Enter the Trumpets

Enter the Trumpets

Muffled music drifts under closed doors, mingling together down a long corridor of offices and rehearsal rooms in Baylor’s Glennis McCrary Music Building. The office of Wiff Rudd, BMEd ’77, professor of trumpet and coordinator of brass, is one of those on the hallway. 

In among a floor-to-ceiling shelf of brass horn parts and a wall of national championship plaques hangs a Sept. 5, 1973, Baylor Lariat photograph. Pictured is Rudd as a Baylor freshman — alongside his future wife Jeanette on a classic campus green-and-gold tree swing.

Little did the Rudds know they would eventually return to Baylor, where Jeanette worked for years, and Wiff’s trumpet students have won first place at the National Trumpet Competition five times in the last eight years.

In 2010, Rudd received a University Award for Outstanding Teaching and was named Baylor Centennial Professor. His book, Collaborative Practice Concepts, has been adopted by many university trumpet studios across the country.

“What I love about teaching is working together with students and collaborating with colleagues like Mark Schubert [lecturer in trumpet and chamber music] and Alex Parker [director of jazz studies]. It’s a week-to-week process, and it’s slow and steady,” Rudd says. “We’re very fortunate at Baylor in that, because we’re resident faculty and our students almost live in this building, it is like being in a house, and in a family; we see each other all the time.”

Though only required to be available to students one hour per week, it’s common for him to spend six hours — individually or in small groups — with each one of his students. That means Rudd and his students discuss many topics outside of music. 

“It’s great when we get to the point where the music is flowing and the group relationships are flourishing,” Rudd says. “It’s a joy to observe and to be a small part of the process of them becoming themselves, to help them understand that perfection in music isn’t realistic, to become more analogue in their daily experience, and to accept being human. That’s what it’s about. I’ve seen some phenomenal transformations.” 

Rudd describes how his teaching methods have evolved, such as creating a few special keystone habits. One is “the warmup.”

“We ask the students to come to one each week, and we just warm up together,” he says. “We find our sounds, we improvise together — we call it a hang out. It has built camaraderie in the studio over the last 17 years, and it was the thing that got the studio percolating.”

Sometimes after major events, Rudd’s groups sit in a circle and express gratitude for each other.

"Our students are not just flourishing musically here; many of them are flourishing spiritually, personally and physically."

In one instance, they didn’t talk about trumpet, “we just expressed our thanks. That’s powerful medicine,” says Rudd, who notices after competitions and performances, “that relationships are so much deeper, people are connecting in fantastic ways. Music-making becomes even more meaningful.” 

Rudd, who holds a master’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado, is a founding member of Rhythm & Brass, which toured 150-200 days per year for many years. He also toured with Dallas Brass for eight years. Rudd began teaching trumpet and serving as brass area coordinator at Baylor in 2002 after teaching at Oklahoma Baptist University and the University of Arkansas. 

Rudd has been a featured soloist in Carnegie Hall and performed and presented master classes at more than 350 universities and music festivals on five continents. He is principal trumpet with the Waco Symphony and performs occasionally with orchestras in Houston, Fort Worth and Dallas. 

“As a performer, Professor Rudd’s very high level of artistry and accuracy is astounding,” says School of Music Dean Gary Mortenson, who also is a trumpet player. “His impact as a teacher of young musicians is his most enduring legacy. Wiff has a sense of empathy for what musicians go through when they struggle with the difficulties of trying to express something significant by setting the lips in vibration and moving air through a brass tube. His students trust him, value his wise counsel, and feel fortunate to be around him and their dedicated peers.

“Baylor’s trumpet studio is something truly special. You may not be able to quantify it with words, but you know how special it is when you hear it.”

Several years ago, Rudd decided that some of his students were good enough to submit solo recordings to the National Trumpet Competition. Four students were invited, and one made the final four. It created a spark of interest among the Baylor trumpeters; now, Baylor trumpeters can be found at the event annually. Two Baylor ensembles and 10 individuals were invited to the next competition.

“With the trumpet studio, I wanted to create a place where students can fail and still sleep well,” Rudd says. “Seeing them helping each other despite individual competition is the most rewarding thing, and they’re just flourishing. Success breeds success, and I think their accomplishments have come from them loving to share the gift of music.”

Rudd says the idea is to perform rather than compete. He encourages trumpeters to tell their stories, engage and trust the results.

“That frees up a lot of students to let go of pressure and just be themselves,” Rudd says. “When they can walk out with this countenance of joy and togetherness, it becomes a performance. Audiences and judges pick up on this, and they quit judging and start listening and enjoying themselves.”

Trumpet players

Most of Rudd’s students have become professional musicians or music teachers. Some are in the finest graduate music programs or get hired by U.S. military bands, symphony orchestras or universities. Others pursue MBAs or make careers in other fields. Some current students perform professionally in Dallas and Fort Worth. Regardless of their future careers, Rudd sees music students becoming well-rounded, responsible adults.

“Our students are not just flourishing musically here; many of them are flourishing spiritually, personally and physically,” he says. “What they go on to do is a real testament to the opportunities they have here. Baylor musicians are attractive to the organizations that hire them because they understand how to work alone, in small teams, in large teams. They know when to speak, when to be silent, when to listen. They know how to adjust and deal with difficult transitions.”

Rudd says that for the students, the deepest rewards lie in the creative process of making music, and — above all — doing life together in real community. Championships are merely icing on the cake.

“I haven’t met or taught anybody who regrets having studied music if they’re not making their living in music now,” Rudd says. “That’s because of the integrity of what they’re studying and what they learn. The pursuit of music prepares these students for just about anything. The arts are a huge part of any culture, and there’s always going to be music.”

A few years ago, Rudd’s 1973 Baylor tree swing story came full circle — he purchased one for Jeanette’s birthday and requested it be placed outside of the Glennis McCrary Music Building. Sharing stories from his student days and from his prolific career in performance and education only strengthens the bonds with his students. Championships or not, Rudd, his colleagues and student musicians keep Baylor swinging with the soundtrack of culture and the rhythm of the college life. Baylor, and the world, is all the better for it.