Category: teaching

Orange and blue: University of Illinois trombones and me

Orange and blue: University of Illinois trombones and me

by Douglas Yeo

My favorite colors are orange and blue. Why? Well, they’re the colors of my undergraduate alma mater, Wheaton College (Illinois). I graduated from Wheaton College in 1976, and I’ve been the College’s trombone professor since 2019.

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Compact disc recording of the Wheaton College Trombone Quartet, 1974–1976 (released 2022), Like a River Glorious. James Roskam, Eric Carlson, William Meena, and Douglas Yeo, trombones.

Orange and blue are also the colors of the Chicago Bears. My wife and I are season ticket holders to Bears football. There’s a lot of orange and blue in our family’s wardrobes.

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Douglas and Patricia Yeo at Soldier Field, Chicago. Minnesota Vikings vs. Chicago Bears, September 2019.

In November 2016, I traveled to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to give a lecture at the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, give a trombone masterclass, and participate as guest soloist at an Illinois football game halftime show with the Marching Illini Band. You can read about those memorable days by clicking HERE. And, what, you may ask, are University of Illinois’ colors? You guessed it: orange and blue.

In May of this year, I took part in the All-American Alumni Band reunion in Ohio. That was fun, and you can read about it by clicking HERE. Although I represented New Jersey when I was a member of the McDonald’s All-American High School Band in 1972-1973, I wanted to show a little Illinois pride at our recent reunion, so I pulled out the polo shirt that Dr. Barry Houser, director of the Marching Illini Band, gave to me in 2016.

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Little did I know that just two months later, that shirt would have a lot more meaning for me.

Last week, University of Illinois School of Music announced my appointment as its trombone professor (Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor of Trombone) for the 2022–2023 academic year. At the end of May, the University’s trombone professor abruptly retired, and the School of Music reached out to several people including me to ask if we would be interested in applying for a one-year position. I was intrigued by the idea so I tossed my hat in the ring, not at all sure that everything could possibly come together to make it happen on my end even if the University turned out to be interested in me. As things turned out, they were interested in me and after several interviews, I was offered the position. After a lot of thought and prayer, I decided to accept, and in a few weeks, I’ll be in Urbana each week working with a trombone studio of talented players, and working alongside my good friend, Jim Pugh, who is University of Illinois’ professor of jazz trombone and composition.

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Jim Pugh and Douglas Yeo playing Charles Small’s Conversation, University of Illinois School of Music, November, 2016

I also have another friend who teaches at University of Illinois—trumpet professor Charles Daval. Charles was a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra during my first years in the BSO. This photo, below, shows the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa in a memorable performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 at the Philharmonie in Berlin, August 1984. You can see Charles on the far right and me behind him, playing over his right shoulder. Our second trombonist for part of that tour was Carl Lenthe, then principal trombonist of the Bayerische Staatsoper, and now Professor of Trombone at Indiana University. Ronald Barron is playing principal trombone. I plan to hang this photo in my office at University of Illinois, a reminder of how Charles and I find ourselves together once again nearly 40 years after we first met.

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Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa, performing Symphony No. 10 of Dmitri Shostakovich. Philharmonie, Berlin, August 1984. Charles Daval (far right), third trumpet; Douglas Yeo (behind Daval’s right shoulder), bass trombone.

When my appointment to the University of Illinois faculty was announced, flute professor and chair of Winds/Brass/Percussion, Dr. Jonathan Keeble, interviewed me for a press release. Here’s the interview, which tells a little more of this story:

What have been your favorite professional musical experiences?

Making a list of favorite musical experiences is like asking, “Which of your children do you love the most?” But if I had to choose a few from my long career, they would include performing Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 2 with Leonard Bernstein in the National Cathedral, Washington DC, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 with Seiji Ozawa in Berlin, Josef Haydn’s The Creation with Simon Rattle in Boston’s Symphony Hall, and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in Amsterdam with Bernard Haitink. And recording the film scores to Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan with John Williams on the podium.

What pulled you away from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and into teaching when you moved over to Arizona State University?

