Joannés Rochut, the Boston Symphony, and his trombone

Joannés Rochut, the Boston Symphony, and his trombone

When we look at the long history of the trombone, many notable trombonists come to mind. It’s not possible to say who was the most famous. A case can be made for Arthur Pryor, the celebrated trombone soloist in John Philip Sousa’s band and his own band, who made many recordings, and dazzled audiences around the world. While his name is not so well known today, Homer Rodeheaver, the trombone-playing song leader for evangelist Billy Sunday in the first third of the twentieth century, played trombone for over 100 million people during his lifetime, although his trombone playing skills paled next to the great soloists of his time including Pryor, Simone Mantia, and Gardell Simons.

However, there is one trombonist whose name is known to trombonists all over, although most are probably not aware of many details of his life. But this we know: Joannés Rochut (1881-1952) edited three volumes of vocalises, what he called Melodious Etudes, from the works of Marco Bordogni. These books, published in 1928 by Carl Fischer (New York), have become a standard part of trombone teaching and practicing since they were first issued. For sheer name recognition, it would be hard to argue that Rochut is not one of the most famous trombonists of all time. His contribution to trombone pedagogy is incalculable. What trombonist does not have a copy of at least Volume 1 of “The Rochut Book” (even though there is not a note by Rochut in the books)? [NB: I wrote an article about exercise No. 1 in Volume 1 of Rochut’s Melodious Etudes, an etude that does not appear in Bordogni’s oeuvre and which some people have postulated was written by Rochut himself. It was not. You can read that article HERE.] 

Rochut_Bordogni_book_1_cover

Cover of the first edition of Joannés Rochut’s Melodious Etudes for Trombone Selected from the Vocalises of Marco Bordogni (New York: Carl Fischer, 1928)

This article is a brief introduction to Joannés Rochut with a special emphasis on one of the trombones he played. I intend to write a more in-depth article about Rochut for the International Trombone Association Journal, drawing from my own research and the extensive archive of Rochut related materials collected and recently given to me by my friend, David Fetter (long time trombonist with the Cleveland Orchestra and Baltimore Symphony; we were colleagues together when I played in the Baltimore Symphony from 1981-1985).

Born in Paris, Rochut’s father died when he was seven years old and he was placed in an orphanage where he learned to play the trombone. After volunteering for the French military when he was eighteen—he served as a bandsman for three years—Joannés Rochut enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire in 1902 where he studied trombone with Louis Allard (1852-1940).

Le Temps (Paris. 1861)

Announcement of brass instrument prize winners in the 1905 Paris Conservatoire Concours. Rochut received Premier prix (first prize) in the trombone class; his name appears near the bottom of the clipping. Le Temps, Paris, July 30, 1905.

Stojowski_Fantaisie_trombone_incipit

Sigismond Stojowski, Fantasie (incipit). 1905.

Joannés Rochut won second prize at the Conservatoire in 1903, playing Bernard Croce-Spinelli’s Solo de concours (that contest was won by Eugene Adam, whose name we shall see again later in this article), and second prize again in 1904, playing Morceau de concours of Edmond J. Missa. Rochut graduated from the Conservatoire in 1905 with first prize in its annual Concours; the required solo was Zygmunt Denis Antoni Jordan “Sigismond” de Stojowski’s Fantasie. [NB: Stojowski was born in Strzelce, Poland, in 1870. He entered the Paris Conservatoire at age 17 and also studied at Sorbonne University. He was a friend of Peter Tchaikovsky (Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 was dedicated to Stojowski), and Stojowski came to the United States in 1905 where he wrote his Fantasie for trombone. For a more detailed biography of Stojowski, see: Paul Krzywicki, From Paderewski to Penderecki: The Polish Musician in Philadelphia (Paul Krzywicki, 2016).] 

Holton_1920_Rochut_Sordillo

Holton Trombone catalog, c. 1920. Endorsements by Joannes Rochut and Fortunato Sordillo.

While a member of the Orchestre de la Garde républicaine (French Republican Guard Band) during World War I, Rochut toured the United States in 1918; the band played concerts in 208 cities in 37 states. It was probably at that time that Rochut tried and later endorsed Holton trombones (Rochut’s Holton endorsement is pictured above) but there is no record of Rochut taking a Holton trombone back to Paris.

Following his service in the Republican Guard Band, Rochut performed with numerous orchestras in France including the Société des Nouveaux-Concerts (Orchestre Lamoureux) and l’Opera Comique (Paris); among his many students at that time was Andre Lafosse (1890-1975), who later served as professor of trombone at the Paris Conservatoire (1948-1960). Rochut also helped organize the first of the Concerts Koussevitzky (1921, Paris) which were instrumental in establishing the reputation of Russian conductor Serge Koussevitzky (1897-1951). Koussevitzky was appointed music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1924, and in October 1925, he engaged Rochut as the orchestra’s principal trombonist, a position he held for five seasons. Rochut joined the faculty of New England Conservatory of Music in 1926; among his students in Boston was John Coffey (bass trombonist of the Cleveland Orchestra 1937-1941, and bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony, 1941-1952).

