Rethinking Mozart’s Tuba mirum

Rethinking Mozart’s Tuba mirum

The trombone solo in the Tuba mirum of Wolfgang Mozart’s Requiem is one of the most important solos for trombone in the orchestral literature. It appears on nearly every tenor trombone audition – whether an audition for college or a professional symphony orchestra. As most trombonists know, Mozart (1756-1791) did not live to finish the Requiem and many people have stepped in to put the piece in a playable form since Mozart’s wife asked Franz Süssmayr to finish the piece shortly after the composer’s death. A look at Mozart’s manuscript shows us that he made very few markings to guide how the solo should be played.

Over the years, a type of settled wisdom came to define how players should approach the solo. Süssmayr added dynamics and many slurs, and most conductors ask players to, after the initial opening seven note “fanfare,” to play the solo in a legato, beautiful style. Audition committees seem to expect this style as well.

But I wonder if it isn’t time to revisit how we play this solo. I think it’s possible that we have been approaching it all wrong.

The “historically informed performance practice” movement (HIP) of recent years has helped us to revise our thinking about this in some important ways. First, many reproductions of the trombone solo of Mozart’s Tuba mirum, including its inclusion in many orchestral excerpt books, have shown the movement’s time signature to be common time, or 4/4. But when we look at Mozart’s manuscript, we see that the composer clearly intended the movement to be in cut time, or 2/2.

Here is a detail of the beginning of the Tuba mirum in Mozart’s manuscript; the cut time marking is unambiguous:


Here is the beginning of the Tuba mirum as found in Orchestral Excerpts from the Symphonic Repertoire for Trombone and Tuba, ed. Keith Brown, Volume 1, p. 83; the meter is given as common time:


And here is the beginning of the Tuba mirum as found in Moderne Orchesterstudien Für Posaune und Baßtuba, ed. Alfred Stöneberg, Vol. 1, p. 3; the meter is given as common time:


So, we have our first question: what is the tempo of a late 18th century Andante in 2/2? In fact, if you look carefully at the first page of Mozart’s manuscript above, he underlines the word Andante in the tempo – he could not be more emphatic that he wanted this tempo. Until recently, most conductors have conducted this movement in 4/4, with a tempo of approximately quarter note = 82. Or slower. Herbert von Karajan’s recording of the Tuba mirum  with the Berlin Philharmonic clocks in at about quarter note = 66 and he has all three trombone players play the solo in unison. Copyright restrictions do now allow me to embed von Karajan’s recording in this article but you can hear it by clicking on this link (the recording will open in YouTube in a new window).

But is that kind of tempo REALLY Andante? A tempo of quarter note = 82 would be a tempo of half note = 41, or Lento, or in von Karajan’s case, quarter note = 66 is the same as half note = 33, or Grave. We first must examine whether the “traditional tempo” is too slow. I think it is. Listen to this performance of the solo by trombonist Susan Addison with John Elliot Gardiner conducting the English Baroque Soloists. This tempo is about half note = 50 (and do not be thrown off by the fact that this performance is in A major rather than B-flat major; the performance is at Baroque pitch, A=415):

Even this tempo seems a little slow for Andante, a tempo that is often defined as “walking tempo.” From a correct understanding of Mozart’s intentions regarding the tempo flow other questions.

Here is a larger point that I think bears some consideration: the text of the Tuba mirum and its implication on the musical character of the movement.

Tuba mirum is part of the Dies irae of the Requiem mass. In the Requiem, Mozart combines five sections of the Dies irae into the movement he titles “Tuba mirum.” These are Tuba mirum (baritone solo with trombone), Mors stupebit (tenor solo), Liber scriptus (tenor solo), Judex ergo (alto solo) and Quid sum miser (soprano solo and vocal solo quartet). For the sake of this discussion, I am limiting myself to talking about the first part, Tuba mirum, with the three lines of text reproduced below. Its text is in Latin, in trochaic meter, and it describes the day of judgment when all mankind is called before the throne of God. This is not a text that is gentle in any way:

Tuba mirum spargens sonum

Per sepulchral regionum,

Coget omnes ante thronum.