After playing in the Boston Symphony for nearly 30 years, I had accomplished every dream I had imagined as a member of a great symphony orchestra. My wife and I decided to retire to Arizona—we love the landscape and diverse cultures of the Southwest—not knowing exactly what was next for us but we were ready for new adventures. Then, Arizona State University approached me about accepting their full time Professor of Trombone position; I could not refuse. Trombone students at a university are interested in a host of artistic expressions: performer, educator, arranger, author, and much more. I am a trombonist who has been involved in everything – from performing the symphonic canon, to actively participating in early music as a sackbut, serpent, and ophicleide player, to being a New York City jazz freelancer, as well as a high school band director, and author of numerous books and articles. It’s through this broad set of experiences that I can relate to and help students who have many different goals. Engaging with my students at ASU and helping them to become difference makers in society was immensely gratifying but in 2018, we decided to move to the Chicago area. Grandkids can do that to you.

What about University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) coaxed you to come out of retirement for the upcoming year?

In 2016, I came to the Illinois campus on two occasions. The first was to give a concert in the Krannert Center with Philharmonia Baroque (I played serpent on Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks). The second was to give a lecture at the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, and perform as guest soloist with the Marching Illini at a football halftime show. I was impressed with all I experienced on campus, and when the University approached me about its need for a trombone professor for 2022–2023, the idea was immediately appealing. Also, I played alongside UIUC’s trumpet professor Charles Daval when he was a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the 1980s, and jazz trombone and composition professor Jim Pugh and I have been good friends for many years. The prospect of working with them and UIUC’s talented students was simply irresistible. I keep flunking retirement but I’m OK with that.

Indeed, it seems as though you’ve hardly taken a breath since “retiring!” What is it you find most gratifying about teaching trombone?

Watching a student have that Eureka! moment when a concept clicks. When a student understands that making music is more than a job but it’s a calling, the intensity of the student/teacher relationship kicks into high gear. I have been fortunate to have many students who are passionate about positively influencing the world with a trombone in their hands, and the joy of working with them is incalculable.

Who’s Professor Yeo when the trombone’s out of his hands?

I love to write. In fact one of two books I completed last year is published by University of Illinois Press (Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry, co-authored with my friend, Kevin Mungons). My favorite non-musical thing to do is hiking with my wife, our favorite place to do that is Zion National Park in Utah, and we are Chicago Bears football season ticket holders. Our family bleeds orange and blue. That’s another reason why I’m very excited to be part of the UIUC community!

So, here we go. In a few weeks, I’ll be in Urbana teaching at UIUC. Orange and blue. That same week, I’ll be also back in my studio teaching at Wheaton College. Orange and blue. And a few weeks later, the Chicago Bears will open their season and my wife and I will be in our seats at Soldier Field, Chicago. Orange and blue.

They really are my favorite colors.

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Making music with friends—The All-American Alumni Band

Making music with friends—The All-American Alumni Band

by Douglas Yeo

Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Whether it was singing in my elementary or high school choir, singing in church and Sunday school,  playing trombone in the school band since I was nine years old in fourth grade, singing or playing the trombone around the piano at home with my mother at the keyboard, listening to the radio or records, cassettes, compact discs, or streaming, or my long career as a professional trombonist, music and I have been close friends for a very long time.

After graduation from Wheaton College in 1976, I became a “professional” musician. First as a free-lance player in New York City—where I subbed in several Broadway shows (The King and I and Sweeney Todd), played some concerts with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and the American Symphony Orchestra, subbed in several big bands (Dave Chesky Band, Gerry Mulligan Band), was a member of the Goldman Band—then as band director at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Edison, New Jersey, and then as bass trombonist with the Baltimore Symphony (1981-1985) and Boston Symphony Orchestra (1985-2012). Since I retired from the BSO, I’ve been a full-time college professor (Arizona State University, 2012-2016), a part-time college professor (Wheaton College, 2019-present), I’ve written and published several books and many articles, and I continue to give recitals, give guest masterclasses and make guest solo appearances, and play in professional musical groups.

