Christmas

Christmas

Today is December 24 – Christmas Eve – and it is already Christmas day in parts of the world.

Last year, my wife and I traveled to Israel, and among the many places we visited was the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This church is built over the traditional site of the birth of Jesus Christ. Of course we cannot know for sure if this is the exact location of His birth, but as I have told many people, that is not important to me, or to most who come to this place. We were in the neighborhood of this world-changing event, and we were able to take in the mystery of the Incarnation in a concrete way, and share in the devotion of millions of pilgrims who have come to this place over the centuries.

Here is the traditional site of the birth of Christ, beneath the floor under the altar in the grotto of the Church of the Nativity. Many years ago, people began chipping off pieces of the floor so a marble floor was laid with a hole surrounded by a silver star where you  can put your hand to touch the original ground.

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Across the room from this spot is the traditional location of the cattle manger where Jesus was laid after birth. Again, we cannot be sure this was THE spot, but the coldness of the stone reminded me that Jesus’ birth was not in a modern hospital with today’s clean and comfortable conveniences. His birth was humble in the extreme.

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In the courtyard of the church, we saw a sign in two languages – we’ve seen them around the world in England, Greece, throughout the United States, and several places in Israel – that reminded us once again of the truth of  what happened on that night so long ago.

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We also visited the traditional Bethlehem shepherd’s fields, and a cave that was used by shepherds. We used our imagination to picture the sight of the angel announcing Jesus’ birth:

Fear not! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-22)

Here is a painting of the announcement of the angels that is in the Chapel of the Shepherd’s Fields in Bethlehem:

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In our home, we have a nativity set that was given to us in 1978 by my grandmother. We’ve always displayed it around this time of year and in our home in Arizona, it sits on the mantle above our fireplace (yes, even in Arizona, a fireplace is welcome in the winter, although I confess that instead of hauling firewood for our wood stove like I did in Massachusetts for so many years, I am very grateful that this natural gas fireplace is operated by a remote control in my hand).

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When we moved here in 2012, we noticed something quite nice: on Christmas Day, the sun shines through a small glass block window over our front door and at 8:30 am, it comes to rest on the central figures of Mary and Jesus. We didn’t plan this; it just happened.

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It is a remarkable little thing, with this happening every year at the same time. The light on Mary and Jesus reminds us of the important truth of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ:

Then Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

The light of life. Everlasting light. Yes, we have fun with Santa Claus and Jingle Bells and all the rest. But the Truth of Christmas is much more interesting. And important.

Merry Christ-mas, friends.

Santa plays the trombone. Of course.

Santa plays the trombone. Of course.

As a reader of The Last Trombone, you know that I enjoy seeing how the trombone intersects with popular culture. At this time of year, it’s time to bring out some of my favorite images and a great recording about that famous man in red and white, Santa Claus. Who, as we all know, plays the trombone. Right?

I’m writing a book about the trombone right now and have just finished the chapter on the history and evolution of the instrument. One thing that we always have to keep in mind when looking at images of the trombone throughout history is that iconography is not always a reliable indicator of how an instrument actually looked. Santa is no exception. Sometimes we see him holding the trombone just right, like the image at the top of this article, and this one (Santa not only plays the trombone, but he think’s he’s really cool, too):

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It’s hard to see his embouchure but apart from a posture that’s going to give him trouble when he’s 3000 yeas old, he seems to have the trombone under control.

Then again, sometimes Santa puts the trombone together backwards. But he still thinks he’s cool. Time to get your glasses checked, Santa. Here we go again: iconography as a poor indicator of what and instrument looks like or how it works:

Santas got his eye on you all the time

 

Then there is Santa with the music to “Jingle Bells” on his lyre (seriously, Santa, do you really need to use the music after all these years?).  And the trombone put together backwards? Again?

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Well, when he puts his glasses back on, evidently Santa can remember how to put the trombone together correctly, but from the look of things, he isn’t exactly making beautiful music – what note IS that?

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Actually, Santa’s trombone doesn’t always play music. Sometimes he uses it as a present delivery system. Pretty great, don’t you think?

