Category: research projects

ChatGPT and the trombone: Is this the end of writing and research? I don’t think so.

ChatGPT and the trombone: Is this the end of writing and research? I don’t think so.

by Douglas Yeo

I first heard of ChatGPT in an article in The Atlantic by Daniel Herman, “The End of High-School English” (December 9, 2022). He wrote:

Teenagers have always found ways around doing the hard work of actual learning. CliffsNotes date back to the 1950s, “No Fear Shakespeare” puts the playwright into modern English, YouTube offers literary analysis and historical explication from numerous amateurs and professionals, and so on. For as long as those shortcuts have existed, however, one big part of education has remained inescapable: writing. Barring outright plagiarism, students have always arrived at that moment when they’re on their own with a blank page, staring down a blinking cursor, the essay waiting to be written.

Now that might be about to change. The arrive of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a program that generates sophisticated text in response to any prompt you can imagine, may signal the end of writing as a gatekeeper, a metric for intelligence, a teachable skill [emphasis added].

The end of writing. As a researcher, writer, and college professor, this got my attention. I found another article in The Atlantic, this one by Stephen Marche (December 6, 2022). It has a bold title: The College Essay Is Dead.


These are breathless, panicky assertions. What is this?

One of the things that some people find appealing about artificial intelligence (AI) programs like ChatGPT is that they may help people generate writing that is far better than what they could produce themselves. Feed ChatGPT your poorly constructed text and—voilà!—AI will make you sound like a college professor with a PhD who has published 100 books.

Does it work? Are these breathless, panicky assertions true?

Two things are at play here: quality of writing, and quality of writing with quality information. I decided to put ChatGPT to the test. I signed up for an account (that took one minute; it’s free at this time, although eventually the platform will be monetized) and started my experiment. 

I decided to start with a piece of bad writing. I imagined I was a student who was taking a college-level introduction to music class. The teacher asked the students in the class to write an essay about any musical instrument and I chose the trombone. The teacher didn’t want an essay with footnotes; she wanted more of an “impression paper.” I wrote a few poorly constructed sentences and asked ChatGPT to “fix this and make it better.”  Here’s what ChatGPT did with my pathetic writing. The image below is a screenshot of the result and in all of the examples below, the text I inputted is preceded by an icon with DO (for Douglas) and ChatGPT’s suggestion is next to the green OpenAI/ChatGPT logo icon.


ChatGPT fixed my punctuation, removed my colloquial language, and gave my writing an air of sophistication. But it’s obvious that there are tradeoffs. It did not address my comment about a trombone player on Star Trek and one in professional wrestling. My little essay mentioned that the trombone was invented “a long time ago” but ChatGPT ignored that phrase and didn’t write about the trombone’s origins. When I wrote about “a trombone with buttons,” ChatGPT failed to recognize that I was referencing a valve trombone. Some of the limitations of what ChatGPT can do are obvious.

Let’s look at an established piece of writing, one that has been widely derided as “an atrocious sentence.” That judgment comes from many critics over the years, and it has even been enshrined in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, an annual contest where over 10,000 people vie to write a dreadful opening sentence. The contest’s title comes from the opening line of Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel (1830), Paul Clifford:


The line was immortalized by cartoonist Charles Schultz in countless comic strips that featured Snoopy, who frequently appeared in panels where he was writing a novel (this. below, is the first such appearance, August 27, 1969):


Actually, I’m not so sure this is a terrible sentence. It certainly is evocative. It is long, but that is part of what keeps the reader’s attention. The scene is very clearly described and when I read this sentence, I can feel the wind and rain against my window. Others may disagree, but I’ve always felt the criticism of Bulwer-Lytton’s opening line is a little unfair. I asked ChatGPT to improve on Bulwer-Lytton’s sentence. Here’s what I got:


Is this really better? Gone are the evocative words—torrents, violent, rattling, fiercely, swept, scanty. One sentence has become three, the flow interrupted by periods. I don’t see this as an improvement; it lacks any true literary sense. It sounds stiff, generic, unimaginative, juvenile.

Next, I wanted to see what ChatGPT would do with a piece of excellent writing. I turned to an essay by Jacques Barzun, one of the great philosophers and scholars of the twentieth century (Barzun died in 2012 at the age of 104). I have admired his work for many years. Barzun wrote a major biography of one of my favorite composers, Hector Berlioz (Berlioz and the Romantic Century, 2 volumes, Atlantic Little, Brown, 1949), and it was Berlioz and the serpent that led to my having some memorable, personal engagement with Barzun. He was also known as a superb writer, and his essay about copy editors, “Behind the Blue Pencil: Censorship or Creeping Creativity?” (The American Scholar, Summer 1985, Vol. 54, No. 3, pp. 385-388), is a tour de force. Barzun opines, in his pithy prose, that copy editors often mangle an author’s intent as they try to “improve” an author’s writing. I thought I would ask ChatGPT to fix and improve two paragraphs from Barzun’s article. Here’s what I got:


Again, I cannot argue that ChatGPT’s work is an improvement—on any level—on Barzun. The elimination of the phrase in scare quotes, “first-rate stuff but needs a lot of work,” is an egregious omission, but ChatGPT reorders words and offers substitutes for many words that eviscerate Barzun’s writing and make him sound like a middle school student who thought that using a few big, fancy words—like “proliferation”—would impress the teacher.

But there’s more, in this next paragraph by Barzun:


The problems we see are obvious and herein lies one of the cautionary lessons for anyone who is hoping that AI will replace the need for an individual to think through both information and sentence structure. Every writer has an individual voice. When a copy editor (ChatGPT is, in one respect, a virtual copy editor) changes an author’s prose, it often comes out in the voice of the editor. The author’s voice is lost. ChatGPT’s editing lacks sophistication and it does not process irony or turns of phrases that make up interesting, engaging prose. Barzun’s superb writing—keep in mind that Barzun’s book, Simple & Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers, is one of the great texts about writing style—has been reduced to the very kind of writing that he deplored.

While some commentators are praising ChatGPT as a tool to help students who struggle with writing to put together well crafted sentences, others see it as a dangerous, quick end around for a student to avoid doing research. In recent years, “I got it from the Internet,” is an answer that no teacher wants to hear from a student who is asked to justify a fact or assertion. But what if ChatGPT does the research for you and puts together paragraphs that are well structured, clear, accurate, and informative? This is the thing that is making many scholars, teachers, and commentators a little wobbly. What if AI will do your research for you?

While the idea of a computer writing text that sounds like was written by a human being is very impressive, the more important question is “How does ChatGPT get its information?” Putting together grammatically correct and natural sounding sentences is one thing. Putting together grammatically correct and natural sounding sentences that make sense is something very different. I thought I would go to the source. I asked ChatGPT:


There we have it. ChatGPT relies on “large datasets of text.” Where does it get those texts? The Internet, including publicly available books and articles. ChatGPT does not search the Internet when a user makes a query. Rather, it relies on huge databases of information gathered from the Internet that have been loaded into its database. It works from what it has been told. From there, ChatGPT puts together answers to questions and writes those answers in accordance with its own grammar and sentence construction algorithms. 

Do you see what I see?  I decided to ask ChatGPT to do my work, to answer some questions as if I was a student writing a paper.

First, I asked ChatGPT to write a history of the trombone. Any student would be disappointed that I only got three short paragraphs. But, have a look:


The first problem, as every trombone professor will recognize, is the first sentence. Does it sound familiar? It should. ChatGPT, for all of its highly touted creativity and originality, begins its history of the trombone by lifting—let’s call it for what it is: plagiarizing—the first sentence of the Wikipedia entry on the trombone:


If a student begins an assignment with this sentence, the result is guaranteed: a grade of F. But there are other obvious problems. To say that the trombone is an instrument that “[dates] back to at least the 15th century” implies that it might have been around earlier, in, say, the 14th century. But there is nothing in the historical record that implies the instrument we would recognize as a trombone was around in the 14th century (1300s). The third sentence says that the slide is used to “produce different notes” but there is no mention of the use of air, the embouchure, a mouthpiece, and how the embouchure changes shape when the trombone produces different notes. It is air AND the slide AND the embouchure that allow for production of various pitches. Was the trombone “originally used in outdoor brass bands and military ensembles”? No. The earliest known use of the trombone (“originally”) is traced to alta (loud instrument) bands from the fifteenth century that included trombones, trumpets, shawms, and bombards (a double reed instrument). These were hardly “brass bands.” ChatGPT states that the trombone was used in opera “in the 19th century” which is true, but we know that trombones were used by Claudio Monteverdi in his opera, Orfeo, that dates from 1607, the seventeenth century. ChatGPT gives the impression of presenting information with authority. But much of what it wrote about the history of the trombone is incomplete at best and untrue at worst.

