“It is the hope of man translated into a piece of music.”

“It is the hope of man translated into a piece of music.”

I’m reflecting on my recent trip to Japan, something I will write about more presently.

Among the many new friends I made on my trip to Nagoya, where I was guest artist at the Nagoya Trombone Festival, was Hiroshi Kurata, trombone professor at Aichi Prefectural University. Kurata-San game me two of his CDs as gifts. They are treasures, and unlike anything I have heard and seen before. That’s because Kurata-San is not only a superb tenor trombonist. He is a tenor. A singer. And his albums, Speranza and Tromvoce, feature him both singing and playing the trombone. It works. It really, really works. This man is a fine, fine trombonist and a fine, fine singer. More than that, he is a fine artist / musician.

This afternoon, while I was driving home from church, I was listening to Tromvoce. Among the tracks was an arrangement of themes from Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot by K. Ohashi, for trombone and voice titled Turandot Fantasy. When Tanaka-San got to the famous Act III aria, “Nessun dorma,” I pulled off the road so I could pay attention. I have loved this aria as so many others have loved it since Puccini wrote it in 1926. Kurata-San sang the aria magnificently, and when I got home, I got out my copy of the June 21, 1993 issue of The New Yorker that contains an article about the great Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti. The article, “The Last Italian Tenor” by David Remnick, is a riveting piece of writing, and in it Pavarotti is remarkably candid. And insightful.

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There were a few paragraphs from the article that I have used in many masterclasses, and I used them again in Japan while working with students. My message was this: What we do with the trombone in our hands is important. What we do as artists / musicians / trombonists is consequential because it makes a difference in people’s lives. I quoted Pavarotti’s comments about “Nessun dorma.”

The end of this aria contains these dramatic words:

Dilegua, o notte!              Vanish, o night!

Tramontate, stelle!          Fade, you stars!

Tramontate, stelle!          Fade, you stars!

All’alba vincerò!              At dawn, I will win!

Vincerò! Vincerò!            I will win! I will win!

Read Pavarotti’s comments below:

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To me — and I am not alone in this thinking — this is the essence of music. Communication with an audience of an essential truth that speaks directly to the heart. The emotion of “Nessun dorma” is inescapable and Pavarotti’s comments are very, very insightful. What kind of singer are YOU? One who tries to make your music making “perfect” at all costs or one who, with honest, heartfelt expression, takes chances and wishes to change people’s lives in the process?

Listen for yourself. First, here is a recording of Pavarotti in concert from 1994. His performance, which is recorded live, is very fine. Watch it so you can observe Pavarotti’s face. “In this there is all the hope of a man,” Pavarotti said. Here, he sings it. Observe the look on his face as he sings the final Vincerò! I mean, REALLY look at his face at the final cadence; you will see exactly what Remnick was referencing in his article. This is musical and emotional  involvement of the highest order. [NOTE: due to copyright restrictions, you may not be able to watch the video embedded in my blog but you CAN watch it on YouTube by clicking here.]

Here is another performance, below, a studio recording, the one I just listened to before I sat down to write this blog post. I have it on CD and LP and have never tired of it. No video, just audio. The performance is a little more polished than the one above, recorded in the early 1970s. The treatment of the final vocal cadence is, to my mind, stunning. [NOTE: due to copyright restrictions, you may not be able to watch the video embedded in my blog but you CAN watch it on YouTube by clicking here.]

Haven’t had enough of “Nessun dorma”? Then click on this link for an article that has links to 10 more performances. Each has something to say.

I end this blog post where I began, with my friend, Hiroshi Kurata. Here is a video of him playing and singing “Nessun dorma.” Any trombone player will appreciate the difficulty of what he is doing here. No overdubbing. This is a live recital. Playing the trombone with great beauty and expression, then immediately singing with tremendous passion. This is a rare accomplishment. [ To view this video on YouTube, click here.]

Thank you, Kurata-San. Thank you, Pavarotti. Thank you, God, for this remarkable gift that we call music that can stir our hearts.

Vincerò!

