The coronavirus pandemic has upended everything. Everything. Everyone has a story. It is true that “we are all in this together”—it effects everyone. But it is not true that “we are all in the same boat.” Some boats are doing better than others. Some are sinking. Some have sunk. The virus is real and it’s bad. In the words of a good friend of mine who is a Dean at a major medical school and research hospital in New York City, “this virus is scary and sneaky.” Yes, it is.
The COVID-19 dashboard at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, February 4, 2021.
We in our extended family consider ourselves very fortunate: none of us has contracted COVID-19. We are all exceptionally cautious. We wear masks and take other protective measures. But over the last couple of weeks, I’ve received email messages from a number of friends who have noticed that I haven’t posted anything on The Last Trombone since October. “Are you OK?”, they’ve asked. I appreciate the concern, and it’s a reminder how we all are on edge, uncertain what lack of contact with someone might mean. I’m well—thank you for asking!—but as I have been reflecting on a number of things, I find it remarkable that in a season of life where I have done almost no traveling and I have been at home since mid-March, 2020, I am so busy in so many ways.
It has been nearly a year since the coronavirus has been part of our every day vocabulary. On February 2, 2020, my son-in-law, Chad, and I went to Super Bowl LIV in Miami. I won a contest sponsored by the Chicago Bears (you can read about how I won the contest HERE and our experience at Super Bowl LIV HERE) and we had an amazing trip. Chad and I were in the midst of 65,000 other fans. We gave high-fives and hugs to total strangers, stood in crowed lines for food and to use the rest room, we screamed our lungs out during the game, we flew on planes, traveled on buses, and we did this without even thinking. We didn’t know that in a few weeks, that would all change.
Megumi Kanda and Douglas Yeo in recital in St. Louis, February 16, 2020.
A few days later, I was in St. Louis, playing a recital and giving a masterclass along with my good friend, Megumi Kanda who is principal trombonist of the Milwaukee Symphony. The recital was sponsored by the St. Louis Low Brass Collective. In addition to my trombone activities, I went up the St. Louis Arch in a small elevator that seated seven people, all jammed in like sardines. I didn’t even think twice about doing it.
The elevators at the St. Louis Arch, February 15, 2020.
Coronavirus? It was “one of those viruses” we hear about from time to time that affected people in lands far away. It had no impact on us. Yet.
Sloan Park, spring training home of the Chicago Cubs. March 12, 2012.
Then in March, we went to Arizona for a week. Our plan was to go to some Chicago Cubs spring training games, do some hiking, enjoy restaurants, and all of the nice things you do on vacation. On March 12, we arrived at the Cubs spring training facility, Sloan Park, ready to watch a game. We found that the gates were locked and the scoreboard said that the game had been cancelled due to weather. But it wasn’t raining, and the forecast was for sun as the clouds were moving away. Nobody at the ballpark gave us more information. We went to have lunch at Portillos to assuage our disappointment and then went hiking. When we got back to our rented house, we heard that all Major League Baseball games had been cancelled. Coronavirus became real.
Wheaton College’s COVID-19 dashboard, February 5, 2021. Students start returning to campus tomorrow for the spring semester under strict virus mitigation protocols. The entire student body will be tested for COVID-19 when students arrive on campus this weekend and they will all be tested regularly throughout the semester.
Later that day, I received an email from the President of Wheaton College. I am Wheaton College’s trombone professor and I was anticipating getting back to teaching when we got home from our spring break vacation. But our President said that spring break was being extended for another week and that all faculty needed to get prepared for several days of training: Wheaton College was going to a combination of remote and greatly modified in-person learning. Everything was changing.
We all know the kinds of things that happened after that. No in-person concerts or theater performances, restaurants and movie theaters were closed, church doors were shuttered, life moved from personal engagement to a computer screen. We all learned that Zoom was not just a word little kids say when they’re pretending to pilot a rocket ship to Mars. Trombone lessons with Zoom and Cleanfeed. Recitals without an audience. Symphony orchestras making mashed up videos with players recording in their living rooms. Cancel. Cancel. Cancel. Masks. Social distancing. Hand sanitizer. Wash your hands. Wash your hands again. CAN’T TOUCH THIS!
So, here we are, nearly a year later. Nobody saw this coming, nobody imagined it would last this long. But we are starting to see hopeful signs for deliverance from the pandemic. Vaccines are now being distributed. I had my first jab of the Moderna vaccine yesterday morning—it was a truly joyful, emotional experience, the fruition of something I had been praying for over many months. We continue to pray that the rest of our family will receive the vaccine soon. So much will change for the better when that happens.
The first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine I received yesterday, February 4, 2021, at Central DuPage Hospital.
We are hopeful that with continued vigilance in following guidance on protective measures (wear your mask—keep apart from others—wash your hands—get the vaccine), we will slowly come out of this long tunnel. And when we do, and when we go to the first sporting event, the first church service, the first concert, play, or musical, the first restaurant after not doing those things for over a year, we will have a new sense of appreciation for all of those things that we always seemed to take for granted. That is one of the important lessons we have learned over these long months.
