On April 27, 2007, I was informed that I had been granted a six-month sabbatical from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, effective January - June 2009. This is a unique opportunity afforded to two Boston Symphony members each season. Having been a member of the orchestra for nearly 24 years, I thought this would be a good time to take a break from my daily work as a member of the orchestra's trombone section and have a period of time where I could do some different things. In the nearly two years since my sabbatical dates were made official, I enjoyed a healthy process of planning activities for this unique time where I can both say "yes" to things I couldn't do while working full time for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and also embarked on several new projects, enjoyed unique times of refreshment, and explored some interesting paths as I looked forward to the future.
In response to requests from a number of people - and for my own enjoyment - I decided to post a "Sabbatical Diary" with photos and commentary from my six month sabbatical period. My What's New page also has information about updates to my website during that time. Welcome to my journey!
The midpoint of my sabbatical half-year from the Boston Symphony brought me to Louisville, Kentucky, for the XXVII North American Brass Band Association (NABBA) Championships. My lengthy association with brass bands - which goes back to 1996 when I made my first solo recording, Proclamation, with England's Black Dyke Mills Band, and which saw come to full bloom with my 10 year tenure as Music Director of the New England Brass Band from 1998-2008 - brought me, three years ago, to join the NABBA Board of Directors. I am committed to brass banding as one of the most exciting and collegial ways of making music, and my work with NABBA has allowed me to help strengthen North American brass bands. In my three years on the NABBA Board, I edited the Association's publication, The Brass Band Bridge, worked to revise NABBA's bylaws and re-write the rules for our annual Championships and, while vice president from 2007-2009, presided over many aspects of NABBA's governance. While all of this may sound rather dry, it actually has been both exciting and exhilarating - mixed with a dose of the inevitable frustration that comes when trying to effectively lead an organization of 1000 members and a Board of Directors of 20.
NABBA's annual Championships provide brass bands the opportunity to come together for a contest where a panel of judges - who are positioned behind a curtain so they cannot see which band is performing - critique the performances of each group. Trophies and other prizes are awarded, both for the band competition and for a solo and small ensemble contest that takes part during the weekend.
This was the seventh time I had attended the NABBA Championships. Beginning in 2001, I led the New England Brass Band to the NABBA event six times, with the band twice taking first place in its section. Having stepped down from the NEBB last year, this was the first NABBA Championship I have attended without the responsibility of leading a band during the contest and this afforded me an opportunity to see the contest through different eyes.
Too, because I announced last fall that I would be stepping away from the NABBA Board when my term as vice president ends on June 30 of this year, I knew this would be my last Championship for which I would have particular responsibilities in organizing and solving problems at the event.
This year, in addition to supporting and cheering on the New England Brass Band (NEBB), I was pleased to have another band to cheer for - the Natural State Brass Band (NSBB), of Little Rock, Arkansas. I have previously written about my recent trip to Little Rock to work with the NSBB (see my sabbatical diary entry for February 28, 2009). And last week, my wife and I attended a NEBB concert in Reading, Massachusetts where we added our support to that of an enthusiastic audience. I was ready to get to Louisville and have the NABBA XXVII Championships get underway.
The Championships weekend brought many nice moments together. I was able to attend many solo and small ensemble performances by both NEBB and NSBB members as well as their band performances and those of many other bands. I also spent a great deal of time interacting with the 16 vendors who came to Louisville to display their wares at our Championships - their support is a vital part of what makes the event so enjoyable and successful. Attending the Championships once again this year was my friend Jon Handley of Tor Designs, of Leeds, England. I have written of my recent time with Jon at the Butlins Mineworkers' contest in England this past January (see my sabbatical diary entry for January 21, 2009) and it was good to see him again and spend time together. The photo at right shows Jon Handley (left) talking with Dr. Ronald W. Holz (who was one of the NABBA XXVII Championships adjudicators). It was also nice to have Steve Walker, Director of the Butlins Festival, in attendance in Louisville as a special guest of NABBA and President Rusty Morris. These connections with people "across the pond" who share my passion for brass banding has been a rich part of my life in music.
For me, this is the best part of the NABBA championships experience: the interaction with individuals. I got to spend time with many friends from the NEBB including its new conductor, Stephen Bulla, and with many friends from my "other" brass band, the NSBB, including the band's conductor, Rusty Morris.
My relationship with the Natural State Brass Band is a very special one, owing to my friendship with Rusty and many members of the band, and it seemed to me that this year might be the one where this group of talented players might finally crack the nut to take first place in their section. Building on many months of rehearsal including our weekend together a few months ago, the band came to the stage of Louisville's Brown Theater with both intensity and a relaxed nature that exuded confidence. From the first note of their performance, it was clear that the band was enjoying a moment in time. With great passion and sense of purpose, the band delivered the performance of its life, and when the last chord of Paul Lovett-Cooper's Vitae Aeternum finally rang out, the audience leapt to its feat, shouting and expressing their appreciation for a job well done. I just knew they had done it. At the award ceremony last night, it was my great pleasure to present the Challenge Section first place banner and trophy to Rusty who accepted it on behalf of an ecstatic Natural State Brass Band. I remember well how it felt, when I conducted the NEBB, to win our section for the first time at NABBA in 2004 - you can read my impressions on the New England Brass Band's two first place victories at NABBA championships in the entries for April 2, 2006 and and April 17, 2004 in my What's New at yeodoug.com? area of my website. To re-live that moment with Natural State was very special. Very, very special. The Natural State Brass Band is planning a tour of England in June/July 2010 and I will be going with the band as guest soloist. As Associate Conductor of the band, my relationship with this fine group of people continues to deepen, and I cannot be happier for them for having reached this milestone at the NABBA Championships. Just look at all of the smiles on the faces of the band in the photo at right, taken just minutes after they left the Brown Theater stage. They are champions, indeed.