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That’s me playing trombone in March 1965; I was nine years old, in fourth grade. My youngest brother Curtis, who was two years old at the time, is strumming my guitar

But, after these more than 45 years in the professional music world, I’ve never lost my connection to the world of music where most of the music making in the world takes place. Think about this. The world. The WORLD. Think about all of the professional music making you know of. Symphony orchestras, and the stars of jazz, pop, rock, SKA, you name the style—the myriad forms of popular music. Put them all together. Then think about the WORLD. Children singing and playing instruments in school and at home (like my brother, Curtis, and me, playing guitar and trombone in the photo above), families singing in church and other houses of worship, your dad singing in the shower. Indigenous people in remote places singing and using instruments in ceremonies.  Town bands and orchestras and choirs. Add it up. And when it comes right down to it, when you consider all of the music making in the whole WORLD, non-professional music making probably comes in at something like 99.9999999+% of all of the music making going on. It’s not the professionals who keep music alive in the world. It’s everybody else. Because everybody—every one of the 8 billion people on earth—makes music. And only a very, very, very small number of those music makers are professional musicians.

And I love this spirit of non-professional music making. When people make music simply because they love it, because it makes them feel good when they play or sing, because they love being with friends who play with them and not because it’s a job, or they’re going to it in order to get paid cash money, it’s different than playing with professionals. Of course, professional musicians are highly accomplished, and they contribute greatly to the artistic health of society. But the non-professional groups and individuals with which I’ve been associated over the years, whether when I’ve conducted high school honor bands, or when I was music director of the all-volunteer (and unpaid) New England Brass Band (1998-2008), always give me special joy. Because the spirit of those kinds of groups is different than the spirit in professional groups, no matter how great they are. And I like that spirit of the 99.9999999+% of all music makers in the world.

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That spirit was very much in evidence last week when I took part in five days of rehearsals and performances with friends both old and new who are members of the All-American Alumni Band. Readers of The Last Trombone will remember that in November 2021, I wrote about my experience as a member of the McDonald’s All-American High School Band when I was a senior in high school in 1972-1973 (representing New Jersey).

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The 1972-1973 McDonald’s All-American High School Band, Tournament of Roses Parade, January 1, 1973, Pasadena, California. I am in the front line of the band, third from left (marching on the double white line).

From 1967 to 1992, McDonald’s Corporation selected two high school seniors from each state (later they added students from Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands). Each year, the band took part in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City, and over the years, the McDonald’s All-American Band also marched in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California (as I did), played concerts in Carnegie Hall, Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, made television appearances, and performed in a host of venues. In 2019, several alumni of the McDonald’s All-American Band got together and formed the All-American Alumni Band. After an initial gathering and concert in St. Louis in 2019, the coronavirus pandemic scuttled further events. That is until last week, when 55 former members of the McDonald’s All-American High School Band met near Columbus, Ohio, as the All-American Alumni Band, to play a concert and march in a Memorial Day Parade. I am so glad I took part in this.

The All-American Alumni Band (visit the band’s website at www.AllAmericanAlumniBand.org to learn more about the band) came together to rehearse at First Baptist Church in Grove City, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. The band’s Board of Directors, who we affectionally refer to as the “Mc8,” had done a great deal of work to ensure a first-class event. Band members from around the country—from Massachusetts to California, from Minnesota to Louisiana—arrived, instruments in hand and ready to play. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. How would this group of musicians—some of whom went on to careers as professional musicians, others who were or are music educators, and others who, today, play their instruments only occasionally—come together? Would we sound good? How would we get along? 

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The All-American Alumni Band in rehearsal at First Baptist Church, Grove City, Ohio. Russel Mikkelson, conductor. Photo by John Parker (drum major, 1974, 1975, 1976, representing Pennsylvania).

It didn’t take long to find out. The spirit of the All-American Alumni Band was beautiful. Truly beautiful. Nobody pushed and shoved to play a first part. Everyone was encouraging toward everyone else. Professionals sat next to amateurs. Nobody showed off. Nobody preened. What happened was beautiful and very simple in a profound way: We made music together because we loved making music together.

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Douglas Yeo with Russel Mikkelson, Director of Bands at Ohio State University and conductor of the All-American Alumni Band, May 2022. It is not lost on me that Russ is wearing an Ohio State Wind Symphony sweatshirt and I am wearing a University of Illinois Marching Illini shirt and we are standing next to each other with smiles on our faces. That’s not the usual posture when people from different schools in the Big 10 Conference get together!