Still, the pandemic has provided us with opportunities to do other things. Like everyone else, I had to cancel a host of performing and teaching trips over the last year. Soloing at a brass band festival in Seattle. Cancelled. Playing with the Finnish National Radio Orchestra in concerts in Finland and Japan. Cancelled. Teaching at Gene Pokorny’s low brass seminar, at Interlochen Arts Academy, at the Wheaton College summer music camp, at the Csehy summer school of music. All cancelled. Planned vacations to Glacier National Park, Zion National Park, to Arizona. All cancelled. You’ve had things cancelled, too.
But we’ve spent more time with our grandkids, took more walks in forest preserves when the weather was good, and we go sledding down a four foot high berm next to our home (we don’t do “mountains” here in the Chicago area)—the most exhilarating five second ride on a sled that our grandkids have ever had. And in the midst of the storm, and without traveling regularly, that’s freed up time to do a lot of other things. No, I would not have chosen to be at home day after day. But that’s what we have. So I’ve been busy. Here’s some of what I’ve been doing lately.
- I wrote an article about my friend, Megumi Kanda, for the International Trombone Association Journal. that published in January of this year. Megumi was the 2020 recipient of the ITA’s highest honor, the ITA Award. Click HERE to read the article.
Part of my teaching workstation at my home.
- I’ve continued teaching my students at Wheaton College each week, both weekly lessons and trombone studio class. And, last semester, trombone literature class. Due to the pandemic, all wind, brass, and voice lessons are done online. I set up a new work station in our basement where I do all of my online remotely. We all know the limitations of Zoom and Cleanfeed, but we’re grateful that the technology allows us to continue to work together and make good progress. We all look forward to the day when we can sit side by side and play duets together once again. Everything just takes so much more time when it’s done virtually. For instance: If a student has a noisy F-attachment valve linkage, at an ordinary in-person lesson, I can say, “OK, hand me your horn,” and in a few minutes, I can usually solve the problem. But now, I have to hold my trombone up to the camera and try to help the student run through a number of diagnostic steps so I can identify the problem. “OK, put your thumb on top of the ball joint—no, the ball joint, not the stop rod arm—then with the other hand, move the F-attachment paddle. Where is that clicking sound coming from? No, I don’t think it’s from THERE— I see the movement in the linkage THERE. . .” And so on. But I salute my students who are dealing with so much as they are in school, both remotely and on campus with very strict virus mitigation protocols. Wear your mask and get the vaccine. Help students and teachers everywhere return to 100% in-person learning as soon as possible.
Advertisement for Henry Fillmore’s The Trombone Family, c. 1920.
- In June, I wrote two articles about Henry Fillmore’s iconic collection of trombone ragtime pieces, The Trombone Family, which includes Lassus Trombone. You can read those articles HERE and HERE. To say the articles aroused a lot of interest is a profound understatement. In the first two days after posting my articles, over 100,000 people read them on The Last Trombone. A vigorous discussion about music, race, and racism ensued. Since then, I’ve answered hundreds of emails from people who have written to me about the subject, my articles have been reprinted in several journals and newsletters, and I have been asked to speak about the subject before several groups. This engagement continues, and a day doesn’t go by when I am not engaging with people about this important issue. This takes a lot of time. A LOT of time. But it matters.
- I wrote a long article about the Mozart Requiem Tuba mirum that will be published in the International Trombone Association Journal sometime next year.
- I wrote a commentary and glossary to accompany the republication (in the International Trombone Association Journal) of a short story, The Story of A Trombone, that was first published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1875. It may have been the first short story ever written about the trombone. This will publish in the ITA Journal later this year.
- I continued working on my eight part series of articles about the piece for tuba, narrator, and orchestra, Tubby the Tuba. The articles have been published in the International Tuba Euphonium Association Journal through all of 2020 and 2021.
- My Boston Symphony Orchestra colleague Ronald Barron (retired principal trombonists) and I have just finished making an edition of Sliding and Stringing Along, a duet for tenor trombone or bass trombone and violin by the late Charlie Small. This was one the last pieces Charlie wrote before his death in 2017 and he had given both Ron and me handwritten copies of the piece. Trombone players know Charlie Small for his superb playing and also for his fantastic duet for tenor and bass trombone, Conversation. Ron premiered Sliding and Stringing Along in 2015 and he and I put our heads together to sort out Charlie’s many manuscripts. It will be published by Ensemble Publications later this year.
The cover to Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry, by Kevin Mungons and Douglas Yeo.
