About the Author
BRIAN A. SHOOK is assistant professor of music (trumpet) at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. From 2004 to 2009 he toured the United States with The King’s Brass, and since 2009 has been principal trumpet of the Symphony of Southeast Texas. He earned a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Arizona State University. WYNTON MARSALIS (foreword) is a legendary trumpet player from New Orleans.
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Last Stop, Carnegie Hall
New York Philharmonic Trumpeter William Vacchiano
By Brian A. Shook
University of North Texas PressCopyright © 2011 Brian A. Shook
All rights reserved.
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William Anthony Vacchiano was born on May 23, 1912, in Portland, Maine, the seventh of eight children to Rafaello and Anna Vacchiano. Of his seven siblings, Vacchiano had five older sisters, one older brother, and one younger brother. The two oldest sisters, Mary and Margarita, were born in Italy before their parents immigrated to the United States from their hometown of Cicciano, Italy. Vacchiano's father, Rafaello, was trained as a metal worker after serving as a member of the King's Guard. Eventually, Rafaello sailed for America where he hoped to find more financial stability and a better life for his family. Many immigrants had various family members already living in America, which made the move and transition easier. It was no different for Rafaello. When he arrived at Ellis Island, he was greeted by his two brothers, Megucia and Pasquale.
Rafaello Vacchiano found a place to live on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and began working there as a grocer. A year later, after enough money had been saved, he was able to pay for his wife and two daughters to move to America. This trip was more difficult than the usual trans-Atlantic crossing, for the ship, the Ravelli, developed rudder problems and was forced to dock in order to make the appropriate repairs. It took almost a month for parts to arrive and repairs to be made. Passengers carried most of their own food and provisions, and few were prepared for this extra month of travel. When Vacchiano's mother and two sisters finally arrived they vowed never to set foot on a ship again. During the next several years, the Vacchiano family lived in Brooklyn where Vacchiano's three older sisters were born: Anna, Frances, and Nancy.
Around 1909, the Vacchianos moved to Portland, Maine, where many friends from Italy were living. Vacchiano and his two brothers, Milo and Dominic, were born in Portland. Vacchiano vividly remembered this community where he grew up: "The sector of the city where we lived was like a part of Italy carved out and planted in Portland. All the customs, language, churches, and stores were strictly Italian. My father was an ardent fisherman and was very happy with the move. My mother was also content because most of her neighbors were from Italy."
Early Studies and Performances in Portland and Boston
Vacchiano's father recognized William's love of music when he was just a little boy. As early as age six, Rafaello took him to the Portland City Hall Auditorium to hear music. The first live performance he heard was Verdi's La Traviata, and he was thrilled with the sights and sounds that surrounded him. The pervasiveness of the Italian culture in Portland exposed Vacchiano to a rich musical environment, serving as a catalyst to his career as a musician.
Vacchiano claimed that his career started by accident:
My family lived in a house that was at the bottom of a very steep hill in Portland. I used to ride home from school on a bicycle without brakes, which meant I had to meander from side to side; otherwise I would have landed in the ocean that was close to my house! One day, a schoolmate and neighbor of mine, Louis Bennett, was carrying a baritone horn and got caught in my path. After I crashed into him, we realized I had put a small dent in his horn and we both were terrified. I didn't know at the time that the dent could be removed with a drumstick, since brass is very soft. We both panicked and went to the teacher, Mr. DiNobile, to explain the dent. At the time, we were about eight or nine years of age, so we didn't understand how much it would cost to fix the horn. We thought we were in serious trouble. Mr. DiNobile was recruiting local youngsters for his band and he asked me if I would like to play an instrument. I grabbed the opportunity to get out of the scrape and said, "Yes!"