The Mc8 had engaged the right conductor to lead us. Dr. Russel Mikkelson is director of bands at Ohio State University. Russ is recognized as one of the finest collegiate band conductors in the world and if any of us were a little worried that he might present a heavy handed “maestro” vibe to the group, we found out quickly that he was with us. Russ conducts a community band, and he knew exactly how to lead our group. He understood why we came together and what we hoped to accomplish. And in five three-hour long rehearsals, he transformed our group of diverse players into a fine ensemble.

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My All-American Alumni Band sash, badge, pins, and lanyard.

Our Mc8 had devised a uniform for each of us to wear for our concert and parade. An All-American Alumni Band polo shirt was common to both our concert and our parade, and for the parade, we added a baseball hat and a sash that had the year and the name of the state we represented when we were members of the McDonald’s All-American Band. It was a fun look, and combined with our name badges, pins, and lanyard—the lanyard was provided to band members thanks to Donna O’Bryant, clarinet, 1980 (representing New Mexico)—we felt like we belonged to something truly special.

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Douglas Yeo and Wycliffe Gordon, Worthington (OH) Town Green, May 29, 2022, .

One of the great joys of the weekend was the many connections I had with people in the band. Some of them I expected. Such as sitting in the trombone section with my good friend, jazz trombonist Wycliffe Gordon. Wycliffe and I have been friends since 1999 when the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra—of which Wycliffe was a member at the time—played a joint concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Since then, we’ve enjoyed getting together many times—we often refer to each other as our “brother from another mother”—and when I heard he was going to be the featured soloist with the All-American Alumni Band, I was thrilled. And this: Wycliffe was a member of the McDonald’s All-American High School Band in 1984 (representing Georgia). Not only that, Wycliffe’s wife, April Brumfield (trumpet), was also in the McDonald’s All-American High School Band in 1984 (representing Kentucky). That’s where they met. Seriously!

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Beth Cullen Johnson and Douglas Yeo, Worthington (OH) Town Green, May 29, 2022. We’re standing in front of a banner for one of the All-American Alumni Band’s sponsors, Holowicki’s McDonald’s Restaurants of Central Ohio. Photo by Ed Crockett.

But there were more unexpected connections. Beth Cullen Johnson (flute) came for the reunion. She had been in the McDonald’s All-American Band the same year as me, 1972 (representing Minnesota). We had a lot to talk about as we remembered our time together in New York City and Pasadena.

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The trombone section of the 1972-1973 McDonalds All American Band, Los Angeles (CA), January 1973. Photo by Beth Cullen Johnson.

Beth even brought along a photo she took of our trombone section outside of a McDonald’s restaurant in Los Angeles (above). That’s me in the back row, second from the right, crouching down for the camera. Beth also attended Wheaton College in 1973–1974, a year before I transferred to Wheaton College from Indiana University. We knew a lot of the same students and teachers from that time and our conversations last week were very rich.

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Douglas Yeo and Mary Haller, Worthington (OH) Town Green, May 29, 2022.

Mary Haller was there, too. Mary is a flute player who was in the McDonald’s All-American High School Band in 1978 (representing Michigan). Mary had worked at the Boston Symphony Orchestra for a few years when I was a member of the orchestra. I remembered her working in the BSO’s public relations and youth activities offices and we had a lot to talk about as we reminisced about the orchestra, and particularly about our interactions with conductor Leonard Bernstein.

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Douglas Yeo and Kim Scharnberg, Worthington (OH) Memorial Day Parade, May 30, 2022.

There was also Kim Scharnberg, President of the All-American Alumni Band. Kim, a trombonist who was in the McDonald’s All-American Band in 1977 (representing Iowa) is a noted composer and arranger and I had played many of his arrangements when I was a member of the Boston Symphony/Boston Pops. We sat next to each other in the All-American Alumni Band trombone section and we talked ourselves hoarse over the weekend.

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Douglas Yeo and René Shapiro, May 29, 2022, Worthington (OH) Town Green.

I also reconnected with René Shapiro, trumpet, who was in the McDonald’s All-American Band in 1989 (representing California). I first met René when he came to New England Conservatory of Music in Boston in 1990 as a freshman. He subsequently played periodically with the Boston Symphony as a substitute and extra player and since 2005, he has been assistant principal trumpet in the Baltimore Symphony. Our connections to Boston were very rich and it was such a pleasure to march and play next to him in the parade. He was a fantastic anchor to our trumpet section.

