Category: faith

A “Senior” Recital—Celebrating the 46th Anniversary of Douglas Yeo’s Wheaton College Senior Recital, April 1976

A “Senior” Recital—Celebrating the 46th Anniversary of Douglas Yeo’s Wheaton College Senior Recital, April 1976

By Douglas Yeo

The last consequential musical performance I gave before the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020 was a joint recital in St. Louis with my good friend, Megumi Kanda, principal trombonist of the Milwaukee Symphony. That recital, on February 17, was hosted by the St. Louis Low Brass Collective, and it was a fun and memorable time of sharing music and music making with friends and an appreciative audience. Little did any of us know that the course of the pandemic over the next two-plus years would greatly constrain public performances. While the pandemic is still with us—let’s not kid ourselves: it’s still wreaking havoc around the world despite our collective desire to put it in our rear view mirrors—we are taking tentative steps to regain the rhythm of life that we enjoyed before anyone knew what the acronym COVID stood for.

Last year, I wanted to give a faculty recital at Wheaton College. Since 2019, I’ve been Wheaton College’s trombone professor, and the College has been important to our family since the early 1970s because my wife, our daughters, and I all went to school there. For this faculty recital, I an idea. Instead of the usual fare—play several important pieces written for bass trombone—I envisioned a program based on several stories. On April 19, 1976, I gave my senior bass trombone recital at Wheaton College; I was 20 years old. It was one of several culminating events that occurred during my last months as a student at Wheaton College and it remains memorable to this day. As I reflected on that, I realized that 2021 was the 45th anniversary of that recital. Also in 2021, I was 65 years old. In 1976 I was a senior in college. In 2021, I was officially a senior citizen. So why not do A Senior Recital, and celebrate the 45th anniversary of my senior recital—as a senior?

But it was not to be. In April 2021, the coronavirus pandemic was in full swing and I could not give the kind of recital I wanted to give. I didn’t want to perform a recital in an empty room that would only be seen over a live stream. For me, concerts are collaborative events between performers and audience, interactive affairs where we all feed off each other’s energy. I put aside the idea of A Senior Recital for another day. And that day came last week.

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Last Saturday, on April 23, 2022, I gave A Senior Recital, in the new concert hall in Wheaton College’s Armerding Center for the Arts. Now on the 46th anniversary of my 1976 recital, and a year older, I decided to give a recital that celebrated the spirit of creativity that infused my 1976 recital. I also wanted to perform on several different musical instruments that have been a big part of my life for many years. I spent some time during the recital in front of a long table that held all of the instruments I used in the recital and I gave a little talk about each one. A word about the instruments. Naturally, I played bass trombone, my Yamaha YBL-822G bass trombone. But I introduced the audience to some other instruments, too. Serpent, ophicleide, six-valve trombone, and my new carbon fiber conversion of one of my Yamaha bass trombones, made by Butler Trombones. “Yeo’s music store” was visible throughout the recital on a table on stage, and some of the audience reactions when I played and talked about these instruments can be heard on the full stream of the recital. More on that below.

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Douglas Yeo talking about the six-valve trombone. Other instruments that are visible include serpent, ophicleide (on the table), and two Yamaha bass trombones, one with a carbon fiber conversion by Butler Trombones. April 23, 2022. Photo by Paul Schmidt.

Finally, I wanted to tell a story—several stories, actually. I wanted to tell stories about music, music-making, musical instruments, faith, hope, and love, and Wheaton College. So, I did.

At this season of life—I will turn 67 years old in a couple of weeks—I’m grateful for any opportunity I have to make music. While I don’t have my 35 year old body and I’m not able to do everything with a musical instrument in my hand that I was able to do in the past, I still like to play and share music with others. Whether in a recital, or as part of a church service, or alongside my wife, daughters, or grandchildren, music making has been a part of our family’s life for as long as any of us can remember. And for this recital, I was very fortunate to have superb collaborating artists. For five pieces, Dr. Michael Messer, a piano professor at Wheaton College, provided absolutely tremendous accompaniment for me. He is a superb musician and player—those two words do not always go together but in his case, they do, in spades—and collaborating with him was a real joy. Also, for one piece on the program, Dr. Tony Payne, a classmate of mine from my days as a student at Wheaton College who also now teaches and performs administrative roles including running the Artist Series at Wheaton College, played organ along with me. Working with these friends made the recital all the more enjoyable. For A Senior Recital, I chose a program that I hoped would be engaging for the audience, and from reports from people who attended, it was mission accomplished. We had a good time. So, in the spirit of sharing this model of putting together a recital, what follows are some links so you can watch and listen to it, too.

