199: Perseverance and excellence

199: Perseverance and excellence

This article starts with football but even if you’re not interested in that sport, if you stick with it, you’ll see how football flows to music after a few paragraphs.

My students know that I often turn to sports – usually football – for metaphors about excellence, motivation and perseverance. My wife and I have been football fans for many years. We have season tickets to the Arizona Cardinals and we attended many New England Patriots games when we lived in Boston. I attended Super Bowl XXXVI (Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams) where I played the National Anthem and pregame show as a member of the Boston Pops Orchestra, and my wife and I attended Super Bowl XLIX (Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks) here in Arizona just two years ago. Fun times. Great memories.

But there things in football that I turn to over and over as I work with students to help them develop the engine that drives their pursuit of excellence. One of them is the number 199.

When I would attend college football games, I often remarked that very, very few college football players ever end up in the National Football League. The NFL draft has seven rounds; there are 32 teams. That means there are 224 players chosen in the regular draft; several others are chosen as “compensatory picks” and some undrafted players are also signed by teams. The hard reality is that most college football players never play in the NFL. It’s an elite group. Like being a member of a great symphony orchestra.

In the 2000 NFL draft, there were 254 college players chosen in the draft. Number 199, chosen with a compensatory pick in the sixth round, was Tom Brady, from University of Michigan. Six other quarterbacks were drafted before him.

Brady, of course, went on to be arguably the best quarterback in NFL history; some analysts consider him to be the best PLAYER in NFL history. He has led the New England Patriots to five Super Bowl victories; he is a four time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player.

But when the Patriots drafted him at 199 in the 2000 NFL draft, he was a long shot to make the Patriots’ roster. The Patriots had no idea if he would make the team. But Brady had ideas of his own. Brady knew he had what it takes to make a difference on a team. All he needed was a chance.

Tom Brady used the fact that he wasn’t picked until 199 in the sixth round as fuel for his engine. He wanted to prove everyone wrong. When he first met Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots, Brady said, “Mr. Kraft, drafting me was the best decision you ever made.” I’m sure Kraft’s eyebrows raised a little. But Brady knew he had something. And in his second year with the Patriots, thrust into the starting quarterback role when quarterback Drew Bledsoe was injured, Tom Brady led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl championship.

tb_199_shirt

One of my favorite t-shirts is one  by Under Armour that simply says “199.” It’s a reminder that sometimes you know you have something to offer but you just need a chance to prove it. The chip that Tom Brady carries on his shoulder, the chip that says, “You thought I was only good enough to be 199 but I will show you that you are wrong,” is a reminder that motivation to pursue excellence comes in many shapes and sizes, and from many places.

Tom Brady also has one of the most disciplined work ethics of any person I have known. He absolutely is the embodiment of a phrase I often use: “Success comes from delaying present pleasures for future rewards.” Brady is fanatical about caring for his body, his diet, his physical regimen, for getting the sleep he wants/needs, for engaging in mental stimulation. These things keep him from other recreational pursuits or dietary desires that would throw him off his disciplined routine. There will be time, when he retires someday, for those other things. For now, he remains disciplined to achieve his goals.

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by the website careersinmusic.com. The interview focused on what is required for a musician to win a position as a section member in a symphony orchestra. The result was a straight-shooting dialogue that I want to share with readers. In the interview, I talk about perseverance, the sacrifices needed to succeed, and the importance of two words that most people don’t really understand at all: Work. Hard.

Click HERE to read my interview on careersinmusic.com

Everyone has a ceiling. Not everyone will succeed at the highest level. Some people with tremendous talent don’t have the discipline needed to succeed at the highest level. Some people with a tremendous work ethic don’t have the talent needed to succeed at the highest level. But everyone CAN succeed at SOME level. The idea that you only need to work at something for 10,000 hours to succeed is foolishness. Practice doesn’t make perfect: practice makes permanent. If you don’t know how to practice something CORRECTLY, then you will get excellent at playing it poorly. And unless you understand the real meaning of the word “perseverance,”  you will never know where your talent and work ethic can take you.

Tom Brady found out. Number 199 became number 1. Not by accident. Not by getting “lucky.” He got there by combining his God-given talent with perseverance and hard work. He had what it took even when others didn’t see it. As my teacher, Edward Kleinhammer (bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony, 1940-1985) said:

World class trombone players do not just happen. Their talents are forged in the dual furnaces of determination and diligence.