The New England Brass Band (shown at left following their NABBA contest performance, as they gathered to take a formal photo of the band) also played very well, and their performance was one for which they can be very proud. Their section at the NABBA Championships is fiercely competitive, and while the final contest result may not have been what the band would have liked to have, they can leave Louisville knowing that they played well and captured the very best of what NABBA hopes to give to bands: the improvement that comes with working a program to a fine tuned edge and giving the best that they have. A nice bonus of the NEBB's attendance at the contest was my being able to announce, at the NABBA XXVII award ceremony, that several of the band's members were winners in the NABBA solo and small ensemble contest. Principal cornet Kelly Watkins took first place in the high instrument slow melody competition, principal percussionist Dorathea Kastanas won third place in the percussion solo competition, and the trio of Kelly Watkins, principal horn Isabel Tappan-deFrees and principal trombone Rachel Paczkowski took second place in the brass ensemble contest. Bravo to all of the members of the NEBB and NSBB for their fine performances!
The weekend was busy and hectic; no night afforded me more than six hours of sleep as there were many details to organize, a few glitches to help solve, and much work to do. And, of course, much to enjoy. At the meeting of the NABBA Board of Directors, we undertook a great deal of business, including voting to hold the NABBA XXIX Championships in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on April 8-9, 2011 (the NABBA XXVIII Championships will be held in Raleigh, North Carolina on April 16-19, 2010). You may recall my recent visit to Grand Rapids as part of a NABBA site visit committee (see my Sabbatical Diary entry for February 19, 2009). We also elected my successor as NABBA's vice president, Don Bookout, principal euphonium with the Bend in the River Brass Band, who will assume his new position on July 1. On that day, another page of my life will be turned.
Saturday evening's award ceremony was full of band performances - I don't think anyone present will ever forget the remarkable performance given by the Triangle Youth Brass Band - drawings for prizes that were generously donated by our vendors, presentation of awards, and moments of thanks to those who had worked to make the weekend a success. Steve Walker, who is director of entertainment for the Butlin's Resort in Skegness England (see my Sabbatical Diary entry for January 21, 2009 for more about my trip to Skegness) came over to attend our Championships and was recognized for his great support of NABBA and helping to build bridges between bands in North America and Bands in the United Kingdom.
But as I leave Louisville, I am beginning to reflect on my time as a leader of NABBA. I was embarrassed - and very grateful - when, during the NABBA Championships award ceremony, NABBA President Rusty Morris presented me with a very nice trophy on behalf of the NABBA Board, in appreciation for the work I did for NABBA as editor of The Brass Band Bridge. The standing ovation that the audience gave me was a special moment for me. When one volunteers for an organization, you do it because you are committed to it and to its work and cause. You don't do it for applause and trophies, for pats on the back and other tangible things. But if those things come, they are nice reminders that people do notice what you do. The many I have worked with at NABBA over the last few years - Rusty, Treasurer Jim Grate, Secretary Susan Henthorn, and others on the NABBA Board including my daughter, Linda - are people who mean a great deal to me. I have enjoyed this in many ways and on many levels, and while I will no longer be on NABBA's board a few months from now, I will find other ways to support the organization without having the time-consuming responsibility that comes with being a Board member and officer. Another transition is on the way!
Upon returning home from the North American Brass Band Association's Championships earlier this week, I began one of the most interesting weeks of my sabbatical: I returned to Symphony Hall in Boston to substitute for myself in the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
When, in April 2007, I was granted my sabbatical, the Boston Symphony schedule for the 2008-09 season had not been finalized. I knew, of course, that I would miss playing some wonderful repertoire. This, I thought, would be the main down side of taking a sabbatical from the orchestra: I truly love my job and even though I have played nearly all of the standard orchestral repertoire that employs bass trombone during my nearly three decades in the Boston and Baltimore Symphonies, I still love to play it over and over again. When the schedule for 2008-09 was released in the spring of 2008, I knew I would miss playing some of my favorite pieces including the Brahms Symphonies 2 & 4, Bruckner Symphony 7, Stravinsky Petroushka, and Berlioz Te Deum. What I could not have known was that my two Boston Symphony trombone colleagues, Ronald Barron (principal) and Norman Bolter (second) would announce their retirement effective during the 2007-08 season and that my sabbatical period would coincide with a period of time when it might be possible that there would be no regular members of the Boston Symphony trombone section playing in the orchestra.
Fortunately, in May 2008, the BSO had a successful audition for principal trombone and we brought Toby Oft on as our new principal trombonist, effective September of last year. We still have a vacancy for a second trombonist; that audition will be scheduled once Toby concludes his probationary period with the orchestra, as we very much want him to have a voice and vote on the second trombone audition committee and the BSO contract stipulates that audition committee members cannot be players who are still on probation.
Last fall, Toby and I began the process of building a personal and playing relationship as we started the work of establishing the BSO trombone section for the next years to come. While my sabbatical has been a joyous, productive time, I have missed playing in the section with Toby. So I was very pleased when the BSO Personnel Manager, Lynn Larson, asked me if I would come back to the BSO to play one week during my sabbatical.
The reason I was asked to come back was because the BSO schedule called for performance of Bartok's "Miraculous Mandarin Suite, a piece that has what is arguably one of the most prominent bass trombone solos in the literature. As it turned out, I knew I would be home during that week and was happy to have the opportunity to come back to the orchestra for a week and play one of my favorite pieces, back in the section with Toby and my other collegues.
In many ways, coming back to the BSO was familiar and comfortable. It has been great to see my colleagues, learn what they have been doing over the last few months and share some of what I've been up to. But it has also been a little strange to come back. I see changes to the work environment that I might not have noticed had I been at work every day - I bring a set of eyes and ears to Symphony Hall that are experience many things as if they were new. I had to smile when I looked at the BSO personnel page in the concert program (above, right), and see the indication that I was not playing in the orchestra since I am on sabbatical leave. I wondered if there were any people in the audience who was wondering who was substituting for Douglas Yeo.
Playing in the trombone section this week has been a great joy - I am also playing second trombone in Copland's Appalachian Spring, which is something I usually don't do (the piece employs only two trombones and it is usually played by the first and second trombone player). I asked to play the Copland since it would give me another opportunity to play with Toby. I have two more concerts of this program - tonight and Tuesday night - and then I won't be back with the BSO again until the summer season at Tanglewood begins in the first week of July.
