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Dozens of trumpets line the walls and several rest on the floor near Steven Trinkle’s music stand in his studio in a central Casper home he and his wife, Genie Burkett, share. More trumpets rest on a mantle and walls near her grand piano in the front room where the two rehearse.

“Take it, babe,” Trinkle said as Burkett began Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango.” He lifted his trumpet and came in with the melody.

The couple next demonstrated "Milonga para tres," a song by the same composer with a slower rhythm.

“If this doesn’t get you hot on a February day,” Trinkle said before they began to play, “there’s something wrong.”

“Tango at the NIC,” featuring the couple in a trio with bass Friday at the Nicolaysen Art Museum, includes five of Piazzolla’s works and other South American tangos.

The concert kicks off a busy spring for Trinkle Brass Works, their nonprofit music company. In various groups, Trinkle Brass Works performs music ranging from medieval pieces to works they commission. The Casper Chamber Music Society features Trinkle and Burkett as a duo Feb. 24, and in April they will return to the Nicolaysen as part of a nine-piece salon orchestra ensemble.

The pair for 42 years has performed together as Trinkle Brass Works and in many other groups through the U.S., the Americas and Europe, according to their biography. They’ve also spent decades teaching and performed in many symphonies, often in principal positions.

All Trinkle Brass Works’ repertoire must be something they know will connect with audiences, even the modern works in their repertoire for those who think they don’t like contemporary music, Burkett said.

Audiences can always expect to learn about the pieces and stories behind them. 

“I’m a storyteller, so when I do performances, I talk with the audience and I try to engage the audience in our work,” Trinkle said.

“And it’s important for people to know why we’re doing this piece of music,” he said, “not just what it is but how it is, how this affects people’s lives.”

Tango connection

The milonga the couple played at their home Thursday is an earlier form of tango, said Trinkle, who also conducts the Powder River Symphony in Gillette.

Before the turn of the century, the music was played at dances in brothels. But women weren’t allowed to dance, Trinkle said, “because it was thought it is too sensual in nature.”

“The sailors danced with themselves, and it’s a very macho thing,” he said.

It still is in modern tango. He watched a performance of Piazzolla’s group, with the nearly 70-year-old bass player standing in all black with several shirt buttons left unbuttoned.

“Then they start to play and you’re like, ‘Oh, I get it,’” Trinkle said, “because it is a very, very sensuous dance.”

Another story tells of how the couple met Piazzolla and started playing his music.

They were making their way home from directing and playing organ in a church choir rehearsal in Madison, Wisconsin, listening to one of their favorite NPR music programs on a cold, snowy night.

“On the radio came this music, this tango music, and it was hot,” Trinkle said. “It was really fascinating music.”

A call to the station eventually led Trinkle to the record producer who turned out to know the composer’s manager, and Piazzolla happened to be on tour in the U.S.

A few weeks later, Trinkle sat with Piazzolla at a hotel cafe in the Twin Cities. They had one of the most interesting conversations he’s ever had -- all about music and life.

Piazzolla agreed to write a piece after his current commission for the Kronos Quartet, but he died before completing it.

“So maybe somewhere down in Buenos Aires, there’s a piece of music laying around that he had started for us. It has always been my hope to find it,” Trinkle said. “But he was a terrific composer and a terrific artist. His music is fascinating; it has a power to it that most music wished it had.”

Music around the world

Trinkle and Burkett met on the 1976 bicentennial tour with the Pittsburgh-based American Wind Symphony Orchestra, for which she was the timpanist and he was the principal trumpet.

The two were traveling when they met and they haven’t stopped since, Trinkle said.

“Honestly one of the attractions of getting into music in the first place as a profession was getting to travel,” he said.

As they traveled though different countries and all the lower 48 states, they often visit friends they’ve made through their careers, he said.

The couple lived in Venezuela from about 1977-78 and played for the Orquesta Sinfonica de Maracaibo, of which Burkett was the principal percussionist and Trinkle was co-principal trumpet.