First, you can download the recital program by clicking HERE. The program tells a story, so if you take the time to read it, you’ll understand exactly what I was trying to do with this recital.

You can view the entire recital—from top to tail— by clicking HERE. This Boxcast link will be live for a year, until April 23, 2023. The recital was performed without intermission, and with the full Boxcast link, you’ll hear everything from Dr. Michael Wilder’s (Dean of the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music and Division of Arts and Communications) introduction to the moment after the last piece where our two grandchildren brought flowers to me on stage. You’ll hear my conversation with the audience about the music, and see me give brief demonstrations of all of the musical instruments I played on the recital. It’s all there.

I’ve also put videos of a few performances from the recital on YouTube—no talking or introductions, just the music. Those links follow here.

Elizabeth Raum: Turning Point (2008)

I’ve enjoyed playing many of Elizabeth Raum’s compositions over the years. When I was teaching trombone at Arizona State University (2012–2016), our faculty brass trio of John Ericson (horn), Deanna Swoboda (tuba), and me commissioned Betsy to write a piece for us, Relationships, and we recorded it on a CD produced by Summit Records, Table for Three. Click HERE to hear our recording of the first movement of Relationships, “Two Against One.” Her solo for bass trombone and piano, Turning Point, found inspiration in the Robert Burns poem, “To a Mouse,” where Burns penned the famous line, “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.” Indeed, we have all seen this line in action over the last two years of the pandemic, where many plans were upended. Turning Point speaks to this turbulence but it ends in a positive, hopeful way. Michael Messer is at the piano.

Hector Berlioz: Oraison funèbre from Grande Symphonie funèbre et triomphale, H. 80 (1840)

Asking a person, “Who is your favorite composer?”,  is a little like asking, “Who is the favorite of your children?” It’s an impossible question. But if I had to make a list of those composers who have inspired and challenged me, Hector Berlioz will be on that list. High up on that list.  I have played a great deal of his music over the years during my long career as a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1985–2012). In 1840, Berlioz wrote a three movement symphony for band, his Grande Symphonie funèbre et triumphale, the middle movement of which is a funeral oration intoned by a solo trombone. I’ve known about this piece since I was in high school when I encountered it in Henry Charles Smith’s fine book, Solos for the Trombone Player (Henry retitled it “Recitative and Prayer”). Several years ago, I purchased a six-valve trombone with independent tubes, a creation of Adolphe Sax in the mid-nineteenth century. This instrument—its formal name is quite wonderful: le nouveau trombone Sax à six pistons et à tubes indépendants—was Sax’s attempt to create a brass instrument with valves that has “perfect intonation.” As brass players know, with a standard three or four valve brass instrument whose valves are used in combination with each other, the lengthening of tubing when using the valves causes intonation challenges. By creating an instrument with six valves—and the open instrument with no valves— that work independently (the valves do not work in combination), and each valve (and the open instrument) has its own independent length of tubing, certain problems with intonation that valves in combination cause are eliminated. But that’s not to say that all pitch problems are solved, and that, along with the fact that the fingerings are anything but intuitive,  the instrument is quite heavy, and condensation from the player’s breath collects quickly in the small bore (.460″) tubes, led the six-valve trombone (and a whole family of six-valve instruments that Sax invented) to have its moment on the stage in France and Belgium for the second half of the nineteenth century into the twentieth century before it disappeared from the musical scene. Still, I enjoy bringing old instruments back to life, and while I have never succeeded in performing a piece on this instrument without making a valve fingering gaffe—my brain always wants to return to standard three valve fingerings, a consequence of having played bass trumpet in the Boston Symphony for many years—I like bringing Berlioz’s Orasion to audiences. In this performance I’m playing my six-valve trombone by Joseph Persy, a Belgian maker who was active in Brussels from 1897. Again, Michael Messer is at the piano.

Girolamo Frescobaldi, recomposed by Eddy Koopman: Canzone (Canzon primo basso solo, F. 8.06b, 1628)

Girolamo Frescobaldi wrote several works for unspecified bass instruments which I have played on many occasions. In 2012, I gave a recital at Arizona State University where I played Frescobaldi’s first Canzon on a bass sackbut in F with Dr. Kimberly Marshall playing organ. You can see a video of that performance HERE.  I’ve also played it on bass trombone accompanied by piano. But I confess I never enjoy playing it more than when accompanied by Eddy Koopman’s creative techno-pop electronic treatment. The arrangement was written for my friend, Dutch bass trombonist Ben van Dijk, and I played it on the buccin (dragon bell trombone) in Nagoya, Japan in 2018 as part of the Second Nagoya Trombone Festival. You can read about that and see photos of that event HERE.