A “standard literal” English translation of this text is:

The trumpet, scattering a wondrous sound

through all the sepulchers of the regions,

will summon all before the throne.

A fuller translation that gives the Biblical sense of the text runs something like this:

The trumpet, blowing its amazing sound to all of the corners of the earth,
signals to all of the dead in the world
to rise from their tombs and come before the throne of God for judgment.

Here is how Michelangelo pictured the moment described in the Tuba mirum, in his famous fresco of  The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. Trumpets sounding, the dead being raised before the throne, in fulfillment of these words from John 5:28:

“The hour is coming in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation.”


Here, below, is a detail of the lower left of Michelangelo’s work, showing the dead rising from their tombs. Certainly this is a moment of exceptional drama:


The point I am making is this: does the text of the Tuba mirum support a gentle style of music making, with the soft dynamic and generous legato that has become so commonplace in our performances?

Listen, for instance, to how Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) set the Tuba mirum text in his Requiem. He required four brass bands – one for each corner of the earth – to call the dead from their graves to judgment:

It’s easy to argue that Berlioz was French, a 19th century Romantic-era composer and it is unfair to compare him with Mozart. But can it really be disputed that Berlioz didn’t capture the character of the Tuba mirum with the drama of dozens of brass players being the summons of God to judgment?

If we go to Requiems of contemporaries of Mozart, we find that many treat the Tuba mirum with more drama than we traditionally give to our interpretations of Mozart. Antonio Salieri (1750-1825), Mozart’s contemporary, uses trumpets and three trombones to loudly proclaim the call to judgment, while the chorus alternates between a breathless declaration and a loud summons. In it you can hear a foreshadowing of Berlioz’s brass bands:

In his unfinished Requiem in B-flat major, Johann Michael Haydn (1737-1806) employs three trombones in dramatic fashion at the presentation of the Tuba mirum:

The same can be said for the Requiem of Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842), whose setting of the Dies ire begins with a loud brass fanfare, the crash of a gong, and a brisk, dramatic treatment by chorus and brasses. The audio clip below begins at the Dies irae and the Tuba mirum follows about seconds later, at 9:24:

It should be noted that this issue – the editorial dynamics and phrasings that have been added by editors other than Mozart that cause the Tuba mirum to be performed in a way that is rather disconnected from the character of the text – is not discussed in any of the Mozart literature that I have read. There are many editions of the Requiem and many completions of Mozart’s incomplete score. Most contain extensive front matter and a discussion of editorial decisions. Yet none speak to this issue. Among those I have examined are those by Alfred Schnerich (first publication of Mozart’s manuscript in facsimile, Gesellschaft for Graphische Industrie, Vienna, 1913), Leopold Nowak (Bärenreiter edition of Süssmayr’s completion, 1966), Franz Beyer (Beyer’s instrumentation, Edition Kunzelmann, 1971) and Richard Maunder (Maunder’s instrumentation, Oxford University Press, 1987). Nor is this discussed in The Mozart Compendium (H. C. Robbins Landon, G. Schirmer, 1990), Mozart (Maynard Solomon, HarperCollins, 1995), or Constanze Mozart: After the Requiem (Heinz Gärtner, translated by Reinhard Pauly, Amadeus Press, 1991). Neither it mentioned in Alfred Einstein’s important study, Mozart: His Character, His Word (Oxford University Press, 1945). In short, the Mozart literature is mute on this subject.

There are two recordings of the Requiem that are of particular interest to me and show that some conductors ARE thinking about this.

