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Mary Elizabeth Bowden: Sound the Trumpet!

MAry Elizabeth Bowden

If you think the trumpet has one basic sound, Mary Elizabeth Bowden is here to prove otherwise. “It has so many different colors,” the acclaimed trumpeter says, noting she typically travels with six or seven trumpets. “Each one has its own special sound.”

While the B-flat trumpet is the most common instrument, the trumpet family includes a total of 10 different instruments, each appropriate for different kinds of music. The piccolo trumpet, for instance, has four valves and is popular in Baroque pieces. Bowden says it works nicely with Brandenburg; “it blends nicely with oboe and violin,” she says. The flugelhorn, in contrast, has a bigger bell and darker tone.

Bowden started playing when she was 10. Her two older brothers already played horn and trombone. “I liked the horn but my brother wouldn’t let me start,” she says. She chose cornet instead and hasn’t looked back.

Today Bowden performs in multiple groups and regularly commissions new works for trumpet. She has a new album of all new commissioned trumpet concertos due to come out in 2024 that she will record with the Chicago Youth Symphony.

Bowden’s interest in expanding the trumpet repertoire is part of her musical mission. “As a soloist the pieces I typically get asked to play are Haydn, Hummel — the standard concertos,” she says. “I wanted to add my voice and find living composers whose music I have them write works for the trumpet that caters to my strength and pushes me as well.”

Her 2019-2020 schedule included the premiere of her Vivian Fung commission, Fung’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra with the Erie Philharmonic and Anchorage Symphony. This was the first piece written for a female trumpet soloist by a North American female composer. At Norfolk this summer she will perform a work by American composer Adolphus Hailstork.

Chamber music is another important part of Bowden’s professional musical mix. She plays in the Dash Duo with her husband, trumpeter David Dash.

[Scroll below to see a video of Bowden and David Dash performing Chas Reskin's Showdown at the Hoedown.]

She is a founding director and member of Seraph Brass which was the First Prize winner of the 2019 American Prize in Chamber Music, the guest ensemble at the 2019 International Trumpet Guild Conference in Miami, the featured ensemble at the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference, and at the Lieksa Brass Week in Finland in 2017 and 18.

Bowden is an active chamber music festival participant too, including Marlboro Music Festival, Lakes Area Music Festival, The Banff Centre, and at the Sydney Opera House (under the baton of Håkan Hardenberger).

While this will be her first visit to the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, as a Yale School of Music alumni who studied with Allan Dean, Bowden is familiar with the Festival. “I visited Allan Dean and have seen how beautiful it looks,” she says.

Indeed, she attributes her eclectic approach to music-making to Norfolk faculty member Dean, who has made a career of playing everything from ragtime to Rachmaninoff. “In my 20s I wanted to be a full time symphony player. I thought that was the only way to make a living,” she says. “Now in my 30s I’m doing what Allan’s life was like. I enjoy that versatility. I can be the boss of most of my projects.”

[Scroll below to see The Making of Rêverie with Bowden and the Kassia Ensemble.]

Playing chamber music helps make her a better player overall, she says. “In chamber music, you’re developing communication with other members. It’s really playing as one voice,” she says. “The more you rehearse with people and spend time working on phrasing and nuance, it opens up your ears. You have to adapt quickly to pitch and rhythm.” That flexibility is a plus during orchestral play. “The mindset changes to everything is chamber music.”


Mary Elizabeth Bowden will perform at the Norfolk Festival on Friday, July 15.  Click to view program information and to buy tickets.