Tom Crown

My first experience in a musical ensemble was in Kindergarden. I played in the Kindergarden percussion ensemble. Returning home after the first rehearsal I told my mother that we played tangerines and thimbles. She repeated this story ad-nauseam for the rest of her life.


My career as a brass player, but not yet as a trumpeter began in 7th grade with a music test, the Seashore musical abilities test. I must have done well because I was told that as a result of this test I was being given an instrument and would be in the band. I thought this was great until I found out what the instrument was, the Eb tuba. This seemed to be more of a punishment than an award, considering the instrument, my small size at that time and the condition of the tuba I was given. I learned how to play the tuba, more or less, but yearned to go on to something smaller.


Finally the summer before high school,  I had saved $10.00 and my father bought a "Sterling" trumpet from a friend for my first trumpet. This was  very exciting. I started taking trumpet lessons at the local Sherwood School of Music, but from the clarinet teacher, there seemingly being no real trumpet teacher available. I could read music by this time so I started playing from one of the more advanced method books of the Klose clarinet system.  After a few months of poor progress I decided I needed a real trumpet teacher. My clarinet/trumpet teacher warned me that by quitting I would lose all that I had learned from him.. True, my chalumeau register was developing but I didn't really see my hoped for career as a trumpet player going in the right direction. I still have this first clarinet method book and never could do much better with it than I did then.


Entering South Shore high school I heard of a real trumpet teacher in the neighborhood. This teacher, Isabelle Harridge, was a dream come true for me. She introduced me to the normal beginning trumpet methods, Arban, H.L.Clarke etc. and I started to make real progress. Unfortunately my fame as a grammar school tuba player had preceded me to South Shore and in order to be in the intermediate band on trumpet I had to play tuba, now grown to a Sousaphone, in the advanced band. Trumpet players were a dime a dozen but tuba players of my caliber, in fact of any caliber, were at a premium.


I hated the Sousaphone even more than the tuba and being very small for my age was the butt of constant jokes. Marching band at football games was a nightmare. I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible getting to the games with the Sousaphone over my shoulder. This involved a route down back alleys sometimes on my bicycle for more speed. The worst part of all this of course was what it did to my trumpet embouchure. A typical rehearsal day of, first advanced band on tuba and then intermediate band on trumpet, left me very discouraged and my lip wiped out. Our band director, known affectionately to us as "potato nose" insisted my future was with the Eb Sousaphone. Even my mother's many talks with the school principal couldn't change his mind. He wouldn't allow me to quit the tuba and play trumpet in the advanced band. My solution was to quit the band completely which I did in my second year of high school. After this major step my progress on the trumpet was rapid. I started playing with neighborhood dance bands and also bought a new trumpet, an Olds Studio. I don't think I have since been as thrilled with a new [it was used] trumpet as with this beautiful OIds.


Mrs. Hanidge thought my progress was so good after a year that she recommended I start taking trumpet lessons with Renold Schilke. This was a big step for me as Mr. Schilke was "the" trumpet teacher at that time, and a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Mrs. Harridge had arranged a special price for me with Mr.Schilke, $2.00. I was paying all of my own expenses for instruments and lessons so $2.00, plus the fare on the Illinois Central to Downtown Chicago was a major expenditure. I was also starting to play some dance jobs that paid as much as $4.00 a job.


First lessons with Renold Schilke were very impressive. He seemed to me to be the essence of the professional trumpet player. I thought he was quite old, [actually he was then 35] always wore a dark business suit and tie, and looked as if he were just coming from or going to some incredibly difficult and important rehearsal or concert. He played, as did most symphonic trumpet players at that time, a silver plated Bb French Besson. Others played a Benge medium large bore Bb that seemed to be a copy and an improvement of the Besson.


Lessons consisted mostly of exercises from the Arban book. Perhaps because of my early clarinet training I could still not play consistently above middle C in the staff, although I could read well and didn't get lost playing in a group. We started with the famous Schilke routine that consisted of exercises on page 127 of the Arban book, each note held four beats, maximum fortissimo, then four beats rest, etc., hopefully advancing higher and higher as the weeks went by. Mr.Schilke would sit across the studio with his trumpet and we would alternately go at it. I continued with this routine for about a year and a half, practicing three or four hours a day. My patient parents might occasionally say, "Tommy, don't you think you've practiced enough today ?" when I was into my third or fourth hour, but I persisted. After about a year Mr. Schilke dropped out of these blasting sessions as I had passed into the stratosphere. I was now able to play page 127 on a high F. I think these exercises permanently damaged my flexibility and lip. I did, however finally get out of the chalumeau register. With this new range and strength I greatly impressed my colleagues in our teen age bands on "In The Mood" and other high note pieces. Fortunately for my ego, Maynard Ferguson had not yet appeared on the scene.


After high school I continued studying with Renold Schilke.  I auditioned for and was accepted in the Chicago Civic Orchestra, the training orchestra of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. While in Civic I was given a scholarship to study with Adolph Herseth. His lessons were invaluable. I also later studied with Arnold Jacobs, more invaluable insights into brass playing.


I graduated from Roosevelt University-Chicago Musical College with a Bachelor and Master's degree in music education.


My first real professional job was playing with the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra. This led to a tour with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. I then was hired at WGN Radio TV as first trumpet, to replace Elden Benge, who was moving to California.


Shortly after starting at WGN I was drafted into the US Army. After playing in several post bands, I was transferred to the 7th Army Symphony Orchestra, stationed near Stuttgart, Germany. My short stint with the 7th ASO, about 8 months, was a defining period of my life, as it must have been for many other members of the orchestra. During this time, we toured France, Italy and Great Britain, and played innumerable concerts in Germany. It was an exciting time, with exposure to other cultures and languages that have influenced the rest of my life. 


After discharge I returned to W.G.N. playing in classical, show, Bozo circus and big band formations for ten years. I joined the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra in 1964 and continued for 30 years. During most of this time I taught trumpet and brass instruments at Roosevelt University-Chicago Musical College.


I married Donna Frank, a trombone player,  in 1959 and we have had an exciting life together with many trips to Europe, Latin America, and Japan. She has played an important part in the success of the Tom Crown mute company.


In 1974-75 I played with the Deutsche Oper Berlin in an exchange that brought a friend, Arno Lange, to Chicago to play with Lyric for a year.


In 1969, inspired by a mute that Adolph Herseth used on the D trumpet, I started producing mutes, with an original production of 10 mutes. With help and feedback from friends in the Lyric Opera Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, I developed other trumpet mutes, piccolo trumpet mutes,  tenor and bass trombone mutes and a French horn mute.


We have three co-workers, William Camp, Chitaka Nishikiori and Gene Arnold, all  professional trumpet players.


Tom Crown mutes are used by brass players world-wide.