Author: Douglas Yeo

Reformation: Luther, Mendelssohn, and the serpent

Reformation: Luther, Mendelssohn, and the serpent

I don’t own many things that date from my childhood. I moved many times, collected other things, have lived a long life, and things that seemed so important when I was a kid mostly got lost along the way. I do wish I still had those baseball cards, though. . . But one of the few things I do have from that time in my life is a Boston Symphony recording of Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony, conducted by Charles Munch. I bought it in 1970 when I was 15 years old.

Mendelssohn_Reformation_Sym_BSO

[As an aside, this album cover shows the Arch of Titus in Rome, with the Colosseum in the background. During my wife’s and my recent trip to Italy, we stood in this very place, and noted the significant connection the Arch has with our trip last year to Israel. More on this in an upcoming article on The Last Trombone.]

That I ended up being a member of the Boston Symphony for 27 years (1985-2012) is one of the great joys of my life, and in a sense that was the fulfillment of a long held dream since I was in high school. Several Boston Symphony recordings were very influential on me at an early age when I was just beginning to understand the trombone, and this Mendelssohn recording stands tall in my record collection. In fact, one of the first orchestra scores I ever purchased was of this symphony; I purchased it a few days after I heard Munch’s recording for the first time (the first page of the final movement of my score is shown at the top of this article).  Click below to hear that recording that influenced me so deeply so long ago (to hear this recording in YouTube, click here):

I have always loved this piece. It has a terrific part for bass trombone; just a few measures in the beginning of the symphony and then much to do in its finale. I first played the symphony on bass trombone with the BSO conducted by then-music director, Seiji Ozawa; the photo below shows Seiji and me in 1994 before a rehearsal for Hector Berlioz’s Messe solennelle; you’ll see I have my serpent in my handFor more on that, keep reading.

Ozawa_Yeo_serpent_1994_small

After I took up the serpent, I played the serpent part for Mendelssohn’s symphony in performances with the BSO conducted by the great early music conductor, Ton Koopman; the photo below shows us backstage at Boston’s Symphony Hall before a rehearsal in 2004.

koopman_yeo_02

Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” symphony – it usually bears the number 5 in the numbering of his symphonies but it was not his fifth in order of composition – was composed in 1830 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, one of the great confessional documents of the Christian faith. The theme of the symphony’s fourth movement is none other than Martin Luther’s famous hymn, Ein feste Burg est unser Gott — A Mighty Fortress is Our God. I wrote about this hymn last year on The Last Trombone, where I took the opportunity to discuss the importance of its text, especially the its fourth, final verse. I invite readers to look at that article again; click here.

Last week, I played serpent in a performance of the “Reformation” Symphony by the Northbrook Symphony near Chicago. My oldest daughter, Linda Yeo Leonard, plays bass trombone in the Northbrook Symphony, and my wife and I have heard many concerts played by the orchestra. When the orchestra’s conductor, Lawrence Rapchak, asked me if I would be available to play serpent in their performance of Mendelssohn’s symphony – performed on a concert with other symphonies in the key of D but also in recognition of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation – it was easy to say yes.

Northbrook_Sym_11_2017_small

The photo above shows Linda and me along with the Northbrook Symphony’s fine contrabassoon player, Nicholas Ritter; Nick and I sat next to each other on stage with Linda seated just behind me. Mendelssohn’s part for the serpent doubles the contrabassoon at the octave and the result is a new kind of bass sound, caused by the acoustical blending of the two instruments. Murray Campbell wrote an article several years ago about this unique sound in an article for the International Tuba Euphonium Association Journal; you can read it by clicking here. The performance was a great success in every way, and it was a special joy to sit on stage with Linda.

There have been other recent connections to Luther that have recently gotten my attention. As mentioned earlier, my wife and I were in Italy last month, enjoying the glories of Renaissance art and their connections to the Christian faith. Among the places we visited was the Ufizzi Gallery in Florence, one of the world’s great art museums. As we were going through various galleries, we came across a painting of Martin Luther and his wife, Katharina von Bora, painted by the workshop of Lukas Cranach the Elder in 1529. The portrait was made when Luther was still alive (1483-1546) and is considered to be a true likeness.

Luther_Uffizi

As I enjoyed this iconic painting – it is the most famous portrait of Luther – I noticed that the museum’s display card had a curious final sentence:

In Medici collection since 1567/1570.

Of course the Medici family was one of the most famous and influential families of the Italian Renaissance, and they were strong patrons of the arts. But this sentence got my attention. “Why,” I wondered, “did the Medici family, who were Roman Catholics and whose family produced three Popes (Leo X, Clement VII, and Leo XI), own this portrait of the most famous Protestant reformer?” I can’t answer that question, but I’ve been wondering about this.

Last Sunday, I worshiped at Trinity Lutheran (LCMS) Church in Lisle, Illinois, where Linda’s family are members and her husband, Chad, a Lutheran pastor and hospice chaplain, coordinates the church’s care ministries. This year, the Lutheran Church – and Protestant churches of all denominations – is celebrating this 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation – dated to October 31, 1517 when Luther attached his famous Ninety-Five Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, Germany, and set off a reform movement in Christianity that is still with us. When I sat down in our pew on Sunday and opened my bulletin, what did I see but an insert about Luther and the Reformation with a stylized version of the very same portrait of Luther we had seen in Florence. It was a nice, serendipitous moment.

Luther_LCMS_image

The Protestant Reformation changed history, and this convergence of events – Mendelssohn’s symphony, our trip to Italy, seeing a famous portrait of Martin Luther in Florence, and worship in a Lutheran church – brought many aspects of its importance together for me.

When I was a student at Wheaton College (Illinois), I memorized Luther’s great hymn. It got me extra credit on an exam in the class, “Christ in Culture,” and I needed all the extra credit I could get. I don’t remember how I did on that test, but I still call A Mighty Fortress to mind every day. It is a hymn of great strength and comfort, and Luther’s words are just as relevant and important today as they were nearly 500 years ago when he wrote the text. Here is its second verse; to read the whole text and my commentary on Luther’s original words, click HERE.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,

Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing.

Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he;

Lord Sabaoth his name, from age to age the same;

And he must win the battle.

 

Two upcoming concerts in the Midwest: playing serpent, and a bass trombone solo with orchestras in Illinois and Iowa

Two upcoming concerts in the Midwest: playing serpent, and a bass trombone solo with orchestras in Illinois and Iowa

Over the next two weekends, I will find myself in the Midwest, playing concerts with two symphony orchestras. If you happen to live near Chicago or Sioux Center, Iowa, I invite you to come to these performances.

On Sunday, November 5, I will be playing serpent in the Northbrook Symphony in Illinois, in a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony. With today being the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the inclusion of Mendelssohn’s Symphony on this program – a piece that uses Martin Luther’s composition, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, in its finale – is certainly timely. Mendelssohn used the serpent in a number of his works and it is always a pleasure to enter into the woodwind section of an orchestra where I will be sitting next to the contrabassoonist. Mendelssohn understood the unique blending qualities of the serpent and contrabassoon, something that is explained in an article about serpent and contrabassoon acoustics by Dr. Murray Campbell (click this link to read the article).

What makes this concert particularly nice for me is that my oldest daughter, Linda Leonard, is the bass trombonist of the Northbrook Symphony. To share the stage with her, and to play the serpent in Mendelssohn’s great piece, combine to make this concert very special. Visit the Northbrook Symphony website for ticket information.

Northbrook_Symphony_serpent_Mendelssohn_poster_2017_small

Then, on Tuesday, November 14, I will be soloist with the Northwest Iowa Symphony Orchestra in Eric Ewazen’s Concerto for Bass Trombone. In fact, I will be playing the Concerto twice on that day, first at a NISO Youth Concert and then at their evening concert. I have enjoyed playing Eric’s Concerto on many occasions, both with piano and with symphony orchestra accompaniment. It is a piece that, to me, speaks deeply to the optimistic, American spirit, something about which I wrote about recently on The Last Trombone. Visit the Northwest Iowa Symphony Orchestra website for ticket information and details about both concerts.

Dordt_Fall-Concert-poster-2017-web-copy

FRATRES progress report: Cover image and video

FRATRES progress report: Cover image and video

The process of bringing the new CD, FRATRES, to completion continues at a rapid pace. This new recording, by Gerry Pagano (bass trombonist of the St. Louis Symphony) and me, along with Michael Lake, will be mastered tomorrow by Nathan James at Vault Mastering in Phoenix. I’m very much looking forward to spending the day with Nathan as we create the master disc for replication. I am also at work today arranging for mechanical licenses for the album, so the copyright holders of the compositions we recorded are recognized with a well-deserved royalty payment.

