Author: Douglas Yeo

Memorial Day, Saving Private Ryan, Abraham Lincoln, and the trombone

Memorial Day, Saving Private Ryan, Abraham Lincoln, and the trombone

In the United States, yesterday was Memorial Day. A national holiday, it is a day of remembrance to honor and mourn those who died while in the service of the United States Military. It is often observed with parades, speeches, cemetery visits, and non-related things like family picnics and cookouts that celebrate Memorial Day as the unofficial beginning of summer. This year, the coronavirus pandemic curtailed many of those traditional events but the significance of Memorial Day remains undiminished. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those who died serving our country. That gratitude can never be overstated and it can never be repaid.

Yesterday, my wife and I watched the Steven Spielberg motion picture, Saving Private Ryan, for the first time. Released in 1998, the movie is considered to be one of the most significant movies of all time. It took me 22 years to decide to watch it because I am not a person who likes/enjoys/wants to see graphic portrayals of violence. I had heard about the movie’s intense opening 30 minute scene of the beginning of the D-Day invasion. My heart wanted to see the movie but my stomach was not sure.

But yesterday, on Memorial Day 2020, it was time. We watched Saving Private Ryan in our home (Blu-Ray) and found the movie to be a powerful, moving reminder of sacrifice and service. Yes, some scenes were very intense. Very, very intense. But even the most intense scene could only communicate a fraction—a very small fraction—of what those who served in war actually experienced. I’m glad we watched it, and I will watch it again.

I had another reason for wanting to watch Saving Private Ryan. I played on the movie’s soundtrack.

02.Yeo_Williams_Fanfare_for_Fenway_2012

As readers of The Last Trombone know, I was bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1985-2012. During the early years of my tenure in the orchestra, John Williams was the conductor of the Boston Pops and after he left that position, he continued a fruitful relationship with the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops that continues to this day. My respect for him is enormous, and I was very fortunate to record many Boston Pops albums under his direction, and also be the first bass trombonist to perform his Tuba Concerto (on bass trombone, in May 1991) with the Boston Pops with John conducting. The photo above shows John and me in Symphony Hall, Boston, taken at a recording session in 2012 for his Fanfare for Fenway, that celebrated the 100th anniversary of Boston’s Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox.

Saving_Pravate_Ryan_soundtrack_cover

Saving Private Ryan was the second John Williams film score that I recorded as a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, following on the recording sessions for Schindler’s List in 1993. The soundtrack for Saving Private Ryan was recorded over three days in February 1998 in Symphony Hall. I recall Steven Spielberg being there for all of the sessions, and Tom Hanks (who had the role of Captain John H. Miller in the movie) being in attendance at the first session. The music is very unconventional for a war movie: there is no loud music. Instead, Williams used music mostly to guide the audience in both anticipation and contemplation of combat. There is no music during battle scenes.

The movie’s longest musical segment occurs at the end of the film, over the credits. That music, titled “Hymn to the Fallen,” features a long brass chorale that still, 22 years later, moves me to tears. You can hear the recording of “Hymn to the Fallen” for the Saving Private Ryan soundtrack by clicking below or you can hear it on YouTube by clicking HERE.

This is not a movie with loud trombone playing like Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark. What you’ll hear are trombones in a supporting role, adding depth and texture to strings, and stepping forward from time to time in chorales, soft but intense rhythmic punctuations, and contemplative warmth.

Saving_Private_Ryan_credits

Seeing the movie yesterday for the first time brought back a flood of memories about those recording sessions. Tim Morrison and Tom Rolfs played the beautiful, haunting trumpet solos and duets, and Richard “Gus” Sebring did the same on french horn. Ronald Barron, Norman Bolter, and I were the trombone section and Gary Ofenloch and Chris Hall played tuba, substituting for Chester Schmitz. Spielberg and Williams wanted to record with the Boston Symphony in Symphony Hall rather than with a studio orchestra because they wanted to “hear the air” of the hall in the music, and work with a group of players who played together everyday and understood Williams so well.

Then Boston Globe music critic Steven Dyer wrote a long article about the recording sessions that describes some of the back room scenes and work of those days in February, 1998. You can read that article HERE.

Also, at the beginning of the first recording session, Tom Hanks read the letter from President Abraham Lincoln to Mrs. Lydia Parker Bixby who had lost five sons in the Civil War. Written on November 21, 1864, it was first published in the Boston Evening Transcript four days later. It remains one of the most poignant consolations I have ever read, and the letter figures both in the plot and the narrative of Saving Private Ryan. Here is the letter as first published in the Boston Evening Transcript:

Bixby_Letter_newspaper

If you’ve seen Saving Private Ryan, you have your own thoughts about the movie. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to do so if you feel you can handle intense depictions of the brutality of war. If you can’t—like I felt I couldn’t for the last 22 years—you might want to pick up the soundtrack album. The movie is a strong reminder of the sacrifice and heroism that we  gratefully recognize on Memorial Day. The music is haunting, moving, powerful, and contemplative. I often turn to Hymn to the Fallen when I need music to help me think about or remember something important. It has become a kind of Adagio for Strings (of Samuel Barber) for our time.

Memorial Day. Saving Private Ryan. Abraham Lincoln. And the trombone. They’re all tied up in my memory.

Making and sharing music in a challenging time

Making and sharing music in a challenging time

The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered concert halls and theaters, opera houses and nightclubs. Live music with multiple performers working together in a collaboration just can’t be done in public in most places these days.

Yet musicians are finding creative ways to bring music to a world that seems to need it now more than ever. A day doesn’t go by when someone doesn’t forward me a video of some group of performers who put together a music video with a number of “socially distanced” players who have recorded a track individually and then put it together to make a group performance. I’m involved in a project with some friends as well; more on that once we get it done. Some of these projects are not very well done or are just not that interesting to me, but others make me smile, cry, laugh, and celebrate. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed recently. I hope you enjoy them, too.

The Milwaukee Symphony has recorded Edward Elgar’s “Nimrod” from his Enigma Variations. I find this performance very moving on a lot of levels, especially because the music itself is so compelling. Among those members of the orchestra who are performing are my friends, second hornist Dietrich Hemann and his wife, principal trombonist Megumi Kanda, who share a screen. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

In 1996, the Boston Pops Orchestra recorded an album of music to celebrate the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. Conducted by John Williams, it included many works that had been written for previous Olympic games, as well as Summon the Heroes, a fanfare which Williams wrote for the Atlanta games. I was a member of the Boston Symphony at that time (1985-2012) and I count recording that album as one of the most memorable events of my musical career. Recently, 50 members of the Boston Pops Orchestra recorded Summon the Heroes once again, conducted by Boston Pops conductor, Keith Lockhart. Tom Rolfs plays the trumpet solo and the low brass section is Toby Oft, Steve Lange, Jim Markey (bass trombone), and Mike Roylance (tuba). To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

I’ve played many concerts – playing serpent, ophicleide, and bass sackbut – with Boston’s Handel & Haydn Society, an early music group based in Boston. Here’s a fun video by H&H principal flutist Emi Ferguson who makes a do-it-yourself baroque flute. Seriously! And it sounds great (and Emi sounds great, too). Try it! To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