I decided to ask ChatGPT to write the answer to a question I posed to a student on a doctoral (DMA) comprehensive exam when I taught at Arizona State University. I asked the student to craft lists of orchestral excerpts for a tenor or bass trombone symphony orchestra audition, then provide commentary on why these particular excerpts were selected. I asked for an audition list for a preliminary, semi-final, final, and final with section playing round, four lists in all. When I asked ChatGPT, this is what I got:


This is rubbish. Pure, unadulterated word salad with no basis in truth. Whatever data was fed into ChatGPT’s databases about the use of the trombone in orchestral literature, AI put it together and came up with junk. ChatGPT obviously does not know a thing about orchestral excerpts for trombone. It all sounds very erudite and informed. But apart from the commentary about the Symphony No. 3 of Camille Saint-Saëns (yes, that symphony does have a “lyrical trombone solo that requires a player to have a strong sense of phrasing and warm, full sound”), there is not a single sentence in this answer that is based in fact. For instance: Not only is there no trombone solo that features legato, a good sense of phrasing, and musicality in the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, the trombones do not play AT ALL in that movement. There is no trombone solo in the second movement of Brahms’ Symphony No. 2. The second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 does have trombones but there are no trombone solos. The first and second trombone parts have 33 notes each (the third trombone has 34) in the movement and none of them are soloistic. Likewise, there is no lyrical trombone solo in the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (that’s the waltz movement in 5/4 meter), and the second movement of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 contains two beautiful chorales for trombones and tuba, but there is nothing therein that could be characterized as “rapid, virtuosic passages.” ChatGPT didn’t know anything about the trombone in orchestral music and instead of telling me, “I don’t know,” it spewed out nonsense. 

Exhausted from making up stuff about trombone auditions, ChatGPT strained to create a list for a semi-final round. The black box you see in the screenshot above was blinking on my computer for several minutes as ChatGPT was “thinking.” The box finally stopped blinking and it was clear that no further answer was forthcoming. ChatGPT, like the Grinch who stole Christmas, “puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.” Someone will paste this into an assignment and hand it in. Grade: F

Wanting to see if this kind of nonsense is normative with AI—remember, AI does not think, it only processes information (and dis-information)—I asked ChatGPT another question. This time I asked it if Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 has a long solo for bass trombone. Here’s the answer ChatGPT generated:


I would love to see the citations for this. As any experienced trombone player who lives in the orchestral universe can tell you, there are three trombone parts in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. But none of them play in the first movement. The only movement where trombones play in the symphony is the final movement, Allegro, as one can see from this incipit (below) of the bass trombone part for the symphony. Trombones do not play in the first movement, Allegro con brio. Tacent (tacet) means the instrument is silent:


ChatGPT invented a solo for bass trombone in the first movement of the symphony. Then, it waxed eloquently about specific aspects of this alleged solo. It all sounds so plausible. And it would have been quite wonderful if Beethoven HAD written a solo for bass trombone in the symphony, a solo that, according to ChatGPT “is a memorable and iconic moment in the symphony.” But ChatGPT’s answer does not contain a word of truth. By now, readers should be getting concerned about the dangers of ChatGPT and similar AI programs. Because they do not provide citations, there’s no way to know where they get the information from which they craft their nonsense. More than a few people will assume that what ChatGPT writes is reliable and truthful. It often is not. It can only parrot what it has been fed. And without citations, there is no way to know if it’s been fed truth or nonsense. And here is something else: I cannot imagine there is any source on earth that says that there is a long bass trombone solo in the first movement of Beethoven Symphony No. 5 unless it appeared in MAD magazine. Here, when asked a question for which it did not know the answer, ChatGPT did not say, “I don’t know.” It made up stuff. This is dangerous. Here is another grade of F. And if ChatGPT makes up stuff about medicine, what happens if someone dies as a result of its mis- and dis-information? It will happen.

I decided to take this further and ask ChatGPT some questions about other aspects of the trombone and how it was used. Here is another question I asked on a doctoral comprehensive exam when I taught at Arizona State University. I asked ChatGPT about the differences between the early trombone (sackbut) and the modern trombone:


Once again, ChatGPT offers a combination of attractive appearing prose along with many factual errors. No, the trombone’s bell does not point upwards, nor does the inner slide move in and out (every trombone player knows it’s the outer slide that moves in and out). Of course, just moving the slide along isn’t the only way the trombone changes pitch—air and the embouchure are in play as well. When ChatGPT wrote the absurd sentence, “The early trombone had a single slide and the modern trombone has a double slide,” I had to ask myself, “Where did it get this information?” To which I followed up with this thought: “Someone is going to trust this nonsense.” (And I had another thought: We need more and better excellent research about the trombone. If ChatGPT is relying on currently available information, it needs better information. Much, much better information.)

I asked my friend, Trevor Herbert, one of the leading trombone scholars in the world (his book The Trombone is our instrument’s seminal book, and he received the International Trombone Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021) what he thought of ChatGPT’s take on the early and modern trombone. Trevor said:

Students and their teachers should understand that the basis of proper historical narratives reside in the analogue world. It is not the job of AI machines to arbitrate intellectual authenticity.

So the bottom line is that we just plough on with what we do and try to make it is as good as possible. The accurate application of the semantic web as the basis of an imaginative tool is some way down the line. I would never use these sites nor recommend them.

I then asked ChatGPT another of my doctoral comprehensive exam questions, about the use of the trombone in various religious communities. ChatGPT produced a flowery commentary that sounds very impressive but is full of a remarkable number of errors of fact:


Once again, ChatGPT displayed its inability to cobble together a coherent history of the use of the trombone in a specific context. No, Bach did not “often” write for trombones, nor are trombones used in his Brandenburg Concerti or orchestral suites. But it was when ChatGPT began to elucidate on the Moravian community’s trombone tradition that it got into quicksand and could not get out. I asked my friend Stewart Carter (professor of music history, music theory, Collegium Music, and trombone at Wake Forest University, and co-editor of the Historic Brass Society Journal), a leading expert on Moravian music and how trombones were used in Moravian communities throughout history, to comment on what ChatGPT wrote:

The ChatGPT “essay” on trombones in religious traditions and contexts, including but not limited to J. S. Bach and Moravian communities, is at best inadequate, and at worst, simply wrong. Yes, J. S. Bach did use trombones in a few of his cantatas to support the vocal parts, but he did not write parts for trombones in any of instrumental works.

As to the Moravians, the sect was not founded in what is now the Czech Republic in the 18th century. The renewed Moravian Church (Unitas fratrum) traces its origin to Saxony, where Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf invited Protestant refugees from Bohemia and Moravia to dwell on his estates in the Lausitz region, where they founded the town of Herrnhut. The Moravians used trombones in small chamber ensembles and large orchestras only rarely. In fact, the early Moravians almost never had “large” orchestras. I know of no Moravian anthems that employ trombones. The principal use of trombones in early Moravian communities was to announce deaths and important arrivals to the community, to support the singing of chorales, at a funeral. They occasionally supported the singing of chorales in worship services, particularly the Easter Sunrise Service and the New Year’s Eve Watchnight Service.