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It’s clear that Santa is a really cool trombone player. But when you see a trombone playing snowman, well, that is a REALLY cool trombone player. Cool as in temperature cool. I hope he’s using a mouthpiece with a plastic rim.

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If you want to HEAR Santa play the trombone, then here you go. Poppa John Gordy and his Dixielanders recorded Santa’s favorite song, “Santa Plays the Trombone (In the North Pole Band),” with Clint Garvin, vocalist. The trombone player isn’t identified on the record label so, of course, is HAS to be Santa himself. Right? Have a listen by clicking the video below, or view/listen to it on YouTube by clicking here.

If this doesn’t jump to the top of your Christmas music play list, then you’ll probably get coal in your stocking.

I’ll close this little popular culture tour of Santa and the trombone with a poem I wrote  that’s made the rounds over the years. It first appeared in December 2012 when I was in my first year as Professor of Trombone at Arizona State University. Santa plays the trombone. He really does.

A Visit From Santa Claus To A College Trombone Player

T’was the night before Christmas and all through my home,
All the horns were in cases, including trombones.
For after the finals and juries and tests,
It was time for some shut-eye; I needed some rest.

I was dreaming of straight mutes and pBones and more,
When I woke to a sound that I’d not heard before.
And what should I see on my roof up on high?
A Moravian choir, with trombones playing fine.

Alessi and Lindberg, Kleinhammer and Yeo,
Were all playing their horns, their heads covered with snow.
And who should be leading this heavenly band?
But old Santa himself, a trombone in his hand!

“On JJ! On Jörgen! On Tommy and George!”
This band was so sweet, I sure did thank the Lord!
“On Norman and Pryor, Ron, Urbie and Frank!”
Some others played, too, but my mind drew a blank.

I grabbed my trombone and I lubed up the slide,
With no time for a warm-up, I hurried outside.
The gang was all playing some mighty nice tunes,
And we jammed some cool charts by light of the moon.

I invited them in just to warm up their chops,
But they just kept on playing, man, this sure was tops!
Saint Nick put his horn down to fill up my stocking,
With valve oil, and slide cream, CDs – so inspiring!

In time, things wound down and they packed up their horns,
And the sleigh got revved up and was heavenly borne.
But Santa looked back, and he said with a smile,

“Merry Christmas to all, and don’t forget to keep practicing even though you’re on vacation!”

— Douglas Yeo (with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

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Touched by beauty

Touched by beauty

The least frequently performed of Paul Hindemith’s sonatas for various instruments is his Sonata for Alto Horn in E-flat and Piano. It was written for an instrument that is not played in concert bands and symphony orchestras, but rather is mostly used in British style brass bands. Still, I believe this Sonata is one of Hindemith’s finest and it also has a unique feature. Before the final movement, Hindemith wrote a poem to be recited in dialogue by the soloist and accompanist. Titled The Posthorn, the poem speaks about technology, memory, and beauty. Its final lines are among my favorites in literature:

Your task it is, amid confusion, rush, and noise

to grasp the lasting, calm, and meaningful,

and finding it anew, to hold and treasure it.

I am very interested in “the lasting, calm, and meaningful.” The world is a loud, busy, chaotic place. I seek out its antidote: quiet, beautiful, and ordered places. One of the reasons why my wife and I moved to Arizona in 2012 when I retired from the Boston Symphony is so we could be in proximity to the great National Parks of the west, places we have turned to time and time again for refreshment.

This past August, we took a three week road trip through California and up to Oregon, where we spent time hiking in several National and State Parks. Here are a few photos from that trip. I don’t need to provide extensive commentary; you can click on the links in the caption to each photo for information about each park, but perhaps at this particular moment in time, you, like I, might receive some refreshment from looking at these photos. Perhaps they will stir your own memory of a visit to these places, or inspire you to want to see them yourself. They are, indeed, “lasting, calm, and meaningful.”