Here is a new piece, All Day Long (The Coronavirus Song), written by my friend, Paul Langford, and his 14 year old daughter, Chloe. Paul has been a singer and arranger for the acapella group GLAD for many years and I think this original song and Chloe’s performance are absolutely terrific and inspiring inspiring. And there’s euphonium and trombone content, too! For more about the piece and how it came about, see this article from Chicago’s WBZ; click HERE to read it. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

Terry Everson is professor of trumpet at Boston University, and a good friend of our family since he and his family moved to Boston in 1999. Terry served as principal cornet of the New England Brass band for most of my tenure as the band’s music director, and he is a super trumpet player (and teacher), pianist, and arranger. In this video of John Dykes’ Holy, Holy, Holy, Terry is joined by his wife, Lori, on violin, and their son, Peter, who just graduated with a degree in trumpet performance from Boston University. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

Mashups of classical and popular music don’t usually work for me, but this performance of J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and Paul Simon’s American Tune does. The group is The Knights, joined by vocalist Christina Courtin. American Tune is my favorite pop song; it has been since it was first released on Simon’s solo album, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, in 1973. The music is adapted from a tune by Hans Leo Hassler, adapted by J. S. Bach in his Saint Matthew Passion as, O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (O Sacred Head, Now Wounded). The group gives a superb performance of Bach’s Concerto, and Courtin’s take on American Tune is honest, heartfelt, and moving. Paul Simon’s text never felt more relevant to me than in this challenging time; he could have written it yesterday. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

Our youngest daughter, Robin, is Director of Public Relations for San Francisco Symphony. She recently shared this fine performance of Paul Dukas’ Fanfare from La Peri, featuring members of the San Francisco Symphony brass section. And while you have the San Francisco Symphony on your mind, take the time to view the orchestra’s excellent video series, Keeping Score, where music director Michael Tilson Thomas and the orchestra provide an in-depth look at some of classical music’s greatest works including compositions by Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, Ludwig van Beethoven, Hector Berlioz, and many others. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

The coronavirus pandemic is challenging for all of us. But in the midst of the storm, we can hold on to the promise of God: He is faithful. Stevener Gaskin, who is Intercultural Arts Associate at Wheaton College where I teach trombone, has contributed an inspiring video – Faithful Promise –  in his unique performance style. I have heard Stevener in person several times and I’ve never failed to be moved by his work. This video was filmed in part on the front campus of Wheaton College; you will see the College’s first building, historic Blanchard Hall, in the background. I return to this video over and over again to be encouraged to persevere through this storm, knowing that God is faithful and He will bring us through this, even as we pray that we will also learn the important lessons God would have us see and understand that are already unfolding before us. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

[Header image of coronavirus in headphones from Variety.]

A different kind of graduation day

A different kind of graduation day

Today is graduation day at Wheaton College, Illinois. The college is both my undergraduate alma mater and also where I now teach trombone to eager, gifted, and hard-working students. One of my students, Brendan, is graduating today. But instead of walking down the aisle of Edman Chapel with his classmates, hearing an inspiring commencement speech, praying and singing with faculty, administrators, families, and fellow students, and then having joyful celebrations at home with food, friends, and relatives, today’s graduation ceremony takes place in the form of a celebratory YouTube video followed by a Zoom meeting. I’ve just finished watching it. It was very nice; it was very joyful; it was very meaningful. But it was different. Still, I am confident that our graduates of 2020 will remember their graduation every bit as vividly as I remember mine. Each graduation is unique, and its memory becomes a part of us.

D-Yeo_JTHS_1973

I’ve received a degree at three graduation ceremonies. I graduated from Jefferson Township High School in New Jersey, 1973. I think the ceremony was outside, on the school’s football field. I only have one photo from that day, a blurry snapshot of me with my mom and dad, taken in our backyard before we left home for the event, above. I received the senior class awards in music and English during the ceremony. People often say that music and math go together. Not for me. I can’t even do basic arithmetic much less mathematics. My body seems to reject math and science. Happily for me, my wife excels in those things so we are a good pair.

Pat_Doug_Hudson_Armerding_May_1976

My graduation from Wheaton College in 1976 was very memorable. The weather was nice, my parents and my wife’s parents travelled to Wheaton from New Jersey for the festivities, and the next day, Pat and I headed back to New Jersey to start our new life in New York City. After the ceremony, she and I had a conversation with Wheaton College’s President, Hudson Armerding (photo above), one of the most godly men I have ever known and a person whom I still hold in the highest esteem.

Three years later, in 1979, I graduated from New York University. Thousands of students graduated that day so a single representative from each of NYU’s colleges received their degree on the platform on behalf of the other graduates. My strongest memory from that day in Washington Square Park was that I played in the NYU band, doing my part to play Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 2 more times than I could count. And I also got paid to play in the band that day. $25, I think. Nice. I don’t have a photo from that day; nobody had yet thought of what we, today, call a “selfie.”

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I last attended a graduation ceremony in 2016, my final year as Professor of Trombone at Arizona State University.  In that year, I had six students walk the aisle; every student walked and received their diploma. Seeing this photo (above) brings back so many memories. Look at those smiling faces. Timothy Hutchens (DMA), Paul Lynch (MM; he went on to receive his DMA at ASU a few years later), Kristie Steele (BME), David Willers (BME), Adam Dixon (MM; he also went on to receive his DMA at ASU a few years later), and Emmy Rozanski (DMA).

Today’s graduation ceremonies are different due to the coronavirus pandemic. But we should not for a second think that the accomplishments of our students who graduate today are any less for the fact that their commencement celebration comes across a computer monitor rather than in a football stadium, college arena, or chapel. Today, we celebrate their completion of a race, and their turning of a page to a new chapter. These are ones who will change the world, who will make a difference. We applaud them, celebrate them, and want to encourage them. And so we do. I have just finished watching the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music virtual graduation celebration. I laughed a little, cried a little, and was very grateful. I found it very meaningful to hear Dean Michael Wilder reflect on the last four years, see and hear reflections by graduates, and greetings from faculty. I don’t know how long it will stay up on YouTube but it’s there now. If you want to see a meaningful graduation celebration for the class of 2020, click HERE. Thank you, Wheaton College, for having the vision to put together something so joyful, emotional, and meaningful.

On June 10, 2006, I gave the commencement address at Caritas Academy of Arts and Sciences in Massachusetts. As I reviewed those comments, which appear HERE on my website, I realized that I could have written them yesterday.They are just as timely today as when I wrote them 14 years ago.  I titled my comments, “Hold on to Hope.” Hope is very much a part of our thinking right now where the world is upside down. I thought I would share it again here on The Last Trombone. To graduates everywhere: congratulations! And please, hold on to hope.

HOLD ON TO HOPE

Graduation address by Douglas Yeo
Caritas Academy of Arts and Sciences, Hudson, Massachusetts
June 10, 2006

You may sit here wondering, “What can a trombone player from the Boston Symphony bring to a high school graduation ceremony? Especially if he doesn’t have a trombone in his hand?” That’s a good question. And it is my fervent prayer that you will have an answer to that question in a few minutes time.

