Month: August 2022

Orange and blue: University of Illinois trombones and me

Orange and blue: University of Illinois trombones and me

by Douglas Yeo

My favorite colors are orange and blue. Why? Well, they’re the colors of my undergraduate alma mater, Wheaton College (Illinois). I graduated from Wheaton College in 1976, and I’ve been the College’s trombone professor since 2019.

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Compact disc recording of the Wheaton College Trombone Quartet, 1974–1976 (released 2022), Like a River Glorious. James Roskam, Eric Carlson, William Meena, and Douglas Yeo, trombones.

Orange and blue are also the colors of the Chicago Bears. My wife and I are season ticket holders to Bears football. There’s a lot of orange and blue in our family’s wardrobes.

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Douglas and Patricia Yeo at Soldier Field, Chicago. Minnesota Vikings vs. Chicago Bears, September 2019.

In November 2016, I traveled to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to give a lecture at the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, give a trombone masterclass, and participate as guest soloist at an Illinois football game halftime show with the Marching Illini Band. You can read about those memorable days by clicking HERE. And, what, you may ask, are University of Illinois’ colors? You guessed it: orange and blue.

In May of this year, I took part in the All-American Alumni Band reunion in Ohio. That was fun, and you can read about it by clicking HERE. Although I represented New Jersey when I was a member of the McDonald’s All-American High School Band in 1972-1973, I wanted to show a little Illinois pride at our recent reunion, so I pulled out the polo shirt that Dr. Barry Houser, director of the Marching Illini Band, gave to me in 2016.

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Little did I know that just two months later, that shirt would have a lot more meaning for me.

Last week, University of Illinois School of Music announced my appointment as its trombone professor (Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor of Trombone) for the 2022–2023 academic year. At the end of May, the University’s trombone professor abruptly retired, and the School of Music reached out to several people including me to ask if we would be interested in applying for a one-year position. I was intrigued by the idea so I tossed my hat in the ring, not at all sure that everything could possibly come together to make it happen on my end even if the University turned out to be interested in me. As things turned out, they were interested in me and after several interviews, I was offered the position. After a lot of thought and prayer, I decided to accept, and in a few weeks, I’ll be in Urbana each week working with a trombone studio of talented players, and working alongside my good friend, Jim Pugh, who is University of Illinois’ professor of jazz trombone and composition.

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Jim Pugh and Douglas Yeo playing Charles Small’s Conversation, University of Illinois School of Music, November, 2016

I also have another friend who teaches at University of Illinois—trumpet professor Charles Daval. Charles was a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra during my first years in the BSO. This photo, below, shows the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa in a memorable performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 at the Philharmonie in Berlin, August 1984. You can see Charles on the far right and me behind him, playing over his right shoulder. Our second trombonist for part of that tour was Carl Lenthe, then principal trombonist of the Bayerische Staatsoper, and now Professor of Trombone at Indiana University. Ronald Barron is playing principal trombone. I plan to hang this photo in my office at University of Illinois, a reminder of how Charles and I find ourselves together once again nearly 40 years after we first met.

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Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa, performing Symphony No. 10 of Dmitri Shostakovich. Philharmonie, Berlin, August 1984. Charles Daval (far right), third trumpet; Douglas Yeo (behind Daval’s right shoulder), bass trombone.

When my appointment to the University of Illinois faculty was announced, flute professor and chair of Winds/Brass/Percussion, Dr. Jonathan Keeble, interviewed me for a press release. Here’s the interview, which tells a little more of this story:

What have been your favorite professional musical experiences?

Making a list of favorite musical experiences is like asking, “Which of your children do you love the most?” But if I had to choose a few from my long career, they would include performing Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 2 with Leonard Bernstein in the National Cathedral, Washington DC, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 with Seiji Ozawa in Berlin, Josef Haydn’s The Creation with Simon Rattle in Boston’s Symphony Hall, and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in Amsterdam with Bernard Haitink. And recording the film scores to Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan with John Williams on the podium.

What pulled you away from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and into teaching when you moved over to Arizona State University?

After playing in the Boston Symphony for nearly 30 years, I had accomplished every dream I had imagined as a member of a great symphony orchestra. My wife and I decided to retire to Arizona—we love the landscape and diverse cultures of the Southwest—not knowing exactly what was next for us but we were ready for new adventures. Then, Arizona State University approached me about accepting their full time Professor of Trombone position; I could not refuse. Trombone students at a university are interested in a host of artistic expressions: performer, educator, arranger, author, and much more. I am a trombonist who has been involved in everything – from performing the symphonic canon, to actively participating in early music as a sackbut, serpent, and ophicleide player, to being a New York City jazz freelancer, as well as a high school band director, and author of numerous books and articles. It’s through this broad set of experiences that I can relate to and help students who have many different goals. Engaging with my students at ASU and helping them to become difference makers in society was immensely gratifying but in 2018, we decided to move to the Chicago area. Grandkids can do that to you.

What about University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) coaxed you to come out of retirement for the upcoming year?

In 2016, I came to the Illinois campus on two occasions. The first was to give a concert in the Krannert Center with Philharmonia Baroque (I played serpent on Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks). The second was to give a lecture at the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, and perform as guest soloist with the Marching Illini at a football halftime show. I was impressed with all I experienced on campus, and when the University approached me about its need for a trombone professor for 2022–2023, the idea was immediately appealing. Also, I played alongside UIUC’s trumpet professor Charles Daval when he was a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the 1980s, and jazz trombone and composition professor Jim Pugh and I have been good friends for many years. The prospect of working with them and UIUC’s talented students was simply irresistible. I keep flunking retirement but I’m OK with that.

Indeed, it seems as though you’ve hardly taken a breath since “retiring!” What is it you find most gratifying about teaching trombone?

Watching a student have that Eureka! moment when a concept clicks. When a student understands that making music is more than a job but it’s a calling, the intensity of the student/teacher relationship kicks into high gear. I have been fortunate to have many students who are passionate about positively influencing the world with a trombone in their hands, and the joy of working with them is incalculable.

Who’s Professor Yeo when the trombone’s out of his hands?

I love to write. In fact one of two books I completed last year is published by University of Illinois Press (Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry, co-authored with my friend, Kevin Mungons). My favorite non-musical thing to do is hiking with my wife, our favorite place to do that is Zion National Park in Utah, and we are Chicago Bears football season ticket holders. Our family bleeds orange and blue. That’s another reason why I’m very excited to be part of the UIUC community!

So, here we go. In a few weeks, I’ll be in Urbana teaching at UIUC. Orange and blue. That same week, I’ll be also back in my studio teaching at Wheaton College. Orange and blue. And a few weeks later, the Chicago Bears will open their season and my wife and I will be in our seats at Soldier Field, Chicago. Orange and blue.

They really are my favorite colors.

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