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Keith Brown (1933-2018)

Keith Brown (1933-2018)

My trombone teacher during my freshman year of college at Indiana University (1973-74), Keith Brown, died today after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease.

Keith Brown’s name is certainly known to thousands upon thousands of trombone students and professionals. If one did know that he had been a member of the Indianapolis Symphony (1957-58), the New York Brass Quintet (1958-1959), the Symphony of the Air (1958-1959), the Philadelphia Orchestra (1959-1962), the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (1962-1965), the Aspen Festival (1957-1969) the Casals Festival Orchestra in Puerto Rico (1958-1980), Professor of Music at Temple University (1965-1971), and Professor of Trombone and conductor of orchestras at Indiana University (1971-1997), one certainly knew him from his dozens of publications for International Music Company, including ten volumes of orchestral excerpts. “The Brown Books” were known to players by the color of their covers. “See you at 7 o’clock for excerpts; bring the red, yellow and blue Brown books” was often heard coming from the lips of college trombone players. Everybody had them.

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His editions of the Kreutzer Violin Etudes, and the K. Stephanovsky Bass Trombone Etudes are on my music stand every day. Every day.

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Those I bought in my first weeks of studying with him along with Richard Fote’s edition of selected studies by G. Kopprasch; the photo below shows the first page of my Kopprasch book. His students will recognize his handwriting at the top of the etude with the date he first assigned it to me: 9/26/[1973], the first semester of my freshman year.

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I met Keith Brown in Boston in January 1973. I was a senior in high school, and by virtue of my being first chair trombone in New Jersey All State Orchestra in 1972, had been selected to be a member of the All Eastern Orchestra in 1973. The orchestra – made up of students from the states of Maryland northward through New England – met in Boston and Keith Brown was the conductor. My trombone section included Doug Elliott, the renowned mouthpiece maker, and trumpeter Dennis Alves, who is now Director of Artistic Planning for the Boston Pops; I played bass trombone. It was actually the first time I had ever played bass trombone, and the program consisted of Leonard Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide,” Dvorak Symphony No. 8 and Brahms Symphony No. 3. Mr. Brown spoke to me several times during that week and he encouraged me to apply to Indiana University and come to study with him. So I did.

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I learned a lot from Keith Brown. A lot. It was with him that I really started working seriously on the bass trombone. During my first semester, I played in Orchestra 4 at IU, in a section along with William McElheney who became a very close friend; he later went on to be a trombonist with the Vienna State Opera (Vienna Philharmonic) for many years. It was with that orchestra I first played Tchaikovsky’s Symphony 5. With Keith Brown conducting.

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By my second semester, I was playing in IU’s top orchestra, the Philharmonic, where I played Alban Berg’s opera, “Wozzeck.” As a freshman. It was a heady time for me, plowing through repertoire with Mr. Brown, developing my low register, learning orchestral repertoire. His students formed a trombone choir that played at his church on Easter Sunday 1974, followed by a dinner at his home. We called him “Coach,” and we referred to him among ourselves as “K.B.” Long before NIKE had adopted the slogan in 1988, Keith would tell me, in lessons, “Doug, just do it.” He even gave me a button with that slogan.

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He was kind, generous, and helpful (even if he did sometimes have a cigar in his hand during a lesson!). This photo below shows Keith Brown and me at my last lesson at IU, May 3, 1974. Earlier that year, I had decided to transfer to Wheaton College in Illinois. Not because I was unhappy at IU, but because there was this girl going to Wheaton in the fall. My high school sweetheart, Patricia, and this August we will celebrate our 43rd wedding anniversary. Wheaton also brought with it the opportunity to study with Edward Kleinhammer, bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony. But that is a story for another time.

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Over the years, I kept in touch with Mr. Brown. He was always happy to hear my voice on the phone, and when he started a sentence with, “Well, very honestly, Doug. . .” I knew I needed to pay attention. I went to IU in 2010 to give a masterclass and spent an afternoon with Keith at his home. We had a great time remembering old times, and he was so proud of my long career as a member of the Boston Symphony (1985-2012).