I bring to each of you today a warning, a hope, and a task. On occasions such as this, speakers are called upon to offer inspiring words of wisdom to the graduates, a pat on the head to the parents, and encouragement to faculty. But honesty requires something more. I will not pray an Irish blessing over this graduation, as I know that the road will not always rise to meet you, and the wind will not always blow softly at your back. Life is hard. We live in a desperately fallen world, one in need of the redemption that comes only through Jesus Christ. It is a world that screams of its fallenness – natural disaster, war, famine, ethnic conflict, hatred. Discouragement is there for the picking, temptation is constantly knocking at your door. The burden of “doing the right thing” is often suffocating. You do not need platitudes from me. I come with something different. Something “other.”

Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
for I had wandered off from the straight path.

Some of you know the context of these words, don’t you? They’re the opening of Dante’s Inferno, the first of the books of his Divine Comedy which includes Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Wandering from the straight path, we find ourselves in a dark wood. The dark wood may be something literal, such as a wrong turn when trying to get somewhere and you end up in a forest – or in Connecticut. But more often than that, do we not all end up in a metaphorical dark wood sometimes – the dark wood of an exam without adequate preparation, the dark wood of a confrontation with a friend that goes in a direction that causes hurt that seems irreparable, the darkwood of substance abuse, or the dark wood of any number of poor choices that we could make?

As we travel down the path, we can usually see what is going to happen; there is always that still small voice – or perhaps one that screams as in a hurricane – but we often ignore the words and the decibels. In too deep to get out but not in so far that we can’t wish we could turn around, we head straight into the mouth of disaster.

I’ve been there. We all have. And sometimes those moments can be pretty dark.

The dark moments are moments when Satan can grab us. And one of his most successful tactics is to cause us to give up hope – to think it’s impossible to get through the dark wood, to feel like there is no way out.

Alexander Pope reminds us that “Hope springs eternal.” And so it does. Right now, there are those of you who are hoping that I will get done speaking early so you can get on to your graduation party, or you hope to get back to the computer, the cellphone, your Palm or Treo so you can attend to the tyranny of the urgent.

But hope can be lost when we are overwhelmed. We can give up. While Philippians tells us:

I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12)

we sometimes nevertheless give up and lose hope, the thought of pressing on through a circumstance being too great a weight to bear.

In fact, perhaps the most depressing words that were ever penned are those above the entrance to Hell as found in Dante’s Inferno:

Abandon every hope, all you who enter.

Several years ago, the Boston Symphony Orchestra performed Puccini’s masterpiece, Madama Butterfly. It is the story of a 15 year old Japanese girl from a poor family who marries an American Navy Lieutenant. The officer, Lt. Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton has no intention of remaining faithful to the girl but she takes his vows and covenant at their word. Even after he abandons her for three years – after she has given birth to a child he has never seen – she holds onto hope. Even when all of her friends tell her that he is gone, never to come back, she still hopes. Only when he returns with his new, American wife does she realize that her hope was in vain. Having renounced her religion to marry the American, having lost her family as they in turn renounced her, having lost her virginity, having lost her freedom, having lost her husband, she agrees to his request to give her child to him. In what I find to be the most crushing moment of the opera, Butterfly cries,

O triste madre, triste madre,
Abbandonar mio filio.

“O sorrowful mother,
to abandon my child.”

In the end, she kills herself. For, as her Shinto tradition perversely reminds her, “To die with honor is better than to live with dishonor.”

This is heady stuff even for opera. But Butterfly’s hope is not unlike that which grips many in this world. While everything looks hopeless and overwhelming, people hold on to hope – even hope in something that offers no hope – because they have nothing else.

But our world tells them that there really is nothing to hope for. After all, a popular line of sporting equipment marketed a slogan that said simply:

Life is short, then you die.

That’s about as hopeless as one can get. Isaiah speaks of this as well when he recalls the comments of those nihilists in his time who said:

Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die. (Isa. 22:13).

You see, our society, like Isaiah’s, is obsessed with the here and now. We live in the FAST culture, the NOW culture, the IMMEDIATE culture. Hard work and self-denial give way to the quick fix and the easy get-around.

My trombone teacher while I was a student at Wheaton College, Edward Kleinhammer, played bass trombone in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 45 years. He was one of the most disciplined, hard working people I have ever known, and a man who knows and loves the Lord. Several years ago we wrote a book together with the pretentious title “Mastering the Trombone.” In his preface, he penned a sentence that either inspires dedication or causes one to abandon hope. He wrote:

World-class trombone players do not just happen. Their talents are forged in the dual furnaces of determination and diligence.

Not very popular words. Forge, furnace, determination, diligence. White hot heat, self-denial, hard work, discipline.

Why bother, if “tomorrow we die?”

Several years ago I was in Hong Kong and saw a young man with a t-shirt, on which was emblazoned the slogan:

Whoever dies with the most toys – still dies.

What’s the use, why not just “abandon all hope” and wait for the end to come? Look around, do we not all know people like this? Television, the Internet, pornography, the skateboard, video games – we know those who are amusing themselves to death, those who like Peter Pan resist at every turn the siren call to grow up and move ahead, who deny the call to fulfill their calling.

But, we who know Christ know that there is hope, a hope that transcends the collection of “toys,” a hope that makes all we do worthwhile. We have the great promise, told to us in Jeremiah 29:11

‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’

We know this – even in our darkest moments – and while it may take all of our will and way to keep Satan from deceiving us into believing that the promise is a lie, we DO know this. And we also know that by constantly keeping THE BOOK – God’s word – before us, we can resist the “flaming arrows of the evil one” as he tries to wrest our hope from us.

We know the promise of sticking with the task, and how true are the words of Hebrews:

Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36)

Press on, endure, “stick with it,” determination, diligence.

And, so, we have the warning: the world will try to strip you of your hope. Be on your guard and don’t believe the lie.

We have a hope, the only hope that is worth hoping in: hope in Jesus Christ, hope that there is a future, hope that no matter what this fallen world throws at us, that God is with us not in the twisted untruth of the bumper sticker, “God is my co-pilot” (co-pilot? co-pilot? No: God is not our co-pilot; He is our pilot) but rather, our prayer is to the truth of St. Patrick paraphrased by the great hymn write Cecil Alexander:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

And now, the task.

To the teachers of these graduates, I say: remember them. You have left a piece of yourself in each of these students. You nurtured, you lectured, you disciplined, you rejoiced, you felt sympathy, even pity, and at times exercised mercy. You shared your knowledge with them but you also learned from them. As much as you have influenced them, they have also found a way into your life. Perhaps someday they will even write to you and thank you for what you gave them. But remember this: a teacher without a student speaks only to desks and the chalkboard. These graduates have allowed you to fulfill your calling and exercise your gift of teaching. The Talmud says, “Whoever teaches a student teaches that student’s student – and so on until the end of man’s generations.” (Talmud Kedushin 30, a) You are in them. Remember them.

To friends of these graduates, I say: encourage them. They are, at this moment, poised on a precipice. The world is before them, they rejoice at this memorable accomplishment. They look ahead with fear and trembling, with hope and joy. They will know rapturous success and they will stumble. Will you, in the name of Christ, offer them your hand? Will you write them, call them, admonish them, rejoice with them, pray for them? Will you be the kind of friend that can tell them things they don’t want to hear? Will you be the kind of friend who weeps with them – tears of joy when they do well and tears of hurt when they fall? Can you offer encouragement when they need it, can you resist the temptation to act like you know everything and need to impart it to them? Will you be faithful to them, will you remember them in your prayers, and remind them that wherever they may be, there is one in another place who has their face in your eyes, their voice in your mind and their friendship in your heart. Encourage them.

