Burt performing ‘An Étude a Day’ online

A University of Maine music professor is keeping sharp at home with daily trumpet exercises that he has been sharing each day on YouTube. 

Since April 5, Jack Burt, professor of trumpet and music history in the School of Performing Arts, has been recording one video a day from home to help him stay focussed. In a series he calls “An Étude a Day Keeps the COVID Away,” posted to his personal YouTube account, Burt records standard trumpet études short musical compositions designed as an exercise to improve technique or demonstrate skill in one take, with no edits, as a way to keep his playing skills sharp, stay positive, and keep in touch with the trumpet community.

Despite what he describes as the “academic” nature of the études, Burt says that the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. 

“These études are things we as players all teach, and work on ourselves, so there is a lot of relatability,” he explains. 

After the shift to emergency remote instruction in March, Burt encouraged his students to make the most of the situation. 

“We are in a crisis, and I know every person’s situation is different, but I hoped for them that when they do come out of all this they will feel like they accomplished something,” he says. “I told them to think of this as an ‘unanticipated practice opportunity.’” 

Eventually, Burt took his own advice to heart and began the series. Getting each étude up to a reasonable quality to record takes many hours for Burt, who admits that occasionally he misses his one-per-day posting schedule when working through a particularly tough piece. But, he says, it’s a wonderful chance to really focus on his playing, an opportunity he hasn’t had since graduate school. He adds, too, that it helps with mental health.

“It has kept me from getting lost in the news, from despairing in a difficult time,” he says. 

Burt was inspired to begin the project by Jim Wilt, associate principal trumpet of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who has been undertaking a similar exercise, and the two chat regularly about their respective projects — “what we’ve gotten ourselves into,” as Burt describes it. Wilt has been very supportive, Burt says. He adds that at least one other trumpeter, Hakan Hardenberger, who is among the most important trumpet soloists working today, has been posting his own études each week from Malmo, Sweden. 

How long does Burt plan to keep the series up? 

I will keep this up for as long as I have the time,” he says. “Wish me luck in continuing!”