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Musical instruments real and imagined: Lennie Peterson, Dr. Seuss, and J.J. Grandville

Musical instruments real and imagined: Lennie Peterson, Dr. Seuss, and J.J. Grandville

The human imagination is an amazing thing, a fertile ground for thinkers of all kinds to express ideas, both real and imagined. The conception and production of visual art is among one of the many plants that spring forth from our imagination’s soil.

For the last six years, I have been working on a new book, An Illustrated Dictionary for the Modern Trombone, Euphonium, and Tuba Player; it will be published this fall by Rowman & Littlefield. This new book contains 675 entries about low brass instruments and the people who play them, compose for them, make them, and write about them. All of the instruments I discuss in the book are real. They were made and played at moments in history. Some have been forgotten; others are still with us. Stay tuned for more about this book as it nears its publication date.

My Dictionary also has 125 illustrations by the noted artist Lennie Peterson. Trombone players are certainly familiar with Lennie’s work because of his syndicated comic strip, The Big Picture.” Seriously: a week doesn’t go by when someone doesn’t send me this cartoon:

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Someone even sent it to me with a caption in German:

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Well, friends, it’s really OK if you stop sending it to me with the exclamation, “I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but this is the coolest cartoon ever!” That’s because I have known about it since it was published in September, 2003. Not only do I know about it—and, yes, I think it’s really cool—I reached out to Lennie at that time and asked him if I could purchase the original of the cartoon. “Sure!” he said. Here (below) is the full version of the original cartoon (Lennie’s original pen and ink; the color was added later), with the image of Lennie’s cat, Ginger, conducting, and his name printed as Lennie “fff” Peterson. I had the cartoon framed and it now hangs in my office as many of my students who have seen it can attest.

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That’s how I met Lennie Peterson, through a cartoon about trombone players. A great friendship developed, and I quickly learned that Lennie was not just a superb cartoonist. He’s also produced a lot of really great fine art. His portrait of Beethoven—done in ink—also hangs in my office (apologies for the glare off the glass):

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I also commissioned Lennie to make an oil painting that incorporated a thought-provoking quotation by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It hung in my music studio in Arizona and it now hangs in our living room:

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“But wait,” as the late night TV Ginsu knife commercial host breathlessly announces, “there’s more!” I also asked Lennie to tattoo a pBone for me, decked out in Arizona State University colors. It was proudly displayed on the piano in my office at ASU when I was professor of trombone there from 2012-2016. Lennie can do it all.

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Lennie’s multifaceted work as an artist—oh, have I mentioned that he’s a fantastic jazz trombonist as well?—led me to only one conclusion when I was asked to write my Dictionary: Lennie had to do the illustrations. So, he did. Lennie’s illustrations for the book are spectacular. Whether an illustration of the bronze age lur. . .

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. . .or Adolphe Sax’s remarkable six-valve trombone with seven bells. . .

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. . . Lennie’s illustrations for my Dictionary help bring the book to life. Our partnership in putting together this book has been so rewarding, and we look forward to it being on the market in a few months. More on that later.

When you look at Lennie’s illustration of Sax’s seven-bell trombone, you may be thinking, “That’s crazy!” And it is. I tell the story of the instrument in my Dictionary, but what immediately came to mind when I saw and photographed it in the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels, is that it looks so similar to another instrument that may be familiar to you as well:

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Can there be any doubt that when Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904–1991) conjured up his WhoHooper for the film version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), he was not inspired by Adolphe Sax? Seuss was a master of the imaginary musical instrument, and his books are full of them. But other artists have dreamed up fanciful instruments, and for many years, I’ve been fascinated by the work of Jean-Ignace-Isador Gérard, who went by the name J. J. Grandville. Two books that carry many of his illustrations, Vie privée et publique des animaux, or The Private and Public Lives of Animals (1842; English edition, 1872) and Un Autre Monde or Another World (1844), are part of my personal library and I have spent many hours enjoying both the stories and the illustrations. With Lennie’s cartoons and Dr. Seuss’ fanciful WhoHooper on my mind, I thought I’d share some of Grandville’s images of musical instruments.

In Un Autre Monde, the chapter “Steam Concert” is about “a concert of metal musicians and singers—the only kind that will satisfy the public’s current demand for super-virtuosity and tremendous performing forces.” Hmm, that sounds like it could have been written today.

[Below] A concert of steam-powered musicians, performing, “The I and the Non-I, Symphony in C Major” [after page 16]:

Un autre monde : transformations, visions, incarnations ... et a

As an aside, Grandville later made an illustration very similar to his “Vapor Concert.” In 1846, he caricatured composer Hector Berlioz for Louis Reybaud’s book, Jérome Paturot à la recherché dune position sociale.

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And later that same year (April 1846), Grandville’s cartoon of Berlioz was used as the basis of another caricature of the great composer, this time by Anton Elfinger (he went by the name “Cajetan”) that appeared in Allgemeine Theaterzeitzung. Cajetan pulled out all the stops, with a contrabass monstre ophicleide and the dismayed audience members who are covering their ears and running away from the tremendous sound. I especially like how Cajetan added faces for one of the trombone players (on the left; he appears to be in agony) and the monstre ophicleide player.