To parents of these graduates, I say: love them. This is both a joyful and wrenching moment for you. Many years of parenting have brought you and your child to this moment in time. You have watched them grow from a helpless infant into a young adult. You have dried their tears, put band- aids on their skinned knees, taught them to ride a bicycle and drive a car. You have cheered their successes and agonized over their failings. They have made you proud and they have let you down. But in all of this, you have loved them. They are ready to fly – they will move away. As they are in transition, so you are in transition as well. You are beginning along the road that will lead to your new role as “parent of adult child.” Your son or daughter still needs your guiding hand but as the years go on, your role as their primary teacher will change significantly. With this milestone event you begin the process of letting them go. You knew this day would come many years ago when they were born, but like Sleeping Beauty’s parents, you hoped that all of the spinning wheels had been taken away lest a finger be pricked. But that is not the way God ordains families to be. You have trained up your child in God’s way. Today you begin the process – which will take a few more years – of releasing them. Your son or daughter will face many temptations. Every choice they make will not be a good one or the right one. But through anything and all things, give them your love. Let them know that no matter what may happen, no matter how low they may fall, no matter what condemnation the world brings upon them, no matter how great their success may be, that they have in you one who loves them. One who will, as you always have – even imperfectly – come alongside them and love them. Let them know that home is the one place on this fallen planet where love – unconditional, deep, abiding love – lives. Love them.

And, finally, to these graduates, I say: hold on to hope. Each of you entered this day full of anticipation. This milestone event is one for which you can be justifiably proud. You know the work it took to get here. But graduation from Caritas Academy is not a goal, it’s a way station. It’s the first punch on your ticket as you move on to accomplish what life has before you. You move from here to somewhere else – to college or the work force, to new relationships, and eventually to a new place to call “home.” This transition, like every step of life, will not be easy. While you may feel you are “boldly going where no man has gone before,” the truth is you’re leaving the comfort of what you know for the uncertainty of what you do not know. All of the confidence in the world will not keep boulders out of your path. You will be hurt, beaten down, discouraged. You will be tempted to give up hope. But look up! We who know Christ understand that He is the blessed hope. That the promises of God are true even when they feel empty. Our culture works hard to plant seeds of doubt in your mind. You are bombarded with advertising that seeks to convince you that you are dissatisfied with all you possess. Don’t believe the lie. You are a child of God, an heir to the throne. You have been gifted with abilities and talents which not only CAN but which WILL have an impact on the world around you. But you have to hold on to your hope. Keep the Book close to you; meditate on it day and night, write it on your forehead. Remember its promise:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

View the world about you with the proper perspective. William Blake wrote:

This life’s dim windows of the soul
Distorts the Heavens from pole to pole,
And leads you to believe a lie
When you see with, not through, the eye.

Malcolm Muggeridge helps us understand this when he said that seeing THROUGH the eye “is to grasp the significance of what is seen, to see it in relation to the totality of God’s creation.” Seeing all before you through the eye of God – the eye which looks past the superficial to the truly important – will help you hold on to your hope, to remain true to your calling, and to persevere through trials and trouble.

And don’t forget THIS: you did not get here alone. Teachers, friends and parents walked with you in this journey called life. They will continue to do so. As you have been blessed by them, remember to bless others. Trust God, Honor God, Thank God, Humble yourself before God. Remember the words of Romans 12:10:

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

And may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God, uphold, guide, perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. (2 Corinthians 2:3-4, 1 Peter 5:10)

Amen.

 

Loud, Louder, Loudest: How Classical Music Started to Roar (New York Times)

Loud, Louder, Loudest: How Classical Music Started to Roar (New York Times)

Last night, The New York Times published an article by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, “Loud, Louder, Loudest: How Classical Music Started to Roar.” She reached out to me a little over a year ago, asking if she could interview me for a planned story about the trend toward excessively loud dynamics in symphony orchestras. You will find several quotations from me in her article.

The subject has interested me for many years and I was pleased to speak with Corinna; I think her article is insightful and thought provoking. And I must say that I think that Michael Waraska’s illustration that accompanies Corinna’s article is absolutely superb.

Loudness_NY_Times_Michael_Waraksa

[Above: illustration for The New York Times by Michael Waraksa, 2020.]

Waraksa’s image is in the spirit of a much earlier one that addressed the same issue of loud dynamic levels at classical music concerts. In 1845, Jean-Ignace-Isidore Gérard, who was known by the pseudonym Grandville, published a caricature of French composer Hector Berlioz. A year later, German caricaturist Anton Elfinger, known as Cajetan, adopted (and colorized) Grandville’s drawing; it was published in Allgemeine Theaterzeitzung (Jahrgang 39, No. 81, Vienna, April 4, 1846). This issue has been before us for a very long time, as Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim describes in her superb article.

Berlioz_Grandville_1846

[Above: illustration for Allgemeine Theaterzeitzung, “Satirical Concert; a Concert in 1846!”, by Anton Elfinger after Grandville, 1846.]

To read Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim’s article, click its title under Michael Waraska’s graphic below, or click HERE.

I have written several essays on this subject that appear on my website. The first, Me, Myself, and I: Are Brass Players Losing the Concept of Being Team Players?, was first published in the International Trombone Association Journal in 1997. It was subsequently reprinted in the T.U.B.A. Journal (now the Journal of the International Tuba Euphonium Association) later that year. My friend, Gene Pokorny, tubist of the Chicago Symphony, wrote an encouraging response to my article that also appeared in the T.U.B.A. Journal. You can read both my article and Gene Pokorny’s response by clicking HERE.

Then, later in 1997, I wrote another article which appears on the FAQ section of my website. I wrote an article that addressed this question:

I’ve been reading about problems with people complaining about excessive “noise” levels on stage in orchestras and bands, leading some players who sit near brass players to complain of hearing loss. What insights do you have on this situation?

The impetus to write this article came when a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra—of which I was bass trombonist from 1985-2012—filed a complaint with the Unites States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) about excessive noise levels on stage during rehearsals and concerts in Symphony Hall. That report and my commentary on the issue be viewed by clicking HERE.

My articles have generated a huge amount of discussion in the nearly 25 years since I first wrote them. They have been reprinted in dozens of blogs and they appear on many websites. I’m very happy that this important discussion is ongoing, and I salute Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim for her superb contribution to the conversation.

 

 

The music goes on.

The music goes on.

There are no concerts today at Carnegie Hall, or Symphony Hall, Boston, or in Edman Memorial Chapel on the campus of Wheaton College (IL) where I teach trombone. The Star Spangled Banner won’t be sung tonight before any sporting events. The world of live, public performances of music is shuttered now—all around the world. To even write these words seems incomprehensible. Yet, for the good of humankind, we are taking extraordinary measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Even as we do what we can, we pray that God will deliver us from this pandemic and also give us the eyes to see and the ears to hear what it is that we should learn from this challenging experience.