Much has been made about Chat GPT’s ability to generate computer code on its own. But AI’s understanding of scientific principles— of, say, trombone acoustics and how sound is produced on brass instruments—is another matter entirely. I asked ChatGPT to answer a question posed by a colleague who is a music history professor (most trombone DMA committees include the trombone professor, another music professor, and a music professor who is a music theory or music history teacher). I  included his question on comprehensive exams for doctoral students in trombone. The question references the acoustics of the trombone. Here’s the question and what ChatGPT wrote:


On first glance, this gives the impression of being a very comprehensive, informed answer. But when I asked my friend, Arnold Myers, one of the world’s  leading experts on the subject of the acoustics of brass instruments (he is co-author, along with Murray Campbell, and Joël Gilbert, of The Science of Brass Instruments, ASA Press/Springer, 2022), to weigh in on ChatGPT’s understanding of trombone acoustics, Arnold took the essay apart piece by piece:Yeo_trombone_acoustics_ChatGPT_01

Arnold Myers commented: This is a bit misleading: blowing air through the instrument does not itself produce a sound, blowing is necessary solely to produce the lip buzz.


Arnold Myers commented: This is correct, and important.


Arnold Myers commented: The harmonic spectrum depends on the amplitudes of the standing waves of different frequencies rather than the positions of nodes and antinodes.


Arnold Myers commented: This is misleading: the bell flare is important in the radiation of sound and the timbre, but it does not amplify the sound. The bell does not add energy, it lets some of the energy of the standing waves escape.


Arnold Myers commented: Smaller bells are often more flared and less cylindrical (as in the French trombone).


Arnold Myers commented: It would be hard to define ‘focused’ or ‘concentrated’. The sound of a trombone played loudly has a very wide range of harmonics, containing frequencies extending up to and beyond the limits of human hearing, certainly not “narrow.” So does the sound of a french horn played loudly. It is the euphonium sound that has a more limited range of harmonic content.

Arnold Myers had a few more comments as well. It’s not enough that ChatGPT has something to say. It’s also important to note what it does not say:

Several important considerations are omitted. These include:
A. The internal sound levels very high, reaching 140-150 decibels in fortissimo. The bell is selective, transmitting the high frequencies (a high pass filter) but reflecting most of the low frequency energy (necessary to build up standing waves).
B. The timbre of the trombone depends on the dynamic level of playing. At low frequencies the timbre is mellow with little high frequency content, but at high dynamics a significant proportion of the sound energy is converted from low frequencies to high as sound waves travel from mouthpiece to bell (nonlinear propagation of sound). This results in the inevitable brassy sound (cuivré) at high dynamic levels (whether the player wishes it or not).
C. The standing waves are strong enough to influence the vibration of the player’s lips. The buzz is shaped partly by the player’s voluntary muscular control and partly by the standing waves. This is experienced as ‘slotting’.
In conclusion, Arnold offered this observation:
The reply to your question is well worded and comes over as authoritative, but it is not informed by the state of the art knowledge of brass instrument behaviour. If this had been turned in by one of my masters students, it would have received rather a low mark, not quite a fail. Quite a lot is correct, but important things are wrong (or missing). It gives the impression of being based on reading 50-year old books.
I then turned to another subject that interests me. I asked ChatGPT to discuss the serpent, the serpentine shaped musical instrument that I have played since 1994. Among many other uses from at least 1590, the serpent was used in small groups of instrumentalists in nineteenth century England where they accompanied the singing of Psalms and other music in rural parish churches. In 2011, I wrote an article about English author Thomas Hardy and how he wrote about the serpent in many of his works.
So, I asked ChatGPT about the serpent and how it was used in west gallery bands in churches in rural England in the nineteenth century. Here’s what ChatGPT came up with:
This is more nonsense. No, the serpent is not similar to a tuba. It predated the tuba by over 200 years, it has a shape that could never be confused with a tuba, and it’s played with a mouthpiece roughly the size of a small trombone mouthpiece. Nobody can argue that the serpent is “easy to play.” And the serpent is not played “by winding a long, coiled brass tube around the player’s body.” The serpent is made of wood, not brass (apart from a short brass bocal and brass keys that appear on some serpents), and it is held in front of a player, not coiled around a player’s body. Further, ChatGPT completely missed how Thomas Hardy writes about west gallery bands in many of his novels, including Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) where he pays the serpent a crowning compliment:

Old things pass away, ’tis true; but a serpent was a good old note: a deep rich note was the serpent.

I decided to send my question about the serpent and ChatGPT’s answer to my friend, Clifford Bevan, for his take on all of this. Cliff literally wrote the book about the tuba and its predecessors (like the serpent), The Tuba Family (Faber & Faber, 1978; second edition, Piccolo Press, 2000). Not only is he a superb scholar and performer (on tuba, serpent, and ophicleide), he has a great sense of humor and an unsurpassed wit. Here’s what Cliff said about ChatGPT’s essay on the serpent:

I’m sure you must have had the occasional response to your blog in the way that I have to The Tuba Family, where someone has totally misunderstood something I’ve written to the extent of it’s very often having been taken as meaning totally the opposite of what’s intended. It can be very discouraging when you’ve tried your best to use clear and simple language. Our ChatGPT shows evidence of behaving like this someone. So, paragraph 1:

“serpent, a brass instrument.” My Webster has “brass . . .1. consisting of or made of brass.” All these years I’ve been under the impression a serpent’s almost always wooden, but then again . . .

“relatively inexpensive and easy to play.” Not that I’ve noticed—difficult to get your fingers round and all but impossible to pitch accurately. (Though maybe ChatGPT is an octopus with perfect pitch?)

Paragraph 2. Not the early 16th century: the late 16th century.

“The serpent was played by winding a long coiled brass tube around the player’s body.” You, boy, that chorister—roll up the sleeves of your cassock and grab the ends of this brass tube, that’s it, carefully. . . Now keep tight hold and walk carefully around me, holding it tightly. When it’s totally round my body don’t forget to cut me free otherwise I won’t be able to eat my dinner . . .

Paragraph 3. This is the real gem. ChatGPT has read somewhere that Thomas Hardy (was he the big fat one or the small thin one, by the way?) refers to the serpent in his novels. The only one Chat has seen wasn’t actually in a form that required reading but simply watching the screen, and this was Tess of the D’Urbevilles, so he has had to fit the serpent into this. All this symbollically stuff is nonsense. What Hardy does in no fewer than four short stories and, particularly in Under the Greenwood Tree which is based around a village band, is describe (very accurately) the way in which the serpent was used in such a band. (By the way, unusually there is no mention of a serpent in Tess – I’ve checked.)  If Chat was really serious about symbolic serpents he could have referred to a much earlier book called The Holy Bible, specifically the chapter of Genesis, where the symbolic serpent really comes into its own.

Paragraph 4. I think the “important symbol” bit has been demonstrated to have been written about long before the nineteenth century.

So how would I grade this answer? It would be too cruel to grade it. I would take it along to my head of department with a request that he might send ChatGPT along to the school psychiatrist for assessment as this student is completely unable to benefit from my tuition owing to impaired mental faculties.

Finally, I turned to another subject I know well. In 2021, my friend, Kevin Mungons, and I published a new book with University of Illinois Press, Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry.  Readers of The Last Trombone know about this book, and I wanted to see what ChatGPT knew about a subject that Kevin and I have spent decades researching. Kevin is also an editor for Moody Publishers. He works with authors every day and he has an editor’s eye for good (and bad) prose. What would AI say about Rodeheaver when it searched its massive databases? Here’s what ChatGPT said:
Kevin and I have been talking about this for a few days, and we went around and around on this, with my asking ChatGPT the same question several times, worded slightly differently each time. Kevin commented:

On the upside—the AI writing sample demonstrated good grammar and mechanics. The AI engine knows and applies basic punctuation, spelling, capitalization. The paragraph structure develops an introduction, exposition, and conclusion. Honestly, it’s cleaner than most college writing, or for that matter, most business communication. Give the technical elements an A.

Scored by various methods, the college-level paragraphs are moderately difficult to read. A good editor would fix the long sentences, the over-reliance on “to be” verbs, and the zombie nouns. The paragraphs are also wordy and repetitious (131 repeated words in a 260-word sample)—sounding like college students padding their word count. So give the reading comprehension a B-minus (allowing for grade inflation), but there’s a more obvious flaw—it’s boring. And no one reads boring, not even college professors (who claim to read student papers but really only skim).