- For the last six years, my friend, Kevin Mungons, and I have been working together on a book about the trombone-playing song leader for evangelist Billy Sunday, Homer Rodeheaver. I had previously published an article about Rodeheaver in the Historic Brass Society Journal (to read the article, click HERE), and it’s been a real joy to work with Kevin to write the first full length biography of Rodeheaver. We completed the manuscript—the book is titled Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry—last year, it then went out for peer review, we then engaged in a rewrite, and the book went through various editorial processes with our publisher, University of Illinois Press. We have just finished working through proofing the page proofs and the last thing for us to do before publication of the book this spring is to write the index. The pandemic has provided time for extended work on the book and we are now in the home stretch. For advance information about the book on the University of Illinois Press website, click HERE.
Illustration of a buccin (dragon bell trombone) by Lennie Peterson, for my new book, An Illustrated Dictionary for the Modern Trombone, Euphonium, and Tuba Player (Rowman & Littlefield).
Another side of Lennie Peterson’s artistic persona, a cartoon from his syndicated comic strip, The Big Picture.
- For the last five years, I have been working on another book, An Illustrated Dictionary for the Modern Trombone, Euphonium, and Tuba Player. Since being contracted to write the book by Rowman & Littlefield, I’ve been at work putting it together. Last month, I finished my manuscript—over 650 entries about instruments, individuals, composers, manufacturers, and parts of low brass instruments—and submitted it to my publisher. It has now been sent out for peer review and once those comments come back later this month, I’ll engage in a rewrite and the other editorial processes. Hopefully the book will then head toward being published, sometime in late 2021 or early 2022. One of the great joys of working on this book has been working with my illustrator, Lennie Peterson. A sample of his work for the Dictionary is above. Lennie (who is a successful trombonist in addition to his other artistic pursuits) is well known to trombonists for his famous cartoon about trombone players and their band director, Mr. Kaplin (above). Lennie is the rare artist who is expert in a host of styles and I am very happy that we have been partners in putting this book together.
John Kuhn, a member of John Philip Sousa’s Band, at the 1915 San Francisco Panama-American Exhibition.
- I’ve started researching the legendary Sousaphone player, John Kuhn, and I hope to publish a major article about him in the International Tuba Euphonium Association Journal sometime in 2022. Kuhn is a fascinating subject and as I was researching him for an entry in my Dictionary, I realized that a lot of the information that is known about him is in need of an adjustment. I find this all the time: historical figures have stories associated with them that are “too good not to be true,” but when one actually digs deep to find the root of the story, the narrative needs to be changed. Here’s a photo of Kuhn playing with a massed band (including John Philip Sousa’s band, of which Kuhn was a member) at the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition; that’s him looking over his shoulder at the camera. Stay tuned for more about this member of the Sioux nation who was a true force on the Sousaphone for much of the twentieth century.
Our family’s 2020 annual Christmas ornament.
- Every year since we were married 45 years ago, my wife and I have made an ornament for our Christmas tree that reflects some of what our family did in the last year. It’s a nice time capsule that allows us to remember things we might have otherwise forgotten, and to celebrate some of our family’s milestones. It was challenging to find things to put on the 2020 ornament. Here’s what we came up with. A pin from Super Bowl LIV when the world seemed normal, a pin from 2020 baseball spring training when the world changed, and a NO COVID pin. That seemed to summarize the year.
Sign in the lobby of Central DuPage Hospital, Winfield, Illinois, February 4, 2021.
- As mentioned above, I received my first COVID-19 vaccination yesterday, with another dose coming in a few weeks. And, straight up, I want to say that I had no side effects apart from a slightly sore arm yesterday, no more than what I experience every year when I get a flu shot. By saying that I received the vaccine, I guess I’m giving away my age since here in Illinois, the vaccine is only available at this time to front line essential workers like doctors, nurses, and emergency personnel, teachers, and individuals over 65 years old (and I’m not a front line worker). My son-in-law, Chad, who is a hospice chaplain who is in contact with people all day long in homes and care facilities, has had both of his vaccination doses over the last few weeks. My getting it yesterday means 25% of our immediate family has been vaccinated, and we see this as tangible progress toward all of us getting vaccinated—a key element to returning to a more normal life. I received my vaccine at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois—part of the Northwestern Medicine health network—and I was so impressed by the efficiency of their distribution system and the care of its staff. The process went smoothly from start to finish, and I want to add my voice of thanks to all those who have been working so hard to help get the vaccine into people’s arms, and to those who have been caring for those who have contracted the coronavirus. We all know that this virus is bad—really bad—and we rejoice that deliverance from the pandemic seems to be in reach thanks to the vaccines. Thank you, God. In a world that is upside down, during a time where so many people have lost so much, it’s comforting to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. And we’ll get there sooner if everyone follows health care directives including wearing a mask, maintaining appropriate distance from one another, and getting the vaccine. It matters.
So, that’s some of what’s been keeping me busy over the last year. Thanks to those who reached out and expressed concern, who wondered why I haven’t been posting more often on my blog. I’ll try to get to it more regularly. I’ve just been busy—like you’ve probably been busy, too.
[Header image: The daily United States coronavirus map from The New York Times, February 5, 2021.]