It is an adjustment, for sure, to not be able to listen to live music and to make it together in community. In addition to the loss of the performances themselves, we ache for the musicians who were to have played them. Most of those players are not getting paid now. Many of our country’s top symphony and opera orchestras have been telling their players that their salaries will be reduced or cut completely in the coming days, although many employers say they will continue to pay for their players’ health insurance benefits. Freelance musicians are adrift, with neither salaries or health insurance. Tomorrow is April 1; rents and mortgages are due and without any income, many people are facing an existential threat. These are real challenges that are felt by all of us in the trickle-down connectedness of our world.

My own trombone playing is now being done solo, by myself. Many engagements that I had planned for these weeks—a solo appearance at a brass band festival in Seattle, a masterclass at Interlochen Arts Academy, concerts in Helsinki and Japan with the Finnish National Radio Orchestra—have been cancelled and I expect more planned engagements will be cancelled as well.

Yet music is still important to us, and there are still ways to hear it. While watching performances in front of a computer or smartphone screen can’t take the place of live music, with a set of headphones, earbuds, or AirPods, or connecting those devices to a larger stereo system or television or other remote speakers, we can enjoy performances from the past on demand. Many orchestras and popular music groups are offering superb videos of recitals and performances. A a quick look throughYouTube brings countless offerings.

I think one of the most interesting classical music offerings is that by the San Francisco Symphony. Click HERE to go to the orchestra’s YouTube channel and their fantastic series of documentaries and performances by several composers, Keeping Score. The programs are superbly produced, the Symphony sounds fantastic, and Michael Tilson Thomas’ commentary is informative and engaging. Have a look!

I’ve put together a few videos of my own performances that have enjoyed some popularity on YouTube. Below, you’ll find performances I gave while I was professor of trombone at Arizona State University (2012-2016), several from my time with the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops (1986-2012), a video I made in the YAMAHA factory in Japan about how trombones are made, and a few other surprises. We pray for the day when we can all go to enjoy music while sitting chairs in concert halls, jazz clubs, and sports arenas. Until then, we can be grateful we live in such a time as this when we have at our fingertips so many enjoyable and inspiring performances to help us get through each day. For each of the videos below, you can view them right here on The Last Trombone or click on the YouTube link that’s provided..

The Star Spangled Banner, arranged by Robert Elkjer. Arizona State University Desert Bones Trombone Choir, Douglas Yeo, conductor at Chase Field, Phoenix, August 31, 2014. I have played the national anthem at more sporting events than I can count, including Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 as a member of the Boston Pops Orchestra. When I came to Arizona State University, I wanted to share that great experience of playing the national anthem at a sporting event with my students. We played at Arizona Diamondbacks baseball games several times, as well as at several ASU games. This performance was from the first of our appearances at Chase Field; the video was made and supplied to us by the Diamondbacks. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

Making trombones. A tour of the YAMAHA Toyooka factory in Japan with Douglas Yeo, 2004. I have been playing YAMAHA trombones since 1986, and in 2004, I was asked to make a video of a tour of the YAMAHA factory where many of their trombones are made. It’s a fascinating process—as you can see. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

Prayer from Jewish Life, No. 1, by Ernest Bloch, arr. Gordon Cherry. Douglas Yeo, bass trombone; Aimee Fincher, piano, 2014. This performance was recorded on my 2014 faculty recital at Arizona State University. Bloch’s Prayer was originally written for cello and was beautifully arranged by my friend, Gordon Cherry, former principal trombonist of the Vancouver Symphony and owner of the music publishing company, Cherry Classics. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

Heart, We Will Forget Him from Three Emily Dickinson Songs by Michael Hennagin. Douglas Yeo and Randall Hawes, bass trombone; Aimee Fincher, piano, 2015. In 2015, I invited my friend, Randy Hawes (bass trombonist of the Detroit Symphony) to give a masterclass at Arizona State University. At the beginning of the class, we played this beautiful duet by Michael Hennagin. This was recorded in the large rehearsal room where we had our weekly ASU trombone studio class. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

The Chief  for bass trombone and trombone ensemble by John Stevens, and A Song for Japan by Steven Verhelst. Douglas Yeo, bass trombone solo, with members of the Nagoya Trombone Association, 2018. In 2018, I traveled to Nagoya, Japan, to be the guest artist at the Nagoya Trombone Festival. The gala concert at the end of the Festival included several trombone ensemble works, including John Stevens’ tribute to the great trombone teacher, Emory Remington, The Chief, and an arrangement of Steven Verhelst’s beautiful A Song for Japan. The two pieces are combined in this video, below. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

Demonstration of a buccin (dragon bell trombone) at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Douglas Yeo, buccin. While living in Boston, I had a long and happy relationship with those in the Musical Instrument Gallery of the Museum of Fine Arts. I gave many concerts and demonstrations there, and conducted a great deal of research in its back rooms. A few years ago, I recorded some demonstration videos on several MFA-owned instruments, including a buccin made by Jean Baptiste Tabard around 1830. I’m playing a bit of the buccin part from Hector Berlioz’s Messe solennelle. Note the tongue that moves in the instrument’s bell throughout! Playing the buccin is like playing the trombone with your eyes closed; with the bell over my head, I don’t have the bell in front of me as a visual reference point to aid in accurately hitting all of the slide positions. It is a great challenge but great fun to play, with its deep, teutonic sound and rather unconventional overtone series that is related to but not exactly like a modern trombone. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

The Lost Chord by Sir Arthur Sullivan. Douglas Yeo, ophicleide; Kimberly Marshall, organ, 2012. In 2012, I gave my first faculty recital at Arizona State University. The concert featured me playing bass trombone, bass sackbut, serpent, and ophicleide, all accompanied by ASU’s organ professor, Dr. Kimberly Marshall. She had been the Director of the ASU School of Music when I was hired and I told her that I wanted my first recital to be a collaboration with her, in thanks for her confidence in hiring me. This performance of The Lost Chord, a well-known Victorian era vocal and instrumental solo, features me playing the ophicleide, used extensively in the nineteenth and early twentieth century particularly in France, Belgium, and England (although it was in use around the world) before the nearly universal adoption of the tuba as the preferred bass brass instrument. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

Rhapsody for Bass Trombone by Stephen Bulla. Douglas Yeo, bass trombone, with the New England Brass Band; Terry Everson, conductor, 2008. I was music director of the New England Brass Band for 10 years, from 1998–2008. We played many concerts together, and also recorded five compact discs in Boston’s Symphony Hall. My last concert with the Band was at Hope Church in Lenox, Massachusetts, near the summer home of the Boston Symphony, Tanglewood. This performance is from that concert, and I chose to play Rhapsody by my good friend, Steve Bulla, who succeeded me as music director of the NEBB. I recorded the Rhapsody in 1996 with England’s Black Dyke Mills Band on my first solo CD, Proclamation, and it was always a joy to play it with my hometown band, the NEBB. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

Southern Gothic from Three Imaginary Landscapes by James M. David. Douglas Yeo, bass trombone with Sangmi Lim, piano, 2019. In March 2019, I traveled to Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, to give a recital and masterclass. I performed the recital on my YAMAHA YBL-822G bass trombone with a carbon fiber bell, tuning slide, and outer hand slide by Dave Butler of Butler Trombones in Dallas. I’m very enthusiastic about Dave’s work with carbon fiber and you can hear the result for yourself. This video was put up without editing out my introductory comments where I speak about the carbon fiber trombone so if you want to go right to the music, drag the slider to 1:24. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