Accurate content? Not so good. ChatGPT claims that Rodeheaver traveled with the evangelist Gipsy Smith (he didn’t), gives the wrong date for the founding of Rainbow Records (1920, not 1911), and says Rodeheaver wrote “hundreds” of songs (maybe 30, tops). When I asked Doug to try a more generic prompt (“Write about Homer Rodeheaver”), ChatGPT wrongly reported that he was born in Indiana. Another iteration asserted that Rodeheaver published Gospel Hymns No. 1–6 (an Ira Sankey hymnal, not Rodeheaver).

These factual errors are oddly authoritative and precise. Very few readers will recognize the name Gipsy Smith—it sounds so fantastic and exotic that it must be true, as does a very specific (and very wrong) claim about an 1894 hymnal.

As a followup, Kevin asked me to ask ChatGPT to write something about Rodeheaver based on a question had a mixture of factual and fictional information. Many commentators are breathlessly arguing that ChatGPT and other AI programs will soon be able to write college papers. But what if a student asks ChatGPT to do something that, unbeknownst to the student, is flawed from the start? What if the request for ChatGPT to write an essay has, as its premise, misinformation? What if the question itself contains an impossibility? Kevin submitted a question and I put it into the ChatGPT program. Here’s what happened: 


Obvious errors abound, such as the assertion that Rodeheaver was born in Indiana (he was born in Ohio). And there’s still that spurious claim that Rodeheaver started Rainbow Records in 1911 (he founded the label in 1920). But Kevin’s new request to ChatGPT was infused with several obviously false claims. ChatGPT did not recognize this. ChatGPT’s answer, therefore, is hilariously funny—and so very wrong. ChatGPT could have said, “I cannot answer this question.” But it didn’t. It answered it by making up stuff. Making up outrageous stuff. Kevin summarized his thoughts on this through the lens of his skills as an accomplished teacher, researcher, writer, and editor:

Suspecting AI’s inherent flaw, I deliberately constructed a new writing prompt that asked about Rodeheaver’s career as a violinist and his famous collection of postcards (both claims wildly untrue). Sure enough, ChatGPT returned glowing paragraphs claiming “Rodeheaver played the violin…for various churches and evangelistic campaigns throughout the United States.” Then comes a whopper, ChatGPT claiming that Rodeheaver’s (nonexistent) postcard collection “was one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world…valued at over $50,000.”

Yes, fact checking gets an F here, but not just a zero marked in red at the top of the paper. This level of duplicity earns the student a slow walk toward the dean’s office.

What’s my point? At the exact moment that we’re buried in fake news, social media lies, and pseudo research from Wikipedia—at the exact moment we need more truth—we get pure fabrication burnished with academic jargon. And breathless news reporters who think it’s good.

ChatGPT has not yet overcome the original problem with computer programming: Garbage In, Garbage Out. For these new AI writing engines, a bad or imprecise query still yields unusually bad answers. And if you don’t know the answer, make it up.

How will teachers know when a student is using AI? For now, there’s one obvious tell—a pronounced gap between flawless mechanics and abysmal content. That’s not how it works in real life, where bad student writing is consistently bad—mechanics, research, fact checking, execution—all bad. In the olden days, teachers could spot plagiarism because of one jewel-like paragraph shining from a pile of dreck. That hasn’t changed. Given a long enough writing sample, the AI content is still pretty obvious.

While media gush about ChatGPT, even OpenAI Inc.’s founder Sam Altman, recognizes the limitations of ChatGPT:

ChatGPT is incredibly limited, but good enough at some things to create a misleading impression of greatness. It’s a mistake to be relying on it for anything important right now. It’s a preview of progress; we have lots of work to do on robustness and truthfulness.

Well, that is a truthful and honest statement. Will AI improve over time? Of course. But will it ever replace the human mind, and the unique style of individual authors who have shown, throughout history, the remarkable ability to find and put together the right words? I don’t think so.

As Bern Elliot, a vice president at Gartner (a technology research firm), said when he recently summed up the current state of ChatGPT in an article on CNBC:

ChatGPT, as currently conceived, is a parlor trick. It’s something that isn’t actually itself going to solve what people need, unless what they need is sort of a distraction.

At the top of this article, I included a screenshot and link from Steven Marche’s article, “The College Essay is Dead.” As I conclude this essay, have a look at this headline, from an article by Gary Marcus in Scientific American:



Marcus concludes his article with this insightful observation about ChatGPT and other AI programs:

Large language models are great at generating misinformation, because they know what language sounds like but have no direct grasp on reality—and they are poor at fighting misinformation. That means we need new tools. Large language models lack mechanisms for verifying truth, because they have no way to reason, or to validate what they do. 

“They have no reason to reason, or to validate what they do.” Despite the current cultural intoxication with AI, there is still—and there will always be—a place for human beings, we who have a soul and a conscience, we who live and act and breathe in the reality of space and time and experiences, and who are made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27).  

The end of writing? That gives ChatGPT way too much credit. ChatGPT is being touted as a substitute for human thinking. There is danger afoot in this, friends, and amidst the breathless enthusiasm for artificial intelligence, ChatGPT is being exposed as a massive mis- and dis-information machine. A replacement for Google search? ChatGPT doesn’t tell you its sources. At least Google sends you directly to its source and once there, you can filter it and decide if it is reliable. A tool to use when writing essays? Not if it doesn’t cite its work so you can know its sources. Remember: when AI hallucinates, you might not know if it’s vomiting incorrect information, all decorated in flowery, plausible language. When you hand in a ChatGPT essay about the trombone and your teacher not only gives you an F but you are sent to the Dean’s office and face expulsion for plagiarism and making up stuff, you will find out the cost of taking a short cut can be very high. Keep studying, keep honing your craft. Conduct your own research; test your sources. You are better than ChatGPT. When approaching artificial intelligence, Caveat emptor.


An award for “Best Historical Research”

An award for “Best Historical Research”

by Douglas Yeo

Readers of The Last Trombone know that last year, University of Illinois Press published a book co-authored by my friend, Kevin Mungons, and me. The subject of the book is Homer Rodeheaver, the trombone-playing song leader for the evangelist William “Billy” Sunday for twenty years during the first third of the twentieth century. Rodeheaver played the trombone for over 100 million—yes, million—people during his lifetime (1880-1955) and he profoundly shaped the course of gospel music. Rodeheaver created the first gospel music record company (Rainbow Records), and he founded what was, at the time, the largest and most successful Christian music publishing company. His influence, nearly 70 years after his death, is still felt today.

Fig 01-1 rodeheaver-and-sunday

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

Our book has received many enthusiastic reviews , including one in the October 2022 issue of the International Trombone Association Journal:

Kevin Mungons and Douglas Yeo have collaborated on a scholarly, nuanced biography of Homer Rodeheaver. Mungons and Yeo’s book, Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry, combines painstaking research with insightful sociological and musicological analysis. Although the book is co-authored, it has a unified narrative. The extensive citations, alone, are worth the price of purchase. Even if one has only marginal interest in Homer Rodeheaver as a person, this scholarly description of American society at the turn of the 20th century proves fascinating and illuminating.

And this one from Christianity Today in March 2022:

Like virtually all books in the University of Illinois’s much-honored Music in American Life series, Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry fills in significant blanks in our understanding of different aspects of music history. Mungons and Yeo elevate their contribution with meticulous detail and research; a penchant for finding fascinating, revealing stories and anecdotes; and a sparkling, highly readable prose style that’s all too rare in most academic books.


Last week (October 12), we learned that our book has just received a major award. The Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) gives annual awards “to authors of books, articles, or recording liner notes to recognize those publishing the very best work today in recorded sound research.” This is a highly coveted award, one with major significance to the large community of individuals who are heavily invested in understanding and promoting the history and preservation of recorded sound. ARSC publishes a peer-reviewed journal and its 2022 Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research include books on a wide variety of musical styles and genres written by highly respected authors.