Mr. DiNobile's teaching was very Italian. This method meant one year of solfège before starting on an instrument. I had five fifteen-minute lessons every day after school. After one year of rigorous study, he told me to ask my father what instrument I was to play. My five older sisters decided I was to play the saxophone which Rudy Vallee had made popular back then. My father agreed, but knew enough about music to know I had to start on clarinet. He pinned fifty dollars to the inside of my shirt and sent me off to my teacher who lived across the street from us. On the way to the teacher something distracted me—a ball game or something similar—and I arrived at his house one hour later. When he asked me what instrument my father selected, I couldn't remember. After calming me down he started to name instruments to see if I could remember what my father had said. He could have crossed the street and asked my father but my destiny was wrapped up in this little drama. My father spoke only Italian to me and to a nine-year old boy who knew nothing about instruments, the instrument my father named didn't make a deep impression on me.
The teacher started to name different instruments and he happened to start with the brass family. When he came to the cornetto I said, "That's it!" The difference between cornetto and clarinetto to a nine-year-old boy was indistinguishable. When I showed up at home with a cornet, my father was beside himself. "The instrument you want is black and made of wood!" My mother, who was preparing supper, interrupted by saying, "What's the difference? Cornet or clarinet, he's not going to be a professional." My father threw his hands and let the incident end there. As it turned out, I had a flair for the cornet and since I could read music well, soon I was playing first chair in the band.
Mr. DiNobile stayed in America for only a couple more years before returning to Italy. Vacchiano needed to find a new teacher and soon started studying with Frank Knapp, who was his first cornet teacher. Vacchiano was about twelve years old when he began studying with him; Knapp was retired and in his seventies. During Knapp's career as a cornetist, he was solo cornet in Alessandro Liberati's band in New York. Liberati was one of the world's greatest cornet players. Interestingly, Liberati was principal trumpet (on cornet) with the Philharmonic Society of New York (which later became the New York Philharmonic) during the winter seasons of 1879 and 1880, the desk that Vacchiano was appointed to six decades later. Knapp made an indelible impression on Vacchiano at an early age. He said, "Mr. Knapp had the most beautiful sound I have ever heard."
The most significant aspect of Knapp's influence and guidance on Vacchiano's early training occurred when Knapp appointed Vacchiano to third trumpet in the Portland Municipal Orchestra (now the Portland Symphony Orchestra). Knapp was principal trumpet and introduced Vacchiano to the trumpet section when he was only fourteen years old. This experience not only broadened Vacchiano's musical abilities, but also gave him the thrill of playing in a professional orchestra.
In addition to his studies with Knapp, Vacchiano also took piano lessons. As became evident later, the intense study of solfège and piano at an early age significantly enhanced Vacchiano's playing and teaching careers, especially with regard to transposition. The fee for his cornet lessons was two dollars, which was "a goodly sum in those days." Due to the expenses involved in taking both piano and trumpet lessons, Vacchiano was forced to choose between them. "I sometimes feel sorry I didn't select the piano because I think the piano is a complete instrument. One can play a symphony on the piano. However, I believe in destiny as the rest of my saga will reveal."
Vacchiano dedicated himself to music and Knapp quickly recognized the potential he possessed. To encourage his musical advancement, Knapp introduced him to the 240th Artillery Coast Guard Band in Portland. At the time, Vacchiano was only fourteen years old and was too young to play in any of the bands, but he looked older because he had a moustache. "When I told the security officer I was eighteen, he let me play with the band although he knew I was fibbing."
In the summers, Vacchiano spent about four weeks at Camp Devons in Massachusetts where he played with the 240th Artillery Coast Guard Band, as well as with the Lewiston Artillery Band. These bands came to Camp Devons for National Guard training and rehearsed every week, earning Vacchiano five dollars for each rehearsal. "With all of these rehearsals, I made about ten or fifteen dollars a week, which was the average salary among the immigrants in those days."
Vacchiano continued to acquire further experience at Portland High School by playing solos every Friday:
In grade school, the custom was to assemble in the big auditorium every Friday morning to hear the legendary Walter Damrosch. It was a typical children's concert. Before the broadcast, the school band would march the students into the auditorium. I used to play a solo almost every Friday. By the end of high school I knew approximately sixty solos.