 

199.

A new book – The One Hundred: Essential Works for the Symphonic Bass Trombonist

A new book – The One Hundred: Essential Works for the Symphonic Bass Trombonist

Over the last year and a half, I have been at work every day on a new book that has actually taken me 40 years to write. I’m very pleased that The One Hundred: Essential Works for the Symphonic Bass Trombonist is now at the printer and available for pre-order; copies will be shipped in March.

I took my first professional symphony orchestra audition in 1977, the year after I graduated from Wheaton College. That audition was for the Minnesota Orchestra. I didn’t win; the audition was won by Max Bonecutter, although I was one of four players in the final round and got cut at the same time as Charles Vernon, bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra who at the time was bass trombonist of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. That was the beginning of a process that eventually brought me to the Boston Symphony in 1985. Over these many decades, I have been engaged in  studying the orchestral literature and learning all I could from colleagues, conductors, authors and many others. I brought the full orchestra score to most works to rehearsals, I took notes about how conductors were handling certain passages, and I noted when there were misprints and mistakes in my part. I have hundreds of scores, books and facsimile editions in my personal library and I have gotten great pleasure from studying them over and over again.

After having played the standard orchestral repertoire many times over, served on dozens of audition committees and taught hundreds of lessons in this music, I was glad that eighteen months ago, Wesley Jacobs, owner of Encore Music Publishers, asked me if I would like to write an annotated orchestral excerpt book for bass trombone.

I was delighted to be asked to undertake this huge project, and to have a book stand alongside the two other important annotated orchestral excerpt books in The One Hundred series:  The One Hundred: Essential Works for the Symphonic Tenor Trombonist (by Megumi Kanda, principal trombonist of the Milwaukee Symphony) and The One Hundred: Essential Works for the Symphonic Tubist (by Wesley Jacobs, retired tubist of the Detroit Symphony).

In an effort to write the most comprehensive book on the subject of bass trombone orchestral repertoire preparation, I collected as many sources as I could to inform my scholarship. Take, for instance, the well-known passage from the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Below you can see the first page of this important excerpt as printed in my new book (FYI, the watermark, 2021, is the Encore Music Publishers catalog number; this image is from the final PDF proof of the book):

beethoven_9_the_100

I’m sure the music looks mostly familiar to those who have played this part. But I did not simply duplicate what I have seen in various editions of the symphony. Below you can see all of the sources that I consulted to inform both my commentary and my presentation of Beethoven’s music:

beethoven_9_sources

I used two different editions of the full orchestra score, two editions of the bass trombone part, two books about Beethoven, a book about the Ninth Symphony, a critical commentary about the Ninth Symphony and a facsimile of Beethoven’s manuscript to the piece. All of these sources, in addition to my own performance notes that I had taken during my dozens of performances of this great work, all were utilized as I put together this single page in my book. I have corrected some mistakes that have appeared in earlier printings of this music, and provided some insight into both how I approach playing this music and how conductors have led it during rehearsals and performances as well. I endeavored to leave no stone unturned and provide readers with the best, most accurate information to help them in their preparation.

While our aim was to have a book that contained 100 works, there are actually 109 works in my book. Among those works that we wanted to include were 30 that are currently under copyright, for which we needed to obtain a license and pay royalties to copyright holders in order to reproduce them in the book. We anticipated that some of the copyright holders might not give us permission to reproduce so I came up with a list of 110 works to include in case we came up short with copyrighted works. We were very pleased that 29 of the 30 copyright holders graciously agreed to license us. This left us with more works than we had originally intended but we decided to include the additional nine works over the intended 100; I have a feeling nobody will complain! The result? A book with 360 excerpts from 109 works by 49 composers.

If you are interested in more information about this new book or would like to order a copy, there are three ways you can do this:

The website of Encore Music Publishers will lead you to a page about the book; it is featured on the website’s first page. While there, have a look at Encore Music Publisher’s many other fine publications, including the edition of the Arban Complete Method for trombone and euphonium by Joseph Alessi and Brian Bowman, and the Complete Vocalises by Marco Bordogni edited by Michael Mulcahy.

Encore Music Publishers has created a website for the three books in The One Hundred series. This is a convenient gateway to information about all three books in the series, for tenor trombone, bass trombone and tuba.