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Douglas Yeo and Mary Ann Swiatek, May 27, 2022.

There were many other connections as well, but the one that completely surprised me was a true “blast from the past.” At the band’s first rehearsal, each of us gave a brief introduction of ourselves. I mentioned that I had been a high school band director many years ago and when I was done speaking, a clarinet player in the front of the band turned around, pointed at me, and exclaimed, “And he was my band director!” You could have knocked me over with a feather. Mary Ann Swiatek was a freshman at St. Thomas Aquinas HS in Edison, New Jersey, in the fall of 1980. That was my last year teaching at STA; I joined the Baltimore Symphony the following year. I remembered Mary Ann, who was a very talented clarinetist (I seated her first chair, first clarinet during her freshman year). But when I left STA—in an era before cell phones, the Internet, email, or social media—I didn’t follow the progress of my former students. I had no idea that Mary Ann had been selected for the McDonald’s All-American Band in 1983 (representing New Jersery), or that she earned a PhD and is now a psychologist in private practice in Pennsylvania. No. Idea. Now I know, and I’m very happy that I learned all of this. I’m so proud of Mary Ann. It was so nice to spend time with her and talk about our shared time together so long ago, and then make music together with the All-American Alumni Band.

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Wycliffe Gordon masterclass with the Worthington (OH) High School Jazz Band, May 29, 2022. Photo by John Parker.

Part of the mission of the All-American Alumni Band is to “passionately foster and nurture the art of instrumental music through partnership, education, and performance.” To this end, the band forged a partnership between the Worthington (OH) High School Jazz Band and Wycliffe. With several members of the All-American Alumni Band in attendance, Wycliffe conducted a masterclass for these young high school players. The jazz band also performed a set of tunes before the All-American Alumni Band played our concert on Sunday evening (May 29) and Wycliffe joined them for a solo as well. It was inspiring to hear this jazz band of talented players share the stage with us and meet with many of them after the concert. 

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The Town Green in Worthington (OH). The Thomas Worthington High School Jazz Band is visible at the right of the photo and the All-American Alumni Band is getting ready to perform. May 29, 2022.

Our concert was on the Town Green in Worthington, Ohio, the day before Memorial Day. It was just the right kind of program for this kind of event including America the Beautiful, an Armed Forces Salute, music by Chick Corea, Leonard Bernstein, and, of course, John Philip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever.

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Douglas Yeo and Wycliffe Gordon performing Michael Davis’ Trombone Institute of Technology. Town Green, Worthington (OH), May 29, 2022. Photo by Angelia Trevathan.

Wycliffe was the featured soloist in several of his own pieces, and he and I played a duet, Michael Davis’ Trombone Institute of Technology. The crowd was enthusiastic and appreciative, and it was very clear that the band’s performance made a positive impact. And isn’t that ultimately what we want to do as musicians: make an impact on our audiences while sharing our talents and love of music with them?

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Dr. Russel Mikkelson conducting the All-American Alumni Band, Town Green, Worthington (OH), May 29, 2022.

The next day, Memorial Day, the All-American Alumni Band marched in the Worthington Memorial Day parade.

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Linda Steele (wife of Bill Steele, alto saxophone, 1968, representing Alabama), and Angelia Trevathan (wife of Carl Trevathan, trombone, 1976, representing Kentucky) holding the All-American Alumni Band’s banner before the Worthington (OH) Memorial Day Parade, May 30, 2022. Photo by Carl Trevathan.

Marching in the parade was a thrill I had not had in a very, very long time.

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The All American Alumni Band, Worthington (OH) Memorial Day Parade, May 30, 2022.  Photo by Maria Leigh  Hobbs, wife of John Hobbs (alto saxophone, 1978, representing Florida).