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Back to Le Autre Monde. . .

[Below] From the same concert by steam-powered musicians, here is Grandville’s, “Melody for 200 Trombones” [page 19]. Note how the bass trombone player needs a special cut out on the floor for the length of his hand slide. This is really interesting because the bass trombone was hardly known in France at the time. Berlioz encountered it during his travels to Germany but how Grandville knew about it (it would have been the bass trombone in F with its long slide with a handle) is a puzzle.

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[Below] Here, in the “Steam Concert,” Mlle. Tender hits a perfect ultra-high A during her duet with Monsieur Tunnel [page 20].

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[Below] A child prodigy, on a “harmonic railway,” plays difficult variations on the steam harp [page 23].

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[Below] An accident at the concert: an ophicleide bursts from too much harmony, peppering the listeners’ ears with notes [page 24]. There is so much going on in this illustration: the ears in the box seats, left and right, the notes on the floor that are struggling to get up, and the hand lighting a fuse in the ophicleide’s mouthpiece.

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[Below] From the chapter, “Une Journée a Rheculanum” [after page 193]: A performance of Phédre in Rheculanum. The duplex ophicleide-like brass instrument in the orchestra pit is an acoustical impossibility (as is the case with many of Dr. Seuss’ instruments) but it looks really cool.

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In The Public and Private Lives of Animals, Honoré de Balzac’s story, “Journey of An African Lion in Paris,” is accompanied by Grandville’s illustration (page 186) of a scene at a carnival ball (below). A snake playing an over the shoulder (OTS) dragon bell trombone (buccin) is in the band in the balcony, next to an instrument that appears to be an ophicleide.

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My favorite of Grandville’s musical instrument illustrations is part of a story by Pierre-Jules Hetzel (1814–1886, writing under his pseudonym, P. J. Stahl), “The Funeral Oration for a Silkworm,” a chapter in The Public and Private Lives of Animals [pages 206–209]. Grandville’s illustration of a funeral cortége with an insect at the head of the procession who is playing a serpent is stunning in its imagination and detail. Here is the whole story reprinted in its entirety, with all four illustrations that accompany Stahl’s dramatic and touching tale. Enjoy.

The Funeral Oration of a Silkworm

P.J. Stahl

Illustrations by J. J. Grandville

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The sun, having done his day’s work of thinking right well, suddenly and wearily retired to rest. The last notes of the birds’ song of praise were still lingering in the echoes of the woods, and the earth, wrapping herself in her dark mantle, was preparing for repose. The death’s-head Moth giving the final of departure, the little cortége set out on the march for the purple heath. Field-spiders, whose work consisted in clearing the road, proceeded the corpse which was surrounded by beetles, in black, carrying the bier of mulberry leaf. These were followed by tail-bearing mutes, next came the Ants, and lastly the Grubs. When at some little distance from the sacred mulberry tree, around which were assembled the relatives of the deceased, the Cardinal Pyrochre gave orders that the hymn of the dead should be intoned by the choir of Scarabs, and afterward sung by Bees and Crickets.

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At intervals, when the harmony ceased, one could hear deep signs and sobs, bearing evidence of the universal grief caused by the loss of the humble insect, whose remains were being borne to their last resting-place. The procession at length reached the cemetery on the heath, where the sextons were still bending over the new dug grave. Signs and sobs were hushed in that profound silence which betokens the deepest sorrow. But when the bearers had laid the body in the tomb, and the yawning earth closed over it, the air was rent with a piteous wail, for the mourners had seen the last of a true friend.

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An insect, robed in black, advanced to the grave-mount, saying: “Why this outburst of bitter grief? Why weep for one who has been delivered from the trial and burden of life. Yet,” he added, “weep on, for he who lies there can feel no pang of sorrow; no tears, no loving tones, can wake a responsive throb in his cold breast, nor bring him back to his earthly home!” They would not be comforted.

“Brothers,” said another, advancing in turn, “it is at the birth of a silkworm one ought rather to mourn. His life was one of ceaseless toil. By leaving this earth, he has left his misery behind; neither joy nor sorrow can follow him beyond the grave. I tell you simple truth; this is no time for hypocrisy. Why should worms mourn this event? Death has no terrors for us!” They still wept.

One of the mourners said with faltering voice: “Brother, we know that there is a beginning, and alas! an end, to everything, and that all must die; we know, too, the sorrows of our life, the labour of gathering our food leaf by leaf; we know the toil that transforms a mulberry leaf into a shining silken robe; we know the dangers that beset our lives; and the doom of the silken shroud that at last imprisons and blights the dreams of our young lives; we know that to die is to cease to toil, death being the end of the silken thread which began with our birth—we know all this, but, oh, we know, too, that we loved our brother, and who can console us for so great a loss?”

“We loved him! We loved him!” cried the mourners.