The recording below, by Christoph Sperling with Das Neue Orchester, contains a complete recording of the Süssmayer edition and also a recording of the Requiem as Mozart left it, without any editorial additions. The instrumentation of Mozart’s manuscript is very thin and the trombone soloist (who is unidentified in the liner notes but the three trombone  players are listed as Robb Tooley, Katherine Couper and Uwe Haase) plays with strength and clean articulation. Note, too, the tempo, which is faster that we are accustomed to hearing:

Another interesting recording for comparison is that by Boston Baroque, conducted by Martin Pearlman, in the completion of Mozart’s manuscript by Robert Levin. The trombone soloist is Cormack Ramsey and the tempo and interpretation seems to better reflect the character of the text. Copyright restrictions do not allow me to embed that recording in this article but you can hear it by clicking this link (YouTube will open in a new window).

As with the presentation of any idea that is outside the established box, people will raise questions. I’m good with that. Let me answer some questions here:

  • Yes: I know that Mozart did write three slurs at the end of the Tuba mirum trombone solo; these are verified to have been Mozart’s own instruction in his own hand (they are the only slurs for trombone that were written by Mozart in the Tuba mirum). But does the inclusion of slurs necessarily mean the phrase should be played softly?
  • Yes: Mozart wrote several dynamic markings in the Tuba mirum but the first one, forte-piano, doesn’t occur until measure 18, where the tenor begins singing Mors stupebit natura. Mozart wrote no dynamics during the entire trombone solo (measures 1-18; we must keep in mind that the “second half” of the trombone solo, that in some editions appears starting at measure 24, is entirely a creation of Süssmayr, not Mozart). As well, keep in mind that for the entire Tuba mirum, the only music that we have in Mozart’s own hand is written for cello/bass, trombone solo and vocal soloists. He wrote no parts for violins or violas or any wind instruments apart from trombone. Mozart left the movement, as he did most of the Requiem, as an uncompleted torso.
  • Yes: I know that the way the Tuba mirum is traditionally played is quite lovely, and it makes for a very nice musical presentation. Mozart had previously used a trombone solo as an obligato to a vocal line to great effect (with a very different kind of text) in his  Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots. My point is that the way we traditionally the Tuba mirum doesn’t seem to fit with the message of the text.

But none of this prevents me from asking: Can we start a conversation about the way in which we are interpreting the Tuba mirum of Mozart’s Requiem? Does our traditional way of playing the Tuba mirum – with its soft dynamic and gentle legato – fit the drama of the text? Have we added too much to the sparse instructions Mozart left in his unfinished manuscript? Knowing how conductors somehow overlooked the correct meter and tempo for this movement for so long, have we overlooked the fundamental character of the movement as expressed by the text? Have we gotten into a habit of how we interpret this without considering other options might open new doors of understanding?

I am posing an idea, a theory; I am not presenting this as a settled thought in need of adoption. Certainly more research and study needs to be done. I am simply posing the question. Let’s keep thinking.

The land of the free. Yes. The free.

The land of the free. Yes. The free.

I’ve recently returned from a week in Baltimore, Maryland, a trip that had many facets and which returned me to the place where my professional orchestral career started. Before joining the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1985, I was bass trombonist of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra from 1981-1985. In those four years, I was part of a great low brass section along with Jim Olin, David Fetter, Eric Carlson and David Federley (tuba); the photo below was taken in the fall of 1981.


Returning to Baltimore brought me down to the city’s Inner Harbor, a superb urban development project that began just before we came to Baltimore more than 35 years ago. It was nice to see the changes to the area over the years, particularly the new stadiums for the Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Ravens, both very much tied to the fabric of downtown Baltimore. The U.S.S. Constellation, the 1854 “tall ship” that served as part of the US Navy for over 100 years and seen in the background in the photo above is still there.


I also gave a master class at the Peabody Institute where I was on the faculty during my time in the Baltimore Symphony. It was quite nice to be back in that venerable place, with so much that was familiar but so much that was new. I very much enjoyed working with several talented Peabody students, including Jahi Alexander, shown below, who is a student of the Baltimore Symphony’s current bass trombonist and my former student, Randy Campora.


We also visited Fort McHenry (photos at the top and bottom of this post), particularly known as the site of a ferocious battle during the War of 1812. I had never been there before but I as very happy to finally get there. Our visit was a very strong moment, even emotional, as we learned the history not only of the battle but of its lasting consequence: the writing, by Francis Scott Key, of the words to our National Anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Our National Anthem is in the news these days, in particular because a small number of athletes have decided not to stand when it is played before the start of a game. They are doing this, they say, to protest the the anthem’s final words, “The land of the free and the home of the brave,” which they feel do not apply to all people in our country.

Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about this, although some writers have seen evidence that people  overwhelmingly see the gesture as being, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “dumb and disrespectful.”

Yes, our country has problems. Injustice exists. But I have been to 30 countries in the world on five continents and have seen how governments work. There are many good things about many countries in the world. But my late father had it right when he often said, “The American system of government is the worst in the world. Except for all the others.” The glory of the United States is the freedoms we have. Freedoms like those in no other place in the world. Our National Anthem is a symbol of our hopes and aspirations. In the face of injustice, we turn to that hope and work in meaningful ways to make positive change. Choosing to not stand at the playing of the National Anthem does not protest against injustice; to many, it is a selfish, narcissistic gesture that accomplishes nothing but draw attention to an individual. When we stand for our National Anthem – even while we are fully aware of the imperfections of our country – we honor those who have served our country to ensure our freedoms, we express gratitude for all that is good and right in our land, and we resolve to do better to improve the lot of everyone in our country. Standing while our National Anthem is played or sung is a rare gesture of unity in a country that is deeply divided over many issues.

Yes: athletes and others have the freedom to not stand for the National Anthem. That freedom is enshrined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. And that freedom is celebrated in the words of the National Anthem itself. But those freedoms also include the right of others to call out those who do so as being selfish and “dumb and disrespectful.” See injustice? Work for justice. The battle of Fort McHenry and our National Anthem remind us of this.

O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave,

O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!



Improvisation: A Careful Carelessness

Improvisation: A Careful Carelessness

Last month I had the great joy of traveling to Duke Divinity School in North Carolina to take part in a two day Convocation titled, “Call and Response: Two Days of Theology and the Arts.” I was involved in a program called “A Careful Carelessness: An Evening of Theology and Improvisation.” Organized by Dr. Jeremy Begbie, the event included both classical and jazz musicians in a thought provoking evening that related the idea of improvisation – a skill that is careful but also careless – to both jazz and classical music, as well as our view of God.


In Christian circles today, much is often made of so-called “freedom in Christ.” By this, many people conflate salvation and sanctification; they say: “I am God’s child, I am saved, therefore I can do pretty much whatever I want. The Law is not in force with me; I am a child of grace.” But just because an idea is popular doesn’t make it true. In fact, this way of thinking leads to spiritual anarchy and antinomianism, and is the anthesis of the Christian Gospel.

As Jeremy Begbie insightfully said at the Duke Convocation:

“All music making depends on improvisation to some degree. This interweaving of order and openness is built into the way music works. . . . In improvisation we learn that freedom comes from the interplay between openness and constraints. Of course in the modern world, freedom usually means something like the absence of constraint. . . Improvisation makes us rethink all that. It makes us wonder if true freedom comes only from leaning into the constraints. Flannery O’Connor once said, ‘Art transcends its limitations only by staying within them.’  When God gave the law to the Israelites, it wasn’t to cramp their freedom, but to liberate his people to be the people they were meant to to be. Walk outside the laws and you became unfree, slaves again. When Jesus says the “The Son makes you free, you will be free indeed,”  he didn’t mean free from everybody else and free from all limits – but free to love people the way they were meant to be loved.”