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In 2010, the Boston Symphony trombone section consisted of Toby Oft (principal), Steve Lange (second) and myself (bass). As it turned out, all three of us studied with Keith Brown at Indiana University, at least for a time. So in 2011, Toby, Steve, and I got the idea to invite Keith and his wife, Maggie, to the Boston Symphony’s summer home, Tanglewood, to hear three of his former students play together in one of the world’s great orchestras. The program: Tchaikovsky Symphony 6. Seeing Keith in the audience, front and center, grinning from ear to ear, standing and cheering for Toby, Steve, and me, is something I will never forget.

After the concert, everyone came with their families over to our home for a cookout. It was a wonderful time of conversation, remembering our lessons with Keith, talking about the orchestra business. It was a beautiful day. Memorable. It was the last time that I saw him.

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[Photo above: Steve Lange, Toby Oft, Keith Brown, Douglas Yeo – July 11, 2011]

Keith and I would talk on the phone from time to time in the years that followed. But Parkinson’s Disease began to ravage his body and he little by little slipped away. Today, he breathed his last. I’m glad he was a part of my life, as he was a part of so many lives. Part of me is who I am today because of Keith Brown.

[Header photo of Keith Brown from his LP recording, Keith Brown: Trombone, Golden Crest Recital Series RE 7043, recorded c. 1972]

Returning to Japan

Returning to Japan

I have been to Japan more times than I can count — maybe 12 or 13 times — and on my many trips, I have always had a trombone in my hand. During my nearly thirty years as bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony, I took part in many Boston Symphony and Boston Pops Orchestra tours to Japan, conducted by Seiji Ozawa and John Williams. The first of these tours, in 1986, led to my introduction to YAMAHA, which resulted in the beginning of my long, productive, and happy relationship with the company and its people. Together we have worked to develop the YAMAHA YBL-822G bass trombone and YAMAHA Douglas Yeo Signature Series Mouthpiece that I have been playing for decades.

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I have also traveled to Japan many times to serve on the faculty of the Hamamatsu International Wind Instrument Academy and Festival, an annual event that brings together an international group of teachers and performers to work with talented students. Sponsored by YAMAHA and the City of Hamamatsu, times working at the Academy have been memorable.

Next week, I will return to Japan once again, as the guest of the Nagoya Trombone Festival, sponsored by the Nagoya Trombone Association. During the two day Festival, I will play a recital (accompanied by a superb pianist, Shoko Gamo), perform as soloist with a trombone ensemble, conduct two trombone ensembles, and give a lecture on the history of the trombone. Here are a few more details:

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One of the special joys of this trip will be to see my former student, Nozomi Kasano Flatt, who plays bass trombone in the Japan Century Orchestra in Osaka. I met Nozomi in 2004 at the Hamamatsu Academy where she was a student in my trombone class. She subsequently came to Boston where we worked together for three years and she received her Graduate Diploma and Master of Music Degrees at New England Conservatory. I am exceptionally proud of Nozomi and all of her accomplishments and in 2014, she served as my translator for my class at the Hamamatsu Academy. Next week, she will be my translator once again, and we will also play a duet on my recital.

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One of the pieces I will play on my recital is an arrangement of a Canzone by Frescobaldi by Eddie Koopman. Koopman’s electronic accompaniment gives a new flavor to this piece from the Renaissance and to inject something different into my recital, I will play it on a buccin, a dragon bell trombone. In 2015, I gave a recital at the Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments and played this piece on a buccin made by YAMAHA. It’s a great instrument, made by YAMAHA factory workers in their spare time. It’s very nice of YAMAHA to let me use this instrument once again in Nagoya where I will be able to bring a very different kind of trombone sound to the audience.

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In addition to my work at the Nagoya Trombone Festival, I will also give a masterclass at Aichi Prefectural University. While there, I will work with several talented young trombonists and also have an informal talk with the students about my life in music. Here is a poster with some more information about my time at the University.

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Japan. Nagoya. Trombone. Music. Friends.