The Crimson Collop by Tommy Pederson. Douglas Yeo and Gerry Pagano, bass trombones, 2014. In 2014, I invited my friend, Gerry Pagano, bass trombonist of the St. Louis Symphony, to give a masterclass at Arizona State University. We opened the masterclass with a performance of this great duet by Tommy Pederson but after the class, we learned that the camera operator forgot to hit RECORD. So after the class, Gerry and I went back to my office and recorded the duet. It’s an informal collaboration between two friends that later led to us deciding to make a CD of bass trombone duets. More about that below. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

Star Wars Main Title by John Williams. Boston Pops Orchestra, John Williams, conductor, 1993. This performance was recorded in 1993 in a concert from the Boston Pops Orchestra’s tour of Japan. The concert was entirely of John’s music and that evening was one of the highlights of my career with the Boston Symphony/Boston Pops. Yup, look at all of that 90s hair. . . The trombone players in this performance are Norman Bolter, Douglas Wright, Darren Acosta, and me. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

There are also several other videos from that 1993 concert that appear on YouTube that can’t be imbedded here on The Last Trombone. If you’re interested, click HERE to see the March from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and click HERE to see Adventures on Earth from E.T.

 

Selections from Horn Trios, Op. 82 by Anton Reicha, arr. John Ericson. John Ericson, horn; Douglas Yeo, bass trombone; Deanna Swoboda, tuba, 2013. This performance of several trios by Anton Reicha was given at a Trombone Studio class at Arizona State University in 2013. Subsequently, my good friends John Ericson, Deanna Swoboda, and I recorded a CD on Summit Records, “Table for Three,” that included these trios and other pieces for horn, bass trombone, and tuba. The performance is rather informal but it’s a very happy memory of many nice collaborations with these friends. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

Bone Moan by David Jones. Ryan Haines, trombone solo; Arizona State University Desert Bones Trombone Choir, Douglas Yeo, conductor, 2015.  I met David Jones in the 1990s when he was a student at New England Conservatory. I conducted several performances of his superb work for tenor trombone solo and trombone choir, Bone Moan, with the New England Trombone Choir at New England Conservatory with Douglas Wright (now principal trombonist of the Minnesota Orchestra) as soloist. The opportunity to conduct the piece again arose when I was at ASU and Ryan Haines, who at the time of this recording was the jazz trombone teacher at ASU, gives a great performance of this evocative and unusual piece. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

Song for Lotta by Jan Sandstrom. Douglas Yeo, bass trombone; Aimee Fincher, piano, 2013. I have played Jan Sandstrom’s Song for Lotta many times over the years, in recitals all around the world, including in China and Japan. I have found it is a very powerful final piece on a recital. Rather than something flashy, I like playing something soft and contemplative which gives the audience something special to think about as they leave the concert hall. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

Theme and Variations on Arkansas Traveler by David Herring. Douglas Yeo, bass trombone; Natural State Brass Band, Rusty Morris, conductor, 2010. The world of the British-style brass band has been important to me for many decades. Earlier in this article, you saw a performance by me of Stephen Bulla’s Rhapsody for Bass Trombone with the New England Brass Band. I’ve also enjoyed a long friendship with members of the Natural State Brass Band of Little Rock, Arkansas, especially the band’s former music director, Rusty Morris. In 2010, I joined the band on their tour of England, both as guest conductor and guest soloist. A bonus of the trip was that my wife and oldest daughter played baritone horn and bass trombone with the band on the tour. David Herring’s piece based on the familiar folk tune, Arkansas Traveler, and was especially written for me to perform on this tour. This performance was recorded in a Wesleyan Church in Bolton, England, just north of Manchester. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

Below 10th Street by Tommy Pederson. Gerry Pagano and Douglas Yeo, bass trombone; Mike Lake, Hammond Organ and drums. 2017. In August 2017, in the thick of the heat of the Arizona summer, Gerry Pagano and I came together make a new CD of duets for bass trombones, FRATRES. We recorded the album in the studio of Michael Lake, a tremendously gifted jazz trombonist, recording engineer, and digital media guru. The album has many duets by Tommy Pederson (including The Crimson Collop which you have seen earlier in this article). Mike had the idea to add accompaniment to several of the duets and Below 10th Street features Mike on Hammond B-3 organ and drums. Thanks to Mike’s drone, he put together a promotional video of Gerry and me in the Sonoran desert north of Phoenix, horsing around with our trombones to the background of our performance of Below 10th Street. Fun times. For those interested, I start the piece, followed by Gerry, although our parts go back and forth between the top and bottom voice throughout. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

Quidditch from Harry Potter by John Williams. Boston Pops Orchestra Brass Section. While I was a member of the Boston Symphony/Boston Pops Orchestra, I played many concerts with John Williams; earlier you saw several videos of performances of his music with the Boston Pops Orchestra from our 1993 Japan tour. Here is a video of John’s arrangement of his Quidditch—a game played by Harry Potter and his friends—from a performance in the early 2000s. The video begins with a little spoken commentary from John. The trombone players are Norman Bolter, Darren Acosta, and me. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

 

Dear Lord, I Love Thee, by Wycliffe Gordon. Arizona State University Desert Bones Trombone Choir, Douglas Yeo, conductor, 2015. The great jazz trombonist, Wycliffe Gordon, is a good friend, and he came to Arizona State University in April 2015 to give a masterclass for my students. He brought along some music he had written and later that month, I decided to include one of them on our trombone choir concert. Click HERE to view this on YouTube.

His piece, “Dear Lord, I Love Thee,” is beautiful in its simplicity. Wycliffe composed words to the piece which he included in the trombone parts. It is a fitting benediction for this playlist that reminds us that while the concert halls around the world are dark, the music still goes on. In this challenging time, Wycliffe’s prayer is shared by me and so many others, as we turn to God, the giver of everything, for guidance and sustenance.

Dear Lord, I love thee. Saviour that saved me.

Lost, my soul was in sin, cleansed, made whole from within

     by my Lord God, Jesus, who made me and saved me.

He’s God! God, mighty Lord, God who saved me.

Wretched my soul was in sin, then He gave me life anew.

Dear Lord, I love thee. Saviour that saved me.

Came inside and made me whole.

Blessed me, then saved my soul!!!

 

 

 

Hope.

Hope.

We are living through an extraordinary crisis. Words fail. Everyone has a story; no one is immune from the implications of COVID-19. Every part of every life is impacted on every level.

As I, like everyone on our planet, work to navigate the challenges before us, I am reminded that there is one thing we cannot do: we cannot give up hope. Everyone hopes in something. My hope is in God. I do not doubt God’s wisdom or rightness; God is Sovereign—God is in, around, above, before, behind, under all things. In this present crisis, as always, I have some questions for God. But I know God  hears my prayers every day. I trust God even in the midst of the storm; God is teaching us something in all of this.

With life now sideways and our feet treading in quicksand, I spent a few hours yesterday cleaning up our basement where I practice trombone and have most of my music, books, recordings, and files. It is there where tomorrow, I will begin teaching remote lessons to my students at Wheaton College (Illinois).