Our book received the “Best History” award in the category for Best Historical Research in Recorded Blues, Gospel, Hip Hop, Soul, or R&B. The award will be presented to Kevin and me at the ARSC Conference that will be held in Pittsburgh in May 2023. We are very grateful for this recognition.

Between now and October 31, our publisher, University of Illinois Press, is offering a 50% discount off the cover price of the book. Click on this link to the UofI Press website’s page on books that have won awards in 2022. You’ll find our book there. Click on the image of the cover and you’ll be directed to UofI Press’s page about our book. You can order the book there. Put in the Promo Code MAL50 and the cost of the book will go from $31 to $15.50. That’s a real money savings. But this offer expires on October 31; now is your chance!

ARSC Award graphic

Berliner 62Z – an early trombone record from 1897

Berliner 62Z – an early trombone record from 1897

By Douglas Yeo

The history of trombone solo recordings has yet to be written. This puzzles me. How is it that an enterprising trombone-playing doctoral student, looking for a worthy dissertation project, has not yet entertained the thought, “What was the first audio recording of a trombone solo?”, and then set out to explore the situation? But to my knowledge, this hasn’t happened.  [A caveat: Edward Bahr’s DMA document, “A Discography of Classical Trombone/Euphonium Solo and Ensemble Music on Long-Playing Records Distributed in the United States” (University of Oklahoma, 1980) was limited in scope and did not cover the pre-LP record era.] With all of my current research and writing projects on my plate, I don’t have the time to undertake this study, but the subject interests me enough to keep an eye out for information that might be useful in informing the arc of recorded trombone solo history. That said, “first claims” are not really so important in the big scheme of things. What is of greater importance is what the solo playing on early recordings tels us about musicianship and trombone technique at the time.

Trombonists are aware (or should be aware) of solo recordings made by Arthur Pryor, the celebrated trombone soloist of John Philip Sousa’s Band. Pryor made dozens of recordings as a trombone soloist for various companies, and many more as a conductor. He was also a prolific composer. The Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR), which is maintained by University of California Santa Barbara, lists over 1300 recordings when one searches for “Arthur Pryor.” This number includes recordings of Pryor as a trombone soloist, as a conductor, and recordings of his works by others. The 26 tracks of Pryor playing trombone solos that were released in 1983 on Crystal Records as Trombone Solos Performed by Arthur Pryor (Crystal LP S451) and in 1997 as Arthur Pryor: Trombone Soloist of the Sousa Band (Crystal CD CD451) include just a small sampling of Pryor’s trombone solo discography, and they feature recordings that he made between November 1, 1897 and September 21, 1910 on Victor, Berliner, and Monarch records.

The Crystal recording includes copious notes about the recordings, the music played, and Pryor, including what claims to be a complete discography of Pryor’s trombone solos, duets, quartets, and sextets. This list, which relied in part on the listing of Pryor recordings in James R. Smart’s The Sousa Band: A Discography (Washington DC: Library of Congress, 1970) lists several cylinder recordings that Pryor made “c. 1895” for Columbia and the Chicago Talking Machine Company. To my knowledge, copies of these wax cylinders have not been found (for an insightful discussion of why so few of these early Columbia have survived, see this article on the ARSC—Association for Recorded Sound Collections—blog) or at least their discovery has not been made public. The dates of these recordings are not known with certainty, although the Columbia recordings were listed in a Columbia Records catalog in 1895 (for an updated listing of Columbia recordings, see The Recordings of the Columbia Phonograph Company, 1889-1896 , compiled by Mason Vander Lugt for the National Recording Preservation Board, 2017). Clearly, Pryor made or planned to make some wax cylinder solo recordings by 1895 but in the absence of having actually found one, it is possible that the Columbia catalog published recordings they were planning to make and, for one reason or another, they were not recorded, manufactured, or distributed.

The evolution of recorded sound from wax cylinders to records occurred in the late 1880s, with the production of single-side 5-inch diameter records by the Berliner Gramphone Company. Emile Berliner is credited as the inventor of the gramophone record.  For a superb summary of Berliner’s pioneering and influential work in the nascent recording industry, I recommend James R. Smart, “Emile Berliner and Nineteenth-Century Disc Recordings,” The Quarterly Journal of the LIbrary of Congress (Summer/Fall 1980, Vol. 37, No 3/4, 422-440). Also of interest is the article on the Library of Congress website, Berliner Recordings at the Library of Congress. Among Berliner’s early 5-inch discs (which were manufactured between 1889 and 1892 before he switched to 7-inch discs) is Berliner 116, a recording of an unknown trombone soloist playing an unaccompanied version of the German drinking song, Im tiefen Keller. A fragment of this recording, which is one of the earliest records ever made (the exact date of the recording is not known) may be heard HERE (click on “To listen” on the linked page).


Paul Charosh’s book, Berliner Gramophone Records: American Issues, 1892-1900 (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1995), is the most comprehensive resource of information about Berliner records. With Charosh’s book in hand, one can put together a timeline of Berliner trombone recordings, and the DAHR database of Berliner recordings provides additional information. From this, we can see that Arthur Pryor’s first recordings on disc were made on July 2, 1897, when he recorded Sweet Lorena Ray (Berliner 3300), Exposition Echoes (Berliner 3301), and The Palms (Berliner 3303).

In December 2021, my friend Kevin Mungons—with whom I co-authored the new book, Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2021)— told me of an auction of Berliner records—part of the Hazelcorn Phonograph Collection—that was taking place at Donley Auction Services in Union, Illinois.

Berliner 3303, a 7-inch diameter record featuring Arthur Pryor playing The Palms (Gabriel Faure), recorded on July 2, 1897.

Among the offerings at the auction was a copy of one of Arthur Pryor’s Berliner recordings, The Palms (3303). Since this recording is well known to collectors (and a transfer is available on YouTube), I did not feel a need to acquire this record (it eventually sold for $300). But there was another record at the auction that caught my eye.


Berliner 62Z, a 7-inch diameter record featuring Romance for Military Band with Military Band, Washington, D.C., recorded on May 27, 1897.

Berliner 62Z, a 7-inch diameter, single-sided disc, was listed as Romance for Trombone, performed by “Military Band, Washington, D.C.” But what got my attention was the date of the recording that was etched into the disc: May 27, 1897. This date was more than a month before Pryor’s first Berliner disc recordings. I began looking around and I found a transfer of a copy of Berliner 62Z at Yale University. The page about Yale’s copy didn’t have any more information about the recording but as I listened to it, it didn’t sound right. Something was wrong. Still, hearing it told me that I really wanted to obtain this copy of Berliner 62Z at the auction. It was clear to me that this was one of the earliest trombone recordings ever made on a record (as opposed to a wax cylinder). Also, while the soloist was unidentified, the band was not named with much specificity, and the composer’s name was absent, I liked the piece. So, I placed a bid with the auction house and waited. I won.

Kevin and I traveled to Donley Auction Services to pick up the record. It was in rough shape, very dirty, and it had a few divots as well. But Kevin thought it would clean up nicely so I left the record with him for him to make a transfer. He has excellent equipment to make this kind of transfer from an early record—something he did many times during our research about Homer Rodeheaver—and I knew he would do what he could.

While Kevin was preparing to make the transfer, I started looking around for more information about Berliner 62Z. Having established that the record was made over a month before Arthur Pryor’s first records, I thought that I had just purchased an important part of trombone history. The first thing I set about to do was to identify the piece. With only the title Romance for Trombone to go on, I began thinking of all of the trombone solos I know that have that title. Of course, there is the Romance for trombone by Carl Maria von Weber which, actually, probably was not composed  by Weber. The Yale recording of Berliner 62Z instantly showed that it was not that Romance. Berliner records could only hold two minutes of music; the piece attributed to Weber was much too long, anyway. And it wasn’t the Romance by William Grant Still, a piece that Still had composed for saxophone and piano (and orchestra) that I transcribed for trombone solo at the request of Still’s daughter, Judith Anne Still. Berliner 62Z  had to be something else.

