Month: May 2018

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Tomorrow is Memorial Day in the United States.  Observed annually on May 30 from its establishment in 1868 until 1970, it is now observed on the last Monday in May.

Memorial Day is a national day of remembrance for the men and women who have died while serving in the United States’ Armed Forces. For most people, it’s a holiday, part of a three day weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer. But it is important that we consider that the cliche—Freedom isn’t free—is actually true. Were it not for those who serve and have served in our armed forces, and for many of those who made the ultimate sacrifice and died in while serving, we here in the United States would not enjoy the freedoms we have today. Those freedoms are protected each day by those who, in the words of our national song, America the Beautiful, “more than self their country loved.”  We honor them on this Memorial Day.

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I have great respect for the men and women who serve in the United States military, who daily work to preserve the freedoms we have.  I am proud that my father, Alan Yeo (1930-2016), shown in the photo above, served in the United States Army from 1953-1955, in the days following the end of the Korean conflict. My father was stationed at Fort Ord, Monterey, California, as part of the 6th Infantry Division. I was born in May 1955, just before his discharge from the Army. My dad never went to Korea; never left U.S. soil. But he answered the call and served, and played his part along with countless others who have done the same.

Through my many years of teaching, I have been privileged to be the trombone teacher of many students who have subsequently gone on to serve in the U.S. military. At the moment, I have three former students on active duty, all in the United States Navy: Zachary Hollister (Bachelor of Music, New England Conservatory of Music; bass trombonist, U.S. Navy Band, Washington, D.C.), Ryan Miller (Master of Music, Arizona State University; trombonist, U.S. Navy Fleet Forces Band, Norfolk, Virginia), and Timothy Hutchens (Doctor of Musical Arts, Arizona State University; trombonist, U.S. Navy Band Southwest, San Diego) all are serving our country with a trombone in their hands as members of some of our military’s finest bands. I am honored to have been their teacher, and respect and thank them for their service.

Memorial Day. Remember.

 

 

 

“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]