“I wept like you,” said the Cardinal, “for our brother who is gone; yet, when I meet death face to face in the silkworm, my heart expands. ‘Go to the other world,’ I say, the better world; there the gates will open for the good, both high and low; there you will rejoin your lost loved ones in a land where flowers breathe an eternal fragrance; where the mulberries bordering the glassy streams are ever green. Ah, brothers, tell them to wait for us there, for to die is to be born to a better life!”

With these words the weeping ceased. The moon broke out, silvering the heath with a chaste glory.

The good insect added: “Go back to your homes: our brother has no longer need of you.”

Each of the mourners, after placing a flower on the grave, left the scene, feeling comforted.

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Easter 2021

Easter 2021

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is not here, for he has risen.

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

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

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on a year: COVID-19 and more

Reflections on a year: COVID-19 and more

The coronavirus pandemic has upended everything. Everything. Everyone has a story. It is true that “we are all in this together”—it effects everyone. But it is not true that “we are all in the same boat.” Some boats are doing better than others. Some are sinking. Some have sunk. The virus is real and it’s bad. In the words of a good friend of mine who is a Dean at a major medical school and research hospital in New York City, “this virus is scary and sneaky.” Yes, it is.

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The COVID-19 dashboard at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, February 4, 2021.

We in our extended family consider ourselves very fortunate: none of us has contracted COVID-19. We are all exceptionally cautious. We wear masks and take other protective measures. But over the last couple of weeks, I’ve received email messages from a number of friends who have noticed that I haven’t posted anything on The Last Trombone since October. “Are you OK?”, they’ve asked.  I appreciate the concern, and it’s a reminder how we all are on edge, uncertain what lack of contact with someone might mean. I’m well—thank you for asking!—but as I have been reflecting on a number of things, I find it remarkable that in a season of life where I have done almost no traveling and I have been at home since mid-March, 2020, I am so busy in so many ways.

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It has been nearly a year since the coronavirus has been part of our every day vocabulary. On February 2, 2020, my son-in-law, Chad, and I went to Super Bowl LIV in Miami. I won a contest sponsored by the Chicago Bears (you can read about how I won the contest HERE and our experience at Super Bowl LIV HERE) and we had an amazing trip. Chad and I were in the midst of 65,000 other fans. We gave high-fives and hugs to total strangers, stood in crowed lines for food and to use the rest room, we screamed our lungs out during the game, we flew on planes, traveled on buses, and we did this without even thinking. We didn’t know that in a few weeks, that would all change.

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Megumi Kanda and Douglas Yeo in recital in St. Louis, February 16, 2020.

A few days  later, I was in St. Louis, playing a recital and giving a masterclass along with my good friend, Megumi Kanda who is principal trombonist of the Milwaukee Symphony.  The recital was sponsored by the St. Louis Low Brass Collective. In addition to my trombone activities, I went up the St. Louis Arch in a small elevator that seated seven people, all jammed in like sardines. I didn’t even think twice about doing it.

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The elevators at the St. Louis Arch, February 15, 2020.

Coronavirus? It was “one of those viruses” we hear about from time to time that affected people in lands far away. It had no impact on us. Yet.

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Sloan Park, spring training home of the Chicago Cubs. March 12, 2012.

Then in March, we went to Arizona for a week. Our plan was to go to some Chicago Cubs spring training games, do some hiking, enjoy restaurants, and all of the nice things you do on vacation. On March 12, we arrived at the Cubs spring training facility, Sloan Park, ready to watch a game. We found that the gates were locked and the scoreboard said that the game had been cancelled due to weather. But it wasn’t raining, and the forecast was for sun as the clouds were moving away. Nobody at the ballpark gave us more information. We went to have lunch at Portillos to assuage our disappointment and then went hiking. When we got back to our rented house, we heard that all Major League Baseball games had been cancelled. Coronavirus became real.

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Wheaton College’s COVID-19 dashboard, February 5, 2021. Students start returning to campus tomorrow for the spring semester under strict virus mitigation protocols. The entire student body will be tested for COVID-19 when students arrive on campus this weekend and they will all be tested regularly throughout the semester.

Later that day, I received an email from the President of Wheaton College. I am Wheaton College’s trombone professor and I was anticipating getting back to teaching when we got home from our spring break vacation. But our President said that spring break was being extended for another week and that all faculty needed to get prepared for several days of training: Wheaton College was going to a combination of remote and greatly modified in-person learning. Everything was changing.

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We all know the kinds of things that happened after that. No in-person concerts or theater performances, restaurants and movie theaters were closed, church doors were shuttered, life moved from personal engagement to a computer screen. We all learned that Zoom was not just a word little kids say when they’re pretending to pilot a rocket ship to Mars. Trombone lessons with Zoom and Cleanfeed. Recitals without an audience. Symphony orchestras making mashed up videos with players recording in their living rooms. Cancel. Cancel. Cancel. Masks. Social distancing. Hand sanitizer. Wash your hands. Wash your hands again. CAN’T TOUCH THIS!

