccolo trumpet, and on an E-flat trumpet, too.  I also enjoy playing the cornet very much, and I play that with a great deal of frequency.  I have rotary valve instruments which I like for certain literature.  I probably own about fourteen or fifteen different trumpets.

BD:   So, you can put the right instrument on each piece?

Beacraft:   Yes.  In an orchestral situation, I like to play the music of Brahms and Mozart on rotary valve instruments, and certainly Wagner and Bruckner fit very well, and also Mahler.  I don’t get a chance to play much Mahler unless I’m an extra with the Chicago Symphony.  In Elgin we’re doing the Mahler First next year, and we’ve done the Second and Fourth, but I like to play those things a great deal.

BD:   Coming back to the Chicago Brass Quintet, there are concerts here in Chicago.  Do you also tour?

Beacraft:   Yes.  In fact, tomorrow we hop over to the University of Tennessee in Johnson City.  We will take a charter out of Midway, and be back home by about 1.30 in the morning.  The next day, we’ll be rehearsing at Holy Name Cathedral for the upcoming concert there.

BD:   Do you do a lot of touring?

Beacraft:   A fair amount.  If you took all of our tour dates and put them end to end in any year, we would probably do between a month-and-a-half to two months of touring dates.

BD:   Are they all a day or two here, and a day or two there?

Beacraft:   Usually.  We have one extended residency we’ve done for eight years now at the Lancaster Festival in Lancaster, Ohio.  We serve as artists-in-residence and principal players in the orchestra.  We do lots of chamber music, and things like that.  This summer, at the end of August, we’ll go to Taiwan for a week, and do five concerts there.  We also usually go to Florida every other year.  We’ll do a week during the winter, and it’s a nice time to get away from the sub-zero temperatures of Chicago.  [Both laugh]  We tour a lot throughout the Midwest, and pretty much all over, and quite frequently it’s Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and then we’re back home.  The date we’re doing tomorrow is just the one-night
out and back in the same day.

BD:   You’re not even staying in a hotel?

Beacraft:   If it works, it’s nice because we would just as soon sleep in our own beds.  Of course, most of us are very busy in Chicago.  We have things that we could be doing here, rather than just being on the road.

BD:   You wouldn’t rather be a group that does nothing but tour all over, and be a traveling roadshow?

Beacraft:   Absolutely not!  I respect people who do that, but it’s a very hard life.  When you first begin it, you think that touring is very glamorous, but you find out very quickly that airplanes and rent-a-cars and even very nice hotel rooms are not all that terribly glamorous.  You do it for the music and the experience of playing, and that never loses its joy, but I have a family, as most people in the Quintet do.  I like spending time with them, so I really like the level that we’re involved with.  We have fifty or sixty concerts a year with the Quintet, and that way we still have home-lives.  I wouldn’t want to give up the symphonic playing, or the opera playing.  I enjoy those things, and it’s a great mix.  In many ways I’m very, very lucky, and very fortunate.

BD:   You’re Principal with the Lyric Opera orchestra?

Beacraft:   No, I’m Principal with the Chicago Opera Theater.  Brian Perry is the very, very fine Principal of Lyric Opera.

BD:   But you also play with Lyric?

Beacraft:   I do.  For many, many years I’ve been very fortunate.  They’ve been kind enough to call me to do a lot of the on-stage and off-stage work there.  I’ve really had great joy to do that for almost twenty years now.
BD:   Are you one of the herald trumpets in Aïda?

Beacraft:   Yes, and I’ve been one of the trumpets in Lohengrin, and Die Meistersinger, and La Bohème, and Turandot, and this year Don Carlo.  Yes, there’s great literature to do.

BD:   It’s great that a brass player actually knows about these things.

Beacraft:   I love opera.  One of my early professional jobs was as Principal Trumpet with the Norwegian Opera and Ballet in Oslo.  That was really a nice introduction.  I was twenty-six or twenty-seven, and being able to learn that literature was great.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Do you play the same for the microphone as you do in concert?

Beacraft:   You try.  Most of our recordings have been done in a concert hall situation, or in a church.  Early on we tried to do a studio recording, and we didn’t like it at all.

BD:   Why?

Beacraft:   The acoustic was unnatural, and when they added reverberation, to me it still felt cramped.  I like very much more to do location-recordings in a recital hall, or in a church, or in an acoustic where what you get on the record is actually the sound we produced.  It’s not something that’s been manipulated.

BD:   If you get the sound right in the hall, a good engineer will catch it, rather than try to recreate it someplace else?

Beacraft:   Exactly, and it’s much easier to play because you feed off what you’re hearing.  In a recording studio, the acoustic is very dead.  The engineers can control the resonance, but you don’t hear that when you’re playing, and that’s always unnatural for me.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  It bums you out?

Beacraft:   [Smiles]  Yes, it really does.  But that
s for classical chamber music.  It’s a whole different story to get it all in one when you do a jingle.  That’s where the studio situation belongs.  It works very well for that.

BD:   Do you like playing jingles?

Beacraft:   It’s a different challenge.  You never see the music before you get there, so you have to be a very good sight-reader.  You have to be very accurate, and play it very well in tune and in time, so you’re in and out in an hour.  You’re usually with some of the better musicians, and it’s quite different.  You don’t get the extended pieces.  Thirty seconds or sixty seconds of playing doesn’t give you same joy you get with a piece which lasts thirty minutes, and that you’ve worked on for months.  It’s just a different discipline.