For my recent recital performance of Canzone, I decided to pair the oldest piece on my recital with my newest trombone, a carbon fiber conversion of my Yamaha YBL-822G bass trombone made by Dave Butler of Butler Trombones. I became interested in acquiring a carbon fiber trombone a few years ago in light of a number of challenges I’ve been facing with my shoulders, hands, and elbow. Over 55 years of playing the trombone—of lifting it up and down, holding it up, moving the slide continuously—has taken its toll on my body, and the idea of sometimes playing a lighter instrument is very appealing. I was initially suspicious of the idea of a carbon fiber trombone, but as I learned more about it and discovered that it actually sounds great, I’ve embraced this instrument as something that I use regularly. You can read more about my impressions about this instrument in an article I wrote for The Last Trombone HERE. With my carbon fiber trombone in my hands, I once again had the chance to bring Eddy Koopman’s take on Frescobaldi’s Canzon to a new audience.

Clifford Bevan: Variations on “The Pesky Sarpent”

My fascination with historical musical instruments dates from my childhood, when I spent many hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s (New York City) musical instrument galleries. I wrote about my first encounter—as a young boy— with the buccin, the dragon-bell trombone of the nineteenth century, in an article on The Last Trombone that you can read HERE. I’ve been playing the serpent since 1994, when I learned it so I could play the serpent in performances of Hector Berlioz’s Messe solennelle with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Boston, Carnegie Hall, and Tokyo. Since then, I’ve been an evangelist for the instrument. I’ve written articles about it (such as this one about serpents in collections in Boston, and this one about the serpent in the works of English author, Thomas Hardy), a book about it, and recorded a solo CD and an instructional DVD about it. I love this curious. odd, and old instrument that was invented in the sixteenth century.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many of the world’s leading serpent players and scholars (yes, they do exist!). Clifford Bevan is acknowledged as the leading expert on the tuba family (he authored a book of that name, The Tuba Family, which remains the seminal and most important volume about the tuba and its ancestors, including the serpent). I’ve known Cliff for many years, and in 1996, he wrote what may be the first piece ever written for serpent and piano, Variations on “The Pesky Sarpent.” The piece takes its title from a nineteenth century folksong titled, “On Springfield Mountain,” which relates the sad tale of a young man who was bitten by a rattlesnake. Cliff’s piece includes the text of the song and in my performance, I began by reading the poem before Michael Messer started “The Pesky Sarpent” in dramatic, Lisztian fashion.

Sir Arthur Sullivan: The Lost Chord

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Tony Payne, organ, and Douglas Yeo, ophicleide, rehearsing Sir Arthur Sullivan’s, The Lost Chord. Concert Hall, Armerding Center for the Arts, Wheaton College. April 23, 2022. Organ by Taylor & Boody. Photo by Marian Payne.

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Douglas Yeo performing Sir Arthur Sullivan’s, The Lost Chord. April 23, 2022. Photo by Paul Schmidt.

After playing the serpent I turned to the ophicleide, a brass, keyed successor to the serpent that was invented in France in the early nineteenth century. The ophicleide has a warm, mellow sound, and it’s no surprise that it remained on the scene—particularly in France and England—until the dawn of the twentieth century when the euphonium and tuba replaced it in most settings. Unfortunately the lighting in the Armerding Center for the Arts Concert Hall organ loft was rather dark so the video quality is not good enough to upload it to YouTube. A few photos are above. However, an audio recording was made and you can hear my performance of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s The Lost Chord on ophicleide with Tony Payne at the organ HERE.

The recital contained other music as well, and as I mentioned earlier, you can see and hear the entire recital on the Boxcast streaming video. Before the last piece (more on that below), I welcomed to the stage four friends from my time as a student at Wheaton College. From 1974–1976, James Roskam, Eric Carlson, William Meena, and I had a trombone quartet on campus. George Krem, Wheaton College’s trombone professor when the four of us first met in the summer of 1974, suggested that we form the quartet. That group was a very special one, and to have Jim, Eric, Bill, George, and me together for the first time in over 45 years—I invited them to be recognized on stage at the end of the recital and we enjoyed some time together afterward—was very special.