So, here we are, nearly a year later. Nobody saw this coming, nobody imagined it would last this long. But we are starting to see hopeful signs for deliverance from the pandemic. Vaccines are now being distributed. I had my first jab of the Moderna vaccine yesterday morning—it was a truly joyful, emotional experience, the fruition of something I had been praying for over many months. We continue to pray that the rest of our family will receive the vaccine soon. So much will change for the better when that happens.

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The first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine I received yesterday, February 4, 2021, at Central DuPage Hospital.

We are hopeful that with continued vigilance in following guidance on protective measures (wear your mask—keep apart from others—wash your hands—get the vaccine), we will slowly come out of this long tunnel. And when we do, and when we go to the first sporting event, the first church service, the first concert, play, or musical, the first restaurant after not doing those things for over a year, we will have a new sense of appreciation for all of those things that we always seemed to take for granted. That is one of the important lessons we have learned over these long months.

Still, the pandemic has provided us with opportunities to do other things. Like everyone else, I had to cancel a host of performing and teaching trips over the last year. Soloing at a brass band festival in Seattle. Cancelled. Playing with the Finnish National Radio Orchestra in concerts in Finland and Japan. Cancelled. Teaching at Gene Pokorny’s low brass seminar, at Interlochen Arts Academy, at the Wheaton College summer music camp, at the Csehy summer school of music. All cancelled. Planned vacations to Glacier National Park, Zion National Park, to Arizona. All cancelled. You’ve had things cancelled, too.

But we’ve spent more time with our grandkids, took more walks in forest preserves when the weather was good, and we go sledding down a four foot high berm next to our home (we don’t do “mountains” here in the Chicago area)—the most exhilarating five second ride on a sled that our grandkids have ever had. And in the midst of the storm, and without traveling regularly, that’s freed up time to do a lot of other things. No, I would not have chosen to be at home day after day. But that’s what we have. So I’ve been busy. Here’s some of what I’ve been doing lately.

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  • I wrote an article about my friend, Megumi Kanda, for the International Trombone Association Journal. that published in January of this year. Megumi was the 2020 recipient of the ITA’s highest honor, the ITA Award. Click HERE to read the article.

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Part of my teaching workstation at my home.

  • I’ve continued teaching my students at Wheaton College each week, both weekly lessons and trombone studio class. And, last semester, trombone literature class. Due to the pandemic, all wind, brass, and voice lessons are done online. I set up a new work station in our basement where I do all of my online remotely. We all know the limitations of Zoom and Cleanfeed, but we’re grateful that the technology allows us to continue to work together and make good progress. We all look forward to the day when we can sit side by side and play duets together once again. Everything just takes so much more time when it’s done virtually. For instance: If a student has a noisy F-attachment valve linkage, at an ordinary in-person lesson, I can say, “OK, hand me your horn,” and in a few minutes, I can usually solve the problem. But now, I have to hold my trombone up to the camera and try to help the student run through a number of diagnostic steps so I can identify the problem. “OK, put your thumb on top of the ball joint—no, the ball joint, not the stop rod arm—then with the other hand, move the F-attachment paddle. Where is that clicking sound coming from? No, I don’t think it’s from THERE— I see the movement in the linkage THERE. . .” And so on. But I salute my students who are dealing with so much as they are in school, both remotely and on campus with very strict virus mitigation protocols. Wear your mask and get the vaccine. Help students and teachers everywhere return to 100% in-person learning as soon as possible.

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Advertisement for Henry Fillmore’s The Trombone Family, c. 1920.

  • In June, I wrote two articles about Henry Fillmore’s iconic collection of trombone ragtime pieces, The Trombone Family, which includes Lassus Trombone. You can read those articles HERE and HERE. To say the articles aroused a lot of interest is a profound understatement. In the first two days after posting my articles, over 100,000 people read them on The Last Trombone. A vigorous discussion about music, race, and racism ensued. Since then, I’ve answered hundreds of emails from people who have written to  me about the subject, my articles have been reprinted in several journals and newsletters, and I have been asked to speak about the subject before several groups. This engagement continues, and a day doesn’t go by when I am not engaging with people about this important issue. This takes a lot of time. A LOT of time. But it matters.

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  • I wrote a long article about the Mozart Requiem Tuba mirum that will be published in the International Trombone Association Journal sometime next year.

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  • I wrote a commentary and glossary to accompany the republication (in the International Trombone Association Journal) of a short story, The Story of A Trombone, that was first published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1875. It may have been the first short story ever written about the trombone. This will publish in the ITA Journal later this year.

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  • I continued working on my eight part series of articles about the piece for tuba, narrator, and orchestra, Tubby the Tuba. The articles have been published in the International Tuba Euphonium Association Journal through all of 2020 and 2021.

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  • My Boston Symphony Orchestra colleague Ronald Barron (retired principal trombonists) and I have just finished making an edition of Sliding and Stringing Along, a duet for tenor trombone or bass trombone and violin by the late Charlie Small. This was one the last pieces Charlie wrote before his death in 2017 and he had given both Ron and me handwritten copies of the piece. Trombone players know Charlie Small for his superb playing and also for his fantastic duet for tenor and bass trombone, Conversation. Ron premiered Sliding and Stringing Along in 2015 and he and I put our heads together to sort out Charlie’s many manuscripts. It will be published by Ensemble Publications later this year.