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Trombones in Texas: y’all come!

Trombones in Texas: y’all come!

Texas. It’s a big state. And it has a lot of trombone players.

Next week I’ll be in the Lone Star State, giving masterclasses and performing at University of Texas, Austin (Dr. Nathaniel Brickens, Professor of Trombone) and Texas Christian University (Dr. David Begnoche, Associate Professor of Trombone). I’ve been to these two schools and worked with these fine teachers on previous occasions; it has always been a joy and pleasure to work with their students and enjoy time together.

If you find yourself in Austin or Fort Worth, Texas next week, come on by to some of the events listed below. Here’s a flyer with some of my University of Texas, Austin activities:

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Click on the TCU logo below; it will take you to the website of the TCU Trombone Summit, to be held on Saturday, April 14. It’s an all day event with masterclasses by several artists and a gala concert at night. If you can’t view the image below, click HERE to go to the TCU Trombone Summit website.

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I’d also like to say that I’m very grateful to YAMAHA Corporation of America for their kind sponsorship of my appearance at these Texas events. For information about the YAMAHA YBL-822G trombone that I play — I began my very happy relationship with YAMAHA in 1986 — click HERE.

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Our National Anthem

Our National Anthem

National Anthems have been in the news recently for good reasons (Winter Olympics medal ceremonies) and not so good reasons (see the end of this article). Count me among those who believe that when our National Anthem is performed, it should be done so in a respectful way. Our country has a lot of problems, but our National Anthem speaks to our hope for the best that the American experiment can be. It is a symbol of the freedoms we enjoy, and it is a reminder that the old cliche, “Freedom isn’t free,” is true. My father served in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict (6th Infantry Division) and I am proud of his service for our country. Last year, my wife and I visited Fort McHenry in Baltimore where Francis Scott Key wrote the words to The Star Spangled Banner. Being there was a very powerful experience. Sing it or play it: from where I sit, I want to hear our National Anthem performed in such a way where the tune is recognizable, the words (if sung) are understandable, it is at tempo and a key that is singable by the audience, and it draws attention to the Anthem itself, not to the performer.

During my nearly 30 years as a member of the Boston Symphony/Boston Pops Orchestra, I played the National Anthem more times than I can count, and many of the most memorable performances were at sporting events. I played it at Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans in February 2002 (when the New England Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams); this was the first Super Bowl after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Boston Pops Orchestra (Keith Lockhart, conductor) accompanied Mariah Carey; the trombones were Norman Bolter, Ronald Barron and myself  (to view this video on Youtube, click HERE):

The Boston Pops brass section, Keith Lockhart, conductor) also played the National Anthem in 2008 at a Boston Celtics/Los Angeles Lakers NBA Finals game (the Celtics won the game and went on to win the NBA Championship); unfortunately no video is available for that performance but here is a photo. James Nova and I played trombone; Gary Ofenloch is playing tuba.

NBA Finals Game 2: Los Angeles Lakers v Boston Celtics In 2010, the Celtics and Lakers were back in the NBA Finals again and the Boston Pops brass section with members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (James Orent, conductor) played the National Anthem once more; the trombone  players are Ronald Barron, Hans Bohn and myself. The Celtics won that game but the Lakers went on to win that NBA Championship. To view this video on Youtube, click HERE:

I also played the National Anthem at many other New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox games. It was always a thrill to stand at center court, or the 50 yard line, or around home plate and do this. Always.

When I began my four year tenure as Professor of Trombone at Arizona State University, I wanted to bring special kinds of musical experiences to my students. Twice, the Arizona State University Desert Bones Trombone Choir performed the National Anthem before Arizona Diamondbacks Major League Baseball games. I searched long and hard to find an arrangement for trombones that I thought met all of the criteria I put forth for a great performance at this kind of venue and event. I was very happy to find one by Robert Elkjer that fit the bill.