Rochut_Boston_clipping_1925

Photo of Joannés Rochut in Paris with his children, part of an article in the Boston Sunday Post, October 11, 1925. The photo inset on top right shows Ferdinand Gillet, who was hired as the Boston Symphony’s principal oboist at the same time Rochut was hired as principal trombonist. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Archives.

Rochut was one of 14 French musicians to join the Boston Symphony in the fall of 1925; he played principal trombone in the BSO through the 1929-1930 season. The addition of Jacob Raichman to the trombone section in 1927—Koussevitzky knew Raichman in Russia where Raichman played alongside Vladislav Blazhevich in the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra in Moscow before leaving for Cuba and then the United States—probably hastened Rochut’s departure from Boston. The Frenchman and the Russian famously did not get along well, and when Rochut returned to France in 1930, Raichman, who had been named co-principal trombone around 1928, assumed the principal trombone position in the BSO. In 1955, Raichman was succeeded as principal trombone by William Gibson who was succeeded by Ronald Barron in 1975 who was succeeded by Toby Oft in 2008.

Rochut_1925_Boston_Post

“New Symphony Virtuosos,” Boston Post, October 6, 1925. Joannés Rochut (third from left) is pictured with three other newly hired principal players of the Boston Symphony Orchestra: Edmond Allegra, principal clarinet, Ferdinand Gillet, principal oboe, and Jean Lefranc, principal viola. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

The earliest known photo of Joannés Rochut as a member of the Boston Symphony was printed in in the Boston Post on October 6, 1925 (above).

Boston_Symphony_brass_section_Rochut_1925

Boston Symphony Orchestra brass section, 1925. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

Boston_Symphony_brass_section_Rochut_1925_detail

Later in 1925, the Boston Symphony brass section posed for a group photo (above). Rochut is standing in the center; the other trombone players are (back row, left to right) Leroy Kenfield (bass trombone), Eugene Adam (assistant principal trombone), and Lucien Hansotte (second trombone). The tubist, far right, is Paul Sidow. Seated in front of Rochut is Georg Wendler, principal horn (Wendler was the son-in-law of Eduard Kruspe, the celebrated German maker of brass instruments); in front of Hansotte is George Mager, principal trumpet. Mager, who also taught at New England Conservatory of Music, was the teacher of Adolph Herseth (1921-2013), who played principal trumpet in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1948 to 2001.

BSO_1925_Rochut_ed

This grainy photo, above, from an undated newspaper clipping from a Boston Symphony press scrapbook, probably dates from 1925-1926. Back row (left to right): Joannés Rochut, Eugene Adam (assistant principal trombone), Lucien Hansotte (second trombone), Leroy Kenfield (bass trombone), Paul Sidow (tuba).

BSO_1927_Beethoven_9_Rochut

Boston Symphony Orchestra, performance of Beethoven Symphony No. 9, Serge Koussevitzky, conductor. March 29, 1927. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

BSO_1927_Beethoven_9_Rochut_detail

This photo of Rochut on stage in Boston’s Symphony Hall (above) was taken at the time of a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in 1927. The Boston Symphony’s trombone section for that performance consisted of (above, left to right) Rochut, Lucian Hansotte (second trombone), and Leroy Kenfield (bass trombone). 

Boston_Symphony_players_Rochut_1928

Members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1928. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

Boston_Symphony_players_Rochut_1928._detail

At the beginning of the 1928-1929 season, the members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra sat for individual photos that were collected into a collage. When Jacob Raichman joined the orchestra in 1927, the trombone section expanded to five players. Shown in the photo are (left to right), Rochut, Lucien Hansotte (second trombone), Leroy Kenfield (bass trombone), Jacob Raichman (co-principal trombone), and Eugene Adam (assistant principal trombone).

Fiedler_Sinfonietta_Rochut_1929

Arthur Fiedler (standing, center) with the Arthur Fiedler Sinfonietta (Boston Sinfonietta), c. 1929. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Archives.

Fiedler_Sinfonietta_Rochut_1929_detailMembers of the Arthur Fiedler Sinfonietta. Back row (left to right): Abdon Laus, principal bassoon, Joannés Rochut, Marcel LaFosse, trumpet, Georges Mager, principal trumpet.

Conductor Arthur Fielder (1894-1979) is well-known for his long tenure as the conductor of the Boston Pops from 1930 to 1979. But what is lesser known is that before he achieved fame with the Pops, he founded the Boston Sinfonietta—also known as the Arthur Fiedler Sinfonietta—in 1924. The orchestra was made up mostly of Boston Symphony players and it played concerts and made recordings for RCA Victor. Rochut played in Fiedler’s Sinfonietta along with many other Boston Symphony principal players including Georges Mager.

BSO_Rochut_Raichman_Hatch_Shell_1929_crop

Boston Symphony Orchestra (Boston Pops Orchestra) on the Charles River Esplanade, July 4, 1929. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

BSO_Rochut_Raichman_Hatch_Shell_1929_detail

Members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Boston Pops Orchestra). Back row (left to right): Joannés Rochut, Jacob Raichman (playing second trombone), Leroy Kenfield (bass trombone).

On July 4, 1929, the Boston Pops played a concert on the Charles River Esplanade in Boston. A temporary shell had been constructed for the concert and Rochut, Raichman, and Kenfield played trombone. [NB: A second temporary bandshell was built in 1934, and a permanent structure was built in 1940.  The Edward A. Hatch Memorial Shell—Bostonians refer to it as “The Hatch Shell”—underwent a major renovation in 2018.]