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Sometimes when you go looking for something, you find something else. While filing away some documents yesterday, I came across the Boston Symphony Orchestra program for opening night, September 24, 2008, four years before I retired from the orchestra in 2012. It was the fifth year of James Levine’s tenure as music director of the orchestra, and the program included Pictures at an Exhibition of Modeste Mussorgsky, orchestrated by Maurice Ravel. The concert remains memorable to me, but the reason I saved that program is because of its beautiful cover image. It shows the center of the ceiling of Symphony Hall, Boston, where the middle of three crosses on the ceiling is illuminated by a chandelier. I spent many hours looking at that ceiling and its three crosses, which always reminded me of three crosses on a hill called Golgotha outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago where my Hope, Jesus Christ, lived, died and rose again, and gave me the Hope I hold. And now, looking at this beautiful, artistic photograph, I am reminded again of my Hope. Light in darkness. Good in the midst of evil. The solid rock in the midst of sinking sand.

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In the midst of this storm, the only hope we have is in God. Pray for deliverance from this pestilence. Pray for safety. Pray for wisdom in how we can help others. Pray for others who have greater challenges than we have. Pray that when this ordeal is over, we will act in new ways in light of the lessons we are learning today. This we pray. Amen.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

[Header image: Sunrise over the Sierra Estrella, Goodyear, Arizona, 2012. I took this photo from the front porch of our home where we lived from 2012-2018. Sunrise. A new day. Hope.]

A musical miscellany

A musical miscellany

I was trained as a classical musician although I am very grateful my musical life did not fit narrowly into that single stylistic box. I am a firm believer in the value of the pluralistic musical life, whether as a performer or listener. During my long career as bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1985-2012), I was very fortunate to play much of the important canon of western orchestral music that contained trombones: Beethoven (Symphonies 5 and 9), Mozart (he didn’t score for trombones in his symphonies, but I played his Requiem and several operas), all of the symphonies of Brahms, Schumann, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, and Bruckner, the tone poems of Richard Strauss, and so much more. And this I was blessed to do with some of the finest conductors of the twentieth and twenty first centuries—including Leonard Bernstein, Bernard Haitink, Seiji Ozawa, James Levine, Simon Rattle, Sir Colin Davis, and many others—and great soloists—including Mstislav Rostropovich, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Yo-Yo Ma, Jesseye Norman, Evgeny Kissin, Thomas Quasthoff, Gil Shaham, and many others—who inspired me in countless ways.

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[Above: My final bow at Symphony Hall as a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, May 2012. Behind me, standing, are concertmaster Malcolm Lowe and conductor Bernard Haitink following a performance of Beethoven Symphony No. 9.]

After graduation from Wheaton College (IL) in 1976—where I studied trombone with Edward Kleinhammer (bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony from 1940-1985) and I have now come full circle as the College’s trombone professor since fall 2019—my wife and I moved to New York City. There I had a remarkably diverse performing life, playing concerts with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and American Symphony, Broadway shows (many performance of “The King and I” starring Yul Brynner), studio jingles and record sessions, jazz bands (including the Gerry Mulligan Big Band, the Elgart Band, and the Dave Chesky Band), and the Goldman Band, with which I played many concerts under the batons of Richard Franko Goldman and Ainslee Cox.

Douglas_Yeo_Goldman_Band_1977

[Photo above: That’s me, warming up before a concert by the Goldman Band, summer of 1977, at the Guggenheim Bandshell next to the Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center. That summer, by the way, was when the New York City blackout of 1977 occurred on June 13, 1977. I was playing a concert with the Goldman Band at Lincoln Center at the moment the blackout struck. Seriously. But that’s another story. In this photo, sitting next to me, which his back to the camera, is trombonist Fred Braverman. Other members of the band at that time included William Arrowsmith, then principal oboist of the Metropolitan Opera, Abraham Perlstein, who had been the second trombonist of the NBC Symphony, and Bill Barber, tuba, who had played with Miles Davis in the seminal “Birth of the Cool” recording sessions and concerts. I learned a lot from my time playing in the Goldman Band. A. Lot.]

In all of this musical activity in New York City I was a free lancer, and a substitute in groups (apart from the Goldman band where I was a full member for four summer seasons, 1977-1980—six concerts a week for six weeks each summer). From day to day, I didn’t know what kind of music I might playing. The phone would ring, I would accept an engagement, gather up my trombone and bag of mutes, and head off to play. This plurality of musical styles served me well when I joined the Baltimore and then the Boston Symphony Orchestras, where “pops” concerts required me to play credibly in a host of styles.

Yeo_Brubeck_Concerto_Boston_Pops_Lockhart_2011

Some of the richest fruit of my early experience in the jazz and commercial worlds came when I performed the two Bass Trombone Concertos written by my friend, Chris Brubeck, with the Boston Pops Orchestra. Working with Chris was pure joy, as was meeting his father, Dave Brubeck. I played Chris’ first Bass Trombone Concerto several times with the Boston Pops, including a performance of the third movement, “James Brown in the Twilight Zone,” on national television as part of the “Evening at Pops” television show. The photo above shows me performing the Concerto with the Boston Pops in 2011, with Keith Lockhart, conductor (photo by Michael J. Lutch). Susan Stempleski reviewed the concert for classicalsource.com and wrote, in part:

Lockhart introduced Douglas Yeo, bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops orchestras, who delivered a wonderful and lively rendition of “James Brown in the Twilight Zone”, a movement from Chris Brubeck’s jazz-flavored Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra. Yeo’s virtuosic performance electrified the audience. Brubeck was in the audience.

Yeo_buccin_Hamamatsu_2015

In 1996, I began my exploration into early music, first with serpent, then ophicleide, then the early trombone (often referred to as “sackbut”), buccin (dragon bell trombone), and six-valve trombone. This opened another musical world to me, where I have taken part in performances of music that I would not have ever played on bass trombone. I’ve played serpent on a host of pieces with orchestras (both modern orchestras and early music groups) including Hector Berlioz’s Messe solennelle and Symphonie fantastique, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5 (Reformation) and Meerestille und glückliche Fahrt overture (Calm Seas and Prosperous Voyage), ophicleide on Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust and Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and early trombone on Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and L’Orfeo. And I’ve given many recitals that feature serpent, ophicleide, six-valve trombone, and buccin, such as when I gave a concert on nine different instruments in 2015 at the Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments in Hamamatsu, Japan, shown in the photo above.

Today, in this season of life since I retired from the Boston Symphony in 2012, I feel exceptionally blessed to continue to explore playing music in a host of styles, genres, and types of ensembles. Recent months have brought a number of rewarding musical experiences into my orbit. I do not take this for granted, and I am grateful that I continue to get invitations to do interesting things with a trombone (or another instrument) in my hand.

Elijah_Austin_2019

In December 2019, I was in Austin, Texas, taking part in performances of Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah. The concerts were organized by George Dupere, Chief Musician of Redeemeer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Austin. I have played this piece many times, both the bass trombone and ophicleide parts, and I never tire of it. Never. The piece is so masterfully composed, and it contains such tremendous drama. This time, I played ophicleide with a fine orchestra including some of our brass section, above (left to right): Jamey Van Zandt, Nathaniel Brickens, and Owen Homayoun, trombones, and Chris Carol and Shelby Lewis, natural trumpets.