The last time I marched in a parade was on New Year’s Day at the 1973 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, when I was a member of the McDonald’s All-American Band. That was forty-nine and one-half years ago. My guess is the same could be said for most members of our All-American Alumni Band. Marching in a parade is not something we do every day in adulthood. Truthfully, the band isn’t getting any younger. Since McDonald’s Corporation suspended the All-American Band program in 1992, no new alumni have been minted. The age of our members is no secret—we were all seniors in high school during the year emblazoned on our sash. I’m 67 years old (I was in the band in 1972) but I wasn’t the oldest player in the All-American Alumni Band. We had one member, Bill Steele, who was in the McDonald’s All-American Band in 1968. René was the youngest; he was in the band in 1989. You do the math. Our band members were between around  50 and 71 years old. I wondered how our group would hold up. We might not be “old geezers” (well, maybe I am. . .) but there’s no way around the fact that none of us are quite as spry as we were in our youth. Still, it was such a joy to take part in the parade with these friends. We played Centennial March; it was written by our own Kim Scharnberg for the occasion. Sporting our uniforms with  American flag pins buttoned to our sashes, we stepped off in style.

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The All American Alumni Band, Worthington (OH) Memorial Day Parade, May 30, 2022.

And a host of memories came flooding back. Just like it happened in 1972 when I stepped off with the McDonald’s All-American Band for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, I heard people in the crowd exclaiming to their children, “Look! That woman’s from Minnesota! And he’s from New Jersey! And one from California!” Children got a geography lesson as we marched by, and the multi-generational crowd enthusiastically cheered us throughout the parade route. What they saw was a band of people who love music, who love making music together, and who came together thanks to a remarkable opportunity each member shared as a member of the McDonald’s All American High School Band. What a reunion.

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Carl Trevathan and Wycliffe Gordon, Town Green, Worthington (OH), May 29, 2022. Photo by Angelia Trevathan.

When the parade was over, our bus took us back to our hotel and it was time to say goodbye. Hugs and a few tears, yes. So many people worked so hard to make our Memorial Day 2022 reunion possible. Our Mc8 was at the center of all of this. And we had help from many spouses of band members—they were affectionately dubbed our “roadies”—who helped out in a host of ways. Band members also pitched in whenever there was something to do—put up and take down the rehearsal and concert setup, pack up and unpack the truck, prepare a pizza party after the final rehearsal, and so much more. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t send a special shoutout to trombonist Carl Trevathan (1976, representing Kentucky). Carl is a founding member of the All-American Alumni Band’s board of directors and he did so much to organize and make the weekend possible. I know I speak for every member of the band when I say, “THANK YOU, CARL!”

After the weekend was over, the All-American Alumni Band produced a short video of highlights from the reunion. You’ll hear me in a couple of voiceovers and you can watch the video on YouTube by clicking HERE or by watching it below:

Memorial Day 2022 is over. But we will be back. The band is playing another concert this year in St. Louis over Labor Day Weekend. Unfortunately, I won’t be there because I am committed to take part in a special event at Duke University with the New Caritas Orchestra at the same time, part of the Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts. But I will be back with my friends in the All-American Alumni Band, no doubt about it. I had a such a great time, and it was a wonderful reminder of how “professional musicians” don’t have the corner on the market of engaging music making.

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The All-American Alumni Band after its final rehearsal at First Baptist Church, Grove City (OH), May 29, 2022. Photo by Thalassa Morton Naylor (clarinet, 1977, representing Colorado).

And if you are reading this and you are an alumnus of the McDonald’s All-American High School Band, we’d love to have you join us. Visit the All-American Alumni Band’s Website at www.AllAmericanAlumniBand.org, or our Facebook page (which is only open to former members of the McDonald’s All-American High School Band), www.facebook.com/groups/AllAmericanAlumniBand. Please consider being among us at our next gathering, and the next one, and the next one. Take it from me, you will have a great time. And if you’re not a former member of the McDonald’s All-American High School Band but want to come hear one of our upcoming performances (a listing of upcoming events is on the website), we’d love to see you, and you’ll have a great time, too.

Music can do that.

[Header image of the All-American Alumni Band marching in the Worthington (OH) Memorial Day Parade, May 30, 2022, by Maria Leigh Hobbs.]

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 different kind of graduation day

A different kind of graduation day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abandon every hope, all you who enter.

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

O triste madre, triste madre,
Abbandonar mio filio.

“O sorrowful mother,
to abandon my child.”

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

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

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

Life is short, then you die.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why bother, if “tomorrow we die?”

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

Whoever dies with the most toys – still dies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, the task.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.