Rochut_Lefevre_trombones

When Joannés Rochut joined the Boston Symphony, he brought with him two trombones by the Parisian maker Lefevre. Founded in 1812 by François Lefevre, the workshop was particularly known for its woodwind instruments. Extant trombones by Lefevre are few, and the shop went out of business by 1911. Rochut’s Lefevre trombones are both narrow bore (.455″). The straight trombone has a six-inch diameter bell, and the trombone with a piston valve activated  F-attachment (which also has a Stillventil or static rotary valve that can be turned by hand to put the attachment in E) has a 6 1/2 inch diameter bell. 

When Rochut left Boston to return to Paris in 1930, he left his Lefevre trombones behind in Symphony Hall. In the 1970s, they were discovered in a storeroom and put up for auction by the BSO as part of a fundraising program, “Salute to Symphony.” The trombones sold at auction but the buyer did not want to take them. William Moyer, the orchestra’s personnel manager who had played second trombone in the BSO from 1952-1966, took the trombones home for safekeeping. When I joined the BSO in 1985 and told Bill Moyer of my interest in knowing more about Rochut, he gave me the trombones. 

Rochut_trombone_Oft_2009

I never considered Rochut’s trombones to be “mine.” I always felt they had been entrusted to me to care for them. They are a part of the Boston Symphony’s history, priceless artificats from one of the most important trombonists to have ever played the instrument. When Toby Oft received tenure as principal trombonist of the Boston Symphony in July 2009, I decided to entrust Rochut’s straight trombone to him. Then, when Steve Lange received tenure as second trombonist of the Boston Symphony in 2011, I entrusted the F-attachment trombone to him. I had small plaques made that I put in the case for each instrument that documented the exchange. Toby and Steve both understood that the instruments were not “theirs,” rather, they were to care for them until they left the BSO at which time they would entrust the instruments to their successors. In this, Rochut’s trombones will always be in the care of Boston Symphony trombonists.

Rochut played his Lefevre trombone in Paris before he came to Boston and during his years he was a member of the BSO; it can be seen in photos throughout this article. Rochut used a Besson trombone for a time in 1927-28 but returned to his Lefevre. Then, on November 22, 1929, Rochut purchased one of the first trombones made by Vincent Bach, serial number 0023 (.514/.525″ dual slide bore, eight-inch diameter bell). How much Rochut used his Bach trombone in Boston and whereabouts of Rochut’s Besson and Bach trombones are not known to me.

Bach shop card Rochut Nr. 23

Vincent Bach’s shop card for trombone serial number 0023, purchased by Joannés Rochut on November 22, 1929. Courtesy of Roy Hempley.

In addition to leaving his Lefevre trombones behind in Boston, Rochut also left his mouthpiece. It is exceptionally small, with a 21.6 mm interior rim diameter. It is funnel shaped, in the style of French trombone mouthpieces of the time. A comparison of Rochut’s mouthpiece that he used with his Lefevre trombone with a Bach 6 1/2 AL graphically shows how small Rochut’s mouthpiece actually was. 

Rochut_trombone_mouthpieceMouthpiece (left) used by Joannés Rochut with his Lefevre trombone, compared with a Bach 6 1/2 AL mouthpiece (right). Photo by Mike Oft.

I recently asked Toby Oft to take some photographs of Rochut’s Lefevre trombone as well as some photos that would show the difference in size between the Lefevre and Toby’s Edwards trombone. I want to thank Toby for taking these superb photos which are not only informative, but display the trombones as works of art, which they are.

Rochut_Trombone_©Toby_Oft

Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft. Note the siphon valve on the bottom bow of the hand slide. Pressing the bottom of the hand slide to the floor activates a spring and allows condensation to drain  out.

Rochut_Trombone2_©Toby_Oft

The bell engraving of Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft.

Rochut_Edwards_Trombone_©Toby_Oft

Comparison of Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone with Toby Oft’s Edwards trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft.

Edwards_Rochut_Comparison_©Toby_Oft

Comparison of Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone with Toby Oft’s Edwards trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft.

Edwards_Oft_Trombone_vs_Rochut_©Toby_Oft

Comparison of Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone with Toby Oft’s Edwards trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft.

Rochut_Trombone_on_stand_©Toby_Oft

Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft.

There is much more to the story of the life and work of Joannés Rochut. That will unfold in my article in progress for the International Trombone Association Journal. His is a name that trombonists around the world have known for nearly a century. My hope is that this article has added to our understanding about Rochut, his Lefevre trombone, and his years as principal trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. 

[Special thanks to the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives, Bridget Carr, Archivist, and Toby and Mike Oft for their photos.]