Entries for Romance for Trombone (versions for band, and orchestra and piano) by Charles William Bennet, from the Catalogue of Copyright Entries: Part 3: Musical Compositions, New Series, Volume 12, Part 2, Last Half of 1919, Nos. 8-13.

I then decided to look through the Catalog of Copyright Entries, a valuable resource I’ve used many times to track down copyright and publication dates of musical compositions. A long search ensued to find a piece titled Romance for trombone with band that was composed before 1897. I found a piece with that title in the Catalogue of Copyright Entries: Part 3: Musical Compositions, New Series, Volume 12, Part 2, Last Half of 1917, Nos. 8-13.

The composition was by C. W. Bennet, and it had been published by Carl Fischer. But why was it listed in the 1917 catalog? The piece was listed as having been first copyrighted on December 13, 1889. The 1889 catalog is not available online, but Romance was up for copyright renewal in 1917, hence its listing in the 1917 catalog. So, I had a candidate for the piece, but I needed the music to make a positive identification.

I then went to Worldcat, the comprehensive database of library collections around the world, and I found several libraries that had a Romance by Bennet. A band version was held by the Chatfield Music Lending Library in Chatfield, Minnesota, and a version for trombone and piano was held by University of Arizona Libraries. I first turned to Chatfield. The Library provides a tremendous resource to researchers and conductors by loaning out sets of music from their large collection. I had used their services while researching my recently published eight-part series of articles for the International Tuba Euphonium Association Journal, A Comprehensive History of Tubby the Tuba: More than a Melody—More than Oompah. Chatfield had provided me with music to an arrangement of The Tubby the Tuba Song that was available nowhere else. Chatfield’s catalog didn’t mention that their copy of Romance was a solo for trombone but I decided to order the set and see what came my way. The staff at the Chatfield Music Lending Library could not have been more helpful—especially Library Manager Jerel Nielsen—and it was only a matter of hours before I had the answer to my question: Berliner 62Z was a recording of Charles William Bennet’s Romance for Trombone.

The conductor score/Solo Cornet part to the band arrangement of Charles William Bennet’s Romance. Courtesy of the Chatfield Music Lending Library.

The first (solo) trombone part to the band arrangement of Charles William Bennet’s Romance.Courtesy of the Chatfield Music Lending Library.

I then ordered the copy of Romance for trombone and piano from University of Arizona via Interlibrary Loan. The music arrived in a week—it was a match to the piece that Chatfield had. But I noticed one thing right away: Look at the trombone melody line in the first measure of the Agitato section. In the band version, the third note is a G-natural. But in the earlier version for trombone and piano, that note is a D-natural. On the recording, the soloist plays G-natural. Since Bennet had preserved his copyright at the time the band version was published, we can probably assume that Bennet made the change himself—although the change was in place as early as 1897, as evidenced on the Berliner 62Z record—and it’s hard to argue with his decision. Keeping the melody in an ascending line seems to heighten the tension of the Agitato section.

The trombone solo part to the trombone/piano version of Charles William Bennet’s Romance. Courtesy of University of Arizona Libraries.

Now that I had the music, I knew the key of Romance. The published music was in F-major. Now I understood why the Yale recording didn’t sound right to my ears: their transfer was made at the wrong speed. Many people assume that early records were recorded and played back at 78 revolutions per minute (rpm). However, according to James Smart’s article, Berliner records were made at between 66 and 72 rpm. The Yale transfer of Berliner 62Z played in A-flat, a minor third higher than Bennet’s published key of F-major. Yale made its transfer at 78 rpm which was much too fast. However, since I published this article, I have been in contact with Yale University’s Collection of Historical Sound Recordings. The Director of the Collection, Mark Bailey, has informed me that they are aware that some of their Berliner records were digitized at the incorrect speed and they are at work on a speed correction project. This is welcome news, since Yale’s collection of over 700 Berliner records is such an important resource in our understanding of these early recordings.

Kevin cleaned the record and when I saw it, it seemed like a completely different disc. With the dirt and grime removed, it was clear that the record grooves were still there, even in the divots, and with the key of the piece firmly established, he made a transfer at 66 rpm. The result was a transfer that played in F-major.

The transfer was revelatory. While there was a lot of hiss and surface noise which is typical of recordings of the period, the performance—in the correct key of F-major—sounded more settled than the Yale transfer in the wrong, higher key of A-flat major. And it was clear that the trombone soloist was a good player. I sent the recording of the raw transfer to another friend of mine, William Conant, who plays E-flat bass (tuba) in the New England Brass Band, a group for which I was music director from 1998-2008. Bill has helped me on many occasions by applying gentle noise reduction to transfers of old recordings that has been useful in bringing out more of the sound of the original performance. After a few tries, he came up with a version of Berliner 62Z that allowed both the band and the soloist to be clearly heard.

One interesting thing immediately jumped out to me. When looking at the music, it was evident that in order to fit the performance of Romance onto a Berliner disc that could contain only two minutes of music (Kevin’s transfer of the record at 66 rpm clocks in at 1:57), a four measure interlude in the middle of the piece had been cut from the performance. Cuts like this were common in the early recording era in order to fit a piece on one side of a disc, and it was interesting to see one applied to the Berliner recording of Romance.

Having established the name of the composer, obtained the music, learned the key of the piece, and with a great transfer of my record in hand, there were still more problems to solve. Who was Charles William Bennet? What was the band, and who was the soloist? The record simply said, “Military Band, Washington D.C.” There was more work to do.

I found a little information on Bennet. The Wind Repertory Project, citing the Heritage Encyclopedia of Band Music, reports that Bennet was born, raised, and died in Massachusetts (March 19, 1849-May 24, 1926). He served with the 56th Regiment-Infantry, Massachusetts Volunteers during the American Civil War where he began playing cornet. He eventually played euphonium, and enlisted in the United States Navy, serving for 30 years. In 1909, The Musical Observer (New York) printed a business card for William Charles Bennet on its “Directory” page (below). The Chatfield Music Lending Library has 32 of Bennet’s compositions. Bennet seems like a forgotten but interesting person and composer. We need more research to understand more about him, his life, and work:

Directory entry for Charles William Bennet, The Musical Observer, Vol. III, No. 7, July 1909, page 1.

Paul Charosh’s book on Berliner records speculates that the “Military Band, Washington D. C.” was probably Haley’s Concert Band, and the DAHR database, citing Charosh, makes the same conclusion. Charosh and the DAHR database show four issues of Berliner 62 – two recorded on May 27, 1897 (Berliner 62 and Berliner 62Z) with “Military Band, Washington D.C.,” one made on December 29, 1898 with an anonymous band (Berliner 62X), and one with no take number or date, but listed as recorded by “Haley’s Concert Band of Washington D. C.” I needed to learn more about Haley’s band.

I began a lengthy search to see if I could find any references to Haley’s Band around 1897. The first reference I found was from the Washington Times of December 1, 1895, an advertisement for the band’s first concert. The conductor was listed as Will[iam] A. Haley, and his group was called “Washington’s New Military Concert Band.”

Advertisement for the inaugural concert of William Haley’s Military Concert Band from the Washington Times (Washington DC), December 1, 1895, page 4.

An article in The Evening Star (Washington DC) from March 4, 1897, gave a brief biography of Haley, who was born in Washington DC in 1857 and played flute and piccolo in the United States Marine Band. He left the Marine Band in 1877, then played in several groups around the country, and subsequently formed his own band in 1895 composed of ex-members of the Marine Band. Haley also led an orchestra that played at the inauguration of President William McKinley in 1897.  Another article  in the Evening Star from November 27, 1897 referred to Haley’s band as the “Washington Military Concert Band.” Connecting the dots, it did not take much to lead to the reasonable conclusion that the “Military Band, Washington D.C.” that performed on Berliner 62Z was Haley’s “Washington Military Concert Band.”


Article about William Haley’s Military Concert Band with a mention of the band’s trombone section members, from The Evening Times (Washington DC), November 27, 1897, page 6.