During the week, I have filled my time with many other things including teaching lessons at New England Conservatory of Music (which is across the street from Symphony Hall), and working with Yamaha on ongoing development of the YBL-822G bass trombone that I play.
On Tuesday, Bob Malone and Wayne Tanabe from Yamaha came to Boston to do some testing of two different kinds of lacquer for the YBL-822G. Elsewhere on my website I write about my very happy relationship with Yamaha, one that has been going on since my first trip to the Yamaha factory in Hamamatsu, Japan, in 1986. One of the things I like about Yamaha is that they continually are working to improve their instruments. I worked with Yamaha for many years before we felt the YBL-622 bass trombone was ready to be launched. I played that instrument for many years, but true to their form, Yamaha kept working with me on making improvements to the 622 and the time finally came a few years ago that the changes to the 622 were significant enough that the instrument was relaunched as the YBL-822G. The 822 retained all of the essential elements that made the 622 such a great bass trombone but improvements were added that made it even better.
The application of lacquer to the horn is an important element of its construction, and Bob and Wayne wanted me to try out six instruments, with two groups of three having a different lacquer. Think about this: Yamaha made six trombones for the express purpose of having me try new lacquer. The sight of me on stage at Symphony Hall with six new YBL-822G bass trombones - and one of my own 822s - was quite impressive. We spend about one-and-a-half hours with me testing the instruments, playing a wide variety of kinds of music - loud, soft, articulated, legato - on each instrument while Bob and Wayne took notes. Our unanimous conclusion was that the test was a success in every way, and a bonus was that while all of the six bass trombones I tested were excellent, one had some very special qualities that we all recognized. I asked if I could keep that instrument and Yamaha graciously allowed me to do so - I am now using that instrument as my main horn.
This relationship with Yamaha has been very special to me. I have mentioned elsewhere in my sabbatical diary that Yamaha has provided financial support to many events and universities so I could travel and bring masterclasses and other things to various schools and concert halls. Yamaha's generosity in doing this has made many of my sabbatical period events possible.
Tomorrow is Easter and it will be a day full of joy and enjoying the afternoon with friends. But tonight there is another BSO performance to play. It's time to get off the computer and get practicing!
I've concluded my week of substituting for myself in the Boston Symphony and am preparing to head out on more sabbatical activities. Readers who have been following me over the last few months will remember that I had surgery on my right knee on January 2 (see my diary entry for January 2, 2009). Many have asked me, "How is your knee doing?" The answer is: it's doing great.
My surgery to deal with a torn miniscus (the cartilege that cushions bones of the knee) was a little more complicated than a similar surgery I had on my left knee three years ago. This procedure involved actually dealing with some issues concerning a knee bone itself and therefore the recovery has taken longer. As a person who likes to take things into his own hands and, through hard work and force of will, make things happen, I am not the most patient person when it comes to something that requires both work on my part and the slow passing of time.
My knee surgeon told me it would be several months until I my knee was feeling itself. In order to help the process, he prescribed that I go to physical therapy. The surgery on my left knee was relatively straight forward and I required no physical therapy after that procedure so this time, I was heading into new territory. Fortunately, my physician recommended an excellent physical practice that is right in my home town of Lexington, Massachusetts - Sports and Physical Therapy Associates and I was assigned to work with Dr. Erica Palmer. Thanks to her good care of me and that of others in the practice, I concluded the main course of physical therapy today, and this diary entry is a way for me to thank all of them for their help in - literally - getting me back on my feet again.
My sessions at Sports and Physical Therapy Associates were, as I look back on them, crucial to my recovery. The combination of techniques employed - first heating my knee (seen in the photo at left) and then massaging the leg muscles, then spending time on an eliptical machine, working out on a leg press, doing a long series of stretching and strengthening exercises for my knee, leg and hip muscles, and, finally, electrical stimulation to my knee with a "Game Ready" ice pack on my leg - all came together to help me regain strength and range of motion in my right leg. Erica was very patient with me in explaining exactly what I needed to do and why, and in a sense she was a lifeline when I had questions about my progress. Impatient, I wanted results instantly. I realized that nothing comes that quickly, but rather, over time, my leg gradually has come back to normal.
That is not to say everything is just as I would like it. I will continue doing my stretching and strengthening exercises every day and will periodically return to Sports and Physical Therapy Associates for an evaluation. These sessions, combined with my own regimen of exercises between visits, along with my active lifestyle (our hiking vacation to Arizona and southwest Utah represented a major breakthrough in my recovery process, with the vigorous hiking and climbing we did doing wonders for my knee strength) have all combined to bring me well along in the healing process. I extend my thanks to Erica, Kristi and all of their colleagues who helped me during my visits. To any reader who is going through a recovery process from surgery or an injury, I want to say, "Stick with it!" I'm convinced that the good result I've have so far is due to the regular discipline of therapy sessions and exercising on my own. Sometimes I don't feel like doing my exercises but after they are done, I know how much better I feel. Stick with it!
It is late on Saturday evening. I write this in Terminal 1 of Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Gate 193 is crowded with people as I await boarding of my flight home to Boston. And it is quiet. Very. Very. Quiet.
The last three days have been filled with musical activities, but as much as they have been tremendously satisfying and rewarding, I come away from this trip with many impressions of a country with which we in the USA share a common border: Canada. And I confess to being a little unsettled - and challenged - by much of what I have seen and done.
I came to Toronto at the invitation of the Weston Silver Band. I have known of the band and its 90-year history for some time, and was pleased to be asked to come to work with the band as guest soloist and guest conductor by Theresa MacDonald, the band's principal baritone horn player. I have known Theresa for several years in our shared role as members of the North American Brass Band Association. Board of Directors. Theresa is a tireless worker on behalf of brass banding in Canada, and in our time together on the NABBA Board, we learned we resonated strongly on a lot of issues regarding the role of bands in their communities and how audiences are served by these fine amateur - and I use this word in its best sense as a group made of people who are not professional players but play without pay for the love of making music - groups.