Vacchiano maintained a rigorous practice schedule all through his high school years: from 2:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M. was trumpet practice, 3:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. was homework, 4:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. was trumpet and 5:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. was piano, followed by more homework. "It was the custom for teachers to ask students to stay after school for extra help. One day, one of my teachers told me to stay for extra help. I said I couldn't because I had to practice. After that one time, I was never asked to stay for extra help again because I wanted to be able to practice all afternoon."
During Vacchiano's last two years in high school, he commuted to Boston for lessons with Georges Mager, the great principal trumpet player of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1919–1950).
Georges Mager influenced my life more than anyone else. The equipment he was using [i.e. the mouthpiece] was what I should have been using, but I didn't realize it at the time. [His mouthpiece] doubled my sound, range, speed of tonguing. Everything opened right up! If I hadn't met him I probably never would have known these things were possible until, perhaps, much later in my life.
It was around this same time that Vacchiano also took intermittent lessons with Louis Kloepfel and Walter M. Smith in Boston. Kloepfel had been principal trumpet with the New York Symphony Society (1891–1898), as well as with the Boston Symphony (1898–1914) and was retired when Vacchiano studied with him. Smith, former cornetist with the Sousa Band and also Solo Cornet with the U.S. Marine Band, had a significant impact on Vacchiano's career, not only with his teaching, but also with his method book, Top Tones for the Trumpeter, that Vacchiano used frequently in his own teaching.
Vacchiano devised a special routine in order to get to Boston for these lessons:
When I was fourteen and still in high school, we lived only one hundred miles from Boston. In those depression days, they used to run excursions to get people to spend some money. To go from Portland to Boston cost only $2.00 round trip. I used to go down there every Saturday to take a lesson from the great Walter M. Smith, who was the outstanding soloist of the United States [Marine Band]. Meanwhile, I used to sneak over to see Louis Kloepfel. They were both fantastic teachers ... equally as famous as Schlossberg in New York. But that didn't go on for long as we couldn't afford the $2.00 carfare too often in those days.
Vacchiano periodically studied with Gustav Heim, who had served as principal trumpet of almost every major orchestra in the country (Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, 1904–1905; Philadelphia Orchestra, 1905–1906; Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1906–1920; Detroit Symphony Orchestra, 1920–1921; Philharmonic Society of New York, 1921–1923; Cleveland Orchestra, 1923–1924; and New York Symphony Society, 1925–1928). Mager was the teacher who helped Vacchiano find the right mouthpiece, but it was Heim who introduced the benefits of using higher pitched trumpets to Vacchiano. The magnificent combination of the instruction from these two famous players, Mager and Heim, had a tremendous impact on Vacchiano's career as a trumpet player and pedagogue for nearly seven decades.
I owed practically all my success to [Gustav Heim]. I have attributed my long career to the ability to play all these [different pitched trumpets] and he taught me the proper way of doing it. I have a funny story about Gustav Heim. You weren't allowed to drink [alcohol] in those days, and he was a German up in the dry state of Maine. He used to make homebrew and they told him, "Gus, please don't make any home-brew and give it to the farmers. If you want to drink it, do it yourself." Well, he insisted and they put him in jail for four weeks. I went up there one day [for a lesson] and I couldn't find him. They told me he was over at the jail. So I went over [to the jail] and took a lesson [from him]. It was quite a memorable experience.
Vacchiano's extensive experience and dedication at such a young age enabled him to thrive in New York's musical environment. "I didn't realize it until later but, by the time I came to New York, I was really a seasoned musician. In a small town like that, you just don't know. In a big city you can tell where you stand from your neighbors and friends. You can tell how well you play compared to them. But we had nothing to go by."
While Vacchiano enjoyed his success as a legitimate trumpet player, he still faced the lure of being in a dance band and the attraction of receiving a higher wage. In an interview with Bill Spilka, Vacchiano related the following story:
Isham Jones [1894–1956] was playing in Boston and asked Walter Smith if he knew a good, young trumpet player who might join his band for an engagement on the pier in Old Orchard, Maine, where all the big bands went to play. Walter gave him my name. When Jones passed through Portland he asked the manager at the Keith Theatre if he knew where I lived. "What do you want with him?" Jones replied, "Walter Smith told me that he has talent." So the manager gave him the wrong directions to get to my house and ran over [there] himself. He hadn't known that I could really play. When he got there he said, "I want to sign you up immediately to play for me every Sunday at the [Riverton] Amusement Park. I'll pay you $3.00 a concert." Just after I signed the contract, Jones arrived at my house. When he saw the manager coming out, he realized what had happened—but there was nothing that he could do about it. That was the first and last time that I ever came close to playing in a dance orchestra! If Jones had arrived first I probably would have taken the job. Money is money to a young kid. That's how close I came!
The Road to New York
The Wall Street crash in 1929 was a life-altering event for Vacchiano, just as it was for the rest of the country, In just one day, a record-breaking sixteen million shares of stock were traded with a total loss of thirty billion dollars. The aftermath of this devastation led to one of the greatest financial crises in the history of the United States, instantly ending a season of prosperity and ultimately ushering in the Great Depression. According to Vacchiano, "The day Wall Street crashed was to be the next milestone in my life. This was the beginning of the worst depression the country has ever witnessed, and it ultimately affected the entire world. The misery and suffering during these harsh years have been documented many times in novels, movies, plays, and certainly in history books."
In the midst of this worldwide crisis, Vacchiano decided to pursue a two-year business course and obtain his license as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in order to maintain a stable income. The three leading business schools of the day were Bentley College (Boston), Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), and Saint John's University (Brooklyn). Vacchiano decided to visit Saint John's University first because his older sister, Anna, lived nearby. To Vacchiano's surprise and disappointment, Saint John's rejected his application because of the difference between Maine's grading system and the Regent's scale in New York.
Vacchiano decided to make the most out of his trip to New York and visit Times Square, a decision that changed his life forever.
I remember they had just opened up the Radio City Music Hall in New York City, and there was a friend of mine from Portland, Oscar Jones, who was playing trumpet in the orchestra. I figured I had better go down and see Times Square—after all, you can't go to New York City and not go to Times Square. So when I was walking around the street in Times Square, I just happened to run into my friend from Portland. He asked what I was doing and I told him the whole story. He said, "While you're here, you must take one lesson from the great Max Schlossberg." I didn't know who he was. I said, "I certainly can't afford it." Jones then offered to lend me the $3.00 the lesson would cost.
Excerpted from Last Stop, Carnegie Hall by Brian A. Shook. Copyright © 2011 Brian A. Shook. Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press.
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Table of Contents
ContentsList of Illustrations,
Foreword by Wynton Marsalis,
Chapter 1: Biography,
Chapter 2: Vacchiano and the New York Philharmonic,
Chapter 3: Responsibilities of a Principal Trumpeter,
Chapter 4: Vacchiano's Rules of Orchestral Performance,
Chapter 5: Pedagogical Methods,
Chapter 6: Vacchiano's Use of Equipment,
Chapter 7: Remembering Bill,
Appendix A: Principal and Guest Conductors of the New York Philharmonic, 1935–1973,
Appendix B: New York Philharmonic Trumpet Section, The Vacchiano Years, 1935–1973,
Appendix C: New York Philharmonic World Premières, 1935–1973,
Appendix D: New York Philharmonic U.S. Premières, 1935–1973,
Appendix E: Selected Discography of William Vacchiano with the New York Philharmonic, 1935–1973,
Appendix F: Bibliography of Music Publications by William Vacchiano,
Appendix G: The Students of William Vacchiano,
Bibliography and Sources,
What People are Saying About This
I had a lot of lessons with Bill Vacchiano, but that evening he taught me the things I have reflected on most as the years have passed. If your internal life is happy, you are happy. Pay attention to the loved ones around you.
I went over there for a one-hour lesson, but instead he gave me more than an hour could possibly hold. Thinking about that night, about me and him in his lonely house, still brings tears to my eyes.”
Brian Shook lives in Beaumont, Texas. Wynton Marsalis (foreword) lives in New Orleans.