Indeed. Think of music. Within rules – chord changes and such – comes tremendous freedom and beauty. Rules don’t mean “no fun” – they mean great fun, great freedom. The Duke event was a reminder of just how hilarious – and I use that word in its meaning, “unbridled joy” – music can be when we work within a series of constraints, whether in jazz or classical or any style.


In all of this this I was joined with colleagues from symphony orchestras from around the country and some fine jazz musicians as well. I played in a brass quartet with Andrew Balio and Nate Hepler (trumpets) of the Baltimore Symphony, and my good friend Megumi Kanda, principal trombonist of the Milwaukee Symphony. We played a canzona of Giovanni Gabrieli and also took part in large group performances of “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” where we were joined by Anne Martingale Williams, principal cellist of the Pittsburgh Symphony, Scottish violinist Alan Torrence, and John Brown (bass) and Donovan Cheatham (drums). Jeremy Begbie also contributed his skills as a superb pianist.

I also played an arrangement I made of a Bach two-part invention along with my Boston Symphony friend and colleague, associate principal flutist Elizabeth Ostling (who also played in the large group pieces). A highlight of the evening was Duke’s Dean of Chapel Luke Powery leading a call and response with the audience of the spiritual, “Wade in the Water,” over which I improvised a trombone solo. What a joy it was to work with such capable, flexible, and positive friends and colleagues while at the same time being musically and spiritually challenged myself.


There will be more from me on this theme of order and openness in future posts. For now, you can read more about the Duke Convocation in this article on the Duke Divinity School website, Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts (DITA) Celebrates New School Year with Theology and the Arts.

[Giving credit where credit is deserved: photos in this post were taken by Jessina Leonard and Pilar Timpane.]

The President and the trombone

The President and the trombone

With today’s debate between US Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, we enter into an intense season of politics in the United States. It seems like the right time to remember a humorous incident that occurred several years ago regarding the President and the trombone

Things happen on the Internet and the Internet has a long memory. In 2010, after the mid-term elections, I was in my locker room in the basement of Boston’s Symphony Hall, preparing for the evening’s Boston Symphony concert. On the table was a copy of the day’s The New York Times, with a front page photo of President Obama:


The President was wearing an unhappy face, but as I looked at the photo more closely, I saw some possibilities. I held up my Yamaha YBL-822 bass trombone to the photo and my Boston Symphony trumpet colleague, Michael Martin, snapped this photo, below. I was on to something…


A few minutes later I walked down to an area in the Symphony Hall basement where I thought I could get a photo in better light. My Boston Symphony trombone colleague, Steve Lange, took this photo:


After a little careful placement of the mouthpiece and folding of the newspaper, Steve snapped the photo that heads this post. I cropped it and a few minutes later,  I made a post to the Trombone Forum with the photo.  I was not prepared for what came next. The photo went viral, passed around on many websites and fora. It made the rounds on Facebook, on Reddit, Twitter, Buzzed, Pininterest, and email. Hardly a week has gone by in the last six years when someone hasn’t sent the photo to me, wondering if I’d ever seen it. The photo got named “Baraque Trombone” and “Trombama” and “Obamabone.” If you do a Google search on the words “Obama Trombone” and click “images” you will see these images over and over and over.

When I saw the photo in The New York Times, I thought, “Hmm, I think the President might have a pretty good trombone embouchure.” One thing led to another. And now you know the whole story. All in a little fun. You just don’t have to send the photo to me and ask if I’ve seen it before.


In the studio/on the air

In the studio/on the air

In a previous post here on The Last Trombone, I mentioned an interview I gave for Central Sound at Arizona PBS that was broadcast on Phoenix’s classical PBS radio station, KBAQ (the station goes by the sound of its call letters, KBACH). One thing led to another and I now find myself very happily working for Central Sound at Arizona PBS, as an on-air host for their weekly radio program on KBAQ, Arizona Encore!

