Month: September 2016

The President and the trombone

The President and the trombone

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

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


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


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


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

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


In the studio/on the air

In the studio/on the air

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the KBAQ (KBACH) mobile app from Google Play

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

Download the Classical Arizona PBS mobile app from the iTunes Store

Download the Classical Arizona PBS mobile app from Google Play

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

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



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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Remembering 9.11

Remembering 9.11

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

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


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

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

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

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