Category: Uncategorized

The Star Spangled Banner, baseball, and trombones

The Star Spangled Banner, baseball, and trombones

by Douglas Yeo

I have played the National Anthem at sporting events more times than I can count. When I was a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, our brass section performed The Star Spangled Banner at countless New England Patriots games, Boston Red Sox games, and Boston Celtics games. As a member of the Boston Pops Orchestra, I played the National Anthem at Super Bowl XXXVI with singer Mariah Carey (where the New England Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams—the first of the Patriots’ six Super Bowl championships), and when I was Professor of Trombone at Arizona State University from 2012 to 2016, our ASU Desert Bones Trombone Choir performed the National Anthem at Arizona Diamondbacks baseball games and an ASU/Stanford baseball game

Doing this is always a thrill, whether I’m playing trombone or conducting. In 2021, I gave a masterclass for the trombone section of the Northshore Concert Band, based in Evanston, Illinois. I was impressed with the playing of these players and their enthusiasm for both the trombone and for great music making. During the course of our time together, I encouraged the NCB trombone section to make a video of them playing The Star Spangled Banner and send it around to Chicago-area professional sports teams and see if they could get an opportunity to perform the National Anthem at a game. They liked the idea, made a video, submitted it to teams, and they were delighted  when the Chicago White Sox invited them to play the National Anthem at a game at Guaranteed Rate Field on the south side of Chicago.

I was happy for the group when Joe Schorer, one of the band’s trombone players, told me about this, and I was honored when they asked if I would be willing to conduct the Anthem. Yes, of course! I knew this would be a special, memorable occasion for the Northshore Concert Band’s trombone section and I was glad to share the moment with them. Here’s a little bit of the story.

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Northshore Concert Band trombone section (left to right: Mitchell Clark, Brad Say, Bryan Tipps, Andy Burkemper, Greg Glover, Joe Schorer, Paul Bauer, and Dan DiCesare) with Douglas Yeo, conductor. Rehearsal outside of Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox), August 27, 2022. Photo by Chad Leonard.

We all assembled outside of Gate 4 at Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox, where we had a rehearsal. While I had played and conducted the National Anthem at sporting events many times before, it was really great to share the experience with the NCB trombone section for whom this was all new. I had recently had surgery on my right shoulder and I asked if my son-in-law, Chad Leonard (who has been a baseball fan since his childhood), could come along to help me carry food, open doors, etc. As it turned out, Chad acted as our official photographer. With his own and Joe’s cameras in hand, Chad documented the whole experience. But, full disclosure, our family are Chicago Cubs fans. But, hey, baseball is baseball, and for one day, Chad and I were glad to put aside the north and south side Cubs/White Sox rivalry and enjoy a great day at a ballpark. As soon as the trombone section started playing at our rehearsal, I knew this would be an terrific performance of the National Anthem. The players had memorized the music (we played an arrangement by Robert Elkjer) and they were at the top of their game.

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Members of the Northshore Concert Band trombone section (front to back: Andy Burkemper, Brad Say, Dan DiCesare, Bryan Tipps, and Greg Glover). Security check outside of Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox), August 27, 2022. Photo by Chad Leonard.

After our rehearsal outside of Guaranteed Rate Field, we went through security (trombone cases and their contents had to be examined) and we headed into the ballpark and then on to the field for our soundcheck.

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Northshore Concert Band trombone section (left to right: Mitchell Clark, Brad Say, Bryan Tipps, Andy Burkemper, Greg Glover, Joe Schorer, Paul Bauer, and Dan DiCesare). Sound check inside Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox), August 27, 2022. Photo by Chad Leonard.

The White Sox staff was well-organized, friendly, and exceptionally helpful, and we ran through the Anthem several times. The sound of eight trombones coming over the extensive network of speakers throughout the ballpark was impressive.

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View of the field at Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox) from Section 346, August 27, 2022. Photo by Douglas Yeo.

The White Sox gave each of us a ticket to the game, and in between the soundcheck and our performance, we got to check out view from our box seats in Section 346. Pretty great. Shortly before the start of the game, we headed down to the field again to get ready for our performance. But first, there was time for photos on the field and with the White Sox’s mascot, Southpaw. Meeting Southpaw was, somehow, very appropriate. Because of my shoulder surgery, I had to conduct mostly with my left arm. When I told my students at University of Illinois that I’d be conducting the National Anthem left-handed at a White Sox game, one of them piped up, “Of course you’ll be a southpaw. You’ll be on the south side [of Chicago]!” Hardy-har-har. . .