I confess I never thought of myself as having a “radio voice” but a few weeks ago, I was asked to come to the Central Sound studio in downtown Phoenix for an audition. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I was very pleased when, after recording a couple of test scripts, I was asked to join the team of hosts for the show. This “retirement thing” is turning out to be very interesting for me to say the least!

For those interested, Arizona Encore! is a weekly radio program that features live performances of classical music recorded around the state of Arizona. Concerts are professionally recorded by the Central Sound at Arizona PBS staff and packaged as programs that are broadcast weekly at 7:00 pm on Tuesday evenings on KBAQ. I have recorded four programs so far and they will air on September 27, and October 4, 11 and 18.

There are several ways you can listen to Arizona Encore!:

  • Listen live on KBAQ (KBACH), 89.5 FM every Tuesday evening at 7:00 pm Arizona time. Do keep in mind that Arizona – very sensibly, I might add – does NOT recognize daylight savings time so at this time of year, we are in the same time zone as Pacific Time while in the winter, we are in Mountain Time. You can always find out the current time of day in Arizona by clicking here.
  • Listen live on every Tuesday evening at 7:00 pm Arizona time.
  • Download the KBAQ (KBACH) mobile app and listen to the show live every Tuesday evening at 7:00 pm Arizona time. The app is free and is available from the iTunes Store and Google Play:

Download the KBAQ (KBACH) mobile app from the iTunes Store

Download the KBAQ (KBACH) mobile app from Google Play

  • Download the Classical Arizona PBS mobile app and listen to the show on demand any time. New shows are uploaded each week and can be streamed at no cost at any time of day. The app is also free and is available from the iTunes Store and Google Play. The app also has additional useful features including streaming of concerts (including some Phoenix Symphony concerts and concerts by students and faculty at Arizona State University), videos, concert listings, links to websites to purchase concert tickets, and more.

Download the Classical Arizona PBS mobile app from the iTunes Store

Download the Classical Arizona PBS mobile app from Google Play

  • Listen to Arizona PBS programming live on Digital Television (DTV) channel 8.4; for more information, click here.

While I’m at it, I’d like to give a word of thanks to Arizona Encore! Executive Producer Alex Kosiorek who brought me on to the Central Sound at Arizona PBS team, and Producer Jeanne Barron who is the master of controls in the studio when I’m recording programs. We may live in the Internet age but radio is alive and well. I’m very happy to be a part of a group of people who are working hard to promote classical music here in Arizona – and around the world.



I’m an active person, always wanting to engage with projects, things and people that are around me. For many years, I didn’t particularly care for waiting. I don’t know many people who do. Waiting in traffic. Waiting for a movie to begin. Waiting on a line at the airport. Waiting for others to get ready to go out to dinner. Waiting often seems like a waste of time. But I don’t think so any more. As with may things, it all depends on how you look at it.

I took the photo above last month at Yellowstone National Park. I was struck by three people sitting on the boardwalk that surrounds Old Faithful geyser, one of the park’s iconic features. This remarkable geyser erupts to spectacular effect about every 90 minutes or so. Since it erupts with such regularity, great crowds come to see Old Faithful. The three people above came early. About an hour early. So they did not have to deal with this to find a good spot to watch (below):


This is the scene that is repeated many times each day. Several thousand – yes, thousand – people waiting for Old Faithful to erupt. The three people who got there an hour early certainly got a good seat. But they got more than that. They had some time without the crowds, time to think and consider what they had and what they were about to see. I have a feeling they felt the wait was very much worth it.

Musicians do a lot of waiting as well. Trombone players, in particular, spend a great deal of time sitting and waiting for things to happen. Consider Beethoven’s Symphony 9. Here’s the beginning of the first page of the bass trombone part, a part I played dozens and dozens of times as a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.