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The cover to Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry, by Kevin Mungons and Douglas Yeo.

  • For the last six years, my friend, Kevin Mungons, and I have been working together on a book about the trombone-playing song leader for evangelist Billy Sunday, Homer Rodeheaver. I had previously published an article about Rodeheaver in the Historic Brass Society Journal (to read the article, click HERE), and it’s been a real joy to work with Kevin to write the first full length biography of Rodeheaver. We completed the manuscript—the book is titled Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry—last year, it then went out for peer review, we then engaged in a rewrite, and the book went through various editorial processes with our publisher, University of Illinois Press. We have just finished working through proofing the page proofs and the last thing for us to do before publication of the book this spring is to write the index. The pandemic has provided time for extended work on the book  and we are now in the home stretch. For advance information about the book on the University of Illinois Press website, click HERE.

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Illustration of a buccin (dragon bell trombone) by Lennie Peterson, for my new book, An Illustrated Dictionary for the Modern Trombone, Euphonium, and Tuba Player (Rowman & Littlefield).

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Another side of Lennie Peterson’s artistic persona, a cartoon from his syndicated comic strip, The Big Picture.

  • For the last five years, I have been working on another book, An Illustrated Dictionary for the Modern Trombone, Euphonium, and Tuba Player. Since being contracted to write the book by Rowman & Littlefield, I’ve been at work putting it together. Last month, I finished my manuscript—over 650 entries about instruments, individuals, composers, manufacturers, and parts of low brass instruments—and submitted it to my publisher. It has now been sent out for peer review and once those comments come back later this month, I’ll engage in a rewrite and the other editorial processes. Hopefully the book will then head toward being published, sometime in late 2021 or early 2022. One of the great joys of working on this book has been working with my illustrator, Lennie Peterson. A sample of his work for the Dictionary is above. Lennie (who is a successful trombonist in addition to his other artistic pursuits) is well known to trombonists for his famous cartoon about trombone players and their band director, Mr. Kaplin (above). Lennie is the rare artist who is expert in a host of styles and I am very happy that we have been partners in putting this book together.

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John Kuhn, a member of John Philip Sousa’s Band, at the 1915 San Francisco Panama-American Exhibition.

  • I’ve started researching the legendary Sousaphone player, John Kuhn, and I hope to publish a major article about him in the International Tuba Euphonium Association Journal sometime in 2022. Kuhn is a fascinating subject and as I was researching him for an entry in my Dictionary, I realized that a lot of the information that is known about him is in need of an adjustment. I find this all the time: historical figures have stories associated with them that are “too good not to be true,” but when one actually digs deep to find the root of the story, the narrative needs to be changed. Here’s a photo of Kuhn playing with a massed band (including John Philip Sousa’s band, of which Kuhn was a member) at the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition; that’s him looking over his shoulder at the camera. Stay tuned for more about this member of the Sioux nation who was a true force on the Sousaphone for much of the twentieth century.

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Our family’s 2020 annual Christmas ornament.

  • Every year since we were married 45 years ago, my wife and I have made an ornament for our Christmas tree that reflects some of what our family did in the last year. It’s a nice time capsule that allows us to remember things we might have otherwise forgotten, and to celebrate some of our family’s milestones. It was challenging to find things to put on the 2020 ornament. Here’s what we came up with. A pin from Super Bowl LIV when the world seemed normal, a pin from 2020 baseball spring training when the world changed, and a NO COVID pin. That seemed to summarize the year.

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Sign in the lobby of Central DuPage Hospital, Winfield, Illinois, February 4, 2021.

  • As mentioned above, I received my first COVID-19 vaccination yesterday, with another dose coming in a few weeks. And, straight up, I want to say that I had no side effects apart from a slightly sore arm yesterday, no more than what I experience every year when I get a flu shot. By saying that I received the vaccine, I guess I’m giving away my age since here in Illinois, the vaccine is only available at this time to front line essential workers like doctors, nurses, and emergency personnel, teachers, and individuals over 65 years old (and I’m not a front line worker). My son-in-law, Chad, who is a hospice chaplain who is in contact with people all day long in homes and care facilities, has had both of his vaccination doses over the last few weeks. My getting it yesterday means 25% of our immediate family has been vaccinated, and we see this as tangible progress toward all of us getting vaccinated—a key element to returning to a more normal life. I received my vaccine at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois—part of the Northwestern Medicine health network—and I was so impressed by the efficiency of their distribution system and the care of its staff. The process went smoothly from start to finish, and I want to add my voice of thanks to all those who have been working so hard to help get the vaccine into people’s arms, and to those who have been caring for those who have contracted the coronavirus. We all know that this virus is bad—really bad—and we rejoice that deliverance from the pandemic seems to be in reach thanks to the vaccines. Thank you, God. In a world that is upside down, during a time where so many people have lost so much, it’s comforting to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. And we’ll get there sooner if everyone follows health care directives including wearing a mask, maintaining appropriate distance from one another, and getting the vaccine. It matters.