At our rehearsal together, the band proved to be a sensitive accompanying ensemble (the photo at left shows me in rehearsal with conductor Larry Shields). Larry is a bass trombone player himself, playing in the Hannaford Street Silver Band (Toronto's professional brass band), and collaborating was very easy and natural. Just three weeks ago, the band enjoyed a visit from Richard Marshall, principal cornet of England's Black Dyke Band. Richard had been one of the adjudicators at our recently concluded NABBA Championships and it was clear that the band was benefitting from having worked with two well know brass players in such a short time.
The band had rented the Glenn Gould Studio in downtown Toronto for our concert together. The hall was nearly full and was enthusiastic and engaged in the band's fine performances of a diverse program of works, ranging from my three bass trombone solos to Dean Goffin's The Light of the World, Birdland and an encore with 12 trombone players arrayed across the front of the stage, 76 Trombones - the photo at right shows me with two of the band's trombonists, Kevin Hayward and Colin Murray. Larry was a pleasure to work with and the band was very responsive to the suggestions I made to them during rehearsal, both with my solos and with the Lloyd Reslow's march Rhode Island that I conducted. It was interesting to see how another band runs its operation, cultivates its audience (the idea of conducting an audience survey at the concert - and then having a drawing for a very nice prize as an incentive to complete the survey cards is a good one), plans a program and interacts socially (Toronto has a very active pub scene). I was very pleased to share in this concert with the many nice people in this fine band.
It was also good to see old friends at the concert. Al Kay, who is one of Canada's leading trombonists, came to the concert and also enjoyed a time with the band afterward. Al and I have worked together as members of the Yamaha Xeno Trombone Quartet (along with Peter Sullivan - principal trombonist of the Pittsburgh Symphony - and Tom Brantley - Professor of trombone at University of South Florida and trombonist with the group "Rhythm and Brass") and he is a tremendous player and a wonderful person. I know how busy the life of a professional musician is, and that people like Al gave up an evening to come to hear me play with the Weston Silver Band meant a great deal to me. The photo at left shows Al and me along with the band's principal trombonist, Darren Jukes (at right) at the Fox and Fiddle Pub after the concert.
Glenn Gould, of course, was the talented and enigmatic Canadian concert pianist who has been honored with the concert hall in his name in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) main building in Toronto. Outside the building is a statue of Gould in his signature low-slung hat. These kinds of interactive statues are increasingly common and I confess to enjoying the opportunity to have a discussion with Gould about some of his interpretation of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier (captured in the photo at right, below).
Toronto impressed me as a city with a very European feel but with its own distinct "attitude." I have vacationed in the Canadian west, in Banff, Lake Louise and Waterton in the Canadian Rockies and have visited Niagara Falls on several occasions. But I have spent virtually no time in Canadian cities. This was my first extended visit to Toronto (I had been there for one day many years ago for a tour concert with the Boston Symphony) and in walking around the city with Theresa MacDonald, I came away with some very strong impressions.
The American Declaration of Independence speaks of three values that were important to the founders of the American experiment: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They are noble ideals that reflect the American spirit of which I am a part. Canada, on the other hand, has three different values codified in its Constitution: peace, order and good government.
Toronto was nothing if not orderly. Impressively, eerily so. I cannot speak for the whole city, but in the downtown area near my hotel where I walked a great deal, I saw no jaywalking. Everyone waited patiently at curbside until the "walk" light indicated it was time to cross. I don't have to tell any American what a shock this was to me. Not that I think waiting at the crosswalk for the "walk" light to go on is not a good thing. It was just that it seemed so unusual to see thousands of people simply DOING it. It was, well, so ORDERLY.
It wasn't until late in the day today, my third day, that I realized I had not heard a car horn. Never in three days of downtown Toronto traffic did a single driver beep his horn. I live in Boston; the sound of car horns honking is ubiquitous. But not in Toronto.
Theresa pointed out something to me that I had only latently noticed but could not really place until she mentioned it - I never saw a bumper sticker on a car. Never. Apparently expressing one's opinion via bumper sticker slogan just isn't done much in Canada.
Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these things. In fact, I find much to admire in them. But they all seemed reflective of a significant difference between Americans and our neighbors to the north. The sense of respect of others - not wishing to disrupt the societal sense of order while also not wanting to invade another's personal space - seemed both enormously refreshing and, at the same time, a bit straight-laced and, to these American eyes, slightly repressed.
Like sitting at this gate at the airport. It is so quiet - there are no children running around and screaming, couples are speaking to each other in hushed voices. Announcements come over the public address system in quiet tones (in both English and French); mobile phones are switched off. I have never seen (or heard) anything like it. It feels like a library (actually, most libraries are noisier!). This experience in Toronto has given me a lot to think about. I have traveled around the world more times than I count but this is really my first trip to Canada where I have noticed social and cultural trends that have made an impression on me. I will reflect on this - as I will be doing with all that I've done on this sabbatical - and count my time in the north to have been rich not only musically, but in other important ways as well.
My hotel was only a few blocks from the Royal Ontario Museum (shown at left), and I could not resist the opportunity to visit it. The Museum was founded in 1912 and its building opened in 1914, with subsequent additions being completed over the next nearly 100 years. The most recent addition is the Michael Lee-Chin "Crystal" addition, opened in 2007. As you can see in the photo at left, this massive addition is striking and dramatic - and jarring and controversial. It has the appearance not so much as having been added on as having been dropped on top of the old building from the sky. The Lee-Chin "Crystal" wing provides a tremendous amount of space for exhibitions including the museum's fine collection of dinosaurs. I was disappointed, however, that the museum's fine collection of European musical instruments had been taken off display 20 years ago. Alas.
As I made my way through the museum, I came to one of its earlier entrances, opened in 1933. Its striking feature is a beautiful golden mosaic ceiling that is adorned with patterns and symbols representing civilizations through the ages and around the world. I spent a long time admiring the design and craftsmanship and contemplating the pattern and words that were at the apex of the ceiling, "That All Men May Know His Work" (photo at right). I recognized those words as being from the Bible, from the book of Job, Chapter 37, verse 7. Seeing this Scripture passage - that reminds those who see it that all of the works of nature and of mankind throughout history are ultimately "His work" - God's work - provided a perspective for all that I had seen in the museum.