I have put a page on my own website devoted to The One Hundred. There you can get a fuller account of how this book came to be, and you can also download a free PDF with 10 sample pages from the book so you can see the front and back covers, table of contents, preface, and four sample pages.

I want to thank Wesley Jacobs, owner of Encore Music Publishers, for working with me so I could – at last – write this book. It has been a labor of love, something I have wanted to do for a very long time. It is very, very satisfying to know that soon, it will be in the hands of students and players around the world.

01_cover

Encouragement

Encouragement

Life is full of ups and downs. Nobody is immune from hard knocks and I don’t know a person in the world who has not faced tough times and discouragement. In recent days, I’ve been talking to a number of people who are struggling with difficulties. It’s then that you find out the true meaning of the word “friend” – how to be one and how to be grateful for one.

I thought I’d share three items that have come to mind in the last few weeks that I have shared with friends who have been going through some tough stuff. Each speaks to a different kind of situation and each offers encouragement and hope. When you’re working hard to make lemonade out of the lemons of life, when “stuff” is piling up all around, when you can’t see a way out of a problem, Rudyard Kipling, William Shakespeare and the Apostle Paul have something to encourage us.

if

IF

by Rudyard Kipling (first published in 1895)

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make a heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

sonnett_29

Sonnet 29

William Shakespeare (first published in 1609)

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

p46

I Corinthians 13 (English Standard Version)

Apostle Paul (written between approximately 53-57 AD)

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The Sackbut, The Psaltery and The Dulcimer – 1954 recording

The Sackbut, The Psaltery and The Dulcimer – 1954 recording

A few weeks ago, I posted an article on The Last Trombone about Fake News and The Trombone. One of the things that has caused a lot of confusion about the origin of the trombone is the fact that the King James Bible (1611) translated an Aramaic word for a form of lyre as “sackbut.” Sackbut is an early word for the trombone and, faced with an Aramaic word they didn’t understand, the KJV Bible translators substituted a word for something they DID know that sounded similar. Hence, the myth that the trombone dates from ancient times (rather than the 15th century) gained traction.

In my ongoing research on the trombone for several of my book projects, I came across a recording made in 1954 by a doo-wop group, The Collegians, with the Sid Bass Orchestra. I saw the 45rpm record on sale on an auction site and sight unseen, I decided to buy it. The title of the song? The Sackbut, the Psaltery and the Dulcimer.

sackbut_the_collegians

That got my attention. Those are three of the instruments that are found in the King James translation of the Bible, in Daniel, Chapter 3, verse 5:

That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the King hath set up.

The connection between the recording and the Bible verse was immediately apparent to me. So I bought the record, not knowing what I was getting. And, wow, I am glad I bought it. I found myself owning a recording of an absolutely charming song. The songwriters – who are only identified as Hoffman-Manning-Sloane – crafted a clever story about six musicians at in ancient Babylon who played sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, harp, cornet and flute. They stuck the harp in for good measure. The Sid Bass Orchestra’s trombone section has a prominent role, of course. It’s well sung and played, and adds something to what we know about how the trombone was used in popular culture.

You can hear this cute song on YouTube by clicking this link or click on the video image below (if you’re reading this message in an email message, you won’t see the video image below):

If you don’t smile when you hear this, you don’t have a pulse. The trombone in Biblical times? No, that’s fake news. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun with the idea. The Collegians sure did, and we can, too.

sackbut-and-musicians

 

 

Wilson Carlile: The Man Behind the Trombone

Wilson Carlile: The Man Behind the Trombone

Readers of The Last Trombone know that I am at work writing several books, as well as a number of articles for various journals and magazines. I’ve just completed an article for the July 2017 International Trombone Association Journal about jazz trombonist Russell “Big Chief” Moore, a member of the Akimel O’odham (Pima) tribe who was born in Arizona and went on to play with many jazz greats including Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and Charlie Parker. Moore was born in Komatke, Arizona, on the east side of the Sierra Estrella; if you threw a stone from my front porch over the mountains, it would land in Komatke. I’ve also recently completed an article about the Mozart Requiem Tuba mirum trombone solo for the Boston Symphony Orchestra program in April of this year, to coincide with performances of that piece by the orchestra (my good friend, Steve Lange, will be playing the trombone solo). And my new annotated orchestral excerpt book, The One Hundred: Essential Works for the Symphonic Bass Trombonist (Encore Music Publishers) is in the final proofreading process and will be published this spring. More on all of these projects will be coming in future posts on The Last Trombone.

