Donald S. Reinhardt Plays “Blue Bells of Scotland”

Former Reinhardt student, Rick Gordon, recently found an old cassette tape of Reinhardt performing Blue Bells of Scotland, by Arthur Pryor, from June of 1926. Reinhardt would have been 18 years old at that time. Check it out.

It’s extremely impressive playing for anyone, let alone someone who is only a young adult! Consider also the recording technology of the time required musicians to get everything in a single take, you couldn’t go back and punch in to clean things up.

I was curious about where this recording lined up with the story Reinhardt wrote in his book, Encyclopedia of the Pivot System. In the preface he described how he became interested in studying a physical approach to brass technique, after years of studying with 18 “so-called brass instrument instructors.”

One day prior to the advent of the bell lock, I knocked the bell section off the slide section of the instrument while inserting a mute. The bell struck the sharp outer edge of the tympani rim and fell to the floor. The tuning slide was completely flattened, rendering the horn unplayable When I had it repaired, the repairman neglected to replace the balancing weight, making the horn extremely front-heavy. As soon as I tried to play the unbalanced instrument, I noticed that I could play a very weak high Bb. Since this was the first high Bb that I ever played, I was naturally quite elated. In trying to analyze this phenomenon, I realize that since the instrument was decidedly front-heavy, the membrane (red) of my lower lip had moved in a slightly over my lower teeth. This was because the horn angle was considerably lower than before. Thus, the fact that my jaw was slightly more receded than usual permitted the lower lip membrane to move slightly in and over my lower teeth, increasing my embouchure compression.

Encyclopedia of the Pivot System – Donald S. Reinhardt, p. IX-X

Based on the above description of Reinhardt’s abilities before this event, it must have happened before he made this recording. But based on the information he put in the Encyclopedia, I would date this event happening around the same time, perhaps a year or two later, which is curious. My dating of this tuning slide accident is based on other things he wrote in his preface.

He states that he began studying music formally at the age of 8 (violin and music theory). After two years he decided he wanted to play a brass instrument (he preferred French horn), but his father kept him on violin for another year until he began taking brass lessons. This would have been at the age of around 11 (age of 8+2 years of violin+1 year of his father insisting he stay on violin). Then later he studied “thirteen and a half years of trombone lessons,” frustrated because of his range difficulties. That puts the date of the tuning slide accident somewhere around his young 20s.

Ralph Dudgeon, in his 2000 article for the International Trumpet Guild Journal, “Credit Where Credit is Due: The Life and Brass Teaching of Donald S. Reinhardt,” suggests this happened even later. Dudgeon states, “Apparently, it was in this period [in the early 1930s] that Reinhardt studied with the ’18 so-called teachers.”

Why worry about this timeline in the first place? Well, first and foremost I’m curious and my academic background has trained me to look for the details in order to put things into the context for a bigger picture. If this was recorded before his tuning slide accident, then something is off in Reinhardt’s preface to the Encyclopedia. Maybe his dates in the preface were off or maybe the recording was made when he was older. Perhaps Reinhardt exaggerated his playing difficulties for effect.

My teacher, and former student and friend of Reinhardt’s, assumes that the tuning slide accident must have happened in early high school. If so, that would make the most sense based on the quality of Reinhardt’s playing on this recording.

Bruce Bevans

Doc told me the story surrounding the making of the recording. As a high school graduation present, Doc’s dad offered him the opportunity to record himself. He chose Blue Bells. At the time, Doc was working at the Bell Lab in NJ to support himself. I think he auditioned for the Curtis Institute soon after, as it was Blue Bells that Doc performed for Gardell Simons, who was his private teacher before Curtis, and was his teacher at Curtis for about a year.

Bruce Bevans

The second piece is more revealing. Although I always thought the tuning slide incident happened to him in high school, when you hear him go for the last note, he doesn’t quite get until, the bottom lip kicks in? It may very well have been the time of surrounding the recording. I think it is safe to say that Mr Simons was one of those 18 instructors, although Simons helped Doc the refinement of the use of the tongue and general smoothness to his playing, which is quite evident.

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