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left to right: Douglas Yeo, James Roskam, Eric Carlson, William Meena, and George Krem. April 23, 2022, Wheaton College, Illinois. Photo by Tony Payne.

The recital also served as a kind of release party for a new trombone quartet compact disc recording, Like A River Glorious. Well, a new but also old recording. This CD, which features both live recordings and recordings from a recording session our quartet gave between 1974 and 1976, was produced by the four members of our quartet and our recording engineer, Craig Ediger (it is not produced by Wheaton College, although College administrators have been very supportive of and approve of the project). We made this CD to celebrate the spirit of student-led creativity that was such a part of our experience as students at Wheaton College and we are giving it away as a recruiting aid for the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music. You can’t buy it; we’re just giving it away. But we are reserving copies for prospective students; we don’t have the resources to distribute it widely by packing it up and mailing it to people. We will be getting the audio tracks available for free download soon—information about that will appear in a future article on The Last Trombone—along with the CD packaging. If you came to my recital, an usher put a copy of the CD in your hand as you left the Concert Hall. It is only 46 years overdue, but we finally made the recording we had hoped to make way back in 1976.

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Joseph Haydn, arr. Donald Miller: Achieved is the Glorious Work from The Creation

My recital ended with a piece that was the signature piece for our 1974–1976 Wheaton College Trombone Quartet, Donald Miller’s arrangement of Achieved is the Glorious Work from Joseph Haydn’s The Creation. I was joined on stage by three of my current students at Wheaton College: sophomore Michael Rocha, senior Daniel Casey, and Senior Jonah Brabant. It seemed fitting to close the recital in a way that came full circle for me, from my student days at Wheaton College to my time now as the College’s trombone professor. A Senior Recital.

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A new book and a special offer: Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry

A new book and a special offer: Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry

In January 2014, I decided to write an article about Homer Rodeheaver, the trombone-playing song leader for evangelist William “Billy” Sunday in the first third of the twentieth century. I first learned of Rodeheaver a few years earlier when I visited the Billy Graham Museum on the campus of Wheaton College, Illinois, and saw a near life-size cardboard cutout of him with a trombone in one hand and a songbook in the other. The cutout was of the image of Rodeheaver below. What? Who was this? I had never heard of him and I needed to know more. It wasn’t long before I learned that Rodeheaver (one of the first things I learned was that he pronounced his name “ROW-duh-hay-vehr”) played the trombone for over 100 million people in his lifetime. That’s a lot of people. Did anyone play  trombone for more people? Maybe Arthur Pryor? Maybe? I thought his story might be interesting. It didn’t take long for Rodeheaver’s interesting story to change my life.

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Above: Homer Rodeheaver promotional postcard.

Several things flowed from what became an obsession to learn more about Homer Rodeheaver. The first was that I met Kevin Mungons, a Chicago-area editor and writer who had also been researching Rodeheaver. We were introduced by Margaret Banks, a curator at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota, when I reached out to her with some questions about Rodeheaver’s endorsements for Conn trombones. Peggy told me that Kevin had been asking her some of the same questions a few years earlier. So it was natural for me to contact him and ask him some questions. We immediately became good friends (it didn’t hurt that Kevin also plays trombone).

Secondly, Kevin was very happy to help me as I worked on my article about Rodeheaver which, once completed, was published in the 2015 Historic Brass Society Journal. Click HERE to read and download that article.

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Above: Billy Sunday and Homer Rodeheaver, 1917. Courtesy of Morgan Library, Grace College, Winona Lake, Indiana.

And, thirdly, as Kevin and I continued talking about Rodeheaver, we decided that two heads were better than one, and that it might be a good idea—and fun—for us to collaborate and, together, write a book about Rodeheaver. Once we had committed to the idea, we did a deep dive into Rodeheaver’s life and work. Because Kevin was living in the Chicago area and I was living in Arizona at the time (my wife and I moved to the Chicago area in 2018 so we could live closer to our grandchildren), we collaborated mostly through phone and email. But we did meet up a few times, both in the Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College, and in Winona Lake Indiana, where Grace College and the Winona History Center have a remarkable archive of documents, photographs, and ephemera relating to Billy Sunday and Homer Rodeheaver. During our research trip to Winona Lake, I played Rodeheaver’s Conn trombone (below). Of course, I played “Brighten the Corner Where You Are,” which was one of Rodeheaver’s signature tunes (he also owned the copyright to the song, and the big money was, as Rodeheaver knew, in copyrights).