So, that’s some of what’s been keeping me busy over the last year. Thanks to those who reached out and expressed concern, who wondered why I haven’t been posting more often on my blog. I’ll try to get to it more regularly. I’ve just been busy—like you’ve probably been busy, too.

[Header image: The daily United States coronavirus map from The New York Times, February 5, 2021.]

Joannés Rochut, the Boston Symphony, and his trombone

Joannés Rochut, the Boston Symphony, and his trombone

When we look at the long history of the trombone, many notable trombonists come to mind. It’s not possible to say who was the most famous. A case can be made for Arthur Pryor, the celebrated trombone soloist in John Philip Sousa’s band and his own band, who made many recordings, and dazzled audiences around the world. While his name is not so well known today, Homer Rodeheaver, the trombone-playing song leader for evangelist Billy Sunday in the first third of the twentieth century, played trombone for over 100 million people during his lifetime, although his trombone playing skills paled next to the great soloists of his time including Pryor, Simone Mantia, and Gardell Simons.

However, there is one trombonist whose name is known to trombonists all over, although most are probably not aware of many details of his life. But this we know: Joannés Rochut (1881-1952) edited three volumes of vocalises, what he called Melodious Etudes, from the works of Marco Bordogni. These books, published in 1928 by Carl Fischer (New York), have become a standard part of trombone teaching and practicing since they were first issued. For sheer name recognition, it would be hard to argue that Rochut is not one of the most famous trombonists of all time. His contribution to trombone pedagogy is incalculable. What trombonist does not have a copy of at least Volume 1 of “The Rochut Book” (even though there is not a note by Rochut in the books)? [NB: I wrote an article about exercise No. 1 in Volume 1 of Rochut’s Melodious Etudes, an etude that does not appear in Bordogni’s oeuvre and which some people have postulated was written by Rochut himself. It was not. You can read that article HERE.] 

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Cover of the first edition of Joannés Rochut’s Melodious Etudes for Trombone Selected from the Vocalises of Marco Bordogni (New York: Carl Fischer, 1928)

This article is a brief introduction to Joannés Rochut with a special emphasis on one of the trombones he played. I intend to write a more in-depth article about Rochut for the International Trombone Association Journal, drawing from my own research and the extensive archive of Rochut related materials collected and recently given to me by my friend, David Fetter (long time trombonist with the Cleveland Orchestra and Baltimore Symphony; we were colleagues together when I played in the Baltimore Symphony from 1981-1985).

Born in Paris, Rochut’s father died when he was seven years old and he was placed in an orphanage where he learned to play the trombone. After volunteering for the French military when he was eighteen—he served as a bandsman for three years—Joannés Rochut enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire in 1902 where he studied trombone with Louis Allard (1852-1940).

Le Temps (Paris. 1861)

Announcement of brass instrument prize winners in the 1905 Paris Conservatoire Concours. Rochut received Premier prix (first prize) in the trombone class; his name appears near the bottom of the clipping. Le Temps, Paris, July 30, 1905.

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Sigismond Stojowski, Fantasie (incipit). 1905.

Joannés Rochut won second prize at the Conservatoire in 1903, playing Bernard Croce-Spinelli’s Solo de concours (that contest was won by Eugene Adam, whose name we shall see again later in this article), and second prize again in 1904, playing Morceau de concours of Edmond J. Missa. Rochut graduated from the Conservatoire in 1905 with first prize in its annual Concours; the required solo was Zygmunt Denis Antoni Jordan “Sigismond” de Stojowski’s Fantasie. [NB: Stojowski was born in Strzelce, Poland, in 1870. He entered the Paris Conservatoire at age 17 and also studied at Sorbonne University. He was a friend of Peter Tchaikovsky (Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 was dedicated to Stojowski), and Stojowski came to the United States in 1905 where he wrote his Fantasie for trombone. For a more detailed biography of Stojowski, see: Paul Krzywicki, From Paderewski to Penderecki: The Polish Musician in Philadelphia (Paul Krzywicki, 2016).] 

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Holton Trombone catalog, c. 1920. Endorsements by Joannes Rochut and Fortunato Sordillo.

While a member of the Orchestre de la Garde républicaine (French Republican Guard Band) during World War I, Rochut toured the United States in 1918; the band played concerts in 208 cities in 37 states. It was probably at that time that Rochut tried and later endorsed Holton trombones (Rochut’s Holton endorsement is pictured above) but there is no record of Rochut taking a Holton trombone back to Paris.