Look carefully. See where I played my first note of the piece? It’s in measure 414 of the second movement. I didn’t play a single note in the first movement (that movement has 547 measures). Then had to wait 414 measures (well, actually there were more than that if the conductor took the repeat) to play in the second movement. And my first note was a note that I had to get right – the other two trombone players don’t play there. By contrast, the first violin part requires eight pages of music to get to that same place in the music. So I had to do a lot of waiting before I played my first note of the Beethoven Symphony 9.

One thing I did NOT do was count rests. There are simply too many rests to count to be 100% sure you’ll count correctly. So I made it a point, for every piece I ever played, to study the full score and know and understand the piece so well that I did not need to rely on counting rests. I simply knew when it was time to play. When you count rests for hundreds of measures, you can’t do anything else; you have to concentrate to get the count right. That never interested me. (By the way, my colleagues will attest to the fact that I rarely came in wrong. I don’t say that as a point of pride but simply an acknowledgement of the fact that if you prepare thoroughly, you will not need to count every rest and can have confidence that you will come in correctly.) You’ll see why, below.

When I retired from the Boston Symphony, I received several meaningful gifts from the Orchestra and my colleagues. Several of them are hanging on the wall in my home studio.


The centerpiece is a photo of the Boston Symphony and Tanglewood Festival Chorus performing Beethoven’s Symphony 9 in Symphony Hall, Boston during my last week of concerts; the photo was taken on May 3, 2012 and the performance was conducted by Bernard Haitink. The photo is beautifully framed and matted and my colleagues in the Orchestra signed the matte. It is an exceptionally meaningful artifact of my career. But if you look closely, you will see the orchestra playing – every member in full throat – except the three trombone players. Toby Oft, Steve Lange and I are seen doing what we did for so much time: we were sitting with our hands folded, trombones at the ready but they are silent.


I haven’t done a calculation, but my guess is I have spent years of my life waiting, and much of that time was done at orchestra rehearsals and concerts. Since waiting is unavoidable, the question arises: What are you going to do while you’re waiting? You could just sit there and be bored, unhappy that you’re not DOING something. But I learned that there are a lot of things you can do while you’re waiting to play. You may come up with a different list but I think the important thing is that you HAVE a list of things that you can do to redeem the time that you spend waiting. Here are some things that I do while waiting to play.

  • Listen. I always felt like I had the best seat in Symphony Hall. I could hear every note that was played with great clarity. Sometimes I would simply listen to the great orchestra around me and enjoy it like I was attending a concert.
  • Pay attention. My students will tell you that the words “pay attention” are a theme of my teaching. So often we experience things and so much goes by without our even noticing. Sometimes I would choose a particular colleague and pay attention to what he or she was doing. While it’s true that Edward Kleinhammer and Keith Brown were my trombone teachers in college, if asked who my teachers were, I rattle off a list of dozens of names – and most of them were not trombone players. They were my colleagues in the Boston Symphony who taught me so much when I took the time to intentionally pay attention to what they were doing. I am a much better trombone player because I paid attention to string, woodwind, percussion and other brass players exercise their craft. Likewise, I learned a great deal from observing soloists and conductors. Too many trombone players are only interested in the trombone parts. Pay attention to others and you will experience tremendous growth as a musician.
  • Watch the audience. People go to concerts to hear and see an orchestra. But it’s also true that those on stage are aware of the audience. Over my nearly 30 years in the Boston Symphony, I got to know many audience members. Some I met personally; others I observed only from a distance. I recall one woman who came to concerts with her husband when I first joined the Boston Symphony. As the years went on, she began to come to some concerts with her daughter. Years later, she came with her granddaughter. And in my final years in the orchestra, she came again with her husband. It was a touching thing to see each Thursday night. It taught me something about inter-generational relationships and the love a family shares.
  • Analyze the music. When I prepare to play any piece, I study the score to understand it better. This is not just so I wouldn’t have to count lengthy numbers of rests. It is so I can enjoy and appreciate the music on a new level. I would always read the program notes written by the Boston Symphony’s expert scholars and writers and I often would read a book about the piece we were playing. With that background, I often sat during concerts and analyzed the composer’s work, seeing how themes weaved in and out, doing harmonic and rhythmic analysis. I felt that every concert was a music history lesson. I learned so much.
  • Pray. Prayer is not a singular event that I do at a particular time of day. The worship of God is something that I do all day long, all the time. The title of a book by my music-spiritual mentor, Harold M. Best, says it well: Unceasing Worship. When I had long movements where I didn’t play, I would often pray. Pray for family and friends, pray for our country and its leaders, pray for wisdom and understanding, and much more. Surrounded by God’s great gift of music, prayer flows naturally.

