Rod Franks, 1956-2014

An acclaimed trumpeter who also served as a professor at several of England’s leading colleges of music has died

July 31, 2014

Rod Franks was born in Shipley, West Yorkshire, on 31 May 1956. He began playing the cornet at the age of six and performed with three of the country’s most famous brass bands (Hammonds, Brighouse and Rastrick, and Black Dyke Mills) before university. He went on to study the trumpet with Philip Jones, Maurice Murphy and John Dickenson at the Royal Northern College of Music.

In 1977, at the age of 21, Professor Franks was appointed principal trumpet of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra for a period of seven years. He returned to England in 1984 to become principal trumpet in the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. He went on to become a founder member of the English Brass Ensemble and London Brass.

In 1988, however, Professor Franks took on his most significant role as a professional performer when he joined the London Symphony Orchestra, sharing the principal trumpet chair with his former tutor and great friend Maurice Murphy. Despite an operation to remove a brain tumour in 2002, he celebrated 25 years of service with the LSO last year and was also a director of the orchestra.

Alongside his illustrious career as a musician, Professor Franks had a deep commitment to future generations of musicians, as shown by his involvement in the LSO’s brass academies and other educational work. He also took on major teaching roles as professor of trumpet at the Royal Northern College of Music, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and, from 2006, the Royal Academy of Music. He was praised by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, the RAM’s principal, for “his incisive understanding of what students needed, genuine warmth and his legendary and remarkable courage. And what a player!”

Describing him as “an inspiring individual”, Mark David, the RAM’s artistic director and head of brass, added that “Rod was a consummate musician, teacher, colleague and gentleman. His resilience and strength in the face of so many health problems over the past few years were astounding, so much so that he seemed invincible. I truly count myself fortunate to have known him.”

His eminence in the field led Yamaha to seek Professor Franks’ help in developing new trumpets designed for students and professional musicians. He was appointed president of Pemberton Old Band in Lancashire and honorary president of the Norwegian Brass Band Association.

Professor Franks died after a car accident on 20 July and is survived by his wife Dorothy, a son and a daughter.

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