But who was the trombone soloist on the record? I’ve found several clues. In an Evening Star review of a Haley Band concert from April 5, 1897,  the trombone section of Messrs. Stone, Kruger, Meilhausen, and Thierbach were singled out for their fine playing in an arrangement of Meyerbeer’s Les Hugenots. On November 27, 1897, The Evening Times (Washington DC)—see the image above— featured an article that promoted an upcoming concert by Haley’s Band in which it announced another performance of the Meyerbeer arrangement, “by the great trombone section, Messrs. Stone, Kruger, and Muellhausen [this name is variously spelled “Meilhausen,” “Muehleisen, and “Muellhausen” in contemporary newspaper articles]. With the names of the trombone players in Haley’s band identified in April and November 1897, and Berliner 62Z recorded in May, 1897, it seems logical that the same players participated in the April, May, and November 1897 concerts and recording. And, since the players were not listed in alphabetical order, it’s likely that the players were listed in their order of position in the trombone section, with Mr. Stone playing first trombone.


Article from the Evening Star (Washington DC), November 28, 1896, page 24.

But there are more clues about the identity of the trombone soloist. After I first published this article, I continued looking for more information about the trombone section of Haley’s Washington Military Concert Band. I found several references to the band’s trombone soloist, Harry A. Stone, in announcements and reviews of Haley Band concerts. The newspaper announcement above, from the Evening Star (Washington DC) on November 28, 1896, mentions H. A. Stone, trombone soloist with Haley’s band, “who is said to be fully equal to Arthur Pryor on the trombone.”


Advertisement in the Washington Times (Washington DC), November 29, 1896, page 12.

The next day, November 29, 1896, a small advertisement (above) for the forthcoming concert by Haley’s band mentioned Harry A. Stone as the concert’s featured trombone soloist.


Review of a concert by Haley’s Washington Concert Band, the Evening Star (Washington DC), November 30, 1896, page 10.

Two days later, a review of the concert (above) appeared in the Evening Star which waxed enthusiastically about “Mr. Harry A. Stone, the trombone soloist of the band . . . Mr. Stone’s work on the trombone showed his complete mastery of the instrument.”


Announcement of United States Marine Band Concert, the Evening Star (Washington DC), July 10, 1886.

Harry Stone trombone Marine Band July 1886

Announcement of United States Marine Band Concert, the Evening Star (Washington DC), July 31, 1886.

Digging a little deeper, I learned that Harry Stone was a member of the United States Marine Band under the leadership of John Philip Sousa. In July 1886 (clipping above), he was soloist in a performance of Cujus Animan from Rossini’s Stabat Mater. A few weeks later, he played Let All Obey by Michael William Balfe. (clipping above). Stone’s performance on July 10, 1886 may have been his first appearance as soloist with the Marine Band. I reached out to Master Sargent Kira Wharton, Chief Librarian/Historian for the United States Marine Band, and she filled in some more information about Harry A. Stone. He went by two names – Henry A. Stone and Harry A. Stone. As I’ve continued to research Stone, I have found only a few references to him as Henry, including his Marine Band muster roll records, and the program, below, from a concert the Marine Band played on October 2, 1890 in Washington DC for at a banquet at the annual meeting of the National Wholesale Druggists Association.


Program for a United States Marine Band Concert featuring Henry Stone, trombone soloist. Proceedings of the Sixteenth Annual Meeting of the National Wholesale Druggists Association, Arlington Hotel, Washington DC. October 2, 1890.

Harry Stone enlisted in the Marine Corps on May 6, 1886, served in the Marine Band from 1886-1893 at which time he left the band (he was among many players who left the band after John Philip Sousa left the Marine Band to form his own band in 1892), played in William Haley’s band from its establishment in 1895 to 1899, and rejoined the Marine Band in 1899,  serving there until retiring in 1917. An article in the Washington Times (July 2, 1899)—below—mentioned that Stone was originally from Massachusetts, and he “has the honor to be the first trombone soloist who played the principal part for that instrument upon a slide trombone, the previous custom having been to employ a valve instrument for that place.” I asked Sgt. Kira Wharton about this—was Stone the first Marine Band trombonist to use a slide trombone?—and she said that photos of the Marine Band from the 1880s show players with slide trombones, so the article probably refers to Stone playing slide rather than valve trombone in the 21st Infantry Band.


An excerpt from an article about the United States Marine Band that writes about Harry Stone, principal trombonist of the Band, the Washington Times, July 2, 1899.

An article in the Evening Star (April 1, 1899)—below—stated that Harry Stone was rejoining the Marine Band, having left in 1893 after John Philip Sousa left the band.


Article about trombonist Harry Stone rejoining the United States Marine Band, the Evening Star (Washington DC), April 1, 1899.

There is more to Harry A. Stone. A search of census records found him in the 1900 United States Census, below.


Cropped image from United States Census, 1900, Washington DC, showing the entry for Harry A. Stone (line 47)

The Census record tells us several things. First, he called himself Harry, not Henry. He was a boarder, 41 years old (born in November 1848), single, and a musician. He said he and his parents were born in Canada, that he immigrated to the United States in 1861, and he was not a US citizen. I puzzled over this for a bit as I wondered how a non-US citizen could be a member of the United States Marine Band. But then I remembered research I had done on the mouthpiece and musical instrument maker Vincent Bach, who was born in Austria (his name at birth was Vinzenz Schrottenbach; he changed it to Vincent Bach while in England at the outbreak of World War I. Bach immigrated to the United States in 1914 and played associate principal trumpet in the Boston Symphony. Then (quoting from my entry on Bach in my new book, An Illustrated Dictionary for the Modern Trombone, Tuba, and Euphonium Player), “In 1916, despite not being a United States citizen, Bach was inducted into the U.S. Army where he served as a sergeant and bandmaster for the 306th Field Artillery Band at Camp Union, New York.” He became a US citizen in 1925. Further communication with Marine Band Librarian/Historian Sgt. Kira Wharton confirmed that citizenship was not a requirement for membership in the Marine Band or the military in general at the time Stone was in the band.


A paragraph about Harry A. Stone from an article about United States Marine Band members who are also composers, the Washington Post (Washington DC), September 17, 1906.

News articles also made mention of Harry A. Stone’s Canadian ancestry , as evidenced in the paragraph (above – Stone is referred to as “French Canadian”) in an article from 1906 about U.S. Marine Band members who were also composers. It also seems that Stone’s compositions were performed on numerous occasions, as evidenced by the review of a concert by William Haley’s Band  from April 1897—below— that mentioned a performance of Stone’s march, Matinee Girls as well as a fine performance by members of the the Haley Band’s trombone section.


Review of a concert by William Haley’s Band with a mention of Harry Stone as the composer of The Matinee Girls, the Washington Times, April 5, 1897.

As an aside, United States Marine Band Historian Master Sergeant Kira Wharton also told me that Louis M. Kruger, who played trombone in Haley’s band with Harry A. Stone, had also been a member of the U.S. Marine Band. Kruger served as a trombonist in the Marine Band several times, from 1874-1897, 1880-1885, 1891-1895 (he then joined Haley’s Washington Military Concert Band where he played alongside Harry A. Stone), and again from 1898-1917. Kruger also apparently played viola on outside gigs.

In 1905, Harry A. Stone was advertised as a featured soloist with the U. S. Marine Band in a concert on December 3, 1905 (below). This is just one of many examples of advertisements of US Marine Band concerts that featured Stone as trombone soloist.


Announcement of United States Marine Band concert with Harry A. Stone, trombone soloist, the Evening Star (Washington DC), December 3, 1905.

In 1907, Harry A. Stone was appointed to the faculty of the University of Music and Dramatic Art in Washington DC (below).


Announcement of the appointment of Harry A. Stone as trombone teacher at the University of Music and Dramatic Art, Washington DC, the Evening Star (Washington DC), September 22, 1907.

Of particular interest was the discovery of a photograph of Harry Stone (below), from an article published in 1902 about the the United States Marine Band.