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Douglas Yeo with Chicago White Sox mascot “Southpaw” and members of the Northshore Concert Band Trombone section (left to right: Joe Schorer, Andy Burkemper, Greg Glover, and Mitchell Clark), August 27, 2022. Photo by Chad Leonard.

And, I have to say, there is something about standing on the field in a Major League Baseball stadium next to a team’s logo that just can’t be described.

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Chad Leonard and Douglas Yeo, Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox), August 27, 2022. 

We assembled near home plate, and as the teams lined up in front of their dugouts, the announcement for our performance began. And in a memorable one minute and thirty seconds, the Northshore Concert Band trombone section gave a stirring rendition of The Star Spangled Banner for the players and crowd. When we were done playing, White Sox Manager Tony La Russa turned around and applauded the players. It was a job well done in every respect.

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Northshore Concert Band trombone section (left to right: Mitchell Clark, Brad Say, Bryan Tipps, Andy Burkemper, Greg Glover, Joe Schorer, Paul Bauer, and Dan DiCesare) National Anthem performance at Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox) with Douglas Yeo, conductor, August 27, 2022. Photo by Chad Leonard.

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Northshore Concert Band trombone section (left to right: Mitchell Clark, Brad Say, Bryan Tipps, Andy Burkemper, Greg Glover, Joe Schorer, Paul Bauer, and Dan DiCesare) National Anthem Performance at Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox, August 27, 2022). Photo courtesy of the Chicago White Sox.

Friends who are reading this: If you’re part of a trombone section or a group of trombone players who like to play together, consider doing this! Major League baseball teams have 81 home games. And there are minor league and independent league teams, too. Football, basketball, hockey, soccer, too. That’s a lot of National Anthem performances. The Northshore Concert Band trombone section asked themselves the question, “Why not us?” and look what happened. And why not YOUR trombone section? Have a look at the video below (the video is courtesy of the Chicago White Sox) and put yourself in the moment (you can also watch the video directly on YouTube):

Congratulations to the Northshore Concert Band trombones—(left to right as we performed) Mitchell Clark, Brad Say, Bryan Tipps, Andy Burkemper, Greg Glover, Joe Schorer, Paul Bauer, and Dan DiCesare. They made their Band proud, and their excellent, respectful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner was the traditional, ceremonial start to another game of America’s pastime, baseball. Once again, I would to thank the NCB trombone section for asking me to lead them in their performance of the National Anthem. I was proud to be associated with them. Well done, Northshore Concert Band trombones!

 

 

Sempé and the trombone

Sempé and the trombone

by Douglas Yeo

Artist Jean-Jacques Sempé died on August 11 at the age of 89. Like so many people in the United States, I got to know his whimsical cartoons while reading The New Yorker (Sempé was French and his artwork appeared internationally). When I was a young boy, my father subscribed to The New Yorker and I used to run home from school on the day the new issue would arrive in our mailbox so I could look enjoy the cover and the many sophisticated cartoons inside. I got to love Sempé’s sense of humor and his artistic style. He drew many covers for The New Yorker but he also drew cartoons that appeared in its interior pages. 

And Sempé loved to draw the trombone.

Over the years, I’ve torn out many pages of issues of The New Yorker and saved copies of several of Sempé’s cartoons that feature the trombone. They make me smile. Here are three of my favorites.

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Sempé’s cartoons could be simple or complex. I think that this cartoon (above) is a masterpiece of construction and the use of color. The scene is tranquil and there is a beautiful simplicity to the moment. Two friends playing trombone around a swimming pool in a backyard. What could be finer.

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Sempé’s cartoons could also be busy and provide commentary in the midst of familiar scenes. Here we are (above) at a symphony orchestra concert. The viewer’s eye is drawn immediately to the tuba player who is late in coming to his seat on stage. Four annoyed trombone players are expressing their displeasure. The conductor is waiting for things to settle down before giving the downbeat. But don’t miss the other scene that’s going on in the audience. A woman is also coming late to her seat. Both the tuba player and the woman in in the green dress have the same urgent, forward moving posture as they are trying to get to their seats. Parallel situations on the same vertical plane, on and off stage. Genius. Sempé’s use of vivid color to highlight the tuba player and the woman is a masterpiece of design. FYI, the big white blotch in the audience is a spot where the paper is torn off. I don’t remember how that happened. . .

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This is my favorite Sempé cartoon (above). It was not a cover for The New Yorker; it appeared on an interior page. I ripped this page from the issue so I don’t know the date it appeared. This scene is perfect. A night at the opera and a big moment with the singers on stage. The trombonist, who had left his chair in the opera pit (to get a drink? to relieve himself? to make a phone call? to check his stock portfolio?), opens the wrong door and ends up on stage in the middle of the performance. The expression of the two singers, the trombonist’s empty chair in the pit, and the orchestra playing at full throat in the midst of this epic faux pas tells the story with great clarity.