Sequoia National Park

The giant sequoia trees of Sequoia National Park defy description. These trees are the largest living things on earth; some are as tall as 275 feet high. Think about that. Nearly as tall as the length of a football field. We took a long hike through the Giant Forest Grove and did not see another person for over two hours. We were alone with these magnificent trees. Here is a photo of Sentinel Tree, mature sequoia tree that is just outside the Giant Grove Visitor Center.

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It’s difficult to get a sense of perspective of just how large these trees are from a photo. So here is a video to help get a grip on this. It shows my wife, Patricia, standing in front of “The Happy Family” group of giant sequoia trees in the General Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park, adjacent to Sequoia National Park. A picture is worth a thousand words. A video is worth a million. And listen carefully while playing the video in a quiet place; you can hear the chirping of birds. We took this video very early one morning when no other people were in the area. To view this video on YouTube, click on THIS LINK:

Kings Canyon National Park

As mentioned above, Kings Canyon National Park is adjacent to Sequoia National Park; they are jointly administered by the National Park service. A small part of Kings Canyon has giant sequoia trees, but most of the park is the dramatic canyon, a mile deep, through which flows the Kings River. There are peaks in the park that are over 14,000 feet high; here is a photo of the Grand Sentinel peak which is at the end of the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.

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Mount Shasta region

From Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks we entered California’s Mount Shasta region. Mount Shasta is 14,179 feet high and covered with snow year round. On the way to our trailhead, we passed thousands of perfectly formed pine trees. I had never seen such symmetry in trees; it was stunning to behold.

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We had intended to hike from Gray Butte but the road to the trail was closed. It was blocked by snow. In late July. So we parked at Bunny Flat and hiked to the Sierra Club Cabin at Horse Camp. The view of Mount Shasta was stunning.

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Pat has an aunt and uncle who live in northern California so we stopped to see them a few days. It was a bit of a family reunion, too, with several of her cousins and their families there as well. We spent a morning driving and then hiking to a remote alpine lake, a pristine body of water in a stunningly beautiful setting. This panoramic photo gives only an idea of the majesty and solitude of this remarkable place.

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Crater Lake National Park

I have been fascinated by Crater Lake National Park since my childhood. Located in Oregon, the lake formed when Mount Mazama literally blew its top. The lake is 1,943 feet deep at its deepest point and is six miles across. I was unprepared for its size; it is breathtaking. Inside the lake is Wizard Island, a volcano inside the volcano. Sometimes things come together to allow our eyes to see an iconic view that is then called to mind every day thereafter. Such was the case at the moment I took this photo, below. The stillness of the water, the reflections of the crater and clouds in the water, the bits of snow, and the deep green of the trees all came together to give us a memorable moment in time. A panoramic photo of Crater Lake I took a few minutes later is at the top of this article.

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In addition to Wizard Island, there is one other geologic feature that comes up through the surface of the water at Crater Lake. That is Phantom Ship, a rocky outcropping that stands 200 feet high. Getting close to Phantom Ship was the last thing we did at Crater Lake, and seeing it was the realization of a long held dream. You can also see the difference in the clarity of the air between this photo and the one above. Smoke from wildfires in the area created a light haze, and these fires were precursors to the horrific and damaging fires that burned in the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles areas later in the year.

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Redwood National Park

Giant redwood trees are not the same as giant sequoia trees. Redwoods grow taller, and do not have the same, thick, soft bark as sequoias. They are also not as wide at their base as sequoias. Redwood National Park in California is one of the few places in the world where these majestic coastal redwoods grow. The park is actually a collection of parks, some of which are state parks, that form a chain of areas that protect these majestic trees.

As we took hikes on the Hope Creek and Rhododendron Trails in Redwood National park, we were instantly transported into a dramatic, quiet, lush forest. It reminded me of the opening lines of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, Evangeline, where he wrote:

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,

Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,

Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,

Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

Loud, from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean

Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

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The tallest redwood tree is 379 feet and like the giant sequoia trees, a photograph simply cannot give a sense of perspective. So here is a video of me looking up at a giant redwood in Redwood National Park. Again, if you listen carefully, you can hear the sounds of birds. We did not see another person on this hike. To view this video on YouTube, click on THIS LINK.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

We had intended to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park on the first part of our trip, on our way up to Crater Lake. But the park road was closed due to snow. We kept checking the status of the snow plowing at the park and we were very pleased when the road cleared just as were beginning our trip south back home to Arizona. We rejigged our plans so we could spend a day at Lassen.