Two orchestras, 31 years, 11 colleagues

Two orchestras, 31 years, 11 colleagues

I’ve written many articles for many journals and magazines, but I’ve written the most for the International Trombone Association Journal. I joined the Association in 1973 during its first year of existence—the ITA was incorporated in September, 1972—while I was still in high school. I honestly don’t recall how many articles I’ve written for the ITA Journal; dozens, for sure, as well as many reviews. These articles have included tributes to great players and teachers (click on the links highlighted below and you can read the articles) including Edward Kleinhammer (bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony, 1940-1985, and my teacher during my years as a student at Wheaton College, Illinois), Keith Brown (long time trombone teacher at Indiana University, former member of the Philadelphia and Metropolitan Opera Orchestras, and my teacher during my freshman year when I was at IU), and Russell “Big Chief” Moore (an outstanding Native American jazz trombonist who played with Louis Armstrong’s “All Stars” and many other great jazz artists). Other articles have been historical in nature, such as my photo essay about trombone players in the Boston Symphony from 1887-1986, and my article about the history of the double-valve bass trombone. I’ve also done interviews with well known players such as bass trombonists David Taylor and Denson Paul Pollard.

There have also been occasions when I’ve been interviewed for articles that others have written. A few weeks ago, my friend, Megumi Kanda, principal trombonist of the Milwaukee Symphony who, along with Matt Walley, edits the ITA Journal’s Orchestral Sectional column, asked if I would join with four other low brass players in answering some questions about what it is like to work day in and day out in a symphony orchestra low brass section. Megumi asked some good questions that got me thinking about the colleagues with whom I’ve worked over the years. At this season of life, looking back at those relationships and friendships and collaborations brings back a lot of memories of the times we shared together. After I hit “send” and the answers to Megumi’s questions were on the way to her (I don’t know when they will be published in the ITA Journal but I expect it will be sometime in 2021), I decided to write this article, a tribute to the players with whom I spent so much time making music over the years.  While I no longer play full time in a major symphony orchestra—something I did for over 31 years in two orchestras—I continue to enjoy envigorating  artistic collaborations with many people. I’m not done yet! But working with these eleven players in two orchestras changed and shaped me and helped bring me to where I am today. 

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (1981-1985)

Balto_Sym_trombones_summer_1981

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra trombone section, Harborplace, Baltimore, summer 1981. Left to right: James Olin, co-principal trombone; David Fetter, co-principal trombone; Eric Carlson, second trombone; Douglas Yeo, bass trombone. 

I joined the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in May, 1981, after two years as the band director at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Edison, New Jersey. When I joined the BSO—as it was and is still called, although a few years later, I would join another BSO, the Boston Symphony Orchestra—the low brass section consisted of David Fetter and James Olin, co-principal trombone, Eric Carlson, second trombone, and Daniel Brown, tuba. Dan left at the end of my second season and David Fedderly come on as our tubist. While just a few weeks after I joined the orchestra we were locked out in a labor dispute with the orchestra’s management—we settled our contract in January 1982; that was a very long lockout—I enjoyed a very special four years in Baltimore. David Fetter was a name I knew well from his many arrangements with Ensemble Publications. Before coming to Baltimore, he had been assistant principal trombonist in the Cleveland Orchestra. Jim Olin and I were the same age, and he had studied with Frank Crisafulli at Northwestern University at the same time I was studying with Edward Kleinhammer. Eric Carlson and I had been classmates at Wheaton College together where we played together in the orchestra, band, and a trombone quartet. When I graduated from Wheaton in 1976, Eric went on to play second trombone with the North Carolina Symphony. He joined the Baltimore Symphony in 1980 and a year later, I was sitting next to him again.

Baltimore_Symphony_program_1982

Overture Magazine (program of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra), October 23-November 12, 1982. Clockwise from top: Phillip Kolker, principal bassoon; W. Daniel Brown, tuba; Paula Sisson Francis, first violin, Douglas Yeo, bass trombone.

It was in Baltimore that I made my first recording with a symphony orchestra (the Concerto for the Left Hand of Maurice Ravel, with Leon Fleischer, piano soloist); it was where I first played a solo in front of a symphony orchestra (Patrick McCarty’s Sonata); and our second daughter was born there. During my second season, the orchestra opened its new concert hall, Meyerhoff Hall. Those were four very good years, but in May of my fourth season, after a concert in Carnegie Hall, I left Baltimore and headed up Interstate 95 to join the other BSO – the Boston Symphony Orchestra. And, as an aside, a year later, Eric Carlson left the Baltimore Symphony for the Philadelphia Orchestra from which he has just announced his retirement earlier this month.

Boston Symphony Orchestra (1985-2001)

Boston_Symphony_brass_section_1988

Boston Symphony brass section, Tanglewood, summer 1987. From center, left to right: Seiji Ozawa, music director; Ronald Barron, principal trombone; Norman Bolter, second trombone; Douglas Yeo, bass trombone. (Not pictured: Chester Schmitz, tuba)

Boston_Symphony_low_brass_section_Barron_Bolter_Yeo_Schmitz_2001_standing

 

Boston Symphony low brass section, Symphony Hall, Boston, 2001. Left to right: Ronald Barron, principal trombone; Norman Bolter, second trombone;  Douglas Yeo, bass trombone; Chester Schmitz, tuba.

I joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra in May 1985, in the middle of that year’s spring Boston Pops season. The Boston Pops Orchestra is drawn from members of the Boston Symphony, so the Pops was just part of my job as bass trombonist of the BSO. I recall that my first service—a concert—was recorded for television broadcast, the PBS show, “Evening at Pops.” I had no rehearsal. Before the concert, I introduced myself to the conductor of the Boston Pops, John Williams, and within the first minute of talking he asked me, “Have you heard from Spanky?” I right away knew who he was taking about. He was asking about George Roberts, the great Los Angeles based bass trombonist, known to generations of players as “Mr. Bass Trombone.” George and I had been friends for a long time and John had worked with George on many of his film sessions.

George_Roberts_Yeo_2004

George Roberts and Douglas Yeo, International Trombone Festival, Ithaca College, New York, 2004. That was George, always hugging and smiling.

As things were, I had recently talked with George—”Spanky” as John called him—and I could give John a report on how he was doing. But I made a note to myself: Whenever John Williams was coming to Boston for a run of concerts, I always made sure I called George first so I’d have something to pass on to John. And George always ended our conversations with, “And give John a kiss, and tell him I love him.” If you knew George Roberts, you’ll be smiling right now. George always said something like that. He was always about hugging and loving and caring about people. George died in 2014. I miss him.

Yeo_Williams_Concerto_1991_05_24_ed

Douglas Yeo performing John Williams’ Tuba Concerto, Symphony Hall, Boston, May 24, 1991. Boston Pops Orchestra, John Williams Conductor. Photo by Chester Schmitz.

At that time (1985), principal players of the Boston Symphony didn’t play in the Boston Pops Orchestra. Instead, they formed the Boston Symphony Chamber Players and assistant principal or second players in the BSO moved up to play principal during the Pops season. Norman Bolter, second trombonist of the BSO, played principal in Pops and we had several players work with us over the year to fill the second trombone chair, including Larry Isaacson, Douglas Wright, Darren Acosta, John Faieta, Hans Bohn, Alexi Doohovskoy, and Jim Nova. Oh, wow, we had fun. We made so many recordings with John Williams, and also with Keith Lockhart (and one with Leonard Bernstein), we recorded countless television shows, and we toured Japan twice with John Williams conducting. I performed several concertos with the Boston Pops during my years including the first performances of John Williams’ Tuba Concerto on bass trombone (the piece had been written in 1985 on a commission from the Boston Symphony and it was dedicated to the orchestra’s tuba player, Chester Schmitz), many performances of Chris Brubeck’s Concerto for Bass Trombone conducted by Keith Lockhart, performances of Chris’ second bass trombone concerto, the Prague Concerto, Gerald Steichen, conducting, and also performances of Simon Proctor’s Serpent Concerto with John conducting. Fun times.

Yeo_Proctor_Williams_Serpent_Concerto_1997

Douglas Yeo (left) after performing Simon Proctor’s Serpent Concerto, Symphony Hall, Boston, May 29, 1997. Boston Pops Orchestra, John Williams, conductor (right) with Simon Proctor (center). 

From 1985 to 2001, our Boston Symphony low brass section was Ronald Barron, principal, Norman Bolter, second, Chester Schmitz, tuba, and me on bass trombone. That’s 17 years we spent together and we did it all. For 17 years, I was the new guy in the section. We recorded all of the Mahler Symphonies with Seiji Ozawa and all of the Brahms Symphonies with Bernard Haitink. And dozens of other recordings of music from Bach to Gubaidulina. We took an international tour during most seasons, traveling across the United States, to South America, all over Europe, the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, and to Japan and Hong Kong many times. Unforgettable experiences. Working together with the same people for so long allowed us to develop understandings among us. After several years, we didn’t have to talk much about how we were going to approach certain pieces; we just knew. I knew exactly how Norman would breath in, say, a Schumann symphony, or when Chester was going to circular breathe in a Bruckner symphony. Ours was a collaboration of understanding. I learned so much from Ron, Norman, and Chester. So much. Little did I imagine that an event in 2001 would set off a chain reaction of change in the BSO low brass section that would take over a decade to settle. 

Boston Symphony Orchestra (2001-2003)

A career in a symphony orchestra is not a straight line.

Following a September 2001 performance of Brahms Symphony No. 2 in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw conducted by Bernard Haitink (just a few days before the 9/11 attacks), Chester Schmitz retired. He had joined the BSO in 1966, fresh out of the United States Army Band (“Pershing’s Own”) in Washington D.C. It was the end of an era for the BSO low brass section. After being together for 17 years, our low brass section was changing. We held two auditions for Chester’s position but did not hire anyone. I know how frustrating it is for people to prepare for and come to an audition and have it end without someone being hired. “They don’t know what they want!” is a familiar cry. But the truth is we DID know what we wanted; we just didn’t hear it at those auditions. We knew that replacing Chester Schmitz was impossible. But Chester was the standard for tuba playing we all had in our mind. From 2001-2003, we had a succession of substitute tuba players that worked alongside Ron, Norman, and me. 

Boston Symphony Orchestra (2003-2008)

Barron_Bolter_Yeo_Roylance_Levine_2007

Boston Symphony Low Brass Section, Symphony Hall, Boston, 2007. Left to right: Ronald Barron, principal trombone; Norman Bolter, second trombone; James Levine, music director; Douglas Yeo, bass trombone; Mike Roylance, tuba.