Waiting is an exercise; patience can only be learned while in a situation that makes you tend to be impatient. But waiting can be a great blessing, even a thrill, if you look at it as an opportunity to to do more than simply sit with your hands folded in your lap.

Remembering 9.11

Remembering 9.11

I am confident that most people who were alive on September 11, 2001 and who were old enough at the time that they have memories of that date, remember where they were when they heard the news that the World Trade Towers in New York City had been attacked by Islamist terrorists. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was in the post office in my home town, Lexington, Massachusetts, when the counter clerk told me the news. Stunned, I got in my car and continued driving to Symphony Hall, Boston, where I was planning to pick up my trombone – the Boston Symphony had just returned from a European tour a few days earlier – and teach my students at New England Conservatory of Music. When I arrived at Symphony Hall, I gathered my trombone and other belongings from my tour trunk just as the Hall was being closed for security reasons. Classes at NEC were cancelled and I stood in front of a hardware store on Massachusetts Avenue and watched a display of televisions reveal the horror of horrors – the collapse of the Twin Towers that resulted in the death of 2,996 and the injury of over 6,000 innocent people. Confusion, disbelief, anger, despair, resolve.

I still feel a wave of emotion when I remember this. I knew the World Trade Center well, having been up to its observation deck many times. The Towers were opened in 1973, and in January 1976, my wife and I went into New York City with her parents to enjoy a day out. Our first stop was the World Trade Center where I took my first photo with our new 35 mm camera, a Christmas gift from my in-laws. That photo is above. When we got to the observation deck, we enjoyed a view we were to enjoy many more times, below.


I also recall the first Boston Symphony tour to New York City after 9.11. The BSO went to play concerts in Carnegie Hall three times a year at that time and we had a concert scheduled on October 16, 2001. The players asked the orchestra management if, instead of flying to New York, we could take the train; our management agreed. Music Director Seiji Ozawa had changed the program, originally scheduled to be Robert Schumann’s Scenes from Goethe’s Faust, to Hector Berlioz’s Requiem.

As our Amtrak train came out from under Long Island Sound and we traveled through Queens, Manhattan came into view. It was at that moment, when the familiar skyline with the World Trade Towers simply no longer existed, that the enormity of 9.11 sank in. The only sound in the train was the turning of its wheels and the weeping of the Orchestra’s men and women.

So, it is to music we often turn to help us deal with loss, to remember, to push forward. The Boston Symphony offered Berlioz’s Requiem at Carnegie Hall. Another piece is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, so memorable for its touching accompaniment to dramatic scenes in movies like The Elephant Man and Platoon. A piece I’ve often turned to is Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, a work I arranged  for trombone choir in 1991 with the composer’s permission (see below) for a performance at New England Conservatory. (Some may ask if  the arrangement is available; it is not. I received a license that only allowed me to arrange the piece for a single performance.) Pärt’s music speaks to me deeply and I often listen to it during periods of intense reflection. A new recording of some of his best choral music, Tintinabuli, by the Tallis Scholars, is part of my playlist today.

As we reflect on the events of 9.11.2001, here on the 15th anniversary of the attacks, may we find renewed compassion and strength for the challenging days ahead.