Author: Douglas Yeo

Reflections on a year: COVID-19 and more

Reflections on a year: COVID-19 and more

The coronavirus pandemic has upended everything. Everything. Everyone has a story. It is true that “we are all in this together”—it effects everyone. But it is not true that “we are all in the same boat.” Some boats are doing better than others. Some are sinking. Some have sunk. The virus is real and it’s bad. In the words of a good friend of mine who is a Dean at a major medical school and research hospital in New York City, “this virus is scary and sneaky.” Yes, it is.

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The COVID-19 dashboard at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, February 4, 2021.

We in our extended family consider ourselves very fortunate: none of us has contracted COVID-19. We are all exceptionally cautious. We wear masks and take other protective measures. But over the last couple of weeks, I’ve received email messages from a number of friends who have noticed that I haven’t posted anything on The Last Trombone since October. “Are you OK?”, they’ve asked.  I appreciate the concern, and it’s a reminder how we all are on edge, uncertain what lack of contact with someone might mean. I’m well—thank you for asking!—but as I have been reflecting on a number of things, I find it remarkable that in a season of life where I have done almost no traveling and I have been at home since mid-March, 2020, I am so busy in so many ways.

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It has been nearly a year since the coronavirus has been part of our every day vocabulary. On February 2, 2020, my son-in-law, Chad, and I went to Super Bowl LIV in Miami. I won a contest sponsored by the Chicago Bears (you can read about how I won the contest HERE and our experience at Super Bowl LIV HERE) and we had an amazing trip. Chad and I were in the midst of 65,000 other fans. We gave high-fives and hugs to total strangers, stood in crowed lines for food and to use the rest room, we screamed our lungs out during the game, we flew on planes, traveled on buses, and we did this without even thinking. We didn’t know that in a few weeks, that would all change.

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Megumi Kanda and Douglas Yeo in recital in St. Louis, February 16, 2020.

A few days  later, I was in St. Louis, playing a recital and giving a masterclass along with my good friend, Megumi Kanda who is principal trombonist of the Milwaukee Symphony.  The recital was sponsored by the St. Louis Low Brass Collective. In addition to my trombone activities, I went up the St. Louis Arch in a small elevator that seated seven people, all jammed in like sardines. I didn’t even think twice about doing it.

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The elevators at the St. Louis Arch, February 15, 2020.

Coronavirus? It was “one of those viruses” we hear about from time to time that affected people in lands far away. It had no impact on us. Yet.

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Sloan Park, spring training home of the Chicago Cubs. March 12, 2012.

Then in March, we went to Arizona for a week. Our plan was to go to some Chicago Cubs spring training games, do some hiking, enjoy restaurants, and all of the nice things you do on vacation. On March 12, we arrived at the Cubs spring training facility, Sloan Park, ready to watch a game. We found that the gates were locked and the scoreboard said that the game had been cancelled due to weather. But it wasn’t raining, and the forecast was for sun as the clouds were moving away. Nobody at the ballpark gave us more information. We went to have lunch at Portillos to assuage our disappointment and then went hiking. When we got back to our rented house, we heard that all Major League Baseball games had been cancelled. Coronavirus became real.

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Wheaton College’s COVID-19 dashboard, February 5, 2021. Students start returning to campus tomorrow for the spring semester under strict virus mitigation protocols. The entire student body will be tested for COVID-19 when students arrive on campus this weekend and they will all be tested regularly throughout the semester.

Later that day, I received an email from the President of Wheaton College. I am Wheaton College’s trombone professor and I was anticipating getting back to teaching when we got home from our spring break vacation. But our President said that spring break was being extended for another week and that all faculty needed to get prepared for several days of training: Wheaton College was going to a combination of remote and greatly modified in-person learning. Everything was changing.

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We all know the kinds of things that happened after that. No in-person concerts or theater performances, restaurants and movie theaters were closed, church doors were shuttered, life moved from personal engagement to a computer screen. We all learned that Zoom was not just a word little kids say when they’re pretending to pilot a rocket ship to Mars. Trombone lessons with Zoom and Cleanfeed. Recitals without an audience. Symphony orchestras making mashed up videos with players recording in their living rooms. Cancel. Cancel. Cancel. Masks. Social distancing. Hand sanitizer. Wash your hands. Wash your hands again. CAN’T TOUCH THIS!

So, here we are, nearly a year later. Nobody saw this coming, nobody imagined it would last this long. But we are starting to see hopeful signs for deliverance from the pandemic. Vaccines are now being distributed. I had my first jab of the Moderna vaccine yesterday morning—it was a truly joyful, emotional experience, the fruition of something I had been praying for over many months. We continue to pray that the rest of our family will receive the vaccine soon. So much will change for the better when that happens.

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The first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine I received yesterday, February 4, 2021, at Central DuPage Hospital.

We are hopeful that with continued vigilance in following guidance on protective measures (wear your mask—keep apart from others—wash your hands—get the vaccine), we will slowly come out of this long tunnel. And when we do, and when we go to the first sporting event, the first church service, the first concert, play, or musical, the first restaurant after not doing those things for over a year, we will have a new sense of appreciation for all of those things that we always seemed to take for granted. That is one of the important lessons we have learned over these long months.

Still, the pandemic has provided us with opportunities to do other things. Like everyone else, I had to cancel a host of performing and teaching trips over the last year. Soloing at a brass band festival in Seattle. Cancelled. Playing with the Finnish National Radio Orchestra in concerts in Finland and Japan. Cancelled. Teaching at Gene Pokorny’s low brass seminar, at Interlochen Arts Academy, at the Wheaton College summer music camp, at the Csehy summer school of music. All cancelled. Planned vacations to Glacier National Park, Zion National Park, to Arizona. All cancelled. You’ve had things cancelled, too.

But we’ve spent more time with our grandkids, took more walks in forest preserves when the weather was good, and we go sledding down a four foot high berm next to our home (we don’t do “mountains” here in the Chicago area)—the most exhilarating five second ride on a sled that our grandkids have ever had. And in the midst of the storm, and without traveling regularly, that’s freed up time to do a lot of other things. No, I would not have chosen to be at home day after day. But that’s what we have. So I’ve been busy. Here’s some of what I’ve been doing lately.

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  • I wrote an article about my friend, Megumi Kanda, for the International Trombone Association Journal. that published in January of this year. Megumi was the 2020 recipient of the ITA’s highest honor, the ITA Award. Click HERE to read the article.

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Part of my teaching workstation at my home.

  • I’ve continued teaching my students at Wheaton College each week, both weekly lessons and trombone studio class. And, last semester, trombone literature class. Due to the pandemic, all wind, brass, and voice lessons are done online. I set up a new work station in our basement where I do all of my online remotely. We all know the limitations of Zoom and Cleanfeed, but we’re grateful that the technology allows us to continue to work together and make good progress. We all look forward to the day when we can sit side by side and play duets together once again. Everything just takes so much more time when it’s done virtually. For instance: If a student has a noisy F-attachment valve linkage, at an ordinary in-person lesson, I can say, “OK, hand me your horn,” and in a few minutes, I can usually solve the problem. But now, I have to hold my trombone up to the camera and try to help the student run through a number of diagnostic steps so I can identify the problem. “OK, put your thumb on top of the ball joint—no, the ball joint, not the stop rod arm—then with the other hand, move the F-attachment paddle. Where is that clicking sound coming from? No, I don’t think it’s from THERE— I see the movement in the linkage THERE. . .” And so on. But I salute my students who are dealing with so much as they are in school, both remotely and on campus with very strict virus mitigation protocols. Wear your mask and get the vaccine. Help students and teachers everywhere return to 100% in-person learning as soon as possible.

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Advertisement for Henry Fillmore’s The Trombone Family, c. 1920.

  • In June, I wrote two articles about Henry Fillmore’s iconic collection of trombone ragtime pieces, The Trombone Family, which includes Lassus Trombone. You can read those articles HERE and HERE. To say the articles aroused a lot of interest is a profound understatement. In the first two days after posting my articles, over 100,000 people read them on The Last Trombone. A vigorous discussion about music, race, and racism ensued. Since then, I’ve answered hundreds of emails from people who have written to  me about the subject, my articles have been reprinted in several journals and newsletters, and I have been asked to speak about the subject before several groups. This engagement continues, and a day doesn’t go by when I am not engaging with people about this important issue. This takes a lot of time. A LOT of time. But it matters.

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  • I wrote a long article about the Mozart Requiem Tuba mirum that will be published in the International Trombone Association Journal sometime next year.

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  • I wrote a commentary and glossary to accompany the republication (in the International Trombone Association Journal) of a short story, The Story of A Trombone, that was first published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1875. It may have been the first short story ever written about the trombone. This will publish in the ITA Journal later this year.

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  • I continued working on my eight part series of articles about the piece for tuba, narrator, and orchestra, Tubby the Tuba. The articles have been published in the International Tuba Euphonium Association Journal through all of 2020 and 2021.

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  • My Boston Symphony Orchestra colleague Ronald Barron (retired principal trombonists) and I have just finished making an edition of Sliding and Stringing Along, a duet for tenor trombone or bass trombone and violin by the late Charlie Small. This was one the last pieces Charlie wrote before his death in 2017 and he had given both Ron and me handwritten copies of the piece. Trombone players know Charlie Small for his superb playing and also for his fantastic duet for tenor and bass trombone, Conversation. Ron premiered Sliding and Stringing Along in 2015 and he and I put our heads together to sort out Charlie’s many manuscripts. It will be published by Ensemble Publications later this year.

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The cover to Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry, by Kevin Mungons and Douglas Yeo.

  • For the last six years, my friend, Kevin Mungons, and I have been working together on a book about the trombone-playing song leader for evangelist Billy Sunday, Homer Rodeheaver. I had previously published an article about Rodeheaver in the Historic Brass Society Journal (to read the article, click HERE), and it’s been a real joy to work with Kevin to write the first full length biography of Rodeheaver. We completed the manuscript—the book is titled Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry—last year, it then went out for peer review, we then engaged in a rewrite, and the book went through various editorial processes with our publisher, University of Illinois Press. We have just finished working through proofing the page proofs and the last thing for us to do before publication of the book this spring is to write the index. The pandemic has provided time for extended work on the book  and we are now in the home stretch. For advance information about the book on the University of Illinois Press website, click HERE.

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Illustration of a buccin (dragon bell trombone) by Lennie Peterson, for my new book, An Illustrated Dictionary for the Modern Trombone, Euphonium, and Tuba Player (Rowman & Littlefield).

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Another side of Lennie Peterson’s artistic persona, a cartoon from his syndicated comic strip, The Big Picture.

  • For the last five years, I have been working on another book, An Illustrated Dictionary for the Modern Trombone, Euphonium, and Tuba Player. Since being contracted to write the book by Rowman & Littlefield, I’ve been at work putting it together. Last month, I finished my manuscript—over 650 entries about instruments, individuals, composers, manufacturers, and parts of low brass instruments—and submitted it to my publisher. It has now been sent out for peer review and once those comments come back later this month, I’ll engage in a rewrite and the other editorial processes. Hopefully the book will then head toward being published, sometime in late 2021 or early 2022. One of the great joys of working on this book has been working with my illustrator, Lennie Peterson. A sample of his work for the Dictionary is above. Lennie (who is a successful trombonist in addition to his other artistic pursuits) is well known to trombonists for his famous cartoon about trombone players and their band director, Mr. Kaplin (above). Lennie is the rare artist who is expert in a host of styles and I am very happy that we have been partners in putting this book together.

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John Kuhn, a member of John Philip Sousa’s Band, at the 1915 San Francisco Panama-American Exhibition.

  • I’ve started researching the legendary Sousaphone player, John Kuhn, and I hope to publish a major article about him in the International Tuba Euphonium Association Journal sometime in 2022. Kuhn is a fascinating subject and as I was researching him for an entry in my Dictionary, I realized that a lot of the information that is known about him is in need of an adjustment. I find this all the time: historical figures have stories associated with them that are “too good not to be true,” but when one actually digs deep to find the root of the story, the narrative needs to be changed. Here’s a photo of Kuhn playing with a massed band (including John Philip Sousa’s band, of which Kuhn was a member) at the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition; that’s him looking over his shoulder at the camera. Stay tuned for more about this member of the Sioux nation who was a true force on the Sousaphone for much of the twentieth century.

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Our family’s 2020 annual Christmas ornament.

  • Every year since we were married 45 years ago, my wife and I have made an ornament for our Christmas tree that reflects some of what our family did in the last year. It’s a nice time capsule that allows us to remember things we might have otherwise forgotten, and to celebrate some of our family’s milestones. It was challenging to find things to put on the 2020 ornament. Here’s what we came up with. A pin from Super Bowl LIV when the world seemed normal, a pin from 2020 baseball spring training when the world changed, and a NO COVID pin. That seemed to summarize the year.

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Sign in the lobby of Central DuPage Hospital, Winfield, Illinois, February 4, 2021.

  • As mentioned above, I received my first COVID-19 vaccination yesterday, with another dose coming in a few weeks. And, straight up, I want to say that I had no side effects apart from a slightly sore arm yesterday, no more than what I experience every year when I get a flu shot. By saying that I received the vaccine, I guess I’m giving away my age since here in Illinois, the vaccine is only available at this time to front line essential workers like doctors, nurses, and emergency personnel, teachers, and individuals over 65 years old (and I’m not a front line worker). My son-in-law, Chad, who is a hospice chaplain who is in contact with people all day long in homes and care facilities, has had both of his vaccination doses over the last few weeks. My getting it yesterday means 25% of our immediate family has been vaccinated, and we see this as tangible progress toward all of us getting vaccinated—a key element to returning to a more normal life. I received my vaccine at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois—part of the Northwestern Medicine health network—and I was so impressed by the efficiency of their distribution system and the care of its staff. The process went smoothly from start to finish, and I want to add my voice of thanks to all those who have been working so hard to help get the vaccine into people’s arms, and to those who have been caring for those who have contracted the coronavirus. We all know that this virus is bad—really bad—and we rejoice that deliverance from the pandemic seems to be in reach thanks to the vaccines. Thank you, God. In a world that is upside down, during a time where so many people have lost so much, it’s comforting to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. And we’ll get there sooner if everyone follows health care directives including wearing a mask, maintaining appropriate distance from one another, and getting the vaccine. It matters.

So, that’s some of what’s been keeping me busy over the last year. Thanks to those who reached out and expressed concern, who wondered why I haven’t been posting more often on my blog. I’ll try to get to it more regularly. I’ve just been busy—like you’ve probably been busy, too.

[Header image: The daily United States coronavirus map from The New York Times, February 5, 2021.]

Joannés Rochut, the Boston Symphony, and his trombone

Joannés Rochut, the Boston Symphony, and his trombone

When we look at the long history of the trombone, many notable trombonists come to mind. It’s not possible to say who was the most famous. A case can be made for Arthur Pryor, the celebrated trombone soloist in John Philip Sousa’s band and his own band, who made many recordings, and dazzled audiences around the world. While his name is not so well known today, Homer Rodeheaver, the trombone-playing song leader for evangelist Billy Sunday in the first third of the twentieth century, played trombone for over 100 million people during his lifetime, although his trombone playing skills paled next to the great soloists of his time including Pryor, Simone Mantia, and Gardell Simons.

However, there is one trombonist whose name is known to trombonists all over, although most are probably not aware of many details of his life. But this we know: Joannés Rochut (1881-1952) edited three volumes of vocalises, what he called Melodious Etudes, from the works of Marco Bordogni. These books, published in 1928 by Carl Fischer (New York), have become a standard part of trombone teaching and practicing since they were first issued. For sheer name recognition, it would be hard to argue that Rochut is not one of the most famous trombonists of all time. His contribution to trombone pedagogy is incalculable. What trombonist does not have a copy of at least Volume 1 of “The Rochut Book” (even though there is not a note by Rochut in the books)? [NB: I wrote an article about exercise No. 1 in Volume 1 of Rochut’s Melodious Etudes, an etude that does not appear in Bordogni’s oeuvre and which some people have postulated was written by Rochut himself. It was not. You can read that article HERE.] 

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Cover of the first edition of Joannés Rochut’s Melodious Etudes for Trombone Selected from the Vocalises of Marco Bordogni (New York: Carl Fischer, 1928)

This article is a brief introduction to Joannés Rochut with a special emphasis on one of the trombones he played. I intend to write a more in-depth article about Rochut for the International Trombone Association Journal, drawing from my own research and the extensive archive of Rochut related materials collected and recently given to me by my friend, David Fetter (long time trombonist with the Cleveland Orchestra and Baltimore Symphony; we were colleagues together when I played in the Baltimore Symphony from 1981-1985).

Born in Paris, Rochut’s father died when he was seven years old and he was placed in an orphanage where he learned to play the trombone. After volunteering for the French military when he was eighteen—he served as a bandsman for three years—Joannés Rochut enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire in 1902 where he studied trombone with Louis Allard (1852-1940).

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Announcement of brass instrument prize winners in the 1905 Paris Conservatoire Concours. Rochut received Premier prix (first prize) in the trombone class; his name appears near the bottom of the clipping. Le Temps, Paris, July 30, 1905.

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Sigismond Stojowski, Fantasie (incipit). 1905.

Joannés Rochut won second prize at the Conservatoire in 1903, playing Bernard Croce-Spinelli’s Solo de concours (that contest was won by Eugene Adam, whose name we shall see again later in this article), and second prize again in 1904, playing Morceau de concours of Edmond J. Missa. Rochut graduated from the Conservatoire in 1905 with first prize in its annual Concours; the required solo was Zygmunt Denis Antoni Jordan “Sigismond” de Stojowski’s Fantasie. [NB: Stojowski was born in Strzelce, Poland, in 1870. He entered the Paris Conservatoire at age 17 and also studied at Sorbonne University. He was a friend of Peter Tchaikovsky (Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 was dedicated to Stojowski), and Stojowski came to the United States in 1905 where he wrote his Fantasie for trombone. For a more detailed biography of Stojowski, see: Paul Krzywicki, From Paderewski to Penderecki: The Polish Musician in Philadelphia (Paul Krzywicki, 2016).] 

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Holton Trombone catalog, c. 1920. Endorsements by Joannes Rochut and Fortunato Sordillo.

While a member of the Orchestre de la Garde républicaine (French Republican Guard Band) during World War I, Rochut toured the United States in 1918; the band played concerts in 208 cities in 37 states. It was probably at that time that Rochut tried and later endorsed Holton trombones (Rochut’s Holton endorsement is pictured above) but there is no record of Rochut taking a Holton trombone back to Paris.

Following his service in the Republican Guard Band, Rochut performed with numerous orchestras in France including the Société des Nouveaux-Concerts (Orchestre Lamoureux) and l’Opera Comique (Paris); among his many students at that time was Andre Lafosse (1890-1975), who later served as professor of trombone at the Paris Conservatoire (1948-1960). Rochut also helped organize the first of the Concerts Koussevitzky (1921, Paris) which were instrumental in establishing the reputation of Russian conductor Serge Koussevitzky (1897-1951). Koussevitzky was appointed music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1924, and in October 1925, he engaged Rochut as the orchestra’s principal trombonist, a position he held for five seasons. Rochut joined the faculty of New England Conservatory of Music in 1926; among his students in Boston was John Coffey (bass trombonist of the Cleveland Orchestra 1937-1941, and bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony, 1941-1952).

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Photo of Joannés Rochut in Paris with his children, part of an article in the Boston Sunday Post, October 11, 1925. The photo inset on top right shows Ferdinand Gillet, who was hired as the Boston Symphony’s principal oboist at the same time Rochut was hired as principal trombonist. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Archives.

Rochut was one of 14 French musicians to join the Boston Symphony in the fall of 1925; he played principal trombone in the BSO through the 1929-1930 season. The addition of Jacob Raichman to the trombone section in 1927—Koussevitzky knew Raichman in Russia where Raichman played alongside Vladislav Blazhevich in the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra in Moscow before leaving for Cuba and then the United States—probably hastened Rochut’s departure from Boston. The Frenchman and the Russian famously did not get along well, and when Rochut returned to France in 1930, Raichman, who had been named co-principal trombone around 1928, assumed the principal trombone position in the BSO. In 1955, Raichman was succeeded as principal trombone by William Gibson who was succeeded by Ronald Barron in 1975 who was succeeded by Toby Oft in 2008.

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“New Symphony Virtuosos,” Boston Post, October 6, 1925. Joannés Rochut (third from left) is pictured with three other newly hired principal players of the Boston Symphony Orchestra: Edmond Allegra, principal clarinet, Ferdinand Gillet, principal oboe, and Jean Lefranc, principal viola. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

The earliest known photo of Joannés Rochut as a member of the Boston Symphony was printed in in the Boston Post on October 6, 1925 (above).

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Boston Symphony Orchestra brass section, 1925. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

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Later in 1925, the Boston Symphony brass section posed for a group photo (above). Rochut is standing in the center; the other trombone players are (back row, left to right) Leroy Kenfield (bass trombone), Eugene Adam (assistant principal trombone), and Lucien Hansotte (second trombone). The tubist, far right, is Paul Sidow. Seated in front of Rochut is Georg Wendler, principal horn (Wendler was the son-in-law of Eduard Kruspe, the celebrated German maker of brass instruments); in front of Hansotte is George Mager, principal trumpet. Mager, who also taught at New England Conservatory of Music, was the teacher of Adolph Herseth (1921-2013), who played principal trumpet in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1948 to 2001.

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This grainy photo, above, from an undated newspaper clipping from a Boston Symphony press scrapbook, probably dates from 1925-1926. Back row (left to right): Joannés Rochut, Eugene Adam (assistant principal trombone), Lucien Hansotte (second trombone), Leroy Kenfield (bass trombone), Paul Sidow (tuba).

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[Above] Boston Symphony Orchestra, performance of Beethoven Symphony No. 9, Serge Koussevitzky, conductor. March 29, 1927. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

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This photo of Rochut on stage in Boston’s Symphony Hall (above) was taken at the time of a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in 1927. The Boston Symphony’s trombone section for that performance consisted of (above, left to right) Rochut, Lucian Hansotte (second trombone), and Leroy Kenfield (bass trombone). 

 

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[Above] Members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1928. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

At the beginning of the 1928-1929 season, the members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra sat for individual photos that were collected into a collage. When Jacob Raichman joined the orchestra in 1927, the trombone section expanded to five players. Shown in the photo are (left to right), Rochut, Lucien Hansotte (second trombone), Leroy Kenfield (bass trombone), Jacob Raichman (co-principal trombone), and Eugene Adam (assistant principal trombone).

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[Above] Arthur Fiedler (standing, center) with the Arthur Fiedler Sinfonietta (Boston Sinfonietta), c. 1929. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Archives.

Fiedler_Sinfonietta_Rochut_1929_detailMembers of the Arthur Fiedler Sinfonietta. Back row (left to right): Abdon Laus, principal bassoon, Joannés Rochut, Marcel LaFosse, trumpet, Georges Mager, principal trumpet.

Conductor Arthur Fielder (1894-1979) is well-known for his long tenure as the conductor of the Boston Pops from 1930 to 1979. But what is lesser known is that before he achieved fame with the Pops, he founded the Boston Sinfonietta—also known as the Arthur Fiedler Sinfonietta—in 1924. The orchestra was made up mostly of Boston Symphony players and it played concerts and made recordings for RCA Victor. Rochut played in Fiedler’s Sinfonietta along with many other Boston Symphony principal players including Georges Mager.

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[Above] Boston Symphony Orchestra (Boston Pops Orchestra) on the Charles River Esplanade, July 4, 1929. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

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[Above] Members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Boston Pops Orchestra). Back row (left to right): Joannés Rochut, Jacob Raichman (playing second trombone), Leroy Kenfield (bass trombone).

On July 4, 1929, the Boston Pops played a concert on the Charles River Esplanade in Boston. A temporary shell had been constructed for the concert and Rochut, Raichman, and Kenfield played trombone. [NB: A second temporary bandshell was built in 1934, and a permanent structure was built in 1940.  The Edward A. Hatch Memorial Shell—Bostonians refer to it as “The Hatch Shell”—underwent a major renovation in 2018.]

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When Joannés Rochut joined the Boston Symphony, he brought with him two trombones by the Parisian maker Lefevre. Founded in 1812 by François Lefevre, the workshop was particularly known for its woodwind instruments. Extant trombones by Lefevre are few, and the shop went out of business by 1911. Rochut’s Lefevre trombones are both narrow bore (.455″). The straight trombone has a six-inch diameter bell, and the trombone with a piston valve activated  F-attachment (which also has a Stillventil or static rotary valve that can be turned by hand to put the attachment in E) has a 6 1/2 inch diameter bell. 

When Rochut left Boston to return to Paris in 1930, he left his Lefevre trombones behind in Symphony Hall. In the 1970s, they were discovered in a storeroom and put up for auction by the BSO as part of a fundraising program, “Salute to Symphony.” The trombones sold at auction but the buyer did not want to take them. William Moyer, the orchestra’s personnel manager who had played second trombone in the BSO from 1952-1966, took the trombones home for safekeeping. When I joined the BSO in 1985 and told Bill Moyer of my interest in knowing more about Rochut, he gave me the trombones. 

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I never considered Rochut’s trombones to be “mine.” I always felt they had been entrusted to me to care for them. They are a part of the Boston Symphony’s history, priceless artificats from one of the most important trombonists to have ever played the instrument. When Toby Oft received tenure as principal trombonist of the Boston Symphony in July 2009, I decided to entrust Rochut’s straight trombone to him. Then, when Steve Lange received tenure as second trombonist of the Boston Symphony in 2011, I entrusted the F-attachment trombone to him. I had small plaques made that I put in the case for each instrument that documented the exchange. Toby and Steve both understood that the instruments were not “theirs,” rather, they were to care for them until they left the BSO at which time they would entrust the instruments to their successors. In this, Rochut’s trombones will always be in the care of Boston Symphony trombonists.

Rochut played his Lefevre trombone in Paris before he came to Boston and during his years he was a member of the BSO; it can be seen in photos throughout this article. Rochut used a Besson trombone for a time in 1927-28 but returned to his Lefevre. Then, on November 22, 1929, Rochut purchased one of the first trombones made by Vincent Bach, serial number 0023 (.514/.525″ dual slide bore, eight-inch diameter bell). How much Rochut used his Bach trombone in Boston and whereabouts of Rochut’s Besson and Bach trombones are not known to me.

Bach shop card Rochut Nr. 23

Vincent Bach’s shop card for trombone serial number 0023, purchased by Joannés Rochut on November 22, 1929. Courtesy of Roy Hempley.

In addition to leaving his Lefevre trombones behind in Boston, Rochut also left his mouthpiece. It is exceptionally small, with a 21.6 mm interior rim diameter. It is funnel shaped, in the style of French trombone mouthpieces of the time. A comparison of Rochut’s mouthpiece that he used with his Lefevre trombone with a Bach 6 1/2 AL graphically shows how small Rochut’s mouthpiece actually was. 

Rochut_trombone_mouthpieceMouthpiece (left) used by Joannés Rochut with his Lefevre trombone, compared with a Bach 6 1/2 AL mouthpiece (right). Photo by Mike Oft.

I recently asked Toby Oft to take some photographs of Rochut’s Lefevre trombone as well as some photos that would show the difference in size between the Lefevre and Toby’s Edwards trombone. I want to thank Toby for taking these superb photos which are not only informative, but display the trombones as works of art, which they are.

Rochut_Trombone_©Toby_Oft

Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft. Note the siphon valve on the bottom bow of the hand slide. Pressing the bottom of the hand slide to the floor activates a spring and allows condensation to drain  out.

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The bell engraving of Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft.

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Comparison of Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone with Toby Oft’s Edwards trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft.

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Comparison of Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone with Toby Oft’s Edwards trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft.

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Comparison of Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone with Toby Oft’s Edwards trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft.

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Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft.

There is much more to the story of the life and work of Joannés Rochut. That will unfold in my article in progress for the International Trombone Association Journal. His is a name that trombonists around the world have known for nearly a century. My hope is that this article has added to our understanding about Rochut, his Lefevre trombone, and his years as principal trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. 

[Special thanks to the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives, Bridget Carr, Archivist, and Toby and Mike Oft for their photos.]

Two orchestras, 31 years, 11 colleagues

Two orchestras, 31 years, 11 colleagues

I’ve written many articles for many journals and magazines, but I’ve written the most for the International Trombone Association Journal. I joined the Association in 1973 during its first year of existence—the ITA was incorporated in September, 1972—while I was still in high school. I honestly don’t recall how many articles I’ve written for the ITA Journal; dozens, for sure, as well as many reviews. These articles have included tributes to great players and teachers (click on the links highlighted below and you can read the articles) including Edward Kleinhammer (bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony, 1940-1985, and my teacher during my years as a student at Wheaton College, Illinois), Keith Brown (long time trombone teacher at Indiana University, former member of the Philadelphia and Metropolitan Opera Orchestras, and my teacher during my freshman year when I was at IU), and Russell “Big Chief” Moore (an outstanding Native American jazz trombonist who played with Louis Armstrong’s “All Stars” and many other great jazz artists). Other articles have been historical in nature, such as my photo essay about trombone players in the Boston Symphony from 1887-1986, and my article about the history of the double-valve bass trombone. I’ve also done interviews with well known players such as bass trombonists David Taylor and Denson Paul Pollard.

There have also been occasions when I’ve been interviewed for articles that others have written. A few weeks ago, my friend, Megumi Kanda, principal trombonist of the Milwaukee Symphony who, along with Matt Walley, edits the ITA Journal’s Orchestral Sectional column, asked if I would join with four other low brass players in answering some questions about what it is like to work day in and day out in a symphony orchestra low brass section. Megumi asked some good questions that got me thinking about the colleagues with whom I’ve worked over the years. At this season of life, looking back at those relationships and friendships and collaborations brings back a lot of memories of the times we shared together. After I hit “send” and the answers to Megumi’s questions were on the way to her (I don’t know when they will be published in the ITA Journal but I expect it will be sometime in 2021), I decided to write this article, a tribute to the players with whom I spent so much time making music over the years.  While I no longer play full time in a major symphony orchestra—something I did for over 31 years in two orchestras—I continue to enjoy envigorating  artistic collaborations with many people. I’m not done yet! But working with these eleven players in two orchestras changed and shaped me and helped bring me to where I am today. 

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (1981-1985)

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Baltimore Symphony Orchestra trombone section, Harborplace, Baltimore, summer 1981. Left to right: James Olin, co-principal trombone; David Fetter, co-principal trombone; Eric Carlson, second trombone; Douglas Yeo, bass trombone. 

I joined the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in May, 1981, after two years as the band director at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Edison, New Jersey. When I joined the BSO—as it was and is still called, although a few years later, I would join another BSO, the Boston Symphony Orchestra—the low brass section consisted of David Fetter and James Olin, co-principal trombone, Eric Carlson, second trombone, and Daniel Brown, tuba. Dan left at the end of my second season and David Fedderly come on as our tubist. While just a few weeks after I joined the orchestra we were locked out in a labor dispute with the orchestra’s management—we settled our contract in January 1982; that was a very long lockout—I enjoyed a very special four years in Baltimore. David Fetter was a name I knew well from his many arrangements with Ensemble Publications. Before coming to Baltimore, he had been assistant principal trombonist in the Cleveland Orchestra. Jim Olin and I were the same age, and he had studied with Frank Crisafulli at Northwestern University at the same time I was studying with Edward Kleinhammer. Eric Carlson and I had been classmates at Wheaton College together where we played together in the orchestra, band, and a trombone quartet. When I graduated from Wheaton in 1976, Eric went on to play second trombone with the North Carolina Symphony. He joined the Baltimore Symphony in 1980 and a year later, I was sitting next to him again.

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Overture Magazine (program of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra), October 23-November 12, 1982. Clockwise from top: Phillip Kolker, principal bassoon; W. Daniel Brown, tuba; Paula Sisson Francis, first violin, Douglas Yeo, bass trombone.

It was in Baltimore that I made my first recording with a symphony orchestra (the Concerto for the Left Hand of Maurice Ravel, with Leon Fleischer, piano soloist); it was where I first played a solo in front of a symphony orchestra (Patrick McCarty’s Sonata); and our second daughter was born there. During my second season, the orchestra opened its new concert hall, Meyerhoff Hall. Those were four very good years, but in May of my fourth season, after a concert in Carnegie Hall, I left Baltimore and headed up Interstate 95 to join the other BSO – the Boston Symphony Orchestra. And, as an aside, a year later, Eric Carlson left the Baltimore Symphony for the Philadelphia Orchestra from which he has just announced his retirement earlier this month.

Boston Symphony Orchestra (1985-2001)

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Boston Symphony brass section, Tanglewood, summer 1987. From center, left to right: Seiji Ozawa, music director; Ronald Barron, principal trombone; Norman Bolter, second trombone; Douglas Yeo, bass trombone. (Not pictured: Chester Schmitz, tuba)

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Boston Symphony low brass section, Symphony Hall, Boston, 2001. Left to right: Ronald Barron, principal trombone; Norman Bolter, second trombone;  Douglas Yeo, bass trombone; Chester Schmitz, tuba.

I joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra in May 1985, in the middle of that year’s spring Boston Pops season. The Boston Pops Orchestra is drawn from members of the Boston Symphony, so the Pops was just part of my job as bass trombonist of the BSO. I recall that my first service—a concert—was recorded for television broadcast, the PBS show, “Evening at Pops.” I had no rehearsal. Before the concert, I introduced myself to the conductor of the Boston Pops, John Williams, and within the first minute of talking he asked me, “Have you heard from Spanky?” I right away knew who he was taking about. He was asking about George Roberts, the great Los Angeles based bass trombonist, known to generations of players as “Mr. Bass Trombone.” George and I had been friends for a long time and John had worked with George on many of his film sessions.

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George Roberts and Douglas Yeo, International Trombone Festival, Ithaca College, New York, 2004. That was George, always hugging and smiling.

As things were, I had recently talked with George—”Spanky” as John called him—and I could give John a report on how he was doing. But I made a note to myself: Whenever John Williams was coming to Boston for a run of concerts, I always made sure I called George first so I’d have something to pass on to John. And George always ended our conversations with, “And give John a kiss, and tell him I love him.” If you knew George Roberts, you’ll be smiling right now. George always said something like that. He was always about hugging and loving and caring about people. George died in 2014. I miss him.

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Douglas Yeo performing John Williams’ Tuba Concerto, Symphony Hall, Boston, May 24, 1991. Boston Pops Orchestra, John Williams Conductor. Photo by Chester Schmitz.

At that time (1985), principal players of the Boston Symphony didn’t play in the Boston Pops Orchestra. Instead, they formed the Boston Symphony Chamber Players and assistant principal or second players in the BSO moved up to play principal during the Pops season. Norman Bolter, second trombonist of the BSO, played principal in Pops and we had several players work with us over the year to fill the second trombone chair, including Larry Isaacson, Douglas Wright, Darren Acosta, John Faieta, Hans Bohn, Alexi Doohovskoy, and Jim Nova. Oh, wow, we had fun. We made so many recordings with John Williams, and also with Keith Lockhart (and one with Leonard Bernstein), we recorded countless television shows, and we toured Japan twice with John Williams conducting. I performed several concertos with the Boston Pops during my years including the first performances of John Williams’ Tuba Concerto on bass trombone (the piece had been written in 1985 on a commission from the Boston Symphony and it was dedicated to the orchestra’s tuba player, Chester Schmitz), many performances of Chris Brubeck’s Concerto for Bass Trombone conducted by Keith Lockhart, performances of Chris’ second bass trombone concerto, the Prague Concerto, Gerald Steichen, conducting, and also performances of Simon Proctor’s Serpent Concerto with John conducting. Fun times.

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Douglas Yeo (left) after performing Simon Proctor’s Serpent Concerto, Symphony Hall, Boston, May 29, 1997. Boston Pops Orchestra, John Williams, conductor (right) with Simon Proctor (center). 

From 1985 to 2001, our Boston Symphony low brass section was Ronald Barron, principal, Norman Bolter, second, Chester Schmitz, tuba, and me on bass trombone. That’s 17 years we spent together and we did it all. For 17 years, I was the new guy in the section. We recorded all of the Mahler Symphonies with Seiji Ozawa and all of the Brahms Symphonies with Bernard Haitink. And dozens of other recordings of music from Bach to Gubaidulina. We took an international tour during most seasons, traveling across the United States, to South America, all over Europe, the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, and to Japan and Hong Kong many times. Unforgettable experiences. Working together with the same people for so long allowed us to develop understandings among us. After several years, we didn’t have to talk much about how we were going to approach certain pieces; we just knew. I knew exactly how Norman would breath in, say, a Schumann symphony, or when Chester was going to circular breathe in a Bruckner symphony. Ours was a collaboration of understanding. I learned so much from Ron, Norman, and Chester. So much. Little did I imagine that an event in 2001 would set off a chain reaction of change in the BSO low brass section that would take over a decade to settle. 

Boston Symphony Orchestra (2001-2003)

A career in a symphony orchestra is not a straight line.

Following a September 2001 performance of Brahms Symphony No. 2 in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw conducted by Bernard Haitink (just a few days before the 9/11 attacks), Chester Schmitz retired. He had joined the BSO in 1966, fresh out of the United States Army Band (“Pershing’s Own”) in Washington D.C. It was the end of an era for the BSO low brass section. After being together for 17 years, our low brass section was changing. We held two auditions for Chester’s position but did not hire anyone. I know how frustrating it is for people to prepare for and come to an audition and have it end without someone being hired. “They don’t know what they want!” is a familiar cry. But the truth is we DID know what we wanted; we just didn’t hear it at those auditions. We knew that replacing Chester Schmitz was impossible. But Chester was the standard for tuba playing we all had in our mind. From 2001-2003, we had a succession of substitute tuba players that worked alongside Ron, Norman, and me. 

Boston Symphony Orchestra (2003-2008)

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Boston Symphony Low Brass Section, Symphony Hall, Boston, 2007. Left to right: Ronald Barron, principal trombone; Norman Bolter, second trombone; James Levine, music director; Douglas Yeo, bass trombone; Mike Roylance, tuba.

After a third tuba audition, Mike Roylance joined the BSO 2003. He was the first new member of the low brass section in 19 years. Mike arrived during an interim period between two music directors, Seiji Ozawa (1973-2002) and James Levine (2004-2011). Our section was complete once again. But not for long.

Boston Symphony Orchestra (2008-2010)

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Boston Symphony Orchestra Trombone Section, 2008. Left to right: Ronald Barron, principal trombone; Norman Bolter, second trombone; Douglas Yeo; bass trombone.

Ron Barron joined the Boston Symphony in 1970 as second trombonist, and then won the principal trombone position in 1975 upon the retirement of William Gibson. In that same year, 1975, Norman Bolter won the second trombone position that Ron had just vacated. Incredibly, both Norman and Ron decided to retire from the BSO in the same year, 2008. Their final season was bittersweet for me. Suddenly, the trombone section that I had known for the previous 23 years was gone. With two vacancies in the section, the decision was made to hold an audition for a new principal trombonist and after that player received tenure, then schedule an audition for a new second trombonist. That way, the new principal player could serve on the audition committee for the new second player. It made sense but it set up two years when we did not have a full section. For two years, we had substitute players fill the second trombone chair.

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Toby Oft and Douglas Yeo, Symphony Hall, Boston, December 24, 2008.

Toby Oft, former principal trombonist of the San Diego Symphony, was hired as our new principal trombonist and he began with the BSO at the start of the 2008 season. I went on sabbatical from the orchestra for six months beginning in January 2009—something that had been planned two years earlier, before Norman and Ron announced their retirement—Toby received tenure in the summer of 2009, and we then held an audition for a new second trombonist. 

Boston Symphony Orchestra (2010-2012)

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Boston Symphony Orchestra Trombone Section, basement of Symphony Hall, Boston, 2012. Left to right: Stephen Lange, second trombone; Douglas Yeo, bass trombone; Toby Oft; principal trombone. Photo by Randall Hawes.

In 2010, we hired Stephen Lange as second trombonist. Steve, who had played for the previous 10 years with the Saint Louis Symphony, completed our low brass section that had been in flux since Norman and Ron’s retirement in 2008. But yet another change was on the horizon. I decided to retire from the BSO in 2012, after over 27 years of occupying the bass trombone chair. But my final two seasons were very special to me as the oldest, most experienced member of my new section, and a carrier of the flame of the BSO’s long performance traditions.

Yeo_Haitink_Sym_Hall_final_bow_2012

My final bow on stage at Symphony Hall, Boston, May 2012. Behind me are BSO concertmaster Malcolm Lowe and conductor Bernard Haitink.

During my last season with the BSO (click HERE to read an interview I gave for the Boston Symphony Program Book in 2011 where I looked back on my long career in the orchestra)—my final concert in Symphony Hall in May 2012 was Beethoven Symphony No. 9 conducted by Bernard Haitink.

Yeo_Final_Bow_Tanglewood_BSO_2012

My final bow on stage at Tanglewood, the summer home of the BSO—my last concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra—August 5, 2012. 

When I played my final concert with the orchestra at Tanglewood in August 2012—Berlioz Symphonie fantastique conducted by Loren Maazel—a page was turned in the history of BSO low brass playing. The last vestige of the Boston Symphony trombone section that came together when I joined the orchestra in 1985 was no more. When James Markey began as the BSO’s bass trombonist the day after I retired, a new tradition with an entirely new section was born. Toby Oft, Steve Lange, Jim Markey, and Mike Roylance are making their own mark as the BSO’s low brass section. Already they have been at it for eight years. Will the four of them play together for 17 years as Ron, Norman, Chester, and I did? Will the trombone section stay together for 23 years as Ron, Norman, and I did? Time will tell.

But there is this: All of us—Ron, Norman, Chester; Toby, Steve, Jim, Mike, and I—are part of a long stream of low brass players that goes back to the Boston Symphony’s founding in 1881. From George Stewart to Leroy Kenfield to Joannès Rochut to Eugene Adam to Kilton Vinal Smith to Jacob Raichman to Kauko Kahila to William Gibson, all of us were touched by those who came before us. And the same can be said for my colleagues in the Baltimore Symphony; David, Jim, Eric, Dan, David, and I  were part of a long stream of low brass players that came through that orchestra, including John Melick Jr., Ted Griffith, Philip Donatelli, John Marcellus, Douglas Edelman, Charles Vernon, and John Engelkes. Touched, influenced, inspired, changed. I’m glad that Megumi Kanda asked me those questions about working in an orchestral trombone section. It gave me the opportunity to dig out some old photos, recall some old memories, and offer gratitude to God for the life in music that He has given me, a life shared with many others. Thirty one years in two orchestras, sitting amidst 11 colleagues. Thank you, all of you.

[Header photo: Boston Symphony Low Brass Section, Symphony Hall, Boston, February 1992 (performance of Dvorak Symphony No. 9, “From the New World”). Left to right: Ronald Barron, principal trombone; Norman Bolter, second trombone; Douglas Yeo, bass trombone; Chester Schmitz, tuba.]

Beautiful voices

Beautiful voices

During my long career as a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I had the great joy of performing with some of the greatest classical music singers of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. Jesseye Norman, Mirella Freni, Thomas Quasthoff, Renée Fleming, Kiri Te Kanawa, Ben Heppner, Anne Sophie von Otter, Hildegard Behrens, Kathleen Battle, Barbara Hendricks, Ian Bostridge, Dawn Upshaw, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Frederica von Stade. The list goes on. There is something about the human voice—the first musical instrument—that speaks to all of us. Literally.

As a trombonist, I’m very aware of the connection between the human voice and my instrument. Frank Sinatra famously said that his sense of phrasing was heavily influenced by the trombone playing of Tommy Dorsey. The great bass trombonist George Roberts, “Mr. Bass Trombone,” told me that his sense of phrasing was heavily influenced by the singing of Sinatra.

I have many, many recordings of singers. Classical singers, jazz singers, rock and pop singers, folk singers. Trained and untrained singers, young singers, old singers. During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been listening to a lot of singers from my collection of recordings. Here are four I’ve been enjoying lately that have been a real encouragement to me. Four very different kinds of singers: an opera singer, a Flamenco singer, a folk singer, a pop singer. Beautiful voices—some very smooth, others a bit rough hewn—exceptional musicianship,  superb—and sometimes unexpected —accompaniments, and deep, heartfelt messages. Poignant messages of grief and loss but also of hope. And we do need hope. They all seem very timely right now.

Claudio Monteverdi: Si dolce è il tormento. Guillemette Laurens, voice; Michel Godard, serpent; Fanny Paccoud, violin, Bruno Helstroffer, theorbo; Steve Swallow, bass. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

Vidalita. Mayte Martín, voice; Katia & Marielle Labèque, piano. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

Ah! Vita Bella. Lucilla Galeazzi, voice; Michel Godard, tuba; Pino Minafra, trumpet; Jean-Louis Matinier, accordion; Gianluigi Trovesi, clarinet. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

Paul Simon, American Tune. Paul Simon, voice and guitar; Bobby James, keyboard; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Grady Tate, drums; strings arranged by Del Newman. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

[Header photo: sunrise over the Sierra Estrella, Arizona, 2012. Photo by Douglas Yeo.]