To have a chance to play the National Anthem at Chase Field in Phoenix, we needed to record a demo video. This we did in the fall of 2012; it was recorded in a large rehearsal room at ASU. Here is our demo video (to view this video in YouTube, click HERE):

The video was well received by the Diamondbacks, and in 2014, we were invited to perform the National Anthem at an Arizona Diamondbacks/Colorado Rockies game. I was so proud of my students for how they performed, how they presented themselves, and how they were received. This video was produced by the Diamondbacks and was shown on the jumbotron while we were playing (to view this video in YouTube, click HERE):

Later that year, I was honored as one of four finalists in the Arizona State University “Faculty/Staff Most Spirited Sun Devil” contest. This was a great, fun honor, to be the representative of ASU’s Tempe campus in this contest. I certainly had school spirit, and I was honored at halftime of an ASU/Stanford basketball game. Our ASU Desert Bones Trombone Choir was asked to play the National Anthem at that game; here is a sideline camera video taken by my wife. I think what I find so riveting about this particular performance is how respectful and quiet the audience was until the Anthem was over, at which time it burst into spontaneous applause and cheering. It was a great moment (to view this video in YouTube, click HERE):

A year later, in 2015, we were invited back to Chase Field to play the National Anthem at an Arizona Diamondbacks/San Francisco Giants game. It was a thrill to do this the first time. To be asked back to do this a second time was very special for my students and me (to view this video in YouTube, click HERE):

In all of these performances, we tried to bring the best that we could to the table, to honor our country, and express hope in its highest ideals. A recent performance of the National Anthem has been in the news in recent days for all the wrong reasons. A pop singer named Stacy Ann Ferguson, who goes by the name “Fergie,” sang the National Anthem at the recent NBA All Star game. She has come under fire for her performance. Hers was a particularly awful, self-aggrandizing performance that has come in for heavy criticism in the media. Was it the “worst performance” ever of the National Anthem? I haven’t heard enough to judge, but you can hear it for yourself. I’m all for tasteful artistic license, but as you view her video below, follow along with the music below, a transcription of her performance that was sent to me by a friend (it seems to be making the rounds in the Internet; I don’t know who did the transcription). Watch the words (or lack of words). Listen to the pitch. Note that she sings the Anthem in 4/4 meter rather than 3/4. The list goes on. . .

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Uh, no. Memo to “Fergie”: this song isn’t about YOU. It isn’t about how cool you think you are. It isn’t about making a statement. The words have MEANING; they are not just vocal syllables that you can slide over, making them incomprehensible. You gave the world a clinic on how NOT to sing The Star Spangled Banner.

“Fergie’s” performance of the National Anthem stands in contrast to the respectful performances by so many people who, despite the many flaws in our country, recognize that the National Anthem is a powerful symbol of what is good, and right in our land, and the hope we have to make it even better. How we sing or play it matters. I’m glad to have been a part of many memorable performances of The Star Spangled Banner, and thereby do my part – as have so many others – to aspire to its ideals. The Star Spangled Banner. Long may it wave.

 

The beauty of the saguaro cactus

The beauty of the saguaro cactus

My wife and I live on the southwest side of Phoenix in the foothills of the Estrella Mountains. We love living there. It is quiet and dark at night, and we are surrounded by stunning natural beauty. We live just south of the Gila River, in an area that used to part of Mexico before the Gadsden Purchase transferred 29,670 square miles of Mexico to the United States in 1853 (for a payment of $10 million dollars, roughly $270 million dollars today). Most of that land became part of the Arizona Territory and nearly 60 years later, in 1912, Arizona became the last of the lower 48 states to be admitted to the Union – State 48.

We also live in what is called the Sonoran Desert, a unique ecosystem that covers 100,000 square miles of southern Arizona, a small part of southern California, and Sonora and Baja, Mexico. It is a remarkable place with an iconic, ever changing landscape. Principal among the things that make the Sonoran Desert so interesting is the saguaro cactus.

This cactus — pronounced “soh-WAHR-oh” —along with the American bison, has become the symbol of the American west. They grow slowly and they grow tall. They usually sprout arms, and have beautiful, white, trumpet bell shaped flowers in the spring. They live for many decades. And then they die.