This was an unexpectedly wonderful park. Like Mount Shasta, it features a snow covered mountain as its centerpiece. But on our hike around Manzanita Lake, we saw a group of deer, a doe and two fawns. They were aware of our presence but we quietly passed. It was a beautiful moment.

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Manzanita Lake provided us with another of those remarkable views that combined water, sky, mountain (Lassen Peak), and trees. It was a “postcard view” that we stopped and took in for quite awhile.

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We did not climb to the top of Lassen Peak but we did go to its trailhead. It was this area of the park that had the most snow in the winter of 2016-17 and the last to be cleared of snow. As we walked around the area, I did something I had not done since the winter of 2011-12: I made a snowball. Pat snapped this photo of me tossing the snowball up in the air and she caught it just as it was at the peak of my toss. Holding snow in my hands brought back a lot of memories of our life in New England, although I confess I had never done this before in the month of August!

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These trips to National Parks refresh, invigorate, and inspire us. They are, indeed, part of what God has given to us to enjoy that embody Hindemith’s memorable words, “the lasting, calm, and meaningful.” We never tire of visiting them, either for the first time, as was the case with all of the parks we visited on this trip, or over and over, like Grand Canyon National Park.  The Parks are, indeed, in the words of historian Wallace Stegner, America’s best idea. But while their preservation and access are the responsibility of our great National Park Service, it is the Creator who made all of this for us to enjoy who receives my greatest thanks and praise:

O Lord, how manifold are thy works!

In wisdom has thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches.

• Psalm 104:24

Reformation: Luther, Mendelssohn, and the serpent

Reformation: Luther, Mendelssohn, and the serpent

I don’t own many things that date from my childhood. I moved many times, collected other things, have lived a long life, and things that seemed so important when I was a kid mostly got lost along the way. I do wish I still had those baseball cards, though. . . But one of the few things I do have from that time in my life is a Boston Symphony recording of Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony, conducted by Charles Munch. I bought it in 1970 when I was 15 years old.

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[As an aside, this album cover shows the Arch of Titus in Rome, with the Colosseum in the background. During my wife’s and my recent trip to Italy, we stood in this very place, and noted the significant connection the Arch has with our trip last year to Israel. More on this in an upcoming article on The Last Trombone.]

That I ended up being a member of the Boston Symphony for 27 years (1985-2012) is one of the great joys of my life, and in a sense that was the fulfillment of a long held dream since I was in high school. Several Boston Symphony recordings were very influential on me at an early age when I was just beginning to understand the trombone, and this Mendelssohn recording stands tall in my record collection. In fact, one of the first orchestra scores I ever purchased was of this symphony; I purchased it a few days after I heard Munch’s recording for the first time (the first page of the final movement of my score is shown at the top of this article).  Click below to hear that recording that influenced me so deeply so long ago (to hear this recording in YouTube, click here):

I have always loved this piece. It has a terrific part for bass trombone; just a few measures in the beginning of the symphony and then much to do in its finale. I first played the symphony on bass trombone with the BSO conducted by then-music director, Seiji Ozawa; the photo below shows Seiji and me in 1994 before a rehearsal for Hector Berlioz’s Messe solennelle; you’ll see I have my serpent in my handFor more on that, keep reading.

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After I took up the serpent, I played the serpent part for Mendelssohn’s symphony in performances with the BSO conducted by the great early music conductor, Ton Koopman; the photo below shows us backstage at Boston’s Symphony Hall before a rehearsal in 2004.

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Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” symphony – it usually bears the number 5 in the numbering of his symphonies but it was not his fifth in order of composition – was composed in 1830 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, one of the great confessional documents of the Christian faith. The theme of the symphony’s fourth movement is none other than Martin Luther’s famous hymn, Ein feste Burg est unser Gott — A Mighty Fortress is Our God. I wrote about this hymn last year on The Last Trombone, where I took the opportunity to discuss the importance of its text, especially the its fourth, final verse. I invite readers to look at that article again; click here.