One of the major writing projects that is occupying my time is a biography of Homer Rodeheaver, who was the trombone-playing song leader for evangelist Billy Sunday in the first third of the twentieth century. I am co-authoring this book with my friend Kevin Mungons of Chicago and it will be published by University of Illinois Press. In my research about Rodeheaver, I’ve been studying the use of the trombone by many pastors, evangelists and song leaders.  Many, like the late Cliff Barrows, were inspired by Rodeheaver’s example.

But before Homer Rodeheaver, there was Rev. Wilson Carlile, founder of England’s Church Army. Carlile had a life long ministry to the downtrodden in London and his movement spread around the world. He also used the trombone as a way to gain attention to his ministry, often marching through the streets of London while playing–something that resulted in his being severely beaten on numerous occasions by those who did not want to hear his message of temperance and the saving power of the Christian Gospel.

The photo below appeared as a full page image in the July 22, 1903 issue of The Tatler with the caption:

The Rev. Wilson Carlile, who leads off our series of “Preachers in their Pulpits,” the first newspaper attempt to present the clergy with the genuine actuality that photography can alone provide, is the honorary chief secretary of the Church Army, which he founded in the slums of Westminster in 1882. He is rector of St. Mary-at-Hill, the church which is illustrated in our picture. He is fifty-six years of age.

carlile_full_photo_small

On May 4, 1900, the Chicago Daily Tribune ran an article about Wilson Carlile and his ministry; it is reproduced below. The article is written in a spectacularly evocative style, and is a tremendous tribute to this Godly man who did so much good for so many. The author, who is not credited, certainly found that the trombone made an impression, and his conclusion will bring a smile to anyone who plays the trombone or has known a trombone player:

All this is the work of the man behind the trombone, and for the possibilities that lie in that much maligned instrument let all trombone players be respected. They are not as bad as they look. In the hands of a man truly great, the trombone is more powerful than the sword.

the-man-behind-the-trombone-carlile

Wilson Carlile (1847-1942). The man behind the trombone.

wilson_carlile_trombone_small

The buccin: the coolest trombone

The buccin: the coolest trombone

I don’t have a lot of things from my childhood. All of my toys and stuffed animals went away a long time ago. Even my first trombone is gone, given away to a young player whose name I don’t remember any more.

But I do have one thing, a postcard, that I purchased at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City around 1965. I was on a school field trip to the Museum – I grew up in New York City (Queens) and Long Island (Valley Stream) – and my class had just entered the musical instrument gallery. And there, in a display case overlooking the Museum’s collection of suits of armor (another very cool thing, I might add), I saw a display that had these instruments:

met_buccin_01-copy_01

As a young trombone player, I was entranced. What is this!? I learned that this instrument is a form of trombone made in France in the early 19th century. Its name? The buccin. Nobody really knows how to pronounce it. I’ve heard it called “boo-cheen” and “boo-sahn” although most scholars agree on “book-sahn.” But, truly, nobody knows. These instruments were very popular in France in the first half of the 19th century; players of the buccin played trombone parts in bands and in parades, they made a spectacular sight. Buccins were usually painted in gold, red and green and some had a tongue of metal that would wag when it was played. At that moment, when I was all of 10 years old, I knew I had to have one of these remarkable instruments someday. At the time, all I could do was buy the postcard. I’m glad I did, since the Museum no longer has these instruments on display, or at least that was case a few years ago when I last paid the Museum a visit. However, the museum’s musical instrument gallery is closed for renovation at this moment and perhaps these wonderful instruments will be able to be seen once again when it reopens soon.

yeo_becker_buccin

In time, though, I was able to purchase a buccin bell. It’s difficult to find one for sale with a workable slide. So I decided to purchase a bell (made by Sautermeister in Lyon, France) and have it restored, and a new slide constructed. Jim Becker (pictured with me, above) of Osmun Music  in Massachusetts did the restoration and made the slide based on an historical model in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Jim did a fantastic job and the buccin has pride of place in my personal collection of musical instruments; it hangs on the wall in my home studio amidst photos and historical drawings of serpents, sackbuts, trombones, and other instruments, as well as a letter by Hector Berlioz.