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Above: Douglas Yeo playing Homer Rodeheaver’s Conn trombone, 2014, Winona History Center, Winona Lake, Indiana.

Homer Rodeheaver was not only a trombonist, and not only the song leader for Billy Sunday for 20 years, but he established the first gospel music record label (Rainbow Records), established what was, for many decades, the largest publisher of Christian hymnals, songbooks, and other music (Rodeheaver Music Co., later Rodeheaver-Hall Mack Co.), was a driving force behind the popularization of African American spirituals, and had an influence on church and community singing that is still felt today. The subject of daily front page news and feature stories and celebrity gossip, nobody during his lifetime (1880–1955) had to ask, “Who is Homer Rodeheaver?” But for people today, Homer Rodeheaver is the most famous person you never heard of. Until now. 

Rodeheaver 3D Book Cover

Last week, after seven years of writing and research (not including the many years before we met when Kevin was also researching Rodeheaver), the submission of our book manuscript to University of Illinois Press, several rounds of peer review, even more rounds of rewriting and editing, our book, Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry came to market. It is published as part of UIP’s Music in American Life series of books. On Saturday, I held it in my hands for the first time.

Rodeheaver’s story is a rich story about music, publishing, Chicago, the Civil War, Jim Crow, race, the Ku Klux Klan, the perks and perils of being a celebrity, churches, money, religious devotion, Christian evangelism, community singing, marketing, airplanes, speedboats, philanthropy, Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea, and the trombone. Lots of trombones. And that’s just the tip of Rodeheaver’s very large iceberg. 

The back cover of the book features two reviews. Here’s what Robert Marovich, author of A City Called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music, says:

Kevin Mungons and Douglas Yeo’s biography of Homer Rodeheaver brightens an important corner of gospel music history that has gone unexplored for far too long. What they reveal in their remarkable portrait of “Reverend Trombone” is a man both of his time and ahead of his time. It’s more than a tale of the emergence of gospel singing and revivalism, it’s a quintessentially American story about a quintessential American.

And Harold Best, emeritus professor of music and Dean emeritus of Wheaton College Conservatory of Music, past president of the National Association of Schools of Music, and author of Music Through the Eyes of Faith, wrote:

I am truly taken by the book. It is good, informative, comprehensive, and free of the usual assortment of clichés, academic hems and haws, and over-spiritualization. It takes the often over-simplified view of music and revivalism and exposes it to a fascinating cross-weave of thought, content, and context which, to my embarrassment, I thought I had already had a handle on. I recommend it without reservation. There is no doubt in my mind that general readers and specialists alike will benefit from reading this book.

If what you’ve read so far piques your interest, then, as the late night television pitchman says, “Do I have a deal for you!” Right now, University of Illinois Press is offering a 30% discount on the book, both the softcover and the hardcover editions. If course, you can pay full price if you’d like; just go to the book’s page on amazon.com. But if you’d be interested in paying less, click HERE go to the book’s page on the University of Illinois Press website and enter this promo code:

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If you’d like to tell your friends about the book, click HERE to view and download a one page promotional PDF that has full information about the book and the same 30% off discount code.

After seven years of delving into every aspect of Homer Rodeheaver’s life, I still find his story to be interesting, informative, inspirational, challenging, and thought-provoking. I hope you, too, will enjoy the story of the man who called himself, “Reverend Trombone.”

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Above: Homer Rodeheaver leading singing, 1950s.

Easter 2021

Easter 2021

by Douglas Yeo

Today is Easter, April 4. I remember Easter 2020, on April 12. Maybe you do, too. The coronavirus pandemic was in full swing. Remember when it first hit our collective consciousness, in early March 2020? We thought, “Well, this will be over by Easter.” But it wasn’t. It wasn’t over by Memorial Day, or Independence Day. There was a summer without going to the town pool, without the planned vacations. It was still with us at Labor Day. “Surely,” we thought, “it will be over by Thanksgiving.” But Thanksgiving came and went and the coronavirus was still with us. It was with us at Christmas, a strange, unsettling season without seeing all of our family because we could not travel safely. It is still with us today.

But here we are on Easter 2021. The long dark tunnel—the cold dark tomb, if you will—of the pandemic is showing signs of light. God’s great instruments of deliverance from the pandemic, the several COVID-19 vaccines, are here and are being distributed. We are blessed that the six adult members of our family have already received it, and we pray that our grandchildren will be able to get it soon, too. In the coming weeks, we will begin to travel again, first to see our daughter and son-in-law in California who we have not seen since Christmas 2019. More trips will follow, and, Lord willing, a return to a new kind of “normal” in the coming months. But today, we are thinking about Easter.