In the meantime, Ben Krueger, our designer, has been at work on the CD packaging. The gratifying level of support we have been getting on our Kickstarter program means we are able to develop enhanced packaging, including an eight page booklet of information about the  recording, its music, and performances. Ben is doing an outstanding job with this and I’m very happy to share his evocative cover below:

FRATRES_pages

We’ve titled Ben’s cover image, The West and Its Gateway: The St. Louis Gateway Arch and the East and West Mittens of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona. This recording, that features Gerry – who lives in St. Louis but also lived in Phoenix for several years early in his career – and me – who lives in the foothills of the Sierra Estrella, west of Phoenix, beautifully brings together several important elements and messages in the recording. Ben’s superb work carries through the rest of the CD packaging. More on that soon.

Michael Lake has also put together another video about the project that includes an interview with me about Tommy Pederson – we recorded seven of Tommy’s great duets for bass trombones on the album – as well as some surprises. Have a look at Mike’s newest video about FRATRES (click the video below or click HERE to view the video on YouTube). (You can see Mike’s first video about the project by clicking HERE.

Gerry and I want to say THANK YOU once again to all who have generously supported our vision with FRATRES. If you’re interested in adding your voice to that of many others who are on board with this project, and if you’d like to open your mailbox in a few weeks and find not only a copy of the CD (or a download card) but some “swag” as well, have a look at our Kickstarter page by clicking HERE. There are 13 days left on our campaign. Thank you for partnering with us in this innovative new recording project.


Kickstarter-button

DY_GP_black_medium

[Drawing of Douglas Yeo by Lennie Peterson. Drawing of Gerry Pagano by an unknown waiter at a New York City restaurant.]

The trombone in popular culture

The trombone in popular culture

I’ve been researching the use of the trombone in popular culture as a subject for one of the several books I’m working on at this time. I find it fascinating that the trombone, of all instruments, has been used in particular ways that have very little to do with its capabilities as a musical instrument. Rather, the trombone has often been used as a prop – sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, but always interesting. For instance, the trombone has often been used in advertising. Not advertising designed to sell trombones, but advertising to sell other products. Over the years, I’ve collected advertisements that use the trombone to sell beer, cigarettes, cars, tires, record players, and much more. I’ll be writing more about those advertisements down the road.

But of particular interest to me is when manufacturers use the trombone in a physical way, and produce a product you can hold in your hands that features the trombone in a context far removed from the concert stage or band stand.

One of the iconic uses of the trombone in advertising was Douglas the butter man. Lurpak, the Danish brand of butter, used an animated trombone-playing character, Douglas, who got into mischief on the dinner table. In 1985, Douglas was introduced – he was created by Aardman Animations, the creator of the popular Wallace and Gromit claymation films – and his antics were juxtaposed against the voice of British actress Penelope Keith. Douglas appeared in many Lurpak ads before being retired in 2003.  Here is a Lurpak ad for butter featuring Douglas (click the video below or HERE to view the video in YouTube):

Douglas plays trombone again in this commercial for Lurpak cheese spread (click the video below or HERE to view the video in YouTube):

Several years ago, Lurpak manufactured a coffee/tea mug featuring Douglas and his trombone, along with the commercial’s tag line, “It’s a matter of taste.” As one with the same name as this mischievous butter man, why wouldn’t I have one (actually, two) of these in my studio?

Lurpak_Douglas_trombone_mug

Then there is the professional WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) wrestler Xavier Woods (whose real name is Austin Watson), who has used the trombone as part of his work in and outside the ring identity.

Here is a compilation of some of Woods’ wrestling match moments with his trombone, mostly with his WWE compatriots Big E and Kofi Kingston (click the video below or HERE to view the video on YouTube). This video concludes with a crushing moment when Wood’s trombone is destroyed by Chris Jericho (spoiler alert: yes, it really is broken, and it is a very, very sad moment).

I’m not sure how many people have been inspired to pick up and learn the trombone based on what they hear from Xavier Woods, and I definitely do not recommend using the trombone in or near a wrestling ring. But what trombonist’s studio wouldn’t be complete without an Xavier Woods vinyl figure made by Funko to provide inspiration while practicing,?

Xavier_Woods_trombone

In 1972/73, I was a member of the McDonald’s All-American High School Band. It was a big moment for me, to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City and the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, while a senior in high school. Two high school players from every state came together to make a 100 piece marching band and I was one of the players selected from New Jersey. Here’s a photo of me (far right) along with my fellow New Jersey compatriot, Jeff Venho, Rose Parade Grand Marshall, Betty White (yes, THAT Betty White), conductor Paul Lavalle, and Rose Queen Sally Noren.

yeo_mcdonalds_rose_parade_1973_small

In the year before I was in the All-American Band (1971), McDonald’s introduced an advertising character, Grimace, an anthropomorphic, cuddly, purple blob. Grimace was used in commercials and he/she/it also began to appear in Happy Meal boxes. One of Grimace’s finest moments was when McDonald’s issued a coffee mug with a musical theme, with a handle that featured Grimace playing trombone.

Grimace_McDonalds_trombone_mug

While we know that the trombone has been with us since around 1460, do we know what the future holds for the instrument? Evidently it will be around at least for another three hundred years since Captain/Commander/Admiral William Thomas Thelonius Riker, Commander of the Starship U.S.S. Titan, has played the trombone on several episodes of Star Trek, The Next Generation. Born in 2335, Riker – who in various episodes has been addressed both as William and, using his middle name, Thomas – graduated from Starfleet Academy in 2357. Whether that is where he got his trombone training is not known, but it’s clear that in this clip, he sometimes uses the trombone to do his talking (click the video below or HERE to view the video in YouTube):

Actor Jonathan Frakes, who plays Riker in the television series, actually DOES play the trombone, although in this episode clip below it is the great jazz trombonist Bill Watrous whose sound was dubbed in for Riker’s smooth, jazz sound (click the video below or HERE to view the video in YouTube):

It’s gratifying to know that in a world of inter-gallectic technology, the trombone is still going to be with us. And as a reminder, ArtAsylum has made a Captain Riker action figure, and of course it comes complete with his trombone. No trombone studio would be complete without one, yes?

Riker_Star_Trek_trombone

Butter, professional wrestling, fast food, and space travel. Isn’t the trombone just great?

 

Counting down to FRATRES: The Yeo/Pagano Project

Counting down to FRATRES: The Yeo/Pagano Project

As I mentioned in a previous post on The Last Trombone, my friend, Gerry Pagano (Bass Trombonist of the St. Louis Symphony), and I have recently recorded a compact disc of music for two bass trombones. In this we were assisted by Michael Lake, who not only was the recording engineer for the project, but also contributed superb accompaniments and enhancements to many of the tracks. And he also wrote a piece for the album. And he played alto trombone along with us on three tracks. And a partridge in a pear tree. You get the idea. This new album is a true collaboration between Gerry, Mike, and me, and we believe we have some very interesting, unusual, special, challenging, and inspiring music and performances to bring to life in the coming weeks.

Doug_Gerry_Desert_03

Gerry and I recorded the project in Michael Lake’s studio in Phoenix, Arizona, a place where we could do things that just couldn’t be achieved in a large, live acoustic space. I wrote about this previously so there’s no need to repeat myself here. But we are now moving ahead with the final phases of production of the album that include mastering, design, licensing, manufacturing and distribution. We hope to have the finished product in our hands by the end of this calendar year.

Gerry_Doug_recording_01

At this time, Gerry and I are reaching out to people who we hope will be interested in supporting our project. FRATRES – Latin for “brothers” – is an album that we hope will inspire others to look at the bass trombone differently. We’ve recorded a wide range of repertoire that spans nearly 600 years. Over his career, Gerry has released four solo albums and I’ve released five. This kind of duet collaboration is something new for us, and something that, in a sense, was 31 years in the making, with the seed of it planted long ago in 1986 when Gerry and I first met and played duets together.

So we have launched a Kickstarter program to invite people who are interested in what we are doing to stand alongside and support our vision for FRATRES. As much as we value your investment in our project – and as you will see when you visit our Kickstarter page, we are offering a number of “thank you” gifts for your support including a digital download of the album, a physical CD copy of the recording, pencils, t-shirt, beer/iced tea glass, and a coffee mug – we are most of all interested in your partnership in our vision.

Michael Lake has also made a video about the project that includes some interviews with Gerry and me, and photos from the session. Gerry and I really appreciate Mike’s many contributions to the project and I think you will catch his excitement about it if you view his video (click below or see it on YouTube by clicking here):

While we were making our recording, we also took some time out of our schedule to record a music video in the desert. Michael Lake’s drone was able to capture both the grandeur of the Arizona landscape and also the fun Gerry and I had in working together. The soundtrack to this video is one of the pieces we recorded for inclusion on our album, Tommy Pederson’s Below 10th Street, with rhythm and Hammond B-3 organ added by Mike (click below or see it on YouTube by clicking here):

Michael Lake has also posted the recording of his new piece, Devils & Angels, that he composed for our album. It’s a compositional tour de force that includes a sophisticated accompaniment to Gerry (left channel) and me (right channel), as well as Mike’s alto trombone improvisation, a section where the three of us are overdubbed in five parts, and some improvisation by me on serpent at the end. Have a listen by clicking here.

With all of this, we hope you are getting a picture of what we’ve been doing and why we’re so excited about getting this project released.

FRATRES. Friends – brothers – working together to make music to share with others. On behalf of Gerry and me, we thank you for your support.

Kickstarter-button

DY_GP_black_medium

[Drawing of Douglas Yeo by Lennie Peterson. Drawing of Gerry Pagano by an unknown waiter at a New York City restaurant.]

Three trips: music, friends, and faith

Three trips: music, friends, and faith

The last few months have been full of travel, as I’ve criss-crossed the United States several times to play and speak at a number of events. It is times like this that are very refreshing and invigorating to me, as I get to be with other fine musicians and make music at a high level. At the same time, my conversations with others are always very rich, and when I come home, I find myself energized and grateful for the blessing of a life lived with music.

The first of these three tripe was to the International Trombone Festival (June 27-July 1), which was held at University of Redlands, California. As I mentioned earlier in this blog, I played duets with three friends: Jim Markey (bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony), Megumi Kanda (principal trombonist of the Milwaukee Symphony), and Gerry Pagano (bass trombonist of the Saint Louis Symphony). In addition, Megumi and I gave a class titled The One Hundred: Effective Strategies for Successful Audition Preparation.

[From top left, clockwise: Douglas Yeo with Megumi Kanda, Gerry Pagano, Bill Watrous, Jennifer Wharton]

Part of the fun of being at these kinds of events is meeting up with old friends. I ran into jazz great, Bill Watrous, while walking through the vendor area at the ITF. Bill was tremendously influential on me – and countless other players – when I first hear him on his Manhattan Wildlife Refuge recording in 1975; have a listen to his iconic and influential performance of Fourth Floor Walk-Up. Years later, we began a friendship that, interestingly enough, does not center around jazz. Rather, when we speak on the phone, Bill always wants to talk about classical music, especially Edward Elgar. Bill is expertly conversant in classical music, something that may come as a surprise to many who know him as a jazz trombone icon. I recall hearing him give a clinic at Lexington High School in Massachusetts (the town in which my wife and I lived from 1985-2012 when I was a member of the Boston Symphony) where he played Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings on trombone using multiphonics. To say his performance was stunning is a profound understatement.

I also got to meet up with my former student, Jennifer Wharton, who was at the ITF to play in the XO All Stars jazz trombone quartet. Jen is a remarkable person and player, living in New York City with her husband, John Fedchock, playing a Broadway show, teaching, and freelancing. Jen is one of the most positive and engaging people I’ve ever met, and having time to meet up with her, have some conversation and a meal together, and play duets was a real joy.

Natl_parks_pass

While on my way to Redlands, I stopped off at Joshua Tree National Park in California to purchase my National Parks Lifetime Senior Pass. Getting older bring with it some challenges, for sure, but my first “senior discount” after turning 62 this past May was this Pass, a real deal for $10.00; I got mine just before the fee changed to $80.00. Going to National Parks is a real passion for my wife and me, and to hold this lifetime pass in my hand was a moment that made me smile. More on our recent trip to five National Parks in a future post on The Last Trombone.

Scott_Doug_posed

[Scott Robinson, ophicleide; Douglas Yeo with serpent by Keith Rogers]

Just a few days after the ITF in California, I flew to New York City for the Third Historic Brass Symposium (July 12-14). This time I didn’t have a trombone in my hand. Rather, I brought along a serpent, for I was at the Symposium to premiere a new duet for serpent and ophicleide commissioned by the Historic Brass Society, Caduceus Mixtus, by Jaron Lanier. My partner for the duet was Scott Robinson, known mostly for his superb playing on saxophone, but he also plays ophicleide. The piece was difficult, interesting, and rewarding to play, and our performance at New York University happened to be in the same recital hall where I gave my two graduate recitals when I was a student at NYU for my master’s degree back in 1979. For this performance I used a serpent made by the late Keith Rogers that was entrusted to me by his wife, Kathryn, after Keith’s death in 2008. It is made of plum wood and covered with a (pre-ban) python skin. It seemed to be the right instrument to use for a piece that had as part of its inspiration, the caduceus, with its intertwined snakes.

Scott_Doug_performance

In addition to hearing scholars present exceptionally interesting papers at the Symposium, we enjoyed a day of papers and concerts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Museum is one of my favorite places in the world, having grown up in and around New York City and then returning there after I graduated from Wheaton College, from 1976-1979. The musical instrument gallery of the Museum is closed for a complete renovation, but we were given a preview of the construction and also saw some of the Museum’s new acquisitions, including a Baudouin serpent and the Bellophone, a combination tuba and euphonium that was made for the legendary tuba player, Bill Bell, by the H.N. White company.

We also got an up close look at a stunning new installation on the balcony between the two rooms of musical instruments, Fanfare, that features about 60 brasswind instruments. It is an exceptional installation and to have the opportunity to be among the first to see it up close was a real privilege.

MET_Fanfare

I also had time to view some of my favorite works of art at the Museum, including Rembrandt’s Aristotle With a Bust of Homer, a beautiful stained glass window, Autumn Landscape, by Tiffany Studios, and several sculptures by one of my favorite artists, Daniel Chester French. His Angel of Death and the Sculptor and Mourning Victory are displayed in the Museum as marble copies made by French of his bronze cemetery monuments that I discuss in my website resource, Daniel Chester French: Sculpture in Situ.

[From top, clockwise from left: Rembrandt, Aristotle With a Bust of Homer; Tiffany Studios Autumn Landscape; Daniel Chester French, Mourning Victory and The Angel of Death and the Sculptor]

While in New York, there was one thing I wanted to see that was not connected to the Symposium: the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Anyone alive on September 11, 2001, remembers that horrific, difficult day; the world has never been the same since. Having been up the World Trade Center tower many times, its destruction hit me, as it did many others, very hard. Going to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum was a very strong, powerful experience. To see wreckage of the Twin Towers and a crushed fire truck up close is something I will always carry with me, even as I admired the new building, 1 World Trade Center (originally nicknamed the “Freedom Tower”), that has arisen to the height of 1,776 feet and now is a new icon in the New York Skyline. The fountains that form the memorial, covering the original footprints of the World Trade Center towers, are a powerful and moving thing to behold.

But there was an unexpected surprise. As I came out of the subway to go to the Memorial and Museum, there was a new shopping center, Oculus, that featured a remarkable display of images from the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome. In nearly life size, enormous photographs of the ceiling and altar wall were on display. I found this to be serendipitous, since my wife and I will be soon be traveling to Rome and we will see the Sistine Chapel with our own eyes. To walk around this installation and see Michaelangelo’s  frescos of the ceiling of the Chapel up close was a delightful surprise.

WTC_Sistine_Chapel

On to the third trip.

Just last week, I was back on the east coast, at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, to perform at two programs that focused on theology and music (August 30-September 2).

DITA_poster_2017

These were led by Dr. Jeremy Begbie, professor of theology at Duke Divinity School. Last year, about a dozen musicians took part in the first of these kinds of events, sponsored by Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts. After the success of that event, a much large scale offering was planned for this year, with over 30 musicians invited to take part in the events.

A concert at Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art was in conjunction with a new exhibition, The Medici’s Painter: Carlo Dolci and 17th-Century Florence. The exhibition was revelatory, and at the evening’s program that included two fascinating lectures about Dolci and his work, our group of eight brass players performed two Italian Renaissance works while a chamber music group played as part of two lectures and also performed the first movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto 2. If you find yourself in the Durham area soon, I urge you to visit this superb exhibit at the Nasher.

[Carlo Dolci, Virgin and Child, late 1640s. Collection of The Bob Jones University Museum & Gallery, Greenville, South Carolina, installed at The Nasher Museum, Duke University]

The players at these DITA events are all Christians and come from symphony orchestras and universities from around the United States. Working with these like-minded colleagues was pure joy, and our playing, meals together, and conversations were invigorating. After the program at the Nasher, we took a photo of current and former members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra who were participating in the program. Here you can see me (I played bass trombone in the Baltimore Symphony from 1981-1985), Rebekah Edewards (now a violist with the Boston Symphony), and current principal trumpeter Andrew Ballio and second trumpeter, Nate Hepler.

DITA_Baltimore_Sym_players

[Left to right: Douglas Yeo, Rebekah Edewards, Andrew Ballio, Nate Hepler]

As to the trombone section for the events, I was reunited with Megumi Kanda and Jim Kraft, who for many years played trombone in the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. A concert with what was named The New Caritas Orchestra was titled, Home, Away, & Home Again: The Rhythm of the Gospel in Music. Led by Jeremy Begbie – who made insightful and powerful comments throughout the evening and also was a superb piano soloist in works by Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich – the concert was a benefit for The Corner House in Durham, a house where disabled and non-disabled people live together in community. The House is supported by Reality Ministries, and it was truly beautiful to see residents of the house at the concert, and hear some of them speak and others play percussion instruments with us on the final piece on the program. It was a moving, joyful time.

DITA_Doug_Megumi_Jim

[Left to right: Douglas Yeo, Megumi Kanda, Jim Kraft]

At the request of those of us who played the DITA event in 2016, a seminar was given for the orchestra members on Saturday morning, led by Jeremy Begbie (whose book Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music is one of the finest I’ve ever read about the intersection of music with the Christian faith) and Alan Torrance. I confess that the three hours spent in this seminar were revelatory. Alan’s presentation on God’s covenant relationship with His people – especially his unpacking of Hebrew words and how they, over time, were poorly translated into Latin and then to English, something that has had an important effect on our understanding of God’s covenant-– and Jeremy’s discussion on the Holy Trinity have given me much to think about and meditate on. God was at work at Duke Divinity School last week and I left there refreshed and challenged.

Three trips in just a few weeks (and another, much longer trip in the middle of these trips about which I will write soon), back and forth over our great country, from sea to shining sea. Music, friends, and faith.

Trust. Risk. Reward.

Trust. Risk. Reward.

Gerry Pagano and I met in the summer of 1987, when I was Bass Trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and he was a Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center.  As Bass Trombonist of the Saint Louis Symphony since 1995 , he is a superb player and a quality person, and over the years, we’ve kept in contact and we’ve followed each other’s careers, although we didn’t have an opportunity to meet up again until 2014. At that time, Gerry came to Arizona to collaborate on a recording project with his friend, jazz trombonist – jazz alto trombonist, actually – Mike Lake, on an album that became Roads Less Traveled. Since he was going to be in the area, I invited Gerry to come to Arizona State University to give a masterclass – I was, at that time, ASU’s Trombone Professor. To start off the class, Gerry and I performed Tommy Pederson’s duet, The Crimson Collop, and later that day, returned to my office, made a video recording of that piece, and posted it on YouTube. It’s received over 21,000 views.

Such was the seed that led Gerry and me to come together earlier in this month to record a new album of duets for bass trombone. In light of the popularity of our The Crimson Collop video, we thought it might be fun to record all of the bass trombone duets written by Tommy Pederson. But as we continued talking about it, we decided a more diverse selection of repertoire might be more interesting; we then both started bringing other repertoire ideas to the table. Plenty of Pederson, of course, but also Renaissance duets, a canon by Telemann and some Bartok violin duets. Gerry suggested a movement from Bach’s Concerto for two violins in d minor, a piece I hadn’t played since I was an undergraduate at Wheaton College in the early 70s. But we needed more music.

It was at that point that Gerry began talking more about Mike Lake. Early in our conversations, Gerry suggested Mike as our recording engineer since Mike has a studio in Arizona. While I knew of Mike, I couldn’t say that I knew him, but I was happy to take Gerry’s suggestion to involve Mike in the project; we did, after all, need a recording engineer and if Gerry had already worked with Mike – in fact, they have known each other for many decades, having been roommates for a time – that was fine with me. As our conversations continued, Gerry began proposing more involvement for Mike, such as the possibility that Mike might play trombone on something on the album. Gerry also also talked about how Mike could “add things” to some tracks. I honestly didn’t know where this was going. Having made many solo recordings myself over the years, I had a very clear idea of the kinds of things I wanted this new album to be about, and I was used to being the one who put forth ideas and called the shots. What Gerry was proposing was uncharted territory for me. Gerry was asking me to trust him and Mike, and take some risks as ideas kept flowing.

