Month: June 2016


Yesterday, I was at a  New Balance factory outlet buying some new sneakers. I’ve always liked New Balance shoes. They fit. Their shoes are made in the USA. When we lived in Boston, we often passed by their corporate headquarters that was near the headquarters for the flagship public radio and television stations, WGBH. So when I needed some new sneakers, it was off to the New Balance factory outlet near our home.

Nice people work there. Attentive, knowledgable. And I walked out of the store with two pairs of sneakers. While browsing around, I noticed a display of t-shirts with slogans on them. Here are two of them:

Motivational slogans. You see these all the time. They are very big in the corporate world. How many times have you been in an office and seen one of these posters:


Motivational posters by

They have also provoked a backlash, the cynical DE-motivational poster:


Demotivational posters by

One of the big threads of conversation in the teaching world is how to motivate students. Anyone who has been a teacher of any subject knows that a classroom is full of students who have different goals, different energy and skill levels, and who approach tasks differently. Teachers try many things to help students want to learn. Countless books have been written on the subject.

For over 20 years of my career in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I sat next to Norman Bolter. Norman played second trombone in the BSO and principal trombone in the Boston Pops Orchestra. We are nearly the same age – he’s my big brother by four months – and we were and remain good friends even since we have both retired from the orchestra. We both taught together at New England Conservatory of Music and we spent a lot of time talking about teaching, our students and trombone pedagogy. One day, we were talking about some of our students who just didn’t seem to be making progress. I commented that one of my students was very talented but he seemed lazy and wasn’t working to his potential. To which Norman said:

“Doug, I can give my students a lot of things. But I can’t give them desire.”

BINGO. I cannot motivate my students. I cannot make them want to work hard, want to be curious, want to explore, want to go the extra mile, want to understand what is needed to succeed, want to be great at what they do. Those things need to come from the inside, not the outside. But I CAN lead by example, be honest, share all I know, offer strategies for improvement. These are two different things. If a student doesn’t have the desire, the motivation to work, then someone else can’t give it to them. A pretty poster won’t give it to them either.

Norman was – and is – right. You can’t give someone else desire. The fuel to get better, the fuel to become great at something, the fuel to make a difference has to come from within. For me, that fuel has fed and feeds my engine in two ways:

  1. When I was a student at Wheaton College, the great trumpet player Maurice André gave a concert on campus with a small chamber orchestra. My teacher, Edward Kleinhammer, also came to the concert and the next day I had a lesson with him. I burst into his studio in the Fine Arts Building in Chicago and began babbling away, “Wow, wasn’t Andre amazing?! I’ve never heard anything like that!”Blah, blah, blah.  After my superlatives were spent, Mr. Kleinhammer looked at me and said, quietly, “André. Yes, he was really good. But, look. Did you see that bass player? He made a concerto out of every note.” I missed it. I was focused on one thing – the great trumpet soloist. But I missed the bass player who was doing his job excellently in support of the great soloist. I learned at that moment that I needed to pay attention. Pay attention to things – even and especially little things – so I did not miss something that I could take and make my own. Paying attention gave me fuel for my engine as I internalized my observations of others who were demonstrating excellence in their field, whether music, art, business, or even the act of being a knowledgeable shoe salesman.
  1. I am very aware that my talents and abilities are a gift from God; I cannot take credit for them. As a result, I have a responsibility to be a good steward of those gifts, to use them well and wisely. So my desire to improve on the trombone, or write an article that gives people something to think about, or share what I have been given with others, comes from my understanding that everything I have is a gift from God and I have a responsibility to use it wisely. The Parable of the Talents  is fuel for my engine, a daily reminder of how I return to God the investment I make with that which he has given to me.

The New Balance t-shirt slogans are cute. I smiled when I saw them. But I wasn’t fooled. They didn’t make me want to go home and practice. Something else fueled that within me. Something much bigger.

Trust in times of uncertainty

Trust in times of uncertainty

There is lot happening around the world and you can’t go very far without seeing something that causes you to scratch your head and wonder where things are going. Brexit, terrorism, illegal immigration, the global economy and stock market, wealth and poverty, ethnic conflicts and much more. Don’t worry. I don’t plan to use this blog to talk about politics.