Last week, I played serpent in a performance of the “Reformation” Symphony by the Northbrook Symphony near Chicago. My oldest daughter, Linda Yeo Leonard, plays bass trombone in the Northbrook Symphony, and my wife and I have heard many concerts played by the orchestra. When the orchestra’s conductor, Lawrence Rapchak, asked me if I would be available to play serpent in their performance of Mendelssohn’s symphony – performed on a concert with other symphonies in the key of D but also in recognition of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation – it was easy to say yes.

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The photo above shows Linda and me along with the Northbrook Symphony’s fine contrabassoon player, Nicholas Ritter; Nick and I sat next to each other on stage with Linda seated just behind me. Mendelssohn’s part for the serpent doubles the contrabassoon at the octave and the result is a new kind of bass sound, caused by the acoustical blending of the two instruments. Murray Campbell wrote an article several years ago about this unique sound in an article for the International Tuba Euphonium Association Journal; you can read it by clicking here. The performance was a great success in every way, and it was a special joy to sit on stage with Linda.

There have been other recent connections to Luther that have recently gotten my attention. As mentioned earlier, my wife and I were in Italy last month, enjoying the glories of Renaissance art and their connections to the Christian faith. Among the places we visited was the Ufizzi Gallery in Florence, one of the world’s great art museums. As we were going through various galleries, we came across a painting of Martin Luther and his wife, Katharina von Bora, painted by the workshop of Lukas Cranach the Elder in 1529. The portrait was made when Luther was still alive (1483-1546) and is considered to be a true likeness.

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As I enjoyed this iconic painting – it is the most famous portrait of Luther – I noticed that the museum’s display card had a curious final sentence:

In Medici collection since 1567/1570.

Of course the Medici family was one of the most famous and influential families of the Italian Renaissance, and they were strong patrons of the arts. But this sentence got my attention. “Why,” I wondered, “did the Medici family, who were Roman Catholics and whose family produced three Popes (Leo X, Clement VII, and Leo XI), own this portrait of the most famous Protestant reformer?” I can’t answer that question, but I’ve been wondering about this.

Last Sunday, I worshiped at Trinity Lutheran (LCMS) Church in Lisle, Illinois, where Linda’s family are members and her husband, Chad, a Lutheran pastor and hospice chaplain, coordinates the church’s care ministries. This year, the Lutheran Church – and Protestant churches of all denominations – is celebrating this 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation – dated to October 31, 1517 when Luther attached his famous Ninety-Five Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, Germany, and set off a reform movement in Christianity that is still with us. When I sat down in our pew on Sunday and opened my bulletin, what did I see but an insert about Luther and the Reformation with a stylized version of the very same portrait of Luther we had seen in Florence. It was a nice, serendipitous moment.

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The Protestant Reformation changed history, and this convergence of events – Mendelssohn’s symphony, our trip to Italy, seeing a famous portrait of Martin Luther in Florence, and worship in a Lutheran church – brought many aspects of its importance together for me.

When I was a student at Wheaton College (Illinois), I memorized Luther’s great hymn. It got me extra credit on an exam in the class, “Christ in Culture,” and I needed all the extra credit I could get. I don’t remember how I did on that test, but I still call A Mighty Fortress to mind every day. It is a hymn of great strength and comfort, and Luther’s words are just as relevant and important today as they were nearly 500 years ago when he wrote the text. Here is its second verse; to read the whole text and my commentary on Luther’s original words, click HERE.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,

Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing.

Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he;

Lord Sabaoth his name, from age to age the same;

And he must win the battle.

 

Two upcoming concerts in the Midwest: playing serpent, and a bass trombone solo with orchestras in Illinois and Iowa

Two upcoming concerts in the Midwest: playing serpent, and a bass trombone solo with orchestras in Illinois and Iowa

Over the next two weekends, I will find myself in the Midwest, playing concerts with two symphony orchestras. If you happen to live near Chicago or Sioux Center, Iowa, I invite you to come to these performances.