Gordon_Pagliuca_Yeo_Midwest_2019

Just a few days later, I switched musical gears into the jazz world. I was delighted to be asked to be part of an “all star” brass jazz ensemble that was put together by YAMAHA for the Midwest Clinic, an annual convention held in Chicago. The Clinic features classes and performances over several days, and is one of the largest (the largest?) such events in the world. Our concert featured some terrific Christmas music, including carols arranged for trumpets, horns, trombones, tuba, and rhythm section by Stan Kenton, Ralph Carmichael, Sam Pilafian, JD Shaw, Jose Sibaja, and others. Boston Brass made up the core of the group and our trombone section (shown in performance above) consisted of Wycliffe Gordon, Domingo Pagliuca (of Boston Brass) and me. Great guys; great players. John Wittman conducted (shown in the photo on the right).

Yeo_trumpets_Midwest_2019

The trumpet section? Not a bad lineup, actually. Ha! Actually, this was a remarkable group of some of the greatest trumpet players in the world, shown backstage with me before the concert: Jose Sibaja (Boston Brass), Allen Vizzutti, Wayne Bergeron, (me), Jeff Conner (Boston Brass), Rex Richardson, and Jens Lindeman. Any questions?

Yeo_Gordon_Midwest_2019

It was such a pleasure to work with Wycliffe Gordon once again. He needs no introduction and it’s no secret to say he is one of the finest jazz trombonists of our time, for a long time member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (I first met him at a joint concert between the LCJO and the Boston Symphony Orchestra), and now leader of his own combo. He has more albums out than I can count, and we are simpatico in so many ways. For years I’ve referred to Wycliffe as “my brother from another mother.”

In 2015, Arizona State University hosted Wycliffe for some masterclasses; this happened  while I was Professor of Trombone at ASU. I included his trombone ensemble piece, Dear Lord, I Love Thee on our April 2015 concert. Have a look and listen, above (to open this video in YouTube, click HERE). It was really, really great to see and work with Wycliffe again at the Midwest Clinic.

Kanda_Yeo_SLLBC_2020

February 2020 brought more fun in a different musical world. My good friend Megumi Kanda—principal trombonist of the Milwaukee Symphony— and I travelled to St. Louis to give a joint recital and masterclass, sponsored by the St. Louis Low Brass Collective (STLLBC). Megumi is a superb player and wonderful person (I often refer to her as “my sister from another mother”), and we have done a number of joint events over the years. We also are authors of books about trombone orchestral excerpts and performance. Published by Encore Music Publishers, the annotated orchestral excerpt books, The One Hundred: Essential Works for the Symphonic Trombonist and The One Hundred: Essential Works for the Symphonic Bass Trombonist. To all of you who are reading this who have made our books part of your library: Thank you! And if you’re interested in the books, just click the links on the titles, above.

We began our masterclass with a duet, a movement of Philipp Telemann’s Canonic Sonata No. 3 that I arranged for inclusion in my book, Trombone Essentials, published by G. Schirmer.

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We continued the class by each speaking to the assembled audience and then working with several young players. As you can see from the photos above, Megumi and I tend to be  similarly demonstrative when we teach. How about a caption contest?! By the way, I should mention that Megumi is the recipient of the International Trombone Association’s 2020 ITA Award, the Association’s highest honor. She is so deserving of this honor, and it’s a pleasure for me—the 2014 recipient of the ITA Award—to welcome her into this special group of trombonists who have been so honored. I am at work on an article about her to be published later this year in the ITA Journal. Stay tuned; she has quite a story to tell!

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Kanda_Yeo_St_Louis_2020

Our recital on February 17 featured us playing solos and duets. I even used my six-valve trombone to perform Hector Berlioz’s Orasion funèbre from his Grand symphonie funèbre et triumphale. I want to send a shout out and big thank you to my good friend, Gerry Pagano (bass trombonist of the St. Louis Symphony) and all of those in the STLLBC who made this trip possible.

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From a solo and duet recital in St. Louis I came back home to the Chicago area to play chamber music. On February 21, the Wheaton College Artist Series presented a concert that featured the Chicago-based brass quintet, Gaudete Brass, as well as organist Nicole Simental and the combined Wheaton College choral groups, conducted by Jerry Blackstone. The centerpiece of the concert was a performance of Morton Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. On the first half of the concert, Gaudete Brass performed Ingolf Dahl’s Music for Brass Instruments; Dahl was Lauridsen’s composition teacher at University of Southern California and the piece requires six players. I joined Gaudete Brass as its second trombonist (selfie of me with Gaudete Brass after a rehearsal in Edman Chapel, above).

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[Photo above: Gaudete Brass in Adams Art Gallery on the campus of Wheaton College after our performance. (Left to right) Bill Baxtresser (trumpet), Joanna Schulz (horn), Charles Russell Roberts (trumpet), me, Paul Von Hoff (trombone), and Scott Tegge (tuba)

I have played Dahl’s piece on numerous occasions with groups in performances around the world. But I have to say that this collaboration was, to me, particularly special. First, Gaudete Brass is a superb group of musicians. They play at the highest level and it was a joy to work with them; I hope we will do more things together. Nice people, too! Also, the concert was held in Edman Memorial Chapel at Wheaton College, where, as a student there from 1974-1976, I took part in many concerts on that stage. Many memories came flooding back as I played in Edman Chapel with Gaudete Brass. And there was this. . .

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In December, Gaudete Brass and I had a rehearsal in the Fine Arts Building, on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. That building has very special meaning for me: it was there, on the ninth floor, that I had my weekly trombone lesson with Edward Kleinhammer (bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1940-1985) while I was a student at Wheaton College. I had not been in that building since my last lesson with him in May 1976. Walking through the front doors brought back a flood of memories.

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After the rehearsal with Gaudete Brass, I climbed the stairs up to the ninth floor, to once again walk down that long hallway (which has not changed a bit since 1976) and stand in front of room 918 where Mr. Kleinhammer had his studio. As I stood there, I reflected on how those lessons impacted me in so many ways. I could not go in the room this time, but I remember every detail of that small space: two chairs, two music stands, a table for music, and a sink (the bathroom is down the hall). This photo, below, shows the two of us after my last lesson in room 918 in 1976:

Kleinhammer_Yeo_1976

In that room my life was changed.  If you did not see it earlier, click HERE to read the photo essay/tribute I wrote about him last year on what would have been his 100th birthday. He was a remarkable man.

And there is more to come. While my planned trip to Seattle to be guest soloist this weekend at the Northwest Band Festival was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak in Seattle, my calendar is full of other events in the coming months, including masterclasses at Interlochen Arts Academy and the Csehy Summer School of Music, performances with the Finnish National Radio Orchestra in Helsinki and Japan (unless the coronavirus has something to say about that trip), teaching at the Pokorny Seminar—hosted by Chicago Symphony tubist, Gene Pokorny—and teaching at the Wheaton College Summer Music Camp. Details may be found on the schedule page on my website, yeodoug.com.

[Header photo: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink, conductor. My final performance in Symphony Hall as a member of the Boston Symphony, May 9, 2012; Beethoven Symphony No. 9. Photo by Stu Rosner; courtesy the Boston Symphony Orchestra.]