After a third tuba audition, Mike Roylance joined the BSO 2003. He was the first new member of the low brass section in 19 years. Mike arrived during an interim period between two music directors, Seiji Ozawa (1973-2002) and James Levine (2004-2011). Our section was complete once again. But not for long.

Boston Symphony Orchestra (2008-2010)

Barron_Bolter_Yeo_2007

Boston Symphony Orchestra Trombone Section, 2008. Left to right: Ronald Barron, principal trombone; Norman Bolter, second trombone; Douglas Yeo; bass trombone.

Ron Barron joined the Boston Symphony in 1970 as second trombonist, and then won the principal trombone position in 1975 upon the retirement of William Gibson. In that same year, 1975, Norman Bolter won the second trombone position that Ron had just vacated. Incredibly, both Norman and Ron decided to retire from the BSO in the same year, 2008. Their final season was bittersweet for me. Suddenly, the trombone section that I had known for the previous 23 years was gone. With two vacancies in the section, the decision was made to hold an audition for a new principal trombonist and after that player received tenure, then schedule an audition for a new second trombonist. That way, the new principal player could serve on the audition committee for the new second player. It made sense but it set up two years when we did not have a full section. For two years, we had substitute players fill the second trombone chair.

Oft_Yeo_2008

Toby Oft and Douglas Yeo, Symphony Hall, Boston, December 24, 2008.

Toby Oft, former principal trombonist of the San Diego Symphony, was hired as our new principal trombonist and he began with the BSO at the start of the 2008 season. I went on sabbatical from the orchestra for six months beginning in January 2009—something that had been planned two years earlier, before Norman and Ron announced their retirement—Toby received tenure in the summer of 2009, and we then held an audition for a new second trombonist. 

Boston Symphony Orchestra (2010-2012)

Lange_Yeo_Oft_2012

Boston Symphony Orchestra Trombone Section, basement of Symphony Hall, Boston, 2012. Left to right: Stephen Lange, second trombone; Douglas Yeo, bass trombone; Toby Oft; principal trombone. Photo by Randall Hawes.

In 2010, we hired Stephen Lange as second trombonist. Steve, who had played for the previous 10 years with the Saint Louis Symphony, completed our low brass section that had been in flux since Norman and Ron’s retirement in 2008. But yet another change was on the horizon. I decided to retire from the BSO in 2012, after over 27 years of occupying the bass trombone chair. But my final two seasons were very special to me as the oldest, most experienced member of my new section, and a carrier of the flame of the BSO’s long performance traditions.

Yeo_Haitink_Sym_Hall_final_bow_2012

My final bow on stage at Symphony Hall, Boston, May 2012. Behind me are BSO concertmaster Malcolm Lowe and conductor Bernard Haitink.

During my last season with the BSO (click HERE to read an interview I gave for the Boston Symphony Program Book in 2011 where I looked back on my long career in the orchestra)—my final concert in Symphony Hall in May 2012 was Beethoven Symphony No. 9 conducted by Bernard Haitink.

Yeo_Final_Bow_Tanglewood_BSO_2012

My final bow on stage at Tanglewood, the summer home of the BSO—my last concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra—August 5, 2012. 

When I played my final concert with the orchestra at Tanglewood in August 2012—Berlioz Symphonie fantastique conducted by Loren Maazel—a page was turned in the history of BSO low brass playing. The last vestige of the Boston Symphony trombone section that came together when I joined the orchestra in 1985 was no more. When James Markey began as the BSO’s bass trombonist the day after I retired, a new tradition with an entirely new section was born. Toby Oft, Steve Lange, Jim Markey, and Mike Roylance are making their own mark as the BSO’s low brass section. Already they have been at it for eight years. Will the four of them play together for 17 years as Ron, Norman, Chester, and I did? Will the trombone section stay together for 23 years as Ron, Norman, and I did? Time will tell.

But there is this: All of us—Ron, Norman, Chester; Toby, Steve, Jim, Mike, and I—are part of a long stream of low brass players that goes back to the Boston Symphony’s founding in 1881. From George Stewart to Leroy Kenfield to Joannès Rochut to Eugene Adam to Kilton Vinal Smith to Jacob Raichman to Kauko Kahila to William Gibson, all of us were touched by those who came before us. And the same can be said for my colleagues in the Baltimore Symphony; David, Jim, Eric, Dan, David, and I  were part of a long stream of low brass players that came through that orchestra, including John Melick Jr., Ted Griffith, Philip Donatelli, John Marcellus, Douglas Edelman, Charles Vernon, and John Engelkes. Touched, influenced, inspired, changed. I’m glad that Megumi Kanda asked me those questions about working in an orchestral trombone section. It gave me the opportunity to dig out some old photos, recall some old memories, and offer gratitude to God for the life in music that He has given me, a life shared with many others. Thirty one years in two orchestras, sitting amidst 11 colleagues. Thank you, all of you.

[Header photo: Boston Symphony Low Brass Section, Symphony Hall, Boston, February 1992 (performance of Dvorak Symphony No. 9, “From the New World”). Left to right: Ronald Barron, principal trombone; Norman Bolter, second trombone; Douglas Yeo, bass trombone; Chester Schmitz, tuba.]