After the concert with Weston Silver Band, an audience member told Theresa MacDonald that William Holman Hunt's famous painting, "The Light of the World," was on exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario. This painting was the inspiration for Dean Goffin's poetic and challenging work of the same name that the band had played at the concert. The New England Brass Band had played the piece many times and our third CD release carried that same name and featured an image of Hunt's painting on its cover (left). Theresa and I found our way to the museum to see a wonderful exhibition of Hunt and his work. To lay my eyes on one of the three versions of the painting that Hunt executed was a thrill. Both the piece and the painting have had a long history (in the early 20th century, the painting toured the world raising money for charity), and its presence in Toronto and my chance to see it was another serendipitous event in a week filled with surprises.
My time in Toronto also provided me the opportunity to visit the school where Weston Silver Band conductor Larry Shields works as head of music, De La Salle College "Oaklands." This private, Parochial primary and secondary school has a tremendous music program (and a great music facility) that is growing by leaps and bounds. I was surprised - and gratified - to find 120 of the school's students in attendance at a clinic I gave. Being a Parochial school, I was pleased to be able to challenge the students not only musically, but spiritually as well, reminding them of their responsibilities as stewards of the considerable talents God had given them and how playing their musical instruments could help as an antidote for our confused times. This was a rewarding session and I am grateful to Larry and the Brothers and administration of De La Salle College for inviting me to interact with their students.
My Toronto visit was sponsored not only by the Weston Silver Band but also by Yamaha and Toronto's leading music store, Long and McQuade. My last event in Toronto was a masterclass at Long and McQuade's flagship store on Bloor Street, which was attended by a good crowd of enthusiastic trombonists and other musicians. It was a pleasure to see my former student, Jeffrey Hall, who is bass trombonist with the Toronto Symphony, and other players with whom I had interacted with over the years via email but now met for the first time. I also saw some other familiar faces - members of the "Bloor Street Brass" - a quintet that I had worked with at a summer brass residency at Canada's Banff Centre several years ago. In the photo at left, you see me working at my Long and McQuade masterclass with a young player, having a discussion about posture and ergonomics, and how the human body is not made up of sharp, right angles. When we try to force our body into positions that are not natural for it, it causes tension and tension always negatively affects our playing. Long and McQuade was a wonderful host, and I'm grateful to Barnaby Kerekes of the store for setting up, organizing and coordinating every aspect of the masterclass.
I began this entry in the Toronto airport and finish it at my desk at home. My Canadian sojourn has imprinted me with some deep impressions, for which I am very grateful. To Theresa MacDonald, Larry Shields, the Weston Silver Band, Barnaby Kerekes and Long and McQuade, as well as to Yamaha, I offer my thanks for a highly enjoyable and rewarding few days with our neighbors to the north. O, Canada!
Next month I will begin my 25th season as bass trombonist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. While I won't be returning to the orchestra until after my sabbatical is concluded - my first concert will be at our summer festival home at Tanglewood on July 3 in a program that includes Tchaikovsky's Symphony 6 ("Pathetique") - I am eagerly anticipating all that waits next season. One of the nice things about each spring is the announcement of the following season's Boston Symphony subscription schedule. Over the years I have been a part of some seasons of tremendous music which has led to some memorable music-making. But when, today, I saw the BSO schedule for 2009-10, I felt like a little kid in a candy store who was looking forward to enjoying an array of favorites. Allow me to share with you some of what the Boston Symphony will be playing next season - and I'm sure you'll be able to see why I am so excited about what awaits me when I return to the orchestra. Consider these works that are on our schedule:
Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms, Mozart Requiem, Brahms Symphonies 1, 3, 4, Hindemith Konzertmusik for Brass and Strings, Tchaikovsky Francesca da Rimini, Beethoven Symphony 9, Stravinsky Petroushka, Schubert Symphonies 8 ("Unfinished") and 9 ("Great C major"), Berg Three Pieces for Orchestra, Richard Strauss Don Quixote, Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade, Mendelssohn Elijah, Mahler Symphony 7, Richard Strauss Suite from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, and Bartok Concerto for Orchestra.
Wow. What a welcome back to the Boston Symphony next season will be. If programs like that make you want to be a part of them, visit the Boston Symphony Orchestra website for information and tickets.
Back to practicing!
Flying at 30,000 feet above the American south I have time to look back on my trip of the last few days, to Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. Lee's trombone professor, Dr. Douglas Warner, had invited me to come to Cleveland to give a recital and masterclass and my time there was rich and full of some unexpected pleasures.
But first, I had an unexpected development when I drove to Boston's Logan International Airport on Tuesday afternoon. As I approached the airport, I saw signs that strike dread into every traveler - Central Parking FULL. Utilize satellite parking. I always build in plenty of extra of time when I travel, but coping with off-site airport parking and a shuttle bus system is something you just can't plan for. I approached the Central Parking garage where signs indicated I would be told where to go and - why is this no surprise? - nobody was there to direct me. So I went into the garage and realized very quickly that I was not alone in looking for a parking space. And empty parking spaces were just not turning up. But, lo and behold, on the sixth floor, I came across an area that had parking spaces - reserved for hybrid vehicles. Joy! Since I was driving my Honda Civic hybrid, I slipped into a space with a sigh of relief. Another bonus for having a car that not only saves me money on gas, but apparently gives me a welcome privilege at Logan Airport. Note to self: buying the hybrid was a good idea for yet another reason.
During this sabbatical period, I have enjoyed visiting a number of "small market" colleges and Universities and Lee is among them. Located just north and east of Chattanooga, Tennessee, the University boasts an enrollment of 4,000 students. Affiliated with the Church of God (which is in the Pentecostal Christian tradition), Lee is situated on a sprawling, attractive campus that reflects a great deal of recent building activity. The music building was completed in 1995 while the new Devos Center - that houses the humanities department and a fine, small recital hall - was only recently opened. As I walked around campus, I noticed that all of the newer buildings sported cornerstones that indicated the year of completion as well as ï¿½ reference to Psalm 90:17: Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon use; yes, establish the work of our hands!