But people often turn to politics and politicians to solve problems, and put trust in them to make things better. It’s easy to think that your political view can fix things if only everyone would get on board and listen. But time and time again, throughout all of history, men and women have only been able to accomplish so much. Political systems come and go; civilizations rise and fall. This is easy to forget. Our recent trip to Israel was full of vivid reminders that the great Roman Empire lasted only 400 years. Put this in context: the “American experiment” is 240 years old. One of my favorite painters from the Hudson River School, Thomas Cole, depicted this in his group of five epic paintings, The Course of Empire. One is shown above, Consummation of Empire, but the full group tells quite a story. Have a look at Cole’s sequence of the rise and fall of a civilization here:

Thomas Cole: The Course of Empire

These days, with so much going on in the world, I come each day to a reminder of the perspective that I need to hold in order to understand and contextualize both the confusion and order that is found all around. It’s found in the Bible, in Psalm 20:7 (English Standard Version):

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

Here is the center to which I hold. Whether it is chariots or horses, armies or material things, whether political parties or knowledge and intellect, there is nothing in the world that in and of itself can ultimately fix anything. The Sovereignty of God – one of the core theological doctrines of my Reformed Christian faith that teaches that all things are under God’s watchful rule, order and control – gives me great comfort. While my Christian faith calls me to help others and work to make things better, I know that ultimately all of history is heading toward the end of time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, one that is not polluted by the fallen, sinful, selfish nature of mankind. Neither I nor any man-made system of government or thought can ultimately fix things now; at best we can improve and help a little while time marches to its inevitable close and rebirth. And for those who share this faith, the Bible calls us to a standard of conduct and living to which we aspire:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal; be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:9-18, English Standard Version)

So, I work each day to try live these words – however imperfectly because I am a very imperfect person – in my interactions with people with whom I come in contact. But I have learned not to put my ultimate trust in anything but God. This is a great comfort and the reason I can sleep well at night in the midst of a chaotic and disordered world. Yes, we work to improve things as we can, helping “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). And I always vote in elections, even if doing so means holding my nose and voting for the best among what I believe to be several poor options. But I dare not trust that anything – horses, chariots, armies, the Fed or World bank, or any political party – can ultimately solve the problems of the world. The great truth and comfort is that it is our LORD our God who alone is worthy of our trust. Because He is Sovereign.

Writing a book – 1

Writing a book – 1

I’ve always loved to read and write. My father was President of the local public library when I was a young boy and books were my best friends. I read everything, but especially history. They say that music and math go together but not for me. My body rejected math and science and nobody was surprised that when I graduated from high school, I received the senior class music and English awards. Over the years I’ve written dozens of articles and book chapters, and I never tire of reading, researching and writing. It’s my nature, my innate curiosity to want to know more about things.

Before I decided to retire and enter this season of life, I sat down and made a list of projects I would like to do while I’m still on this side of the grass. It’s three pages long, single-spaced, and includes my desire – no, my intention – to write five books, three music arrangements, twelve articles, a museum catalog and several book chapters. And that’s just the writing projects on page one. One day at a time, and my work on some of these projects will be the subject of future blog posts. At the moment I am at work on three books simultaneously, having signed contracts to write books for Encore Music Publishers, University of Illinois Press and Oxford University Press. The deadlines for me to submit those manuscripts come over the next several years.

This past January, at our first Trombone Studio Class of the semester at Arizona State University, I took the time to give a master class on the subject of time management. Over the years, I realized that this is a big problem for a lot of people. Over the years I have developed strategies for juggling competing demands and one of them is this: when you have a deadline, don’t look at the due date and think that you have a lot of time to get the job done. Start working on it the day you receive the assignment and make a plan of how you will get it done. Too many people wait until the last minute to do any task and the result is not only a lot of stress in the process, but shoddy work that is far from ones’ best. This simple strategy does require discipline but in my experience it is proven to reap great rewards.

So these days, when my wife and I are not going out to do something together, I have taken my lead from great composers like John Williams and Igor Stravinsky, who are/were disciplined enough to get something done every day. They would compose each morning for several hours, have lunch, take a walk or a nap, then compose in the afternoon for several hours. Every day. Whether they wanted to or not. Sometimes they would look at what they did and throw it away. Sometimes they would write only a few measures in a day. But sometimes their disciplined time bore rich fruit. The process of writing every day for a dedicated amount of time allows/allowed them to be tremendously productive. I have used this strategy in the past and now, with much more time at my disposal, I am employing it every day. And it is a rich time of research and writing.

But no one should be fooled; this is real work! Yesterday, I spent four hours on the hunt for a small piece of information that will amount to no more than a few sentences in one of my books. I was doing some genealogical work, tracing a family tree in hopes of finding the relationship between two people who had the same last name. Two Civil War veterans who were in the same regiment. One was a corporal, one was a bugler. Were they related? If so, how? It seemed like a needle in a haystack, but after a day’s work, I had my answer: they were first cousins. And I had an interesting fact that will enhance my discussion of this family. But it took time.

More on all of this in future posts. For now, at the top of this post is a fragment of a letter, written to me on February 14, 1994 by my teacher, mentor, and friend, Edward Kleinhammer (1919-2013), who played bass trombone in the Chicago Symphony from 1940-1985. He was a remarkable person, player and teacher, and his deeply-held, vibrant Christian faith informed everything he did. I saved the hundreds of letters he wrote to me over the years and they are a wealth of wisdom. [And, yes, one of the books I plan to write is about Edward Kleinhammer.]