Beautiful voices

Beautiful voices

During my long career as a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I had the great joy of performing with some of the greatest classical music singers of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. Jesseye Norman, Mirella Freni, Thomas Quasthoff, Renée Fleming, Kiri Te Kanawa, Ben Heppner, Anne Sophie von Otter, Hildegard Behrens, Kathleen Battle, Barbara Hendricks, Ian Bostridge, Dawn Upshaw, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Frederica von Stade. The list goes on. There is something about the human voice—the first musical instrument—that speaks to all of us. Literally.

As a trombonist, I’m very aware of the connection between the human voice and my instrument. Frank Sinatra famously said that his sense of phrasing was heavily influenced by the trombone playing of Tommy Dorsey. The great bass trombonist George Roberts, “Mr. Bass Trombone,” told me that his sense of phrasing was heavily influenced by the singing of Sinatra.

I have many, many recordings of singers. Classical singers, jazz singers, rock and pop singers, folk singers. Trained and untrained singers, young singers, old singers. During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been listening to a lot of singers from my collection of recordings. Here are four I’ve been enjoying lately that have been a real encouragement to me. Four very different kinds of singers: an opera singer, a Flamenco singer, a folk singer, a pop singer. Beautiful voices—some very smooth, others a bit rough hewn—exceptional musicianship,  superb—and sometimes unexpected —accompaniments, and deep, heartfelt messages. Poignant messages of grief and loss but also of hope. And we do need hope. They all seem very timely right now.

Claudio Monteverdi: Si dolce è il tormento. Guillemette Laurens, voice; Michel Godard, serpent; Fanny Paccoud, violin, Bruno Helstroffer, theorbo; Steve Swallow, bass. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

Vidalita. Mayte Martín, voice; Katia & Marielle Labèque, piano. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

Ah! Vita Bella. Lucilla Galeazzi, voice; Michel Godard, tuba; Pino Minafra, trumpet; Jean-Louis Matinier, accordion; Gianluigi Trovesi, clarinet. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

Paul Simon, American Tune. Paul Simon, voice and guitar; Bobby James, keyboard; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Grady Tate, drums; strings arranged by Del Newman. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

[Header photo: sunrise over the Sierra Estrella, Arizona, 2012. Photo by Douglas Yeo.]

A few famous trombone players—Holton catalog, c.1920

A few famous trombone players—Holton catalog, c.1920

We live in an age where endorsements are a big part of advertising. For all kinds of products. When you pick up an issue of the International Trombone Association Journal, you see many endorsements of trombones and trombone-related products. A look through the April 2020 issue of the ITA Journal finds advertisements that feature endorsements by many well-known trombonists: Denson Paul Pollard (Courtois trombones), Steve Turre (YAMAHA trombones), Peter Ellefson, Joseph Alessi, and Jay Friedman (ChopSaver), John Fedchock, and Megumi Kanda (Greenhoe trombones. Go back to the January 2020 issue and you find Nathan Siler (Courtois trombones), and me (YAMAHA trombones) added to the Journal endorsement mix.

The products advertised in the ITA Journal and the people that endorsed them have changed over time. The ITA Journal was an annual publication from 1973 (Volume 1) to 1981. In 1982, the Journal began to be published quarterly. During those early years of the ITA when the Journal was published only once a year, the ITA Newsletter, which was published two to four times a year, was also published. It was in the May 1976 issue (Vol. 3, No. 2) of the ITA Newsletter that advertisements first appeared in an ITA publication. In its pages you found endorsements by  Ashley Alexander (Holton Superbone), George Roberts (Olds trombones), and Phil Wilson (Conn trombones).

Now, everyone knows that using ChopSaver won’t make you play like Joe Alessi any more than playing a YAMAHA trombone will make you sound like me or playing a Holton Superbone will make you sound like Ashley Alexander (I sure wish it did; Alexander was a truly remarkable player on the Superbone and euphonium). But celebrity endorsements have been with us for a long time and if that endorsement is credible—if the person actually uses the product that’s being advertised—that’s all the better for the manufacturer.

A few years ago, I acquired an original copy of a trombone catalog issued by the Frank Holton Company around 1920. The catalog is full of celebrity trombone endorsements. Holton and C. G. Conn ruled the world of trombone endorsements in the early twentieth century; that was an indication of their place as the leading American trombone makers of the time. Frank Holton was an accomplished trombonist himself; he was the trombone soloist in John Philip Sousa’s Band in 1892 and 1893. Then a young kid named Arthur Pryor joined the band and Holton, deeply impressed with the young player’s talent, told Sousa that Pryor should be the band’s soloist. Holton subsequently left the band (under good terms with Sousa) and Pryor went on to be one of the greatest trombone soloists of all time.

Here are a few pages from the Holton c.1920 trombone catalog with a little commentary about some of its famous players.

Holton_1920_Sousa_trombones_01

An endorsement from members of John Philip Sousa’s band carried weight. Holton’s c. 1920 catalog shows he scored a major coup: six members of Sousa’s trombone section with Holton trombones.

Holton_1920_Sousa_trombones_02

One page later, the Sousa band’s trombone players are named (dates of service with Sousa are taken from Paul Bierley’s fine book, The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006):

Ralph H. Corey. He succeeded Leo Zimmerman as the band’s principal trombonist. Corey played with Sousa between 1906 and 1920.

