Romance fixture for musicians of the baroque
Lincolnshire's Charles Geyer and Barbara Butler live together, raise their 16-year-old daughter together, teach trumpet together as Northwestern University professors, practice trumpet together, perform trumpet together, record trumpet together, share a trumpet studio and have been making beautiful trumpet music together longer than the 32 years they've been married.
"Music gave us everything we have," Butler says, noting everything from their studio overlooking the skyline of Chicago to their daughter Jorie Butler-Geyer, who brings them joy as she carves out her own musical life on the violin.
"We got to know each other through music, and it became our business," says Geyer.
"When we first were together, we played so much together we'd run out of lip," remembers Butler, who says the duo would switch to recorders so they could keep the music going. "We still play at home together and that still tweaks it up for us."
Their first solo performance as a trumpet duo came in 1975 with the Grant Park Symphony. The veteran Geyer was relinquishing his spot as the principal trumpet due to the demands of his position with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Butler was the up-and-coming trumpeter who replaced him.
Playing at that high level makes it very difficult for musicians to have lives of their own, let alone find a way for two lives to meet in perfect harmony.
"She won a job in Vancouver, Canada, and went away," Geyer recalls. He left to take the top spot in Houston.
"Our relationship is at the point we want to be together, and we couldn't be farther apart," Butler remembers.
One of them could have sacrificed career for the other, but that wasn't ideal. They were offered a chance to be co-principals in the same symphony, but that would have required the bad karma of making some other trumpeter lose a job. In 1980, they found jobs together at the famed Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. Instead of two great trumpeters, they became one outstanding "us." They came to Northwestern as an "us" in 1998.
As young musicians competing in festivals and competitions, "we are taught to win," Geyer says. But the couple say the natural friction of competition honed their abilities, pushing them to better performances, and making them into better teachers whose students now play in great orchestras in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and throughout the world.
"You hear the bar being raised around you all the time, so that's very good," Geyer says.
"If the other person is sounding good, you can't coast," Butler adds. "We don't feed on each other's weaknesses. We feast on each other's strengths."
Their solo careers and individual schedules have taken each around the globe together and separately. Their hectic schedules keep their good thing from being too much of a good thing.
"We have time when we aren't together, which is good for us," Butler says.
One of their recent free days was spent watching their daughter, a junior at Stevenson High School, play her violin in a prestigious competition.
This Valentine's weekend, violins are the instrument serenading lovers during romantic dinners. But that doesn't mean trumpets can't spark the embers of love.
Playing Bizet's "Carmen," "now that's romantic," Geyer says.
Sharing their talents as co-principal trumpets in Chicago's Music of the Baroque (www.baroque.org), Geyer and Butler take turns playing lead trumpet. It's work, but the inspiring music rubs off on them.
"Two people sharing the world's best music side by side have an unspoken bond that others can barely imagine," Butler says, explaining the power of music.
In the climatic scene of the Oscar-nominated movie, "The King's Speech," it is the music of Beethoven's 7th Symphony that "takes those words and lifts them to a higher place," Butler says. "Charlie and I share that experience every concert, and have done so for the last 35 years. Now that's romantic."
As a bonus, years of playing trumpet even gives them a romance advantage. "Our lips do everything," Geyer says.
"We are way better kissers," Butler says of trumpet players. "We prove it to ourselves all the time."