I arrived in Cleveland through Atlanta; this part of rural Tennessee proved to be a place that "you can't get there from here" when flying from Boston. We could not find flights and connections that would get me to Chattanooga in a reasonable amount of time so it turned out to be more efficient to fly to Atlanta and, once there, rent a car and drive the two and one-half hours to Cleveland. This afforded me an opportunity to enjoy driving through a part of the country I had never visited before; in fact, I had never before set foot in Georgia.
My pace at Lee was very relaxed which allowed for me to spend with Doug Warner - he reminded me that we had met long years ago when he was in high school. At that time, I was a member of the Baltimore Symphony and gave a solo performance at the River Valley Ranch, a ministry of Baltimore's Peter and John Radio Fellowship. I had not though of that enjoyable time in many, many years, and it reminded me of how seemingly "chance" encounters - which, of course, are nothing of the kind - can come back to you years later.
One of my great pleasures on this trip was collaborating with Dr. Gloria Chien, a member of Lee's piano faculty. Gloria received all of her college training at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music. While our paths apparently did not cross while she completed three degrees at NEC, we had a lot of shared experiences as a result of our shared time together in Boston. Working with her was such a pleasure! Rarely have I worked with a pianist who had both an exquisite sense of touch and lovely sensitivity combined with great power and drama when required. Our rehearsals were happy collaborations with my recital program came together both nicely and easily.
My recital last night was part of the University's Squires Hall Concert Series. My program included a number of works for bass trombone and piano including Eric Ewazen's Concerto for Bass Trombone. When possible, I always like to invite others to join me in my program, so I was pleased when Doug Warner accepted my invitation to play my arrangement of the duet from Bach's Cantata 78 for two trombones and piano. Also on the program was one of my favorite - and most dramatic - works for bass trombone solo: Henri Tomasi's To Be or Not To Be. I was accompanied by a trombone trio of Doug Warner, Justin Gross and Michael Carver. I could not have been more pleased with the warm reception of the audience to the works I played, and my concluding piece, I'd Rather Have Jesus Than Silver Or Gold was a fitting conclusion to the evening. The photo at right shows me with (left to right) Gloria Chien, Douglas Warner, Michael Carver and Justin Gross.
Another highlight of my time at Lee was the opportunity to speak at a weekly performance seminar which is attended by the University's music students. As I did when I spoke at the chapel service at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota (see my sabbatical diary entry for February 19, 2009), I appreciated the opportunity to engage students in consequential issues of stewardship, excellence, and how they confront our post-modern world as followers of Jesus Christ. My talk was titled: Wer bin Ich?: Meaning and Self for the Artistic Christian, the opening words (in German) being the title of Deitrich Bonhoeffer's powerful poem of the same title, Who Am I? This was a rich time followed by good interaction with individuals.
An early departure from Atlanta this morning meant that last night was a short one when it came to hours of sleep. But as I write this, I am energized by what I encountered at Lee University. I was reminded once again that all that is important does not happen in the crucible of our big cities, but that vigorous debate and discussion, musical performance at a high level, and courteous but academically rigorous interactions take place all across our great country and in institutions of learning both large and small. To Dean Stephen Plate, Douglas Warner and Gloria Chen, to trombonists Justin Gross and Michael Carver, and the students with whom I worked at my masterclass and who engaged me in conversations all over campus, I extend my thanks. I join in the prayer of Psalm 90 that God will establish the work of their hands.
It will be good to get home again for a bit before setting out on my next sabbatical adventure. Spring is finally breaking out in Boston; after a long winter, this is a long-anticipated time of year.
Yesterday, my wife and I enjoyed a beautiful day walking in downtown Boston. This is something we do frequently - Boston is a great city for walking and while we have seen most of the "tourist sights" in our 24 years in New England, we never tire of enjoying the history, food and people we encounter when we spend time in the city.
We decided to walk The Freedom Trail, a walking tour of historical places in Boston and neighboring Charlestown. On a beautiful day of sunshine with temperatures in the low 80s, we began our walk at the Boston Common, passing Faneuil Hall, the Paul Revere House, and finally the Bunker Hill Monument before passing through the Charlestown shipyard (where the ship U.S.S. Constitution is moored) and returning home.
But there are always unexpected pleasures to be discovered, even when doing something you've done before. We stopped to see the Old North Church where lanterns were hung on the evening of April 18, 1775 that told Patriot Paul Revere that British regulars would be landing by boat to travel to Lexington and Concord to put down uprisings that were stirring.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, Paul Revere's Ride tells the tale, and the events of April 19, 1775 led to the Battle of Lexington where the "shot heard 'round the world" was fired and the American Revolution got underway.
My wife pointed out a plaque in the Old North Church that commemorated a visit of Charles Wesley, the great hymn writer and preacher who was the brother of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. As we left the church, we noticed another plaque in the entry vestibule that caused us to do a double take - it commemorated the 350th anniversary of the founding of the City of Boston (Massachusetts) and was given by the citizens of Boston (England). On my sabbatical diary entry for January 21, I talk about our visit to Boston, England, and our visit to the church of St. Botolph in Boston, where Puritans who came to America had lived. The connections between the two Bostons (the name "Boston" may be a corruption of "Botolph's Town") are fascinating, and this plaque in the Old North Church has a carving of the church of St. Botolph in England (the church is affectionally known as "The Stump"). The plaque also shows Rev. John Cotton, Vicar of St. Botolph's church, bidding farewell to members of his congregation who, in 1630, sailed to America and founded the city of Boston. While the image at left is rather small, you can click HERE to view a larger, high resolution photo of this plaque that speaks of the important connections between the two Bostons.
It was nice to come full circle on this. Having been surprised, when we visited Boston, England, to learn of the connection between that town and the city of Boston in America, and now seeing this plaque in the Old North Church commemorating the friendship and history the two Bostons share, we were reminded once again of how New England and England are inextricably connected.
With two months left on my sabbatical from the Boston Symphony, I passed a significant milestone today: I have concluded the last "trombone-centric" event of these six months.
Readers of this diary know that I have enjoyed visiting a number of colleges and universities where I have given recitals and master classes. But my sabbatical has been filled with other kinds of activities as well: guest conducting, early music performances, hiking vacations and other times of refreshment. There is more ahead in the coming months, but none of my primary events will include trombone related performance and teaching. I shall be turning back to the world of early music in the coming weeks with several activities focusing on the serpent and related instruments. But more on that in due time.
