Today, we are delighted to bring you an interview with Marcus Reynolds; an author, educator and recording artist. Marcus created the Stratos Encore Pro embouchure system, which is a precisely adjustable attachment for all brass instruments, designed to reduce mouthpiece pressure and optimise jaw position. This ingenious device was invented following an accident that left Marcus with a muscular debilitating syndrome, meaning he had to learn to play all over again.
We talk to Marcus about his experiences, and the importance of maintaining contact with clients and offering them support.
Accessibility is an important topic of discussion across the music industry, and it’s always exciting to see new products that widen opportunities for all.
MIA: Tell us a bit about how the Stratos Encore Pro works?
Marcus: The high-quality embouchure system is simply attached to your instrument or existing mouthpiece whilst you play or practise. STRATOS Encore Pro reduces mouthpiece pressure and ensures a good jaw position taking away the need to “think” about position and pressure. Practising with STRATOS Encore Pro re-educates your muscles and nerves and allows you to adopt your improved embouchure position naturally, even after you remove it from your instrument. This allows you to concentrate on other aspects of your playing, and you can relax back into better and better performances. STRATOS Encore Pro has been shown to help solve many embouchure problems. It also gives improvements in power, range, tone, and stamina allowing you to play with more ease and greater flexibility.
MIA: How did you come up with this idea?
Marcus: Well, the adage ‘necessity becomes the Mother of invention’ is never truer than here.
While performing at a prestigious event, my chair support gave way propelling me over the back of my chair. I fell 10 feet, almost breaking my back and neck. Most definitely breaking my embouchure. During the fall, my mouthpiece went through my top lip. Following an operation, I discovered that I had contracted Task Specific Focal Dystonia, a muscular debilitating syndrome.
After years of learning about my facial muscles and generally learning to play again, I wasn’t happy, as my initial note production was ‘fluffy’ and un-focused. I put this down to lactic acid trying to continually repair the scar tissue.
At this time my constant mantra to myself was: ’I need something to hover over the scar tissue. An impossible task, as nothing ‘hovers’ in the process of playing a brass instrument…’
Then, in the early hours of the morning, I scribbled on a scrap of paper an idea that I had dreamt. Armed with this nocturnally scribbled hieroglyphic, I headed off to Michael Rath, my trombone manufacturer, and long story short fashioned a prototype that became the benchmark for what is in full production today.
Now, my product helps players from amateurs to principals, including players in some of the world’s leading orchestras, such as the BBC Orchestras, London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Taiwanese Kaohsiung Orchestra, and top jazz players too.
MIA: It sounds like you have made quite an impact in the brass playing community. Given the pandemic, how have you achieved this?
Marcus: For me, it’s not just about selling a product and letting the player just get on with it. When I created Stratos, I also went through a lateral thinking radical review of the embouchure. I explored how to help players fine tune it to get optimum results. There is definitely nurture required.
Posts on my social media platforms constantly remind my members of my ethos, for example I say:
“I’m here to encourage, enlighten, enthuse, educate and entice you to not only continue to practice, but to practice with a purpose. This situation will not continue, and I need to get you match-fit for when we return to our various ensembles.”
I take a personal responsibility to keep my customers playing, and I always honour their musicianship.
Brass Players and customers can join my Brass Embouchure Advice Facebook Group which is a community of 1.7k members. We share advice and information about creating a good brass embouchure. This includes tips and ideas for improving and developing your embouchure, and also how to deal with problems that can occur with your embouchure whilst playing.
MIA: Maintaining contact with clients and offering them support is really important to you. How do you encourage this atmosphere with your customers?
Marcus: Well, over the years I’ve been in audiences, when the invited guest or Masterclass giver asks for questions and after a few awkward minutes of shuffling and head shaking – nobody asks anything.
I go out of my way to create an environment where questions are forthcoming.
I also show how players cannot just ‘gain ground’ but ‘maintain ground’ and remove any doubts when they think there’s a reason that they can’t.
Also, through my ebook ‘Range without Resistance’ and my video course ‘Embouchure Blueprint’, I have fashioned a conduit whereby the members can actually reach out to me.
Here’s a video of the Stratos Embouchure System in action:
Lean more about Marcus Reynolds: