Category: Arizona State University

A different kind of graduation day

A different kind of graduation day

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

D-Yeo_JTHS_1973

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

Pat_Doug_Hudson_Armerding_May_1976

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

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

HIDA_Convocation_all_graduates_2016

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

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

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

HOLD ON TO HOPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abandon every hope, all you who enter.

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

O triste madre, triste madre,
Abbandonar mio filio.

“O sorrowful mother,
to abandon my child.”

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

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

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

Life is short, then you die.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why bother, if “tomorrow we die?”

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

Whoever dies with the most toys – still dies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, the task.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 

The music goes on.

The music goes on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Came inside and made me whole.

Blessed me, then saved my soul!!!

 

 

 

My new carbon fiber bass trombone by Butler Trombones. This is not a toy.

My new carbon fiber bass trombone by Butler Trombones. This is not a toy.

This is not a toy. I have many plastic trombones, pBones to be precise. I purchased them six years ago when I began teaching at Arizona State University and they made nice props in my office.

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pBones come in red, yellow, and black (among other colors) and those colors were close enough to ASU’s maroon and gold. School spirit and all that. They are toys, fun to mess around with, fun to put in the hands of my two and four year old grandchildren. But they don’t have a great sound, are fragile, the slides are not very smooth, and they are mere stepping stones to a “real trombone.”

But yesterday, I received a package from Dave Butler at Butler Trombones in Dallas. This was a package that contained something I’ve been anticipating for nearly one-and-a-half years: my new carbon fiber bass trombone. This is not a toy. This is not a plastic trombone; it’s not a high-tech pBone. This is a major development in the evolution of the trombone and something that is changing how we think about trombone development and manufacturing.

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How this remarkable instrument came to be in my hands today requires a bit of backstory. Here goes.

Since 1986, I have worked with YAMAHA – YAMAHA Corporation of Japan (YCJ) and YAMAHA Corporation of America (YCA) – on the development of the bass trombone I have played regularly since 1991, the YAMAHA Xeno YBL-822G (formerly the YBL-622). My relationship with YAMAHA has been one of the greatest professional relationships of my long career in music. This is a company that has been truly interested in making a superb bass trombone, an instrument that would work for me, that would be my “voice” on the trombone. I love this instrument. My YAMAHA bass trombone represents the highest level of research and development in a bass trombone, and I have played it dozens of genres of music over the years, including the last 22 years of my long career as bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I cannot thank YAMAHA enough for their ongoing work as we continue to improve the instrument for the benefit of myriad players around the world who find that it is their “voice,” too.

At the same time, I’m aware that what we musicians do on a daily basis is not a natural act. Watch any musician play his or her instrument and it doesn’t take long to see that despite a player’s best efforts to sit or stand comfortably, or the ergonomic developments that a maker brings to instruments, playing any musical instrument puts us in a difficult place. Hold a violin between your chin and left shoulder. Splay your hands and hold a bassoon. Support the weight of a tuba on your lap. Stand behind a double bass. Lift up and crash together a pair of cymbals. Hold up a trombone.

In all of these instances – and many more – I do not know a single professional musician who does not suffer from some kind of physical consequence of playing his/her instrument. As I often say, musicians bear the stigmata of performing. Most of my colleagues in the Boston Symphony were under the regular care of some kind of medical provider. A physical therapist, massage therapist, chiropractor, physician, surgeon. Tendinitis, tendinosis, torn rotator cuff, hearing loss, neck problems, hand problems, knee problems, back problems. Therapy, medication, surgery. It’s part of the life of a musician. The literature on this is extensive, including a journal devoted to the subject, Medical Problems of Performing Artists.

I’ve had my share of physical issues over the years due to a lifetime of lifting and holding up six pounds of bass trombone for hours a day. I’ve had a torn tendon repaired in both elbows, and nine fingers have had surgery for the condition commonly known as “trigger finger,” a condition where, because of gripping, a finger will lock down when one makes a fist and will only come back up with an uncomfortable “snap.” I’m looking at an eighth finger surgery in the coming months. As a result of these procedures, I no longer have the same strength in my hands that I once had.

Several years ago I began using a left hand brace on my trombone made by Neotech. This has been a great help to me since it transfers the weight of the instrument to the back of my left hand and I no longer have to grip the trombone in order to keep it from falling out of my hand. On the photo of my trombones in the header of this article, you can see a small black appliance attached to the outer hand slide’s lower ferrule to which the Neotech brace conveniently attaches. But the weight of my bass trombone – six pounds – remains considerable. I am grateful for the gifted physicians, surgeons, and physical therapists who have helped me get through these rough patches so I can continue to play the trombone. But I’m not getting any younger, and I would love to play the trombone for many more years. I have long wondered if, someday, I could have a bass trombone that weighed less and therefore put less stress on my body to hold it up. But it would not be enough that it was light. It would also have to sound great.

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At the International Trombone Festival in 2017, I came across the booth of Butler Trombones. They had a display of small bore jazz trombones made out of carbon fiber. Always interested in new things, I pulled a small shank mouthpiece out of my bag and gave it a try. I was stunned. It sounded like a trombone. I fully expected it to sound like a glorified pBone, a high tech plastic trombone. I thought to myself, “This is not a toy.” What shocked me was that it sounded like – well – a trombone. And then this: the weight of the instrument was miniscule. I realized right away that the hand slide weighed virtually nothing and that the inertia caused by moving my normal brass slide was nearly eliminated. This was not a usual “lightweight slide” of nickel that often sounds cheap and thin. This trombone sounded great, holding it was virtually effortless, and moving the slide was something completely new. Completely new. My mind was reeling. And then my thoughts began to race and wonder, “If this small bore trombone sounds so great, could a bass trombone be made that sounds great, too?”

I spoke with Dave Butler about this. No, he had not yet made a bass trombone and one was probably some time away in research and development. But my enthusiasm caught his attention and with the blessing of YAMAHA, Dave has been working to retrofit one of my YBL-822G bass trombones with a carbon fiber bell, main tuning slide, and outer hand slide.

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Now, I would not have started going down this road if I was not persuaded that the instrument that would eventually fit in my hand would be of the highest quality. I wanted to sound like me, and like most people, I was initially a little suspicious that a carbon fiber trombone could sound anything like a standard brass and nickel trombone. Intuitively it just seemed that brass would sound better. But after working with Dave Butler, I realized that I initially approached the idea of a carbon fiber trombone with a predetermined prejudice: I was hearing with my eyes. The carbon fiber parts are black. They look different than brass. Dave Butler’s website prominently features a quotation by John Maynard Keynes:

The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.

I needed to give this an honest chance.

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So I asked Dave Butler to make these carbon fiber parts for me. I took delivery of the outer hand slide last April when I was performing at the Texas Christian University (TCU) Trombone Summit. When Dave handed it to me, I immediately put it on my bass trombone and walked out on stage to perform with it. I figured that would be a good test. It passed with flying colors. I was just knocked out with how great it sounded. And felt.

Yesterday, my new carbon fiber bell and main tuning slide arrived. Think about this: the weight of my double-valve bass trombone has been reduced from six pounds to four. A one-third reduction in weight. The instrument is so light that I no longer need to use my Neotech brace to support the weight of the trombone in my left hand. That’s because there’s so much less weight to support. And the sound? It sounds like me. It sounds great. This is not a toy.

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Recently, I’ve learned WHY a carbon fiber trombone sounds so good. That’s because acoustically, a carbon fiber bell has very similar qualities to a brass bell. This has been scientifically determined. I commend two recent resources to those interested in more about the scientific basis for understanding the similarity between carbon fiber and brass. The first is an article by Hannes Vereecke and Wilfried Kausel, “Carbon Reinforced Polymer: An Alternative to Brass?” International Trumpet Guild Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1 (October 2012), 41-43. This is an excellent description of the acoustical properties of brass and carbon fiber as applied to brass instrument bells. The second may sound a bit surprising: Hannes Vereecke, The Sixteenth-Century Trombone: Dimensions, Materials and Techniques (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2016), 41-44. Vereecke is an acoustician who has studied musical instruments, particularly trumpets and trombones. His book on the sixteenth-century trombone is, to my mind, the best single volume devoted to construction and the playing properties of the Renaissance trombone, the instrument we popularly call the sackbut. In his discussion about the acoustics of brasswind instruments, he devotes several pages to a comparison of brass and carbon fiber. He concludes that:

“Playing tests revealed that the listeners were not able to distinguish between the sounds of the two instruments [brass and carbon fiber]. Therefore, it can be concluded that while the bell material affects primarily the playability of the instrument, in this case the difference in sound may be beneath the threshold of detection. CFRP [carbon fiber reinforced composite] has found a place in contemporary trombone design, and the same improvement in responsiveness is also confirmed there.”

UPDATE: Since I wrote this blog post, I have given performances on my Butler/YAMAHA carbon fiber bass trombone. A video of a performance I gave of James M. David’s “Southern Gothic” from Three Imaginary Landscapes at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas on March 2, 2019, has been posted to YouTube. You can see and hear me play this instrument for yourself. I speak a little at the beginning of the video and the performance begins at around 1:20. Click the video below or, to view the video in YouTube, click HERE.

To say that I am enthusiastic about what Dave Butler has done would be a profound understatement. My new carbon fiber parts as installed on my YAMAHA YBL-822G bass trombone have given me an instrument that is highly responsive and lightweight but has a sound I would expect to be produced by my fully brass and nickel bass trombone. Dave Butler’s work with carbon fiber will allow me to continue playing the trombone for many more years as a result of the instrument’s reduced weight and great responsiveness. And I am just at the beginning of this process; I expect I will learn even more about how this instrument as I continue practicing in the days and weeks ahead. Dave has also told me that he has plans to make an entire bass trombone out of carbon fiber, and that someday it might even have titanium valve rotors. A two pound bass trombone that sounds great? It is not outside the realm of possibility. For all of this I am very grateful, and I urge any reader who finds this to be intriguing to reach out to Butler Trombones (www.butlertrombones.com) and find out for yourself. This is not a toy. We are witnessing one of the most significant developments in trombone design and manufacturing since the invention of the F-attachment in 1839. This is not an exaggeration; of this I am quite serious. The future is now.

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Our National Anthem

Our National Anthem

National Anthems have been in the news recently for good reasons (Winter Olympics medal ceremonies) and not so good reasons (see the end of this article). Count me among those who believe that when our National Anthem is performed, it should be done so in a respectful way. Our country has a lot of problems, but our National Anthem speaks to our hope for the best that the American experiment can be. It is a symbol of the freedoms we enjoy, and it is a reminder that the old cliche, “Freedom isn’t free,” is true. My father served in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict (6th Infantry Division) and I am proud of his service for our country. Last year, my wife and I visited Fort McHenry in Baltimore where Francis Scott Key wrote the words to The Star Spangled Banner. Being there was a very powerful experience. Sing it or play it: from where I sit, I want to hear our National Anthem performed in such a way where the tune is recognizable, the words (if sung) are understandable, it is at tempo and a key that is singable by the audience, and it draws attention to the Anthem itself, not to the performer.

During my nearly 30 years as a member of the Boston Symphony/Boston Pops Orchestra, I played the National Anthem more times than I can count, and many of the most memorable performances were at sporting events. I played it at Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans in February 2002 (when the New England Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams); this was the first Super Bowl after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Boston Pops Orchestra (Keith Lockhart, conductor) accompanied Mariah Carey; the trombones were Norman Bolter, Ronald Barron and myself  (to view this video on Youtube, click HERE):

The Boston Pops brass section, Keith Lockhart, conductor) also played the National Anthem in 2008 at a Boston Celtics/Los Angeles Lakers NBA Finals game (the Celtics won the game and went on to win the NBA Championship); unfortunately no video is available for that performance but here is a photo. James Nova and I played trombone; Gary Ofenloch is playing tuba.