Then they moved to Houston, where he played with the Houston Symphony.

Trinkle and Burkett found a niche early on performing educational concerts around the U.S., mainly funded by state arts agencies through the National Endowment for the Arts. Their work brought them into schools to work with music classes and play concerts in the communities, and their specialty was playing in smaller communities.

In tiny Mott, North Dakota, the whole town came out for the concert in the gym of the town’s sole school. The crowd was among the most enthusiastic they’d seen.

“There’s no way that small communities can afford even string quartets sometimes,” she said. “That’s been our calling.”

Without arts funding, those communities would never have those kinds of experiences, while smaller ensembles like Trinkle Brass Works wouldn’t have the opportunity to perform those concerts, Burkett said.

The pair started the Portable Masterpieces group a few years ago with players around the U.S. with the idea “to play in all the old opera houses and to play music that was typically played in them,” Trinkle said. 

Several file cabinet drawers in the couple’s basement are stuffed with that radio program orchestra and vaudeville stage music -- ranging from classical pieces to old toothpaste commercials -- which he rescued from being thrown away at the Shenandoah University and later at Marshall University during his teaching career.

It was while visiting the opera house in Eureka, Nevada, when he decided they’d play that music in the opera houses. They’ve often stopped in rural, small schools on the way to play in the opera houses throughout the western U.S.

“And students, they need that type of exposure and the opportunity,” Burkett said. “It’s not just the exposure, the performance itself, but actually meeting the musicians, getting to ask questions, talk about the music, hearing things in compositions. They would never have the opportunity in any other form.”

Settling in Casper

At their home in Casper, Trinkle’s 50 trumpets range from bass trumpets to tiny piccolo trumpets and from 19th-century instruments to one of today’s plastic trumpets. He owns trumpets in different keys, rotary valve trumpets for playing German music and one that looks like a small French horn for baroque music. His cornets and flugelhorns produce mellower tones, and there are medieval and renaissance reproductions for older music.

Trinkle says there’s a reason you call a plumber, and it’s the same with a trumpeter.

“He’s got all the tools, all the little parts that will allow him to fix the plumbing problem,” he said. “That’s what a trumpet player is. It’s just plumbing, but you’ve got to have the right tools to do these things.”

A viola, an instrument he’s played longer than trumpet, hangs on the wall in his studio. In the garage are Burkett’s four timpani, a marimba, a xylophone, a drum set and other percussion instruments.

They use the instruments to play a vast repertoire spanning continents and centuries.

“When you study as long as we have and as in depth as we have, there’s a lot of different kinds of music that interests us,” Trinkle said.

Books on music, sheet music and conductor scores take up shelves in the studio along with racks of CDs. Music fills several file cabinets in the basement. When they were younger, they bought music instead of furniture, Trinkle said. They used timpani as end tables and once placed food dishes on a marimba for a Thanksgiving gathering.

The walls downstairs sport yet more trumpets and many posters from more than four decades of performances. One advertises a contemporary music festival in Venezuela. There are posters from their shows in Germany, Switzerland and from Italy where they lived for a time in the late 1970s and played as principal musicians.

Some posters are from their many seasons with the American Wind Symphony Orchestra, where they also played as principals. One poster shows the American Wind Symphony’s riverboat, where Trinkle worked as both assistant conductor and put his diesel mechanic skills to work as an engineer on the boat. So he’d occasionally find himself called to cover a trumpet or piano part while covered in grease, he said.

Others document their time in Brazil, Wisconsin and Austria. They've also spent time in upstate New York, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, the Carolinas and Virginia.

Another poster recruits for a pep band from Trinkle’s time as the band director at Casper College 12 years ago. He and Burkett then performed as principals in the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra.

After spending 12 years in Las Vegas, the couple moved back to Casper two years ago. They bought the same house they’d owned before near Casper College.

They looked around the country and chose Casper for the seasons, cross-country skiing, camping and people.

“It offered a lot coming back,” he said.

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Star-Tribune reporter Elysia Conner covers arts, culture and the Casper community.

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