Following his service in the Republican Guard Band, Rochut performed with numerous orchestras in France including the Société des Nouveaux-Concerts (Orchestre Lamoureux) and l’Opera Comique (Paris); among his many students at that time was Andre Lafosse (1890-1975), who later served as professor of trombone at the Paris Conservatoire (1948-1960). Rochut also helped organize the first of the Concerts Koussevitzky (1921, Paris) which were instrumental in establishing the reputation of Russian conductor Serge Koussevitzky (1897-1951). Koussevitzky was appointed music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1924, and in October 1925, he engaged Rochut as the orchestra’s principal trombonist, a position he held for five seasons. Rochut joined the faculty of New England Conservatory of Music in 1926; among his students in Boston was John Coffey (bass trombonist of the Cleveland Orchestra 1937-1941, and bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony, 1941-1952).

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Photo of Joannés Rochut in Paris with his children, part of an article in the Boston Sunday Post, October 11, 1925. The photo inset on top right shows Ferdinand Gillet, who was hired as the Boston Symphony’s principal oboist at the same time Rochut was hired as principal trombonist. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Archives.

Rochut was one of 14 French musicians to join the Boston Symphony in the fall of 1925; he played principal trombone in the BSO through the 1929-1930 season. The addition of Jacob Raichman to the trombone section in 1927—Koussevitzky knew Raichman in Russia where Raichman played alongside Vladislav Blazhevich in the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra in Moscow before leaving for Cuba and then the United States—probably hastened Rochut’s departure from Boston. The Frenchman and the Russian famously did not get along well, and when Rochut returned to France in 1930, Raichman, who had been named co-principal trombone around 1928, assumed the principal trombone position in the BSO. In 1955, Raichman was succeeded as principal trombone by William Gibson who was succeeded by Ronald Barron in 1975 who was succeeded by Toby Oft in 2008.

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“New Symphony Virtuosos,” Boston Post, October 6, 1925. Joannés Rochut (third from left) is pictured with three other newly hired principal players of the Boston Symphony Orchestra: Edmond Allegra, principal clarinet, Ferdinand Gillet, principal oboe, and Jean Lefranc, principal viola. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

The earliest known photo of Joannés Rochut as a member of the Boston Symphony was printed in in the Boston Post on October 6, 1925 (above).

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Boston Symphony Orchestra brass section, 1925. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

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Later in 1925, the Boston Symphony brass section posed for a group photo (above). Rochut is standing in the center; the other trombone players are (back row, left to right) Leroy Kenfield (bass trombone), Eugene Adam (assistant principal trombone), and Lucien Hansotte (second trombone). The tubist, far right, is Paul Sidow. Seated in front of Rochut is Georg Wendler, principal horn (Wendler was the son-in-law of Eduard Kruspe, the celebrated German maker of brass instruments); in front of Hansotte is George Mager, principal trumpet. Mager, who also taught at New England Conservatory of Music, was the teacher of Adolph Herseth (1921-2013), who played principal trumpet in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1948 to 2001.

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This grainy photo, above, from an undated newspaper clipping from a Boston Symphony press scrapbook, probably dates from 1925-1926. Back row (left to right): Joannés Rochut, Eugene Adam (assistant principal trombone), Lucien Hansotte (second trombone), Leroy Kenfield (bass trombone), Paul Sidow (tuba).

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[Above] Boston Symphony Orchestra, performance of Beethoven Symphony No. 9, Serge Koussevitzky, conductor. March 29, 1927. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

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This photo of Rochut on stage in Boston’s Symphony Hall (above) was taken at the time of a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in 1927. The Boston Symphony’s trombone section for that performance consisted of (above, left to right) Rochut, Lucian Hansotte (second trombone), and Leroy Kenfield (bass trombone). 

 

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[Above] Members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1928. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

At the beginning of the 1928-1929 season, the members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra sat for individual photos that were collected into a collage. When Jacob Raichman joined the orchestra in 1927, the trombone section expanded to five players. Shown in the photo are (left to right), Rochut, Lucien Hansotte (second trombone), Leroy Kenfield (bass trombone), Jacob Raichman (co-principal trombone), and Eugene Adam (assistant principal trombone).

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[Above] Arthur Fiedler (standing, center) with the Arthur Fiedler Sinfonietta (Boston Sinfonietta), c. 1929. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Archives.

Fiedler_Sinfonietta_Rochut_1929_detailMembers of the Arthur Fiedler Sinfonietta. Back row (left to right): Abdon Laus, principal bassoon, Joannés Rochut, Marcel LaFosse, trumpet, Georges Mager, principal trumpet.

Conductor Arthur Fielder (1894-1979) is well-known for his long tenure as the conductor of the Boston Pops from 1930 to 1979. But what is lesser known is that before he achieved fame with the Pops, he founded the Boston Sinfonietta—also known as the Arthur Fiedler Sinfonietta—in 1924. The orchestra was made up mostly of Boston Symphony players and it played concerts and made recordings for RCA Victor. Rochut played in Fiedler’s Sinfonietta along with many other Boston Symphony principal players including Georges Mager.

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[Above] Boston Symphony Orchestra (Boston Pops Orchestra) on the Charles River Esplanade, July 4, 1929. Courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

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[Above] Members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Boston Pops Orchestra). Back row (left to right): Joannés Rochut, Jacob Raichman (playing second trombone), Leroy Kenfield (bass trombone).

