I love to write. Ever since I was a young boy, I have been passionate about writing. Give me a 2,000 word essay on a school exam any day over three math problems. My love of writing was birthed from my love of reading, something imparted to me by my parents. My father was Chairman of our local public library while I was going up, and every week, my brothers and I trekked to the the library to take out another stack of books to read. I was fortunate to attend schools that emphasized reading, whether contemporary literature (a little), the classics (a lot), and the ancients (Edith Hamilton’s Mythology remains a favorite).
I’m at work writing several books at the moment. In the introduction to The Trombone Book, a planned 500 page book I’m writing for Oxford University Press that will cover the history, use, performance, teaching, and care of the instrument (for trombone players who are reading this, think of this book as the successor to the long out of print Trombone Technique by Denis Wick), I’ve written these words:
In a sense, I have been writing this book since I first picked up the trombone in 1964. My parents, Alan and Jeannine Yeo, now gone from this world to the next, taught me to pay attention. From them I received the gift of a disciplined work ethic and the understanding that it was required to succeed in anything. They instilled in me a love of books and reading, and from that it was not a far walk to a love of writing. I grew to appreciate words and how they were put together, and I particularly thank Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Enoch Arden), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Evangeline), Herman Melville (Moby Dick), Thomas Hardy (Under the Greenwood Tree and The Choirmaster’s Burial), J. D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye), William Buckley (The Right Word) and Jacques Barzun (many books, but especially Berlioz and the Romantic Century, From Dawn to Decadence, The Use and Abuse of Art, The Culture We Deserve, and Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage) for their exceptional modeling of the possibilities of the English language. An exasperated Abigail Adams was known to say to her husband, John, whose predilection for long narrative introductions before getting to the main point used to annoy her to no end, “John! Do you always have to start at Genesis?” Like our Second President, I confess to being guilty as charged, and also to finding solace in the writing of the Apostle Paul, whose first sentence of his letter to the Romans contains 132 words before the insertion of the punctuation mark we call the period. Stopping a thought is sometimes hard to do.
I love well crafted sentences, the putting together of words, how they flow past the eye and off the lips.
As much as I like writing, I also like what happens before writing: research. I don’t write fiction; I write about music and music making, musical instruments and real people and history. I love the chase, the tracking down of facts both obscure and well known, the hunt for needles in haystacks. It is intense, patient, time-consuming, frustrating, and rewarding work. And I never tire of it.
So, today is a particularly happy day for me, as my mailman brought me a most welcome package: several copies of my newest book, Serpents, Bass Horns and Ophicleides at the Bate Collection, just published by the University of Oxford in Oxford, England.
The Bate Collection in Oxford has a superb collection of musical instruments. I visited there in 2009 and had the opportunity to play several instruments under the watchful eye of my friend, curator Andrew Lamb.
The Collection is a veritable “Ali Baba’s cave” of musical instruments, as you can see from this snapshot of one of the many display cases:
In 2011, Andrew Lamb asked if I would be interested in writing a book about The Bate’s collection of serpents and related instruments. It took me all of one second to agree, although the project was delayed for many reasons. It was not as simple as sitting down and getting to work; a great deal of groundwork needed to be laid. And I also needed time to research and write. In 2012, I retired from the Boston Symphony and promptly flunked retirement and took the full time position of Professor of Trombone at Arizona State University. That job, as wonderful as it was, was all-consuming, and with many other writing projects going at the same time, the Bate book had to wait. But there was much to do as well, including collecting detailed information about all of The Bate’s instruments, arranging for high quality photos to be taken of each instrument, as well as research into the instruments themselves. I devised a plan for the structure of the book and last year, I began discussions with Bryn Walls, a superb designer who had been engaged to lay out and put the book together.
As you can see from the first page of table of contents above, the book is divided into two primary sections. After a Foreward by Craig Kridel (not a Forward – remember that this book is published in England and England and the USA are two countries separated by a common language – my text needed to undergo “Anglicization” so its spelling and punctuation conformed to British publishing style), five chapters of Historical Context appear. In this section, I wrote a brief history of the instruments as seen through those at The Bate.
The second section of the book is a detailed discussion of the instruments at The Bate. My commentary is greatly enhanced by superb photos of the instruments by Gary Ombler. Following the discussion of the instruments is a brief section of back matter, including a checklist of the instruments, a bibliography so readers and learn more, a bio and photo of moi, and a page with the index and acknowledgements.
Each instrument is afforded its own two page spread, with at least two full views of the instrument (sometimes there are three or four – front, back, and sides), many photographs of detailed elements of the instruments, as well as my commentary.
With this book, serpents, bass horns, and ophicleides at The Bate come alive in a new way. Visitors to the Collection can walk through the gallery with the book in hand as they look at the instruments and learn more than the identifying label next to the instrument itself can tell them. Those who can’t get to The Bate can enjoy the instruments while sitting at home in their favorite (whoops – favourite) chair. 80 pages of photos and commentary about some of the most interesting musical instruments ever conceived and manufactured.
The book is now available through the Bate Collection’s online publications store; click HERE to go there in a new browser window. Or, of course, you can stop by the Bate Collection yourself and pick one up there. I am delighted that this book, the subject a long period of research, writing, layout, and proofreading, is now available. Holding copies in my hand today is a great reward at the end of a long process. I will enjoy this moment, but tomorrow I’ll be happily back to my other writing projects. More on them soon!