And, so, I offered trust and embraced the risk. Then began new conversations of ideas from Mike. Overdubbing ourselves on some pieces, adding different sounds as background in some cases, both musical and non-musical textures and treatments. Acoustic, recorded, and computer generated things. Percussion, voices, Hammond organ, sound effects, synthesizer, harpsichord. Mike offered to compose a piece for Gerry and me, one that would feature him improvising for a chorus, and he asked if I also could improvise – on  serpent – on his tune. Things were moving at the speed of light and I felt caught up in a tsunami – a constant, relentless push – of ideas. Having given Mike my trust, I went with it to see what would happen.

Trust can lead to risk, and risk can bring unexpected rewards. And that is where I stand today. After three days of recording sessions – days that included filming a music video in the Sonoran Desert about this project with the help of Mike’s drone – we are in the process of evaluating Mike’s editing of the tracks and seeing where things lead. Last night, Mike sent along the first edit of Tommy Pederson’s duet, Rumble on 6th Street. It’s a dramatic piece that always seemed to me to be about a fight, like the rumble in Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. Prelude, call to arms, sizing up of each side with a tentative dance, conflict, pulling back, fighting again, and then finally retreating in ambiguity. Having trusted Mike’s judgment in several other things he had suggested, it was time for me to put an idea on the table: What about putting some street sounds at the beginning of the duet, sounds that would bring the listener in with anticipation to Gerry’s and my playing of the duet? Knowing Tommy Pederson (1920-1998) as I did from our many phone conversations and letters, I thought that if Tommy was alive, he would embrace something outside the box like this. I pitched the idea to Mike and he ran. He ran fast. His creativity exploded, and yesterday, he sent us the first edit of his enhanced track to Tommy’s great duet.

I was stunned by what I heard. Mike found some recordings of urban street sounds. He put them together: shouting, cars, sirens, frenzied screams, trucks. The sound of thunder, a man yelling, “Put that down! Put that down!” A faint, musical drone of voices emerged as Gerry and I began to play. And then the most shocking thing. As the duet ended, I became aware once again of the intensity of the street sound. Then, suddenly, more thunder and, finally a heavy rain, before everything faded away with a final sound of a police siren. It was shocking. It was like the rain came to wash everything away. Did the rumble happen? Did the police get there? Who won? Did we even play? Blood was washed away, footprints disappeared. Evidence was gone. Tommy’s ambiguous final cadence gave way to the strong, cleansing rain.

In this version of our recording of Rumble on 6th Street, which you can hear by clicking the play button above, Gerry is playing the top part (left channel) and I am playing the bottom part (right channel).

Trust. Risk. Reward. This is something I have been learning in a new way as I’ve been dealing in very close, intense ways with Mike’s creativity. Yes, he’s an excellent  recording engineer. Yes, he is a superb jazz trombonist (you will hear his improvisation skills on his own composition for our album, Devils and Angels). He’s also a great guy to talk with and be around. But there are not words in any language I know to describe what goes on in his mind as he thinks through ideas that bring new, different, interesting, challenging, provocative, or unusual things to a project for which I already thought I had the last musical word. When our album is released – its provisional title is Fratres, Latin for “brothers,” taken from the piece of that name by Arvo Pärt that we recorded – it will be something the likes of which the trombone world has never, ever heard. We are making a new kind of album for this unique moment in time, a recording with many new and unexpected kinds of things. Because of Mike, it is something very different than my mind originally conceived. Once I decided to offer trust and take risks, I then began to be rewarded in ways I had not been able to imagine. And I have a very fertile imagination.

We’re not done with this. There is much more work ahead before the album is released. But as each day brings new things to consider, evaluate, change, improve, and approve, my excitement is building for what Gerry, Mike, and I are doing together. Hold on. We’re all on a wild ride and there’s no net below. But I know my brothers – Gerry and Mike – are with me in this and we are there for each other, encouraging, provoking, and experimenting. Thanks to Mike Lake, each day dawns with new things on the plate, and this is turning out to be a very satisfying meal. We look forward to sharing it with you.

[This article originally appeared in a slightly modified format on September 1, 2017 as a guest article on Mike Lake’s Blog, altobone.com; it may be seen by clicking here.]