On Sunday, November 5, I will be playing serpent in the Northbrook Symphony in Illinois, in a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony. With today being the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the inclusion of Mendelssohn’s Symphony on this program – a piece that uses Martin Luther’s composition, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, in its finale – is certainly timely. Mendelssohn used the serpent in a number of his works and it is always a pleasure to enter into the woodwind section of an orchestra where I will be sitting next to the contrabassoonist. Mendelssohn understood the unique blending qualities of the serpent and contrabassoon, something that is explained in an article about serpent and contrabassoon acoustics by Dr. Murray Campbell (click this link to read the article).

What makes this concert particularly nice for me is that my oldest daughter, Linda Leonard, is the bass trombonist of the Northbrook Symphony. To share the stage with her, and to play the serpent in Mendelssohn’s great piece, combine to make this concert very special. Visit the Northbrook Symphony website for ticket information.

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Then, on Tuesday, November 14, I will be soloist with the Northwest Iowa Symphony Orchestra in Eric Ewazen’s Concerto for Bass Trombone. In fact, I will be playing the Concerto twice on that day, first at a NISO Youth Concert and then at their evening concert. I have enjoyed playing Eric’s Concerto on many occasions, both with piano and with symphony orchestra accompaniment. It is a piece that, to me, speaks deeply to the optimistic, American spirit, something about which I wrote about recently on The Last Trombone. Visit the Northwest Iowa Symphony Orchestra website for ticket information and details about both concerts.

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FRATRES progress report: Cover image and video

FRATRES progress report: Cover image and video

The process of bringing the new CD, FRATRES, to completion continues at a rapid pace. This new recording, by Gerry Pagano (bass trombonist of the St. Louis Symphony) and me, along with Michael Lake, will be mastered tomorrow by Nathan James at Vault Mastering in Phoenix. I’m very much looking forward to spending the day with Nathan as we create the master disc for replication. I am also at work today arranging for mechanical licenses for the album, so the copyright holders of the compositions we recorded are recognized with a well-deserved royalty payment.

In the meantime, Ben Krueger, our designer, has been at work on the CD packaging. The gratifying level of support we have been getting on our Kickstarter program means we are able to develop enhanced packaging, including an eight page booklet of information about the  recording, its music, and performances. Ben is doing an outstanding job with this and I’m very happy to share his evocative cover below:

FRATRES_pages

We’ve titled Ben’s cover image, The West and Its Gateway: The St. Louis Gateway Arch and the East and West Mittens of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona. This recording, that features Gerry – who lives in St. Louis but also lived in Phoenix for several years early in his career – and me – who lives in the foothills of the Sierra Estrella, west of Phoenix, beautifully brings together several important elements and messages in the recording. Ben’s superb work carries through the rest of the CD packaging. More on that soon.

Michael Lake has also put together another video about the project that includes an interview with me about Tommy Pederson – we recorded seven of Tommy’s great duets for bass trombones on the album – as well as some surprises. Have a look at Mike’s newest video about FRATRES (click the video below or click HERE to view the video on YouTube). (You can see Mike’s first video about the project by clicking HERE.

Gerry and I want to say THANK YOU once again to all who have generously supported our vision with FRATRES. If you’re interested in adding your voice to that of many others who are on board with this project, and if you’d like to open your mailbox in a few weeks and find not only a copy of the CD (or a download card) but some “swag” as well, have a look at our Kickstarter page by clicking HERE. There are 13 days left on our campaign. Thank you for partnering with us in this innovative new recording project.


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[Drawing of Douglas Yeo by Lennie Peterson. Drawing of Gerry Pagano by an unknown waiter at a New York City restaurant.]

The trombone in popular culture

The trombone in popular culture

I’ve been researching the use of the trombone in popular culture as a subject for one of the several books I’m working on at this time. I find it fascinating that the trombone, of all instruments, has been used in particular ways that have very little to do with its capabilities as a musical instrument. Rather, the trombone has often been used as a prop – sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, but always interesting. For instance, the trombone has often been used in advertising. Not advertising designed to sell trombones, but advertising to sell other products. Over the years, I’ve collected advertisements that use the trombone to sell beer, cigarettes, cars, tires, record players, and much more. I’ll be writing more about those advertisements down the road.

