Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bud Herseth

Most of you have not heard of Adolph “Bud” Herseth; you should at least be aware of him. His outlook may be instructive.

Bud Herseth played principal trumpet in the Chicago Symphony from 1948 – 2001. That’s right: fifty-three years. He was 79 years old when he retired, and played a few more seasons as Principal Trumpet Emeritus before stepping down altogether. In that time he cemented a reputation as the standard by which all orchestral trumpet players were measured.

I was fortunate to hear him play several times, and to participate in a master class. (He even took the trumpet section to lunch.) At the end of the session, at which the brass section of a summer festival orchestra read through Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, he took questions. In addition to the students were musicians from the National and Baltimore Symphonies, as well as others who were in town to coach the student orchestra. Virtually all of them came to see Herseth, regardless of their instrument.

It has been said the key to a happy life is to discover what you love to do most and figure out a way to make a living at it. Here’s what Bud Herseth said when asked if he thought about retiring. (He was in his late sixties at the time.):

“Why would I retire? Every day I get to play the greatest music ever written with the greatest musicians in the world. I have the best job in the world.”

Few professions can manage a more jaded façade than orchestral musicians. Even the established pros were choked up at that. I remember it like it happened the other day, not twenty-five years ago. For a man of Herseth’s gifts and accomplishments to view his job the way he did made everyone in the room feel small for any inconsequential griping. We were all lucky, no matter how close to the top of the pyramid we’d come.

Bud Herseth died last month at the age of 91. I didn’t know him; I met him once. I knew his playing. No one other than Charlie Schlueter had a more pronounced influence on me as a musician. The first thing I thought when I learned he was gone was to be glad he’d stayed around for a nice run after retirement. Too many giants suffer from what I call “Bear Bryant Disease,” and die too soon after their retirement to reflect on what they had done, and on their legacy.

From what I know of him through friends who knew him better, I doubt he spent much time doing that. I suspect he was happy to have had the best job in the world for longer than almost anyone else, to have had the opportunity to play the greatest music ever written with the greatest musicians in the world. A lot of people are happy he had that chance.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Do you know I thought of this only a week or two ago. We were sitting at the DSO, closer than our normal seats, and I was struck by how happy every musician in that orchestra seemed as they played their instrument. They beamed with the joy of it.

Dana King said...

I never received the same satisfaction from any professional endeavor as I did when playing in an orchestra. It was great to hear Bed say what he did when I was just about reaching the point where "real" musicians became jaded, to teach me that was not part of th gig. I'm happy to see you're pickling that up from the DSO. Playing in an orchestra is a harder life than most would think, but it truly is a way to find what you love and get paid to do it, if you have the chops to pull it off. Hard to ask for more than that.