Louis Schmidt. He played with Sousa between 1916 and 1917, and later in radio broadcasts the band gave in 1929 and 1931.

Ernest E. Gentile. He played with Sousa between 1916 and 1917.

Marcus Charles “Marc” Lyon. He played with Sousa from 1892 through 1917.

Athol John “A. J.” Garing. Garing played euphonium with Sousa from 1909 through 1917, but also sometimes played trombone with the band.

Edward A. Williams. He played bass trombone with Sousa from 1891 through 1917.

As we look at the dates when each of these six players were members of Sousa’s band, it’s clear that the only time that they all played together was between 1916 and 1917. So, while Holton’s catalog dates from around 1920, he was all too happy to hold on to the photo from a few years earlier that shows the Sousa band trombone section playing his trombones.

Holton_1920_Kuss

In the center of this page of endorsements (above) is a photo of Richard Kuss. He played bass trombone in the Chicago Symphony from 1912 to 1918. It’s interesting to note that several later trombonists of the Chicago Symphony, including Jay Friedman, Frank Crisafulli, and Edward Kleinhammer, all played and endorsed Holton trombones for a time in the 1960s and 1970s.

Instruments & Equipment

Jay Friedman Holton trombone advertisement, 1974

 

Kleinhammer_Holton_ad_1962

Edward Kleinhammer, Holton bass trombone advertisement, 1962

 

Now, back to Holton’s c.1920 trombone catalog. . .

Holton_1920_Hampe

Carl Hampe played principal trombone with the Boston Symphony from 1886-1891, 1892-1914, and 1920-1925. In 1916, Holton also published Hampe’s Hampe Method for the Slide Trombone With an Appendix for the Trombone with E Valve. The cover of the Method features Hampe with his Holton trombone; it’s the same photo of him that’s in the Holton trombone catalog.

Hampe_Trombone_Method_Holton_1916

As an aside, my copy of Hampe’s Method was given to me by my teacher, Edward Kleinhammer. Have a look at this page from the book, below, with Mr. Kleinhammer’s hand-written aphorism at the bottom of the page. And look at the date: June 26, 1947. By that time, he had been a member of the Chicago Symphony for seven years. He was a supremely accomplished player. But in his Hampe Method, a book he told me he used every day for many years, he wrote a reminder of the value of the disciplined life, of how slow and steady wins the race:

By the Yard • Life is hard

By the Inch • Life’s a cinch

Hampe_Method_01_Kleinhammer

Carl Hampe was not the only principal trombonist from the Boston Symphony to be featured in Holton’s c.1920 trombone catalog. Fortunato Sordillo (below) played principal trombone in the BSO from 1918 to 1920. He was fired during an ill-fated strike and Carl Hampe came back to the orchestra to fill the principal trombone position for five more years. Sordillo also played euphonium and trombone with Sousa’s band in 1912 and 1913.

Holton_1920_Rochut_Sordillo

It’s notable that on the page with Sordillo is another person who would play principal trombone with the Boston Symphony: Joannès Rochut. Yes, THAT Rochut, the one whose name is on the book of Melodious Etudes for Trombone Selected from the Vocalises of Marco Bordogni that, if you’re a trombone player, is probably sitting on your music stand right now. [By the way, if you haven’t read my article about the first etude in Rochut’s Bordogni Vocalise book, you might find it interesting. Click HERE to read it.] Rochut played principal trombone with the BSO from 1925 to 1930, but in this photo, he is shown in his uniform of the band of the Garde républicaine. How Rochut came to play a Holton trombone when he was living and working in France is not known to me, but it’s interesting that when he joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra, he brought with him—and played in the orchestra—two trombones by the French maker Lefevre, and when he left Boston to return to France in 1930, he left his Lefevre trombones in Boston and took with him Bach trombone serial number 6. I will be writing more about Rochut and his time in Boston here on thelasttrombone.com very soon.

And here’s something else. Sordillo published a book in 1920 titled Art of Jazzing for the Trombone (Boston: Oliver Ditson Company). This was a treatise about the slide glissando, and how to employ it—trombone glisses at the time were known as “smears” or “jazzes,” and the technique was called “jazzing”—in ragtime and early jazz music. Here are three interesting things about Sordillo and his book. First, shortly after the book was published, Sordillo was fired from the Boston Symphony. Second, the photo of Sordillo on the cover of his method book shows him wearing his Sousa band uniform. Finally, the trombone on the cover of the method is put together backwards. Alas.

Sordillo_Art_of_Jazzing_cover_1920

One final thought on this. Holton’s trombone catalog is undated but I’ve been saying it was published around 1920. Why? Look at the endorsement by Hampe. It says he was “For 28 years first trombone player of the Boston Symphony.” Then look at Sordillo’s endorsement. It says he was “Formerly First Trombone” of the BSO. Sordillo was fired in 1920. Hampe played principal trombone in the BSO for 28 years (1886-1891 and 1892-1914) before replacing Sordillo and playing a further five years from 1920-1925. From connecting these dots, it seems that Holton’s catalog was probably published in mid-1920, after Sordillo was fired (March 1920) and before Hampe began his final stint as principal trombonist with the Boston Symphony (fall 1920).