On July 4, 1929, the Boston Pops played a concert on the Charles River Esplanade in Boston. A temporary shell had been constructed for the concert and Rochut, Raichman, and Kenfield played trombone. [NB: A second temporary bandshell was built in 1934, and a permanent structure was built in 1940.  The Edward A. Hatch Memorial Shell—Bostonians refer to it as “The Hatch Shell”—underwent a major renovation in 2018.]

Rochut_Lefevre_trombones

When Joannés Rochut joined the Boston Symphony, he brought with him two trombones by the Parisian maker Lefevre. Founded in 1812 by François Lefevre, the workshop was particularly known for its woodwind instruments. Extant trombones by Lefevre are few, and the shop went out of business by 1911. Rochut’s Lefevre trombones are both narrow bore (.455″). The straight trombone has a six-inch diameter bell, and the trombone with a piston valve activated  F-attachment (which also has a Stillventil or static rotary valve that can be turned by hand to put the attachment in E) has a 6 1/2 inch diameter bell. 

When Rochut left Boston to return to Paris in 1930, he left his Lefevre trombones behind in Symphony Hall. In the 1970s, they were discovered in a storeroom and put up for auction by the BSO as part of a fundraising program, “Salute to Symphony.” The trombones sold at auction but the buyer did not want to take them. William Moyer, the orchestra’s personnel manager who had played second trombone in the BSO from 1952-1966, took the trombones home for safekeeping. When I joined the BSO in 1985 and told Bill Moyer of my interest in knowing more about Rochut, he gave me the trombones. 

Rochut_trombone_Oft_2009

I never considered Rochut’s trombones to be “mine.” I always felt they had been entrusted to me to care for them. They are a part of the Boston Symphony’s history, priceless artificats from one of the most important trombonists to have ever played the instrument. When Toby Oft received tenure as principal trombonist of the Boston Symphony in July 2009, I decided to entrust Rochut’s straight trombone to him. Then, when Steve Lange received tenure as second trombonist of the Boston Symphony in 2011, I entrusted the F-attachment trombone to him. I had small plaques made that I put in the case for each instrument that documented the exchange. Toby and Steve both understood that the instruments were not “theirs,” rather, they were to care for them until they left the BSO at which time they would entrust the instruments to their successors. In this, Rochut’s trombones will always be in the care of Boston Symphony trombonists.

Rochut played his Lefevre trombone in Paris before he came to Boston and during his years he was a member of the BSO; it can be seen in photos throughout this article. Rochut used a Besson trombone for a time in 1927-28 but returned to his Lefevre. Then, on November 22, 1929, Rochut purchased one of the first trombones made by Vincent Bach, serial number 0023 (.514/.525″ dual slide bore, eight-inch diameter bell). How much Rochut used his Bach trombone in Boston and whereabouts of Rochut’s Besson and Bach trombones are not known to me.

Bach shop card Rochut Nr. 23

Vincent Bach’s shop card for trombone serial number 0023, purchased by Joannés Rochut on November 22, 1929. Courtesy of Roy Hempley.

In addition to leaving his Lefevre trombones behind in Boston, Rochut also left his mouthpiece. It is exceptionally small, with a 21.6 mm interior rim diameter. It is funnel shaped, in the style of French trombone mouthpieces of the time. A comparison of Rochut’s mouthpiece that he used with his Lefevre trombone with a Bach 6 1/2 AL graphically shows how small Rochut’s mouthpiece actually was. 

Rochut_trombone_mouthpieceMouthpiece (left) used by Joannés Rochut with his Lefevre trombone, compared with a Bach 6 1/2 AL mouthpiece (right). Photo by Mike Oft.

I recently asked Toby Oft to take some photographs of Rochut’s Lefevre trombone as well as some photos that would show the difference in size between the Lefevre and Toby’s Edwards trombone. I want to thank Toby for taking these superb photos which are not only informative, but display the trombones as works of art, which they are.

Rochut_Trombone_©Toby_Oft

Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft. Note the siphon valve on the bottom bow of the hand slide. Pressing the bottom of the hand slide to the floor activates a spring and allows condensation to drain  out.

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The bell engraving of Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft.

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Comparison of Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone with Toby Oft’s Edwards trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft.

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Comparison of Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone with Toby Oft’s Edwards trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft.

Edwards_Oft_Trombone_vs_Rochut_©Toby_Oft

Comparison of Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone with Toby Oft’s Edwards trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft.

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Joannés Rochut’s Lefevre trombone. Photo by and © Toby Oft.

There is much more to the story of the life and work of Joannés Rochut. That will unfold in my article in progress for the International Trombone Association Journal. His is a name that trombonists around the world have known for nearly a century. My hope is that this article has added to our understanding about Rochut, his Lefevre trombone, and his years as principal trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. 

[Special thanks to the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives, Bridget Carr, Archivist, and Toby and Mike Oft for their photos.]