Several months ago, Dr. Jeanie Lee, associate professor of trombone at Kentucky's Morehead State University, asked if I would consider coming to Morehead for the University's Fourth Annual Trombone Day. This was an event of which I had heard about in the past; the 2008 Trombone Day guest artist was my colleague Joseph Alessi, principal trombonist of the New York Philharmonic. Dr. Lee had built up a fine trombone program at Morehead in her nine years at the University and after a bit of back and forth to find a date that would work for everyone concerned, I was very happy to agree to come to a part of Kentucky that was new to me.
Like my recent trip to Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee (see my diary entry for April 24), Morehead had a bit of that "you can't get there from here" feel to it. With the nearest major airport being in Lexington, Kentucky, I had to travel through Chicago to get to Kentucky and after landing in Lexington, drove over an hour to Morehead. But what awaited me at MSU was more than worth the effort to get there.
Building on the success of previous Trombone Days, Jeanie Lee had put together a series of activities designed to appeal to high school and college level trombonists as well as to band directors and older players. I arrived in Morehead on Thursday night and spent Friday giving private lessons to the members of the MSU trombone studio, rehearsing with my piano accompanist, and rehearsing with the MSU trombone ensemble. All of this was in preparation for Saturday's Trombone Day.
The event was nothing if not well publicized! Posters advertising the event were all over the music building, and the lockers of the University's eight trombone majors were easy to spot, being decked out in trombone day posters and schedules. The day began with a group warmup by Jeanie Lee. With about 45 trombonists in attendance (in addition to a number of parents, band directors and other observers), the sound reminded me of my recent massed trombone activities in England (Bone Blow 2009 - see my diary entry for January 29 - where 50 trombonists were in attendance), and Holland (Dutch Bass Trombone Open - see my What's New page entry for September 27, 2008 - with 42 bass trombonists in attendance).
The warmup was followed by rehearsals with the massed trombone choir in three pieces which included a solo for me with the group, John Stevens' The Chief. Dr. Lee had told me that one of the things that past participants in the MSU Trombone Day seemed to appreciate was the fact that the group always played challenging repertoire. I confess to having wondered if such a large group of players of diverse abilities would be able to cope with the sensitive dynamics and complex rhythms of The Chief. But my fears were completely unfounded, as the group worked hard with good focus, and Jeanie was an efficient and focused leader on the podium. I also had the opportunity to conduct the full group in an arrangement of John Williams' Olympic Fanfare, composed for the 1984 Olympic Games, held in Los Angeles (photo at left). I had played this piece many times with the Boston Pops, conducted by the composer, and the sound of this large group of trombone players in this noble fanfare was truly impressive.
Later in the day, I played a mini-recital (including a performance with Jeanie Lee of Eric Ewazen's duet for tenor and bass trombones, Pastorale, and then gave a masterclass, coaching several of Morehead's trombone students. The day concluded with a gala concert featuring performances by both the MSU Trombone Choir (with which I was soloist in Tommy Pederson's Blue Topaz - photo above, at top left of this entry) and the massed trombone choir. A reception followed the concert with a lot of picture taking and enjoyable interaction with participants. When all was packed up and put away, Dr. Lee hosted a dinner for her trombone studio and several guests at a local Morehead favorite: the China Star restaurant - the only Chinese restaurant I have ever been to that featured soft serve ice cream at the end of the buffet!
I must say that these kinds of events are usually not nearly as well organized as this one proved to be. My hat is off to Professor Lee for putting together a fine event that is a showcase for MSU's trombone program (and, as such, a valuable recruiting tool) and a collegial gathering for dozens of trombone players of diverse abilities that come from a multi-state area.
There was another aspect to this event that made it even more special. After nine years at Morehead State, Dr. Lee is retiring this week from teaching, and with her husband, Scott, will be moving on to another season of life. That I was a part of her final public trombone performance at MSU was very nice, but even more memorable was the touching tribute her trombone studio gave to her at the conclusion of the gala concert.
To Jeanie Lee, the members of the MSU Trombone Studio and all of the others who made my time in Morehead, Kentucky, so rewarding, I extend my thanks. The upcoming final months of my sabbatical will find me moving in some different directions, but I was delighted that the MSU Fourth Annual Trombone Day was the event that closed out the second third of my sabbatical from the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Since my travels in Kentucky I've enjoyed being at home for awhile. Nice weather, time to read and relax, watch the Boston Celtics basketball team in the playoffs, attend a Boston Red Sox game, and get a little research done for an article I'll be writing this summer that will be presented as a paper at a conference in Germany in the fall. New England Conservatory of Music had its annual promotionals for trombone players who are returning next year and I've been busy practicing serpent in preparation for upcoming serpent activities.
But with all of this nice activity and inactivity going on, today I celebrated another milestone of my career. 24 years ago today, I played my first concert as a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
I auditioned for the Boston Symphony twice. While I was the winner of the first audition I took in 1984, then Music Director Seiji Ozawa decided not to hire anyone at that time. Instead, I was asked to play with the BSO at its summer festival home, Tanglewood, for two weeks, travel with the orchestra on a European tour for several weeks, and return to Boston to record Strauss' Don Quixote with Yo-Yo Ma as cello soloist. That was a great, memorable time for me, and I got a taste of what my musical life might be like if God led my life in such a way that I might win the next BSO audition. Win it I did, in December, 1984, and on May 14, 1985, I officially joined the Boston Symphony and played my first concert as a member.
On the night before my first BSO concert I played a concert in Carnegie Hall with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, my last with that fine orchestra with which I played for four years. The concert in Carnegie Hall had several Boston connections. The violin soloist in the Dvorak Violin Concerto was Joseph Silverstein, the Baltmore Symphony's Principal Guest Conductor and then concertmaster of the Boston Symphony. Joe Silverstein was the person who told me that Boston would be having a bass trombone opening and he was always very kind and encouraging to me. The final piece on the concert was Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra which received its world premiere by the BSO in 1944. After the concert, I drove to Boston and the next day began my career with the BSO.