yeo_buccin_wall

Historically, there is not much music written specifically for the buccin. As I mentioned, it often doubled the trombone part in bands, particularly military bands. But we do have one piece that was specifically composed for buccin. There is a part for buccin in Hector Berlioz’s Messe solennelle, in the Kyrie. I played the Messe when I was in the Boston Symphony but I was playing the serpent at that time; the buccin part is doubled by the serpent and trombones so with only enough hands to play one instrument and with no buccin at my disposal at that time, the serpent kept my hands full.

yeo_buccin_sh_01

The buccin plays like a normal, modern trombone. Sort of. First of all, the seven positions of the modern trombone are rather flexible on the buccin. The zoomorphic bell does quite a job of disrupting the smooth flow of air through the instrument. So one must make significant adjustments with the slide to get many notes in tune. But then there is this: if you are a trombone player, pick up your trombone and close your eyes. Then play a melody you know. In the key of D major. Having a little trouble finding the right slide positions? Welcome to the world of the buccin. With no bell in front of you to provide a visual guide to slide positions, playing buccin is a bit like playing the trombone in the dark. It’s when you play buccin that you find out how well you REALLY know your trombone. By the way, the photo above was taken at Symphony Hall in Boston, in front of a display case that has several serpents. But that’s another story. . .

There aren’t many people in the world who play the buccin, so because of my keen interest in the instrument and the research I’ve done to learn more about it, I was asked, a few years ago, to write the entry for the instrument for the new edition of The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. I also wrote most of the Wikipedia entry for the buccin. Two years ago, I gave a recital in the Hamamatsu (Japan) Museum of Musical Instruments and got to demonstrate and talk about the museum’s fine buccin. The photo below tells the story – look at all of the cell phone cameras that went up when I picked up the buccin. The buccin was easily the hit of my recital.

yeo_hamamatsu_buccin_01

 In 2012, I recorded a short video on a buccin owned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Their buccin was made by Tabard in Lyon around 1830 and still has most of its original paint as well as a metal tongue.

yeo_mfa_buccin_02

The MFA has now posted that video on their YouTube channel and you can view it by clicking HERE (to go to the page in YouTube) or just click the video image below. I am playing the buccin part from Berlioz’s Messe solennelle. It will give you an up close look at the buccin and its sound. And its wagging tongue.

That’s the buccin. The coolest trombone. Ever.

Fake News: The Trombone

Fake News: The Trombone

Fake news is in the news. Unless you believe it isn’t. Fake news has been around for a very long time. Sometimes it’s a mistake borne out of ignorance, such as the early belief that the earth was flat. If nobody knows it’s round, it’s flat. But it’s not flat; it’s round. So the flat earth assertion is fake news. Sometimes fake news is known to be false but is spread with malicious intent. Say something enough times and people will think it’s true. It’s important to develop a good filter when information comes your way. It may be true; it may be fake.

The trombone has not been immune to its own fake news stories, especially regarding its history. I’ve been doing some research into this for one of the books that I’m writing and thought I’d share several items that have led many people to believe that the trombone was invented in antiquity, in Roman and early Biblical times. These myths – this trombone fake news – continue to the surface now and then as proof of an ancient origin of the trombone. Let’s set the record straight.

Shakespeare: Coriolanus

shakespeare_sackbut

The Trumpets, Sackbuts, Psalteries, and Fifes,

Tabors, and Cymbals, and the shouting Romans,

Make the Sun dance. Hark you. (A shout within)

Men: This is good news!

Above, in the 1623 published edition of Shakespeare’s play and in a transcription in modern English, are several lines from Act V of William Shakespeare’s 1605 play, Coriolanus. The play is based on the life of the legendary–most scholars now believe that he never existed–Roman general, Gaius Marcius Coriolanus.

Here, Shakespeare includes the sackbut, an English name for the early trombone, among the list of instruments that were being played as Volumnia triumphantly enters the city. We know that trombones were part of the stage prop inventory for the “Admiral’s Men,” a theatrical company that was contemporary with Shakespeare. But in Coriolanus, Shakespeare takes an instrument with which he was familiar–the trombone, or sackbut–and places it in ancient Rome. Fake news.

Trombones at Pompeii and Herculaneum

The destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum due to the explosion of the volcano, Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, has led to many legends about what actually was found during the excavation of the cities that began in 1599. One of the most fanciful tales is that “two Roman Sackbuts” were found in the ruins of Herculaneum. This report first circulated in the 1700s but was, fortunately, debunked in the second edition of the Grove Dictionary of Music (1910):

grove_dictionary_1910_trombone_excerpt

The instruments that actually WERE found in the ruins of Herculaneum were Roman cornu. Here is a photo of one of the Herculaneum cornu and more photos and commentary about these instruments may be found by clicking HERE.

naples_cornu

The trombone in Roman times? Fake news.

Longfellow: Tales of a Wayside Inn

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s collection of poems, Tales of a Wayside Inn, is a classic of English literature. Written in 1863, the book relates fictional stories and tall tales told by a group of guests at the Wayside Inn, a real Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Early in the book, Longfellow introduces “A Spanish Jew from Alicant.” As Canon Francis Galpin wrote in his essay, The Sackbut, Its Evolution and History (1906), “Longfellow (Tales of a Wayside Inn, Prelude), has unfortunately added popularity to this idea of the antiquity of the instrument [sackbut/trombone] by the following reference to ancient history.” At which point he quotes the closing lines of this excerpt from Longfellow’s poem (two scanned files since they appear over two pages in my copy of the 1913 edition):

wayside_inn_01wayside_inn_02

Trombones in the ancient Middle East? Fake news.

Sackbut in the Bible: The 1611 King James Version

I have a high view of the authority of the Bible and believe that it is the inspired, inerrant word of God. But there is a problem with the idea of Biblical inerrancy. The Bible was originally – and inerrantly – written in ancient languages, including Hebrew and Aramaic. Those who have translated the Bible into other languages have often had trouble knowing what words in the original languages actually meant/mean.

In the famous 1611 translation of the Bible into English, the so-called “Authorized King James Version,” we find this verse from the Book of Daniel, Chapter 3, verse 5:

daniel_3_kjv_1611_detail

That at what time yee heare the sound of the cornet, flute, harpe, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, yee fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the King hath set up:

This passage goes on to reference the Prophet, Daniel, who, because he would not bow down and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, was thrown into a den of lions where God preserved his life.

The problem with Nebuchadnezzar’s little band is that the sackbut wasn’t part of the jam session. Translators of the King James Version were stumped. They came across an Aramaic word in the passage and did not know what instrument was being described. Jeremy Montague describes the problem:

The reason for [the sackbut’s] use in the Authorized Version is that the word in the Aramaic is sabb-cha, and King James’s translators had no idea of what it meant but just picked something familiar that sounded similar. The Septuagint has sambyke each time (Vulgate, sambuca), and it is probably that it is the word that the author of Daniel was aiming at. Jeremy Montagu, Musical Instruments of the Bible (London: Scarecrow Press, 2002), p. 98.

So what WAS the instrument, the sambuca, that was rendered as sackbut, that was played in Nebuchadnezzar’s band? It was a type of small harp, a bow harp, that looked something like this example found in the Edinburgh University Collection of Historical Musical Instruments:

0033799c

Since the King James Version was published, Biblical scholars know much more about ancient languages and ancient musical instruments, and the sambuca is now usually translated as psaltery or lyre. In fact, the New King James Version translates it as lyre. Not sackbut. Not trombone.

The trombone in ancient, Biblical times? Fake news.

It is important to keep in mind that apart from the fanciful report of the discovery of trombones in the excavation of Herculaneum, none of these “fake news” reports about the trombone were malicious or intended to deceive. Shakespeare and Longfellow were using poetic license to place the trombone in ancient times, putting an instrument with which they were familiar into an historical setting. They also may just have liked the sound of the name of the instrument and how it rolls off the tongue. The translators of the King James Version did the very best they could with the knowledge they had when they translated sambuca as sackbut. Over time, scholars gained a better understanding of the meaning of the word and they corrected it in subsequent translations of the Bible. The problem occurs when people today don’t understand that these references that place the trombone in ancient times are false. The assertion that the trombone was found in antiquity still comes up in books, articles, and student papers today. The trombone has a long and noble history that dates from the fifteenth century. We continue to learn more about this rich history including when things previously thought to be true are now known to be false. Check your sources when you write about the trombone. You’ll be doing your part to stop trombone fake news.

stop-fake-news-logo-large