But of particular interest to me is when manufacturers use the trombone in a physical way, and produce a product you can hold in your hands that features the trombone in a context far removed from the concert stage or band stand.

One of the iconic uses of the trombone in advertising was Douglas the butter man. Lurpak, the Danish brand of butter, used an animated trombone-playing character, Douglas, who got into mischief on the dinner table. In 1985, Douglas was introduced – he was created by Aardman Animations, the creator of the popular Wallace and Gromit claymation films – and his antics were juxtaposed against the voice of British actress Penelope Keith. Douglas appeared in many Lurpak ads before being retired in 2003.  Here is a Lurpak ad for butter featuring Douglas (click the video below or HERE to view the video in YouTube):

Douglas plays trombone again in this commercial for Lurpak cheese spread (click the video below or HERE to view the video in YouTube):

Several years ago, Lurpak manufactured a coffee/tea mug featuring Douglas and his trombone, along with the commercial’s tag line, “It’s a matter of taste.” As one with the same name as this mischievous butter man, why wouldn’t I have one (actually, two) of these in my studio?

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Then there is the professional WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) wrestler Xavier Woods (whose real name is Austin Watson), who has used the trombone as part of his work in and outside the ring identity.

Here is a compilation of some of Woods’ wrestling match moments with his trombone, mostly with his WWE compatriots Big E and Kofi Kingston (click the video below or HERE to view the video on YouTube). This video concludes with a crushing moment when Wood’s trombone is destroyed by Chris Jericho (spoiler alert: yes, it really is broken, and it is a very, very sad moment).

I’m not sure how many people have been inspired to pick up and learn the trombone based on what they hear from Xavier Woods, and I definitely do not recommend using the trombone in or near a wrestling ring. But what trombonist’s studio wouldn’t be complete without an Xavier Woods vinyl figure made by Funko to provide inspiration while practicing,?

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In 1972/73, I was a member of the McDonald’s All-American High School Band. It was a big moment for me, to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City and the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, while a senior in high school. Two high school players from every state came together to make a 100 piece marching band and I was one of the players selected from New Jersey. Here’s a photo of me (far right) along with my fellow New Jersey compatriot, Jeff Venho, Rose Parade Grand Marshall, Betty White (yes, THAT Betty White), conductor Paul Lavalle, and Rose Queen Sally Noren.

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In the year before I was in the All-American Band (1971), McDonald’s introduced an advertising character, Grimace, an anthropomorphic, cuddly, purple blob. Grimace was used in commercials and he/she/it also began to appear in Happy Meal boxes. One of Grimace’s finest moments was when McDonald’s issued a coffee mug with a musical theme, with a handle that featured Grimace playing trombone.

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While we know that the trombone has been with us since around 1460, do we know what the future holds for the instrument? Evidently it will be around at least for another three hundred years since Captain/Commander/Admiral William Thomas Thelonius Riker, Commander of the Starship U.S.S. Titan, has played the trombone on several episodes of Star Trek, The Next Generation. Born in 2335, Riker – who in various episodes has been addressed both as William and, using his middle name, Thomas – graduated from Starfleet Academy in 2357. Whether that is where he got his trombone training is not known, but it’s clear that in this clip, he sometimes uses the trombone to do his talking (click the video below or HERE to view the video in YouTube):

Actor Jonathan Frakes, who plays Riker in the television series, actually DOES play the trombone, although in this episode clip below it is the great jazz trombonist Bill Watrous whose sound was dubbed in for Riker’s smooth, jazz sound (click the video below or HERE to view the video in YouTube):

It’s gratifying to know that in a world of inter-gallectic technology, the trombone is still going to be with us. And as a reminder, ArtAsylum has made a Captain Riker action figure, and of course it comes complete with his trombone. No trombone studio would be complete without one, yes?

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Butter, professional wrestling, fast food, and space travel. Isn’t the trombone just great?