In May, the BSO puts on its "other hat" and turns into the Boston Pops Orchestra. My first service with the orchestra was a concert - no rehearsal - that was televised for broadcast on "Evening at Pops," one of the longest running television series on our Public Television network. Norman Bolter was playing principal trombone in the Boston Pops Orchestra, John Huling (who later went on to play second trombone with the National Symphony in Washington D.C.) was playing second trombone and Chester Schmitz was the tubist. John Williams was on the podium. When I look at that first program I played (above) I smile and remember that feeling I had when that first downbeat came. It was the begining of something very special.
There were no fireworks tonight, no big celebration to commemorate the beginning of my 25th season with the Boston Symphony. But when this day rolls around each year, I spend some time thinking about that day many years ago when this important chapter of my life began. It has been a great ride and Lord willing there is more yet to come.
After a relaxing few weeks at home, I once again embarked on another of my sabbatical journeys, this time returning to England for a trip that I have described as "all serpent, all the time."
My interest in the ancient instrument called the serpent - which was invented in 1590 to accompany the singing of plainchant in the church in France - dates to 1994 when I first played the instrument in performances in Boston, New York and Tokyo of Hector Berlioz's Messe solennelle with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Since that time I have become one of the instrument's leading exponents, playing it with both modern and period-instrument orchestras, in chamber music, and as soloist. Commentary on my various serpentine activities may be found elsewhere on my website, including my sabbatical diary entries for December 29, 2008, January 29, 2009, February 19, 2009 and February 28, 2009, my What's New page (see the entries for November 26, 2008 and December 21, 2008, among others) and in several articles, the gateway for which is A Serpent Photo Gallery.
While the serpent was invented in France, it made its way across the English Channel to England, where it took on a slightly different shape, and it came to be known as the English military serpent. The leading modern makers of the serpent - both the French church serpent and the English military variety - have been English: the late Christopher Monk, and my late friend Keith Rogers who each made nearly 100 serpents of various sizes. Nicholas Perry, who did the leather and metal work for most of Keith Rogers' serpents, is now continuing making serpents for Christopher Monk Instruments, thereby continuing the tradition of English serpent making that has been going on for over 30 years.
As I continue my research into the construction and varieties of serpents, I wanted to spend time in two British museums that had sizeable collections of serpents. By closely examining instruments, taking measurements and, when possible, playing them, I gradually open the window to the century-old process of serpent making. By comparing extant examples of instruments by the same maker that are in different museums, as well as instruments by a wide variety of makers, I am learning of the particular challenges and solutions that makers faced. I am currently doing research for an article on the collections of serpents at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (the Leslie Lindsay Mason collection, which was, in the main, formerly owned by Canon Francis Galpin, one of the world's first organologists) and the Casadesus Collection of the Boston Symphony.
After flying over night from Boston to London's Heathrow airport, I went immediately to the Horniman Museum. Here, thanks to the help of Interim Deputy Keeper of Musical Instruments Gavin Dixon, I was able to spend time in particular examining a serpent by the Belgian maker who was active in Paris around 1820, Baudouin. One of the serpents in my collection is by Baudouin and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has two serpents by Baudouin. Christopher Monk also owned a Baudouin serpent and it was that instrument that became the model for the serpents he, Keith Rogers and Nicholas Perry have made. This was a very rich time of detailed analysis, careful measuring, and taking photographs for later study. I also had an opportunity to look at some of Adam Carse's personal papers in the museum's archives, which provided some fascinating insight into early research on serpents in the middle part of the 20th century. While at the Horniman, I also took in the rest of the museum's musical instrument collection, including a fine display of instruments from the English maker Boosey & Hawkes - among them a double slide, BBflat contrabass trombone known as "King Kong."
On my previous sabbatical visit to England in January of this year (see my sabbatical diary entry for January 21, 2009), my wife and I visited Keith Rogers' wife, Kathryn, and their oldest daughter, Esther. This time I enjoyed a visit with their daughter Naomi, a teacher and fine free lance musician who plays throughout Britain. This was a delightful time of conversation, and while there, I picked up Keith's own serpent he had made for himself; Kathryn had generously offered for me to use it so I did not have to bring my own instrument over on the plane. The photo at left shows me with Keith's beautiful plum wood serpent; a photo of him appears on Naomi's piano. This visit - that spanned my birthday (May 19) - was a very special way to begin what turned out to be a uniquely special trip.
From London I drove to Oxford, where I was the guest of Andrew Lamb, Curator of Oxford University's Bate Collection of Musical Instruments. Unlike the Horniman Museum, which is working to preserve its instruments, in as much as is possible, exactly as they are, the Bate Collection allows selected scholars to periodically play their instruments. The Bate Collection is preparing an audio guide for the collection, and when Andy Lamb asked me if I would be willing to play several instruments, I was more than happy to oblige. Armed with a large collection of mouthpiece for any eventuality, I recorded on eight instruments including a fine English military serpent by Milhouse, and one of the most historically significant serpents still extant: a seven-key military serpent by Thomas Key that was played in a band at the Battle of Waterloo (pictured at right). I played several trombones and ophicleides and a rare Hibernicon (a form of bass horn that is one-of-a-kind) as well, and spent some time in the archives of Reginald Morley-Pegge that gave me some additional avenues to continue to explore. An evening with Jeremy Montagu, former Curator at the Bate and one of the world's leading organologists was a fascinating and enlightening way to end this particular part of my trip.
On my way to visit my friend Roger Green (who was the producer for my first solo CD with England's Black Dyke Mills Band, Proclamation), I took a side trip to the church of All Saints in the little village of Minstead, in the south of England, near Bournmouth. When I turned off the A31 highway, I was, within only a few feet, in the New Forest. Lush trees and vegetation enfolded me - I was reminded of the opening line of Longfellow's epic poem, Evangeline, This is the forest primeval.... If this little church is known for anything in the greater world, it is for the fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, is buried there. Just a few days earlier, the church yard of All Saints had been crowded with members of the Sherlock Holmes society who were celebrating the anniversary of Doyle's birth (I had to smile when I saw several pipes - an iconic symbol of Sherlock Holmes - left on Doyle's grave monument). But on this day, the church yard was very quