Thankful for farmers

Thankful for farmers

by Douglas Yeo

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. George Washington, in his Thanksgiving proclamation of October 3, 1789, reminds us what this day is for:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness,” now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—that we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks.

There is much for which we can be thankful. Last night, my wife and I went to a Thanksgiving Eve service at our church, New Covenant Church of Naperville, Illinois. About halfway through the service, we sang a hymn that I have sung more times than I can count, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.”

Come_Ye_Thankful_People_Come

Last night, the hymn had new meaning for me. Because this year, I am especially grateful for farmers.

Each Wednesday since the end of the August, I have gotten up early in the morning to drive south to Urbana, Illinois, where, for the 2022–2023 academic year, I am serving as Clinical Associate Professor of Trombone at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I’ve made this trip 13 times this semester, a 159 mile, nearly three hour long drive. After two days of teaching at Illinois, I get in my car again and make the same drive home. When I first mapped out my drive, I made a decision. I could have taken interstate highways all the way from our home in the Chicago area to Urbana. Interstate 355 to 55, then 57 all the way to Urbana. But I on that first trip in August, I decided to try something different. I decided to take the back roads through the cornfields.

The decision was, as I first thought it through, a pragmatic one. Interstate highways are fast, fast roads. Speed limits mean little on interstates. A speed limit of 60 or 65 miles per hour means many—if not most—people are driving 70 or 75. Or faster. I thought the drive on back roads would be more peaceful. Fewer trucks, less noise, and perhaps I could take in a nice view along the way. I wasn’t prepared for what happened.

Illinois_cornfields

The view on Illinois 115 near Cabery, Illinois, August 22, 2022

On my first drive south on August 22, I turned off Interstate 55 to Illinois 31, the first of several state roads with a posted speed limit of 55 mph that took me straight south from the Chicago area to Urbana. State Routes 31, 18, and 115. 55 miles an hour, that is until I came across a small village (which happened several times) when the speed limit dropped to 40 mph for a minute while I passed a village with a population of 250. Or fewer. There certainly were fewer trucks on the road. In fact, there were NO trucks. In fact, there were no cars, either. I had the road completely to myself. So much so that I stopped in the middle of the road and snapped this photo, above. And you can see what I saw for hours: endless cornfields.

In August, the corn was high. And as far as my eyes could see, I saw thousands of acres of corn. Corn that went on to the horizon and beyond. I was fascinated by the endless stalks of corn, gently undulating in the breeze. I saw farmhouses and silos that dotted the landscape. As the weeks went on, I witnessed the ritual that’s done by farmers around the world: harvest. Massive pieces of farm machinery appeared in the cornfields. Stalks were cut down, and the corn was separated from its husks and shot into huge trucks. In recent weeks, with the fields shorn of their stalks, I’ve seen new pieces of huge equipment plowing the fields. The fields will lay fallow until the spring when I will see another ritual: planting. And the cycle will go on again, just as it’s been going on since the first humans walked the earth. The hymn reminds us that this cycle applies to us as well:

First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear.

Lord of harvest, grant that we, wholesome grain and pure may be.

These drives through the cornfields—I have two more trips to campus this semester before the Christmas break and then I will repeat this driving ritual next semester—have given me a new appreciation for farmers. Farming is hard work. I never thought about how much time it takes to harvest hundreds and hundreds of acres of fields. Now I do. It’s not a one day job. And farming requires a lot of trust and faith. These fields rely on the rain that God showers down from the sky. The right balance of sun, heat, and rain means a bountiful harvest. When that balance is off, the harvest is compromised. Farmers trust, hope, and pray.

I also have thought about these farmers and how I have a relationship with them. One way or another, their corn finds its way into the global food cycle. I have certainly eaten food that has been made, either directly or indirectly, with the fruit of their land and the work of their hands. And every now and then during my long drives through the cornfields, I see a sign stuck in the ground that offers a simple message, lest we forget:

no_farms_no_food

Today, on Thanksgiving day, my oldest daughter, her husband, and our two grandchildren will come over to our home for our annual Thanksgiving dinner. We’ll be joined by some friends from church. There will be laughter in the house. We’ll watch some of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, something we do each year since I marched in that parade with the McDonald’s All-American High School Band on Thanksgiving Day, 1972. Later, we’ll have a football game on television in the background as we wait for the food to be ready. Then, days of preparation and cooking will culminate in a moment when we sit around the table with a feast before us (with three pies—blueberry, apple, and pumpkin—waiting their turn in the kitchen). It is a feast that I have been reliving each year since my earliest memory, a feast I suppose I’ve always taken for granted (with gratitude to my mother, mother-in-law, wife, and daughters who have done so much over the years to prepare the feast). We will look at this bounty before us, we will hold hands, bow our heads, and I will pray. I will pray and thank God for the many blessings He has given to us over the last year. I will thank God for His faithfulness through the year, through the cheerful days and through the storms of life. I will thank him for church and school and work and love and life. And I will thank Him for farmers who do the back-breaking work that puts the food on our table. Backbreaking work that most people never see.

I’m very glad for my weekly drives through the cornfields in Illinois. Because today, these words have new meaning for me:

Come, ye thankful people, come. Raise the song of harvest-home:

All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.

God, our Maker, doth provide, for our wants to be supplied:

Come to God’s own temple, come—raise the song of harvest-home.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. We have so much for which we can be thankful. And before you put a fork to your mouth today, thank God for farmers.

the_road_home_sunset_cropped

The view along Illinois 115 near Piper City, Illinois, November 22, 2022.

An award for “Best Historical Research”

An award for “Best Historical Research”

by Douglas Yeo

Readers of The Last Trombone know that last year, University of Illinois Press published a book co-authored by my friend, Kevin Mungons, and me. The subject of the book is Homer Rodeheaver, the trombone-playing song leader for the evangelist William “Billy” Sunday for twenty years during the first third of the twentieth century. Rodeheaver played the trombone for over 100 million—yes, million—people during his lifetime (1880-1955) and he profoundly shaped the course of gospel music. Rodeheaver created the first gospel music record company (Rainbow Records), and he founded what was, at the time, the largest and most successful Christian music publishing company. His influence, nearly 70 years after his death, is still felt today.

Fig 01-1 rodeheaver-and-sunday

Above: Billy Sunday and Homer Rodeheaver, 1917. Courtesy of Morgan Library, Grace College, Winona Lake, Indiana.

Our book has received many enthusiastic reviews , including one in the October 2022 issue of the International Trombone Association Journal:

Kevin Mungons and Douglas Yeo have collaborated on a scholarly, nuanced biography of Homer Rodeheaver. Mungons and Yeo’s book, Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry, combines painstaking research with insightful sociological and musicological analysis. Although the book is co-authored, it has a unified narrative. The extensive citations, alone, are worth the price of purchase. Even if one has only marginal interest in Homer Rodeheaver as a person, this scholarly description of American society at the turn of the 20th century proves fascinating and illuminating.

And this one from Christianity Today in March 2022:

Like virtually all books in the University of Illinois’s much-honored Music in American Life series, Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry fills in significant blanks in our understanding of different aspects of music history. Mungons and Yeo elevate their contribution with meticulous detail and research; a penchant for finding fascinating, revealing stories and anecdotes; and a sparkling, highly readable prose style that’s all too rare in most academic books.

arsc

Last week (October 12), we learned that our book has just received a major award. The Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) gives annual awards “to authors of books, articles, or recording liner notes to recognize those publishing the very best work today in recorded sound research.” This is a highly coveted award, one with major significance to the large community of individuals who are heavily invested in understanding and promoting the history and preservation of recorded sound. ARSC publishes a peer-reviewed journal and its 2022 Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research include books on a wide variety of musical styles and genres written by highly respected authors.

Our book received the “Best History” award in the category for Best Historical Research in Recorded Blues, Gospel, Hip Hop, Soul, or R&B. The award will be presented to Kevin and me at the ARSC Conference that will be held in Pittsburgh in May 2023. We are very grateful for this recognition.

Between now and October 31, our publisher, University of Illinois Press, is offering a 50% discount off the cover price of the book. Click on this link to the UofI Press website’s page on books that have won awards in 2022. You’ll find our book there. Click on the image of the cover and you’ll be directed to UofI Press’s page about our book. You can order the book there. Put in the Promo Code MAL50 and the cost of the book will go from $31 to $15.50. That’s a real money savings. But this offer expires on October 31; now is your chance!

ARSC Award graphic

The Star Spangled Banner, baseball, and trombones

The Star Spangled Banner, baseball, and trombones

by Douglas Yeo

I have played the National Anthem at sporting events more times than I can count. When I was a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, our brass section performed The Star Spangled Banner at countless New England Patriots games, Boston Red Sox games, and Boston Celtics games. As a member of the Boston Pops Orchestra, I played the National Anthem at Super Bowl XXXVI with singer Mariah Carey (where the New England Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams—the first of the Patriots’ six Super Bowl championships), and when I was Professor of Trombone at Arizona State University from 2012 to 2016, our ASU Desert Bones Trombone Choir performed the National Anthem at Arizona Diamondbacks baseball games and an ASU/Stanford baseball game

Doing this is always a thrill, whether I’m playing trombone or conducting. In 2021, I gave a masterclass for the trombone section of the Northshore Concert Band, based in Evanston, Illinois. I was impressed with the playing of these players and their enthusiasm for both the trombone and for great music making. During the course of our time together, I encouraged the NCB trombone section to make a video of them playing The Star Spangled Banner and send it around to Chicago-area professional sports teams and see if they could get an opportunity to perform the National Anthem at a game. They liked the idea, made a video, submitted it to teams, and they were delighted  when the Chicago White Sox invited them to play the National Anthem at a game at Guaranteed Rate Field on the south side of Chicago.

I was happy for the group when Joe Schorer, one of the band’s trombone players, told me about this, and I was honored when they asked if I would be willing to conduct the Anthem. Yes, of course! I knew this would be a special, memorable occasion for the Northshore Concert Band’s trombone section and I was glad to share the moment with them. Here’s a little bit of the story.

NCB_trombones_White_Sox_reh

Northshore Concert Band trombone section (left to right: Mitchell Clark, Brad Say, Bryan Tipps, Andy Burkemper, Greg Glover, Joe Schorer, Paul Bauer, and Dan DiCesare) with Douglas Yeo, conductor. Rehearsal outside of Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox), August 27, 2022. Photo by Chad Leonard.

We all assembled outside of Gate 4 at Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox, where we had a rehearsal. While I had played and conducted the National Anthem at sporting events many times before, it was really great to share the experience with the NCB trombone section for whom this was all new. I had recently had surgery on my right shoulder and I asked if my son-in-law, Chad Leonard (who has been a baseball fan since his childhood), could come along to help me carry food, open doors, etc. As it turned out, Chad acted as our official photographer. With his own and Joe’s cameras in hand, Chad documented the whole experience. But, full disclosure, our family are Chicago Cubs fans. But, hey, baseball is baseball, and for one day, Chad and I were glad to put aside the north and south side Cubs/White Sox rivalry and enjoy a great day at a ballpark. As soon as the trombone section started playing at our rehearsal, I knew this would be an terrific performance of the National Anthem. The players had memorized the music (we played an arrangement by Robert Elkjer) and they were at the top of their game.

NCB_trombones_security_check

Members of the Northshore Concert Band trombone section (front to back: Andy Burkemper, Brad Say, Dan DiCesare, Bryan Tipps, and Greg Glover). Security check outside of Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox), August 27, 2022. Photo by Chad Leonard.

After our rehearsal outside of Guaranteed Rate Field, we went through security (trombone cases and their contents had to be examined) and we headed into the ballpark and then on to the field for our soundcheck.

NCB_trombones_White_Sox_sound_check

Northshore Concert Band trombone section (left to right: Mitchell Clark, Brad Say, Bryan Tipps, Andy Burkemper, Greg Glover, Joe Schorer, Paul Bauer, and Dan DiCesare). Sound check inside Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox), August 27, 2022. Photo by Chad Leonard.

The White Sox staff was well-organized, friendly, and exceptionally helpful, and we ran through the Anthem several times. The sound of eight trombones coming over the extensive network of speakers throughout the ballpark was impressive.

NCB_trombones_White_Sox_seat_view_02

View of the field at Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox) from Section 346, August 27, 2022. Photo by Douglas Yeo.

The White Sox gave each of us a ticket to the game, and in between the soundcheck and our performance, we got to check out view from our box seats in Section 346. Pretty great. Shortly before the start of the game, we headed down to the field again to get ready for our performance. But first, there was time for photos on the field and with the White Sox’s mascot, Southpaw. Meeting Southpaw was, somehow, very appropriate. Because of my shoulder surgery, I had to conduct mostly with my left arm. When I told my students at University of Illinois that I’d be conducting the National Anthem left-handed at a White Sox game, one of them piped up, “Of course you’ll be a southpaw. You’ll be on the south side [of Chicago]!” Hardy-har-har. . .

NCB_trombones_with Southpaw

Douglas Yeo with Chicago White Sox mascot “Southpaw” and members of the Northshore Concert Band Trombone section (left to right: Joe Schorer, Andy Burkemper, Greg Glover, and Mitchell Clark), August 27, 2022. Photo by Chad Leonard.

And, I have to say, there is something about standing on the field in a Major League Baseball stadium next to a team’s logo that just can’t be described.

Chad_Leonard_Douglas_Yeo_Guaranteed_Rate_Field

Chad Leonard and Douglas Yeo, Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox), August 27, 2022. 

We assembled near home plate, and as the teams lined up in front of their dugouts, the announcement for our performance began. And in a memorable one minute and thirty seconds, the Northshore Concert Band trombone section gave a stirring rendition of The Star Spangled Banner for the players and crowd. When we were done playing, White Sox Manager Tony La Russa turned around and applauded the players. It was a job well done in every respect.

Northshore_trombones_Yeo_White_Sox_2022_08_27

Northshore Concert Band trombone section (left to right: Mitchell Clark, Brad Say, Bryan Tipps, Andy Burkemper, Greg Glover, Joe Schorer, Paul Bauer, and Dan DiCesare) National Anthem performance at Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox) with Douglas Yeo, conductor, August 27, 2022. Photo by Chad Leonard.

8.27- Northshore Trombones White Sox Anthem

Northshore Concert Band trombone section (left to right: Mitchell Clark, Brad Say, Bryan Tipps, Andy Burkemper, Greg Glover, Joe Schorer, Paul Bauer, and Dan DiCesare) National Anthem Performance at Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox, August 27, 2022). Photo courtesy of the Chicago White Sox.

Friends who are reading this: If you’re part of a trombone section or a group of trombone players who like to play together, consider doing this! Major League baseball teams have 81 home games. And there are minor league and independent league teams, too. Football, basketball, hockey, soccer, too. That’s a lot of National Anthem performances. The Northshore Concert Band trombone section asked themselves the question, “Why not us?” and look what happened. And why not YOUR trombone section? Have a look at the video below (the video is courtesy of the Chicago White Sox) and put yourself in the moment (you can also watch the video directly on YouTube):

Congratulations to the Northshore Concert Band trombones—(left to right as we performed) Mitchell Clark, Brad Say, Bryan Tipps, Andy Burkemper, Greg Glover, Joe Schorer, Paul Bauer, and Dan DiCesare. They made their Band proud, and their excellent, respectful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner was the traditional, ceremonial start to another game of America’s pastime, baseball. Once again, I would to thank the NCB trombone section for asking me to lead them in their performance of the National Anthem. I was proud to be associated with them. Well done, Northshore Concert Band trombones!

 

 

Sempé and the trombone

Sempé and the trombone

by Douglas Yeo

Artist Jean-Jacques Sempé died on August 11 at the age of 89. Like so many people in the United States, I got to know his whimsical cartoons while reading The New Yorker (Sempé was French and his artwork appeared internationally). When I was a young boy, my father subscribed to The New Yorker and I used to run home from school on the day the new issue would arrive in our mailbox so I could look enjoy the cover and the many sophisticated cartoons inside. I got to love Sempé’s sense of humor and his artistic style. He drew many covers for The New Yorker but he also drew cartoons that appeared in its interior pages. 

And Sempé loved to draw the trombone.

Over the years, I’ve torn out many pages of issues of The New Yorker and saved copies of several of Sempé’s cartoons that feature the trombone. They make me smile. Here are three of my favorites.

Sempe_trombones_pool

Sempé’s cartoons could be simple or complex. I think that this cartoon (above) is a masterpiece of construction and the use of color. The scene is tranquil and there is a beautiful simplicity to the moment. Two friends playing trombone around a swimming pool in a backyard. What could be finer.

Sempe_trombones_tuba_late

Sempé’s cartoons could also be busy and provide commentary in the midst of familiar scenes. Here we are (above) at a symphony orchestra concert. The viewer’s eye is drawn immediately to the tuba player who is late in coming to his seat on stage. Four annoyed trombone players are expressing their displeasure. The conductor is waiting for things to settle down before giving the downbeat. But don’t miss the other scene that’s going on in the audience. A woman is also coming late to her seat. Both the tuba player and the woman in in the green dress have the same urgent, forward moving posture as they are trying to get to their seats. Parallel situations on the same vertical plane, on and off stage. Genius. Sempé’s use of vivid color to highlight the tuba player and the woman is a masterpiece of design. FYI, the big white blotch in the audience is a spot where the paper is torn off. I don’t remember how that happened. . .

Sempe_trombone_pit_stage

This is my favorite Sempé cartoon (above). It was not a cover for The New Yorker; it appeared on an interior page. I ripped this page from the issue so I don’t know the date it appeared. This scene is perfect. A night at the opera and a big moment with the singers on stage. The trombonist, who had left his chair in the opera pit (to get a drink? to relieve himself? to make a phone call? to check his stock portfolio?), opens the wrong door and ends up on stage in the middle of the performance. The expression of the two singers, the trombonist’s empty chair in the pit, and the orchestra playing at full throat in the midst of this epic faux pas tells the story with great clarity.

Jean-Jacques Sempé understood life, and he understood the trombone. While he’s no longer with us to  create new art, we are truly fortunate to have the art he left behind. Longue vie Sempé!