His words speak for themselves. This was a man who knew the word discipline, the value and importance of the disciplined life, who understood the need to manage time, to get done what was important, to sacrifice present pleasures for future rewards. He was not allergic to hard work. Take some time to digest his words. “Laziness was not in the dictionary.”

Something to say

Something to say

In his translation of the Bible into German, Martin Luther rendered 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 like this:

Siehe, ich sage euch ein Geheimnis: Wir werden nicht alle entschlafen, wir werden aber alle verwandelt werden; und dasselbe plötzlich, in einem Augenblick, zu der Zeit der letzten Posaune.

Which, as every trombone player knows, since Posaune is the German word for trombone, it will be trombones, not trumpets that will be performing an important task at the end of time:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trombone.

Well, not so fast. Actually, we really don’t have any evidence that Martin Luther ever saw or heard a trombone. With fairness to the enthusiasm of trombone players – and I am certainly one of that number – Luther was using Posaune as a German word for the ancient ram’s horn, the shofar, to distinguish it from his use of the word Trompete which he used when translating the Hebrew word chatsrotsra, or the Biblical metal signal trumpet.

But never mind, we still have that delightful phrase, “the last trombone,” to enjoy, one that was once lofted at me by a conductor at a Boston Symphony Orchestra rehearsal, “Last trombone! Please, a little more legato. Thank you.”  I looked around; I guess I WAS the last trombone, third in a row of three, a bass trombonist. So in 1996, when I was putting together my production company that oversaw the publication of many of my CD recordings and music editions, I decided to call it Die lezte PosauneThe Last Trombone. And, so, it is now the title of my blog.

In 1996, I launched my website,, where I have posted hundreds of pages of articles and resources for trombonists and other musicians. Part of my website has been the What’s New? section, where I have posted information about new items on my website as well as commentary on events that I wanted to share with readers. After a long and immensely satisfying career as bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1985-2012), I retired in order to write several books and have more time to travel and spend time with my family, my wife, daughters, and sons-in-law. But God had other plans and my retirement was short-lived. I flunked retirement and accepted the position of Professor of Trombone at Arizona State University (2012-1016). As  a University Professor, I was engaged in recruiting new students for our program 24/7/365 and turned to Facebook to let people know about our program. Truthfully, I never understood Facebook. The format, while helpful while I was at ASU in letting people know about our Trombone Studio activities, didn’t seem to be a format that interested me on a personal level. The reasons for this will be a subject for another post, but when I decided to try retirement again and retire from ASU last month – this time to write several books (which are now under contract and have deadlines), travel, and spend more time with my family, my wife, daughters, sons-in-law (plural) and grandchildren (yes, plural as well), many of my then current and former students asked me to join Facebook so they could know what I am doing. Sorry, but Facebook isn’t in my plans, but as I thought about it, I realized that I do wish to share some commentary with friends and family and others who might be interested. Those who know me know that I can’t say hello in fewer than 5000 words so Twitter just wasn’t going to cut it. After a lot of thought, discussion and prayer, I’ve decided on this blog.

So, what is this all about? I’ve explained the title, The Last Trombone. As to the whole point of the enterprise, I wish to use this blog as a platform to offer some thoughts on three broad subjects that are represented in the logo photo above: Life, Faith and the Trombone.

The first photo is sunrise in the Sierra Estrella in Arizona. It’s the view from my front porch. I live in an area of the world that has exceptional beauty, and one of my favorite activities is hiking with my wife in the great National Parks of the American west. This beauty inspires me in a lot of ways. These mountains remind me of so much of life – beauty, tranquility, peacefulness, inspiration, challenge and much more. This I wish to share with you.

The second photo was taken at the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where I found myself praying earlier this month. Our trip to Israel will be the subject of future posts, but this photo, with my Bible open to Psalm 147, represents the commentary I will offer about my Christian faith, how it informs everything I think, say and do, and how the intersection of that faith with my life in the public square has shaped my life.

Finally, I will be talking about the trombone; the third photo shows a 19th century form of trombone, a buccin, from France. I’ve been playing the trombone for over five decades. You don’t get a lot of five decade periods in a lifetime. So here is an opportunity for me to share thoughts about this great instrument, and comments about a few others instruments and musical ideas as well.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the inspiration for the format of this blog. I commend to you the excellent blog by Dr. Micah Everett, Assistant Professor of Trombone at University of Mississippi, The Reforming Trombonist. Micah’s blog is inspiring, and  full of wisdom and information about faith and the trombone. I’ve been enjoying his blog for quite awhile and hope that The Last Trombone will likewise have something to say in the public discourse about Life, Faith and the Trombone. Thanks for joining me in the journey.