Today, my wife and I enjoyed a very nice four mile hike in the desert just a few minutes from our home where we were surrounded by these great cacti. It occurred to me as we were hiking that we got to see saguaro cacti in nearly their whole life cycle. So I took a few photos to share with readers of The Last Trombone.

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Like every plant, the saguaro cactus starts out small. This young saguaro, above, is about three feet high. If it sprouts arms, that won’t happen for many years. The growth cycle of the saguaro cactus isn’t fully understood and some saguaros will bud arms when they are about 60 years old while others stay tall and straight with no arms for their whole lives.

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Pictured above is a saguaro cactus with three small buds that have just started to grow.

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In time, those buds may grow to be very large, like arms, and create the iconic image (above) of a saguaro cactus. Arizona State University’s Alma Mater sings of this:

Where the bold Saguaros raise their arms on high,

Praying strength for brave tomorrows from the Western sky,

Where eternal mountains kneel at sunset’s gate,

Here we hail thee, Alma Mater, Arizona State.

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Eventually a saguaro changes as it nears the end of its life. This process may take many years. At first, the cactus will begin losing its needles and outer pulp, exposing the hard, stiff skeleton that brings water up from the ground to the entire cactus. In the photo above, you can see that water in the wash in the foreground — yes, this would be full of raging water when it rains — has eroded the bottom of the cactus and it is from the bottom that these cacti have begun to rot. Two cacti have already fallen, one remains in good condition, and one is showing the evolution of decay.

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Eventually the saguaro falls. They usually break near their base and fall to the ground in the same shape in which they were standing, as seen in the photo above.

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When the saguaro falls in an orderly way, its “bones” eventually are left exposed on the ground in a straight line.

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Sometimes, the saguaro falls in a chaotic way, uprooted by violent wind, with parts scattered around.

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Other times, the cactus begins to die from its top and as it sheds its pulp, the bones begin to form beautiful shapes as they are pushed by the wind and their own weight.

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On rare occasions, the saguaro falls from its top into an elegant arch. This always reminds me of the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the gateway to the west. The beauty of these fallen saguaro arches is really something to behold.

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Not all saguaros that fall in the desert decompose and go back to the earth. A few years ago, we purchased these saguaro bones (pictured above) that had been collected by a talented artist who did little more to them than saw the base so they could stand up. These bones — I think they look like organ pipes — stand in our living room. They remind us every day of the beauty and ever changing nature of God’s creation that is around us in this special place, the Sonoran Desert.

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Photo in the header of this article: Estrella Mountains, Arizona.

Photo at the end of this article: Sign at Hermit’s Rest, Grand Canyon National Park:

O Lord, how manifold are thy works!

In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches.

  • Psalm 104:24

And below, a prayer:

Father almighty, wonderful Lord, Wondrous Creator, be ever adored;

Wonders of nature sing praises to You, Wonder of wonders –

I may praise, too!

 

Grateful: a review of “The One Hundred”

Grateful: a review of “The One Hundred”

Last year, Encore Music Publishers published my new book, The One Hundred: Essential Works for the Symphonic Bass Trombonist. The book contains my commentary along with music for 100 works in the symphonic (and operatic) literature that bass trombonists need to know both for auditions and concerts. In a sense, The One Hundred represents my collective knowledge of this repertoire that I have played many times over my long career as bass trombonist of the Boston (27 years) and Baltimore (4 years) Symphony Orchestras, as well as my over 40 years as a teacher.

Upon publication, the book was submitted to the International Trombone Association Journal for review and last week, the review was published in its January 2018 issue. I could not have asked for a more respected person to write the review – Ben van Dijk (pictured above), who is President of the International Trombone Association, bass trombonist of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, and Trombone Professor at the Amsterdam Conservatory – nor could I have even hoped for a more enthusiastic assessment of my book. I’m very grateful to Ben for his kind words which I share below with readers of The Last Trombone, and I hope the book continues to be helpful for bass trombonists for many years to come.

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