Photograph of trombonist Harry Stone, part of an article, “Will Washington Lose the Marine Band?”, the Washington Times (Washington DC), March 9, 1902.

After I discovered this photo of Harry Stone, I asked U.S. Marine Band Librarian and Historian Sgt. Kira Wharton if the Band archives had any photos from Stone’s years of service in the Marine Band. She sent two photos of the band that were taken during Stone’s first enlistment in the band (1886-1893) which I include below with her permission.


United States Marine Band in Philadelphia, 1887. Photo courtesy of U. S. Marine Band Archives.

This photo (above) is interesting on several levels, including the presence of a helicon in the center, back row, an instrument that was used in the band before the invention of the Sousaphone in 1895. Based on the verified photo of Harry Stone that appeared in the Washington Times in 1902, Sgt. Wharton and I believe that Harry Stone, who is identifiable by his square chin and small, cropped mustache, is seen standing in the front right of the photo.


Trombonist Harry A. Stone (cropped from the larger photo, above, of the United States Marine Band in Philadelphia, 1887). Photo courtesy of U. S. Marine Band Archives.

A second photograph of the band (below) was taken in 1891 for publicity for its 1892 tour. Sgt. Wharton and I believe Harry Stone is shown standing at the left end of the group of four trombone players, in the back row. He does not appear to have a mustache in this photo.


United States Marine Band in Washington DC, 1891 (publicity photo for the Band’s 1892 tour). Photo courtesy of U. S. Marine Band Archives.


Trombonist Harry A. Stone (cropped from the larger photo, above, of the United States Marine Band in Washington DC, 1891). Photo courtesy of U. S. Marine Band Archives.

There is more research to do and one should not jump to conclusions, but at the moment, I believe a reasonable preponderance of the evidence allows us to conclude that Berliner 62Z, recorded on May 27, 1897, featured the Romance for Trombone and Band by Charles William Bennet, performed by Harry (AKA Henry) A. Stone, the first trombonist of the Washington Military Concert Band of Washington DC, conducted by William Haley. This record is certainly one of the earliest records to feature a trombone solo with an accompanying ensemble.

As I continued my research, it became clear that Berliner Records thought that Romance for Trombone was a significant piece and that their recording of it was an important entry in their catalog. In late 1897, an article about Berliner Records appeared in several popular publications. This article was more like an “infomercial,” a paid advertisement in the guise of an article, replete with photographs and drawings, designed to entice readers to add Berliner Records and a Berliner Gramophone to their home. The article by Cleveland Moffett, “Through the Needle’s Point,” appeared in The Cosmopolitan (Vol. 23, No. 6, October 1897), Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly (Vol. 44, No. 5, November 1897), and Scribner’s Magazine (Vol. 22, No. 6, December 1897).

“Through the Needle’s Point” by Cleveland Moffett. Scribner’s Magazine, Vol XXII, No. 6, December, 1897. Advertising supplement, pages i-ii.

Moffett’s article includes a list of 18 Berliner records arranged as a program that one could play at home for family members and guests “for pleasure, for instruction, and for general benefit.” Among the 18 records are three that feature the trombone: Berliner 62Z, Romance of the Trombone [sic], Berliner 3310, Happy Days in Dixie, recorded by Arthur Pryor on July 27, 1897, and Berliner 826Z, Adeste Fidelis (O Come, All Ye Faithful), recorded on July 22, 1897 by a quartet of members of Sousa’s band that included Walter Pryor (brother of Arthur) and Henry Higgins, cornet, and Marcus Lyon and Arthur Pryor, trombone. Clearly, the Berliner 62Z recording of William Bennet’s Romance was thought of highly enough to include in this list of select Berliner records, a list designed to appeal to a broad audience of potential home listeners.

What does Berliner 62Z add to our knowledge base of early trombone playing and recordings? Certainly the soloist, who my research leads me to I believe was probably the Washington Military Concert Band’s first trombonist, Harry A. Stone, does not exhibit the kind of technical prowess shown by the great Arthur Pryor in his recordings of The Blue Bells of Scotland and other such works, despite newspaper reports that Stone was “fully equal to Arthur Pryor on the trombone.” But Bennet’s Romance is a piece that emphasizes musical expression and drama. And the soloist communicates that, even over its short, two-minute length. Listeners will notice that Stone plays some of the eighth notes as sixteenth notes, thereby heightening the motion of the musical line. He also seems to be struggling a bit with his breath control, but we must keep in mind that both the soloist and the band were closely gathered around a recording horn and were playing loudly so they could be picked up by the recording equipment. The piece has a modest two-octave range, but Harry A. Stone always plays with appropriate style; his vibrato is never overdone.

By now, you’re probably thinking, “OK, Professor, all of this is really interesting. But can I hear the record?” Yes. I’ve just uploaded the audio file with images to YouTube and you can hear and view it HERE:

Berliner 62Z offers a window into the early years of trombone solo recording while at the same time it brings back to life a piece that has been long forgotten, William Charles Bennet’s Romance. Bennet’s Romance was published by Carl Fischer, a major music publishing house, which indicates that it was considered to be a worthy addition to band concerts and trombone recital programs. Berliner also considered the piece to be significant enough that it promoted their recording of Romance among its most highly recommended releases, a record that families could enjoy at home while assembled around the Gramophone. As one of the first records to ever feature a trombone solo with an accompanying ensemble, it is an ancestor of the plethora of superb trombone solo recordings that are with us today.

I want to express my thanks to Kevin Mungons, William Conant, Sgt. Kira Wharton, and Gary King for their assistance in my research about Berliner 62Z, Harry A. Stone, and the preparation of this article.



By Douglas Yeo

When I graduated from high school in 1973, I received two awards in addition to my diploma. That I received the senior class music award was probably not a big surprise to most people in my community, considering that I had played in All-State band and orchestra in two states (New York, and then in New Jersey when my family moved there after my sophomore year in high school), All-Eastern orchestra, and was selected as a member of the McDonald’s All-American High School  Band. But in addition to the music award, I also received the senior class English award. What a minute. It seems people are always saying, “Music and math go together.” Not for me. My mind seemed to reject math and science; I got through those classes by the grace of God and the mercy of my teachers. English was my favorite class when I didn’t have a trombone in my hand. History was a close second.


The 1973 senior class music and English awards from Jefferson Township High School (NJ) that were presented to me on graduation day.

My love of words was instilled in me by my father who, when commuting to work on the Long Island Railroad for 20 years, read The New York Times by the time he arrived at Penn Station in Manhattan, and read the New York Post on the way home. He subscribed to The New Yorker magazine, and he was a Trustee of our local public library. That’s my dad, Alan Yeo, in the photo below, third from the left, with other town officials and library Trustees at the laying of the cornerstone ceremony for the new Valley Stream Public Library on November 17, 1962.


Town officials at the laying of the cornerstone for the Valley Stream (NY) Public Library, November 17, 1962. Mayor Henry Waldinger is second from left (the library was renamed in his memory in 1968), and my father, Library Trustee Alan Yeo, is third from left.

Books and reading were part of the fabric of our family—it seems we were always at the town library getting books to read—and while I “read the classics,” Shakespeare, and plenty of great fiction by the time I headed to college, it was reading about real events and history that really got my attention. My father taught me the importance of a broad vocabulary – both spoken and written vocabularies. I came to love words, and wordsmiths who used them in evocative and creative ways.

Over the years, I’ve written dozens of published articles, blog articles, book chapters, and books, and I continue to enjoy the chase of research and the happy discipline of writing. I especially like to tell stories about musicians and the instruments they play. My research on diverse individuals and musical instruments has brought me in contact with a host of really interesting people who have helped me along the way.

The other day, someone wrote to me and asked if I could share one of my articles with him. This happens a lot, and I’m always happy to do so. But that got me thinking about putting together a list of some of my publications along with links to free downloads of many of my articles, and information about books and other resources. So, if this interests you, here goes, and enjoy.


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  • Serpent. Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, Second edition. Oxford University Press, 2014.
  • Buccin. Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, Second edition. Oxford University Press, 2014.


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