Jean-Jacques Sempé understood life, and he understood the trombone. While he’s no longer with us to  create new art, we are truly fortunate to have the art he left behind. Longue vie Sempé!

 

 

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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Independence Day 2022: Our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor

Independence Day 2022: Our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor

By Douglas Yeo

Today is Independence Day in the United States of America. It’s a holiday; banks, the post office, and the stock market are closed. Friends of ours are coming over to our house later today and we’ll have dinner together. Grills across the country are firing up and families are having cookouts and picnics. There will be patriotic concerts, and fireworks will light up the night sky.

Of course, July 4 is more than all of that. This holiday isn’t just a day off. It’s a day to remember July 4, 1776, when a group of of representatives from the Thirteen Colonies gathered to sign a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. The cause was justice and freedom, and these brave individuals signed their names under the Declaration’s final sentence:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor

They were serious. Very, very, serious. They put everything on the line for justice and freedom.

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The first monument to the Revolutionary War erected in the United States, 1799. Lexington (Massachusetts) Battle Green.

My wife and I lived in Lexington, Massachusetts, for over 27 years during the time I was bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It was in Lexington where “the shot heard ’round the world” was fired on April 19, 1775, the first battle of what came to be called the American Revolution. Lexington’s Battle Green is full of monuments, including the first Revolutionary War monument in the United States (photo above), erected on July 4, 1799, and around which are buried the bodies of the eight Colonial militiamen who died on that April morning. Take a moment to read the inscription. And think of the eight men who died, whose names are inscribed on the tablet. They had families, friends, occupations. And they sacrificed everything for the cause of justice and freedom. If you live in the United States, they died for your freedom. And my freedom, too.

Our country is facing great challenges right now. I can’t fix all of them. Neither can you. But like anyone who is reading these words, I can do something. I can start—you can, too—by emulating the fruits of the Holy Spirit, as outlined in the Bible, in Galatians 5:22-23:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

That’s a good place to start. Then, in the words of the old gospel song by Ina Duley Ogdon:

Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,

Do not wait to shed your light afar;

To the many duties ever near you now be true,

Brighten the corner where you are.

I look to the promise of the Declaration of Independence. We have imperfectly implemented its aspirational goals that so many have died to defend. But my father often said, “The United States has the worst system of government in the world. Except for all the others.” I have been around the world; I have visited 30 countries. I love many things about all of them. But the United States is home to me, and our system of government and governing, and our country—though full of imperfect, sinful people, and creaking under great stress right now—is still worth fighting for. Just because we haven’t fixed it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to fix it. I hold on to the promise of the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence, and I work to implement it with my thoughts, words, and deeds:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [and women] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

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Douglas Yeo at home in Valley Stream, New York. Memorial Day, 1960.

When I was a boy, I lived in Valley Stream, New York. We moved there in spring, 1960, from Queens, New York, and I began kindergarten that fall. That’s me, above, on Memorial Day, 1960. I don’t have that flag anymore (a good eye will notice that flag I’m holding has only 48 stars—Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959, and Hawaii became the 50th state on August 21, 1959), and the Volkswagen Beetle parked in our neighbor’s driveway long ago went to a junkyard. But the American flag still waves. It is a beacon of hope, a symbol of the promise that we citizens of the United States of America should work every day to fulfill.

Dr. Howard Clark was my pastor for several years in the 1980s. He closed Sunday morning worship services with this benediction, below. It is based on some of the words of the Apostle Paul, his First Letter to the Thessalonians, 5:12–15. I call it to mind every day because it reminds me of how I should think and act as one who has one foot in the Kingdom of God, and one foot in that place I call home here on earth, the United States of America:

Now go into the world in peace.

Have courage; hold on to that which is good.

Honor all men and women; strengthen the fainthearted, support the weak.

Help the suffering, and share the Gospel.

Love and serve the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit.

And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

If you live in the United States, take a few minutes today to read the Declaration of Independence. Today is about more than cookouts, parades, and fireworks. It’s about gratitude and hope, and our duty to work to fulfill the promise of that day in 1776. 

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Promotional photo from a brochure produced by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, for concerts by the Boston Pops Orchestra, early 1990s. The brochure tapped into the fact that the encore for every Boston Pops concert was John Philip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever. Photo of Douglas Yeo by Michael J. Lutch.