Two years ago, on April 21, 2019, on a day that seems like it was from a different era entirely—an era when I went to church and sat in a pew among friends instead of watching a service on YouTube; when I sat next to my trombone students in their lessons and played duets with them; when I went to hear concerts in a concert hall; when I ate meal in my favorite restaurant—I wrote and posted an Easter reflection on The Last Trombone. As I read it again today, I thought I would post it again. The message of Christ’s journey from darkness to light has never meant more to me than it does today. Through a long season of uncertainty and loss, and in the midst of confusion and grief, the resurrection of Jesus Christ stands as the most consequential event in all history. That Christ’s resurrection was also a journey from darkness to light is a comfort to all those who know Him, because we know that the trials of this present age are not the end of the story.

Here is my 2019 Easter reflection with a few revisions since it was first posted. Darkness to light, death to life, the dawn of a new day. That is Easter.

• • •

There are four accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Gospel accounts in the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each highlights particular moments in those world-changing days nearly 2000 years ago. In 2016, my wife and I traveled to Israel with a tour group sponsored by our undergraduate alma mater, Wheaton College, where I now teach trombone. The trip was life changing, as we visited many of the traditional sites where pivotal events in the Bible took place. One such site was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the traditional sites of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. The photo at the top of this blog entry on The Last Trombone is one I took of the tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Do we know for sure that he was actually buried there? No, but since at least around 400 AD, Christian pilgrims have venerated this particular place as being the site. I do not engage in debates over whether this or that site is THE site. It enough that I was in the neighborhood.

Artists over the centuries have depicted the resurrection of Jesus as a cataclysmic event, replete with angels and earthquakes, and the moving away of the stone that covered the entrance of the tomb. The Bible tells of this (Matthew 28:1-4):

And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

Typical of such artistic representations is the one below that I saw two years ago at the Art Institute of Chicago.

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The painting is by Cecco del Caravaggio, whose real name was Francesco Buoneri, and it was painted in 1619-1620. Christ appears on top of his tomb, and an angel is dispatching Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb. Cecco’s use of light and dark is exceptional, and I spent a long time sitting in the museum’s gallery and contemplating the event that it depicts.

But in 2017, when my wife and I traveled to Italy on another Wheaton College alumni tour — a tour that took us to Florence and Rome — I saw another painting of the resurrection that has stuck in my mind ever since. This painting was in the Galleria dell’ Accademia in Florence, in the same museum that houses Michelangelo’s iconic statue of David. The painting, by Andrea del Sarto, was painted in the early sixteenth century and presents a very different view of the resurrection of Christ.

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Here is a moment before the the earthquake; we see no guards, no angel. It shows Jesus in His tomb at the moment of his resurrection. The wounds from his crucifixion are visible, as are some of his burial cloths. The image is one of quiet contemplation. I am sure I was not alone, when standing before this painting, in asking the question: “What was Jesus thinking at this moment?”

What I find interesting in all of this is that the Bible is silent about what actually happened inside the tomb at the moment when Christ was raised from the dead. He was dead, buried in the tomb. Then at some point over the next two days, Christ was resurrected, and somehow, in some way, he left the tomb. Two days after his agonizing death on the cross, the stone that had been covering the entrance to the tomb had rolled away. Mary Magdeline was shocked to see the tomb empty when she came to visit it two days after the crucifixion of Jesus, but an angel spoke to her with these earth-shattering words (Matthew 28:6):

He is not here, for he has risen.

I like to meditate on both of these paintings which depict two moments surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. Both speak to the same thing: Jesus was dead, buried, and was raised from the dead. In the days and weeks that followed, He appeared in physical form — not as some kind of ghost or apparition — before hundreds of people. This is documented not only by the Bible, but by other, independent writers. The resurrection of Jesus happened. It was and is true, and it changed the world and the life of every person in it. As the Apostle Paul reminds us (1 Corinthians 15:17-20):

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.

C. S. Lewis spoke to this fact in his book, Mere Christianity. I have previously quoted him in my article on The Last Trombone about Christmas, but his words are worth repeating here:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.”

That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.

Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

The death of Jesus Christ. His burial. His resurrection. It happened. And it matters. Happy Easter. The dawn is here.

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.]