NBA Finals Game 2: Los Angeles Lakers v Boston Celtics In 2010, the Celtics and Lakers were back in the NBA Finals again and the Boston Pops brass section with members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (James Orent, conductor) played the National Anthem once more; the trombone  players are Ronald Barron, Hans Bohn and myself. The Celtics won that game but the Lakers went on to win that NBA Championship. To view this video on Youtube, click HERE:

I also played the National Anthem at many other New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox games. It was always a thrill to stand at center court, or the 50 yard line, or around home plate and do this. Always.

When I began my four year tenure as Professor of Trombone at Arizona State University, I wanted to bring special kinds of musical experiences to my students. Twice, the Arizona State University Desert Bones Trombone Choir performed the National Anthem before Arizona Diamondbacks Major League Baseball games. I searched long and hard to find an arrangement for trombones that I thought met all of the criteria I put forth for a great performance at this kind of venue and event. I was very happy to find one by Robert Elkjer that fit the bill.

To have a chance to play the National Anthem at Chase Field in Phoenix, we needed to record a demo video. This we did in the fall of 2012; it was recorded in a large rehearsal room at ASU. Here is our demo video (to view this video in YouTube, click HERE):

The video was well received by the Diamondbacks, and in 2014, we were invited to perform the National Anthem at an Arizona Diamondbacks/Colorado Rockies game. I was so proud of my students for how they performed, how they presented themselves, and how they were received. This video was produced by the Diamondbacks and was shown on the jumbotron while we were playing (to view this video in YouTube, click HERE):

Later that year, I was honored as one of four finalists in the Arizona State University “Faculty/Staff Most Spirited Sun Devil” contest. This was a great, fun honor, to be the representative of ASU’s Tempe campus in this contest. I certainly had school spirit, and I was honored at halftime of an ASU/Stanford basketball game. Our ASU Desert Bones Trombone Choir was asked to play the National Anthem at that game; here is a sideline camera video taken by my wife. I think what I find so riveting about this particular performance is how respectful and quiet the audience was until the Anthem was over, at which time it burst into spontaneous applause and cheering. It was a great moment (to view this video in YouTube, click HERE):

A year later, in 2015, we were invited back to Chase Field to play the National Anthem at an Arizona Diamondbacks/San Francisco Giants game. It was a thrill to do this the first time. To be asked back to do this a second time was very special for my students and me (to view this video in YouTube, click HERE):

In all of these performances, we tried to bring the best that we could to the table, to honor our country, and express hope in its highest ideals. A recent performance of the National Anthem has been in the news in recent days for all the wrong reasons. A pop singer named Stacy Ann Ferguson, who goes by the name “Fergie,” sang the National Anthem at the recent NBA All Star game. She has come under fire for her performance. Hers was a particularly awful, self-aggrandizing performance that has come in for heavy criticism in the media. Was it the “worst performance” ever of the National Anthem? I haven’t heard enough to judge, but you can hear it for yourself. I’m all for tasteful artistic license, but as you view her video below, follow along with the music below, a transcription of her performance that was sent to me by a friend (it seems to be making the rounds in the Internet; I don’t know who did the transcription). Watch the words (or lack of words). Listen to the pitch. Note that she sings the Anthem in 4/4 meter rather than 3/4. The list goes on. . .

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Uh, no. Memo to “Fergie”: this song isn’t about YOU. It isn’t about how cool you think you are. It isn’t about making a statement. The words have MEANING; they are not just vocal syllables that you can slide over, making them incomprehensible. You gave the world a clinic on how NOT to sing The Star Spangled Banner.

“Fergie’s” performance of the National Anthem stands in contrast to the respectful performances by so many people who, despite the many flaws in our country, recognize that the National Anthem is a powerful symbol of what is good, and right in our land, and the hope we have to make it even better. How we sing or play it matters. I’m glad to have been a part of many memorable performances of The Star Spangled Banner, and thereby do my part – as have so many others – to aspire to its ideals. The Star Spangled Banner. Long may it wave.