BD:   Does it irk you or please you when you hear a commercial and you’re in it?

Beacraft:   If I sound good on it, it pleases me.  [Both laugh]  Usually, even the great parts they put far in the background because of the voice-over, so you can hardly hear it.  You forget you’ve even done them half the time.  [More laughter]

BD:   Tell me the details of this concert coming up.

Beacraft:   This concert is going to be something that we’ve talked about doing at Holy Name for a long time, and they finally asked me to see if I could put it together this year.  The idea was to invite the Chicago Symphony Brass Ensemble to join with the Chicago Brass Quintet in doing a brass spectacular, and investigate the possibilities of all the antiphonal things we can do at the cathedral.  They have a really terrific Casavant organ downstairs, and another spectacular organ upstairs, so that gives us the possibility of doing things like the Grand Cor and Dialogue by Eugène Gigout.  We’re also going to do the Canzon in echo duodecimi toni by Gabrieli, where we’ll use that antiphonal space.

BD:   Do you have to be careful of the reverberations in that huge space?

Beacraft:   That’s the trick, and to try and play it in time, and keep it together.  We’ll be rehearsing early there Tuesday morning to try and do just that, and probably have other rehearsals throughout the week just to deal with those kinds of things.  We’re going to open the concert with the Vienna Philharmonic Fanfare of Strauss [1924], and we have a unique thing that’s going to happen.  Sal Soria, the brilliant organist at Holy Name, and who has won an award for his improvising, will pick up where we leave off, and begin improvising with the Straussian harmonies, and take us from there to the Gabrieli harmonies in his improvisation.  When he’s finished, we will play the Duedecimi Toni.  It will create a great atmosphere, and I look forward to that.  We’ll also do a Baroque suite, which will feature the music of Dietrich Buxtehude, Gottfried Reiche, and Jeremiah Clarke.  Then the Chicago Symphony Brass Ensemble will play Praise to the Lord with Cymbals and Drums by Siegfried Karg-Elert, and St. Michael, the Archangel from Church Windows by Ottorino Respighi, which was arranged by Mark Ridenour, who is the associate first trumpet with the Symphony, and who plays with the ensemble.  Then we’ll end that half with the Poème Heroïque by Marcel Dupré.  So that’s almost enough for a concert by itself, just in the first half!  [Both laugh]  Actually, some of the pieces are short, so it should be about forty-five minutes for the first half.  Then after the intermission we’ll come back and do some music of James Mattern.  One piece, his Fanfare and Flourish, was actually commissioned by the First National Bank about ten years ago.  They did a series of brass concerts during the summer, and they wanted a piece which could be played either with a small group or a large group, and he wrote it so it could be done either way.  We’ve adapted it to use the organs in the Cathedral.  It’s on our album of organ and brass music, which is on Centaur [shown below].  Then the low brass guys, Jay Friedman and Charlie Vernon from the Chicago Symphony, and James Mattern will combine with with our tubist, Dan Anderson, to do Crucifixus by Antonio Lotti, and Four Little Prayers of St. Francis of Assisi by Francis Poulenc.  The trumpets will have their day with The Fanfare for St. Edmundsbury by Benjamin Britten.  Then after we do the Grand Cor and Dialogue by Eugène Gigout, we
ll lower our hair a little bit, if you like, by doing a traditional spiritual called Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, which Dan Anderson arranged, and which goes through various different styles of music.  He’s also written a piece especially to end this concert for both organs, and both brass ensembles.  If you can imagine raising the roof at Holy Name Cathedral, this might do it.

BD:   It sounds like a great concert.

Beacraft:   It’ll be fun, and it’ll probably have its loud moments and soft ones.


BD:   Do you have you any advice for other brass players?

Beacraft:   Practice, practice, practice, and listen, listen, listen!  Actually, I would hesitate to give advice to anyone.

BD:   Do you do any teaching?

Beacraft:   I taught for twenty years at DePaul University.  I was the trumpet instructor there, and I really enjoyed it very, very much.  It’s always a joy to work with someone, and help them realize their potential.  Each person brings something different when they come to you, and if you’re a good teacher, you work with them to try and bring them up to their best level, and to find out where their deficiencies are to help them expand their horizons.  So my advice would be that each person should realize their own potential in their own way.  B
ut then my life took a left-turn, and I became Director of Admissions for the School of Music.

BD:   Does this mean you have to listen to all the audition tapes?

Beacraft:   No.  All the students come in to audition, but there are certain rewards with youngsters who are just about to go to college.  They come with enthusiasm, and it’s a good place for them to be.

BD:   One last question.  Is playing the trumpet fun?

Beacraft:   There’s nothing more fun.  If I have a day off, my favorite thing to do is practice the whole day.  That’s what I like to do.  [Pauses a moment]  There are other things, too...  That’s not to say it is the only thing in life.  After all, it’s people who are the most important, and my family comes long before the trumpet does.  But I do get a kick out of it, and most musicians I know play because they get such joy from playing.  Economic rewards are secondary.

BD:   I hope it continues.

Beacraft:   Thanks.


© 1997 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on April 6, 1997.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB two days later.  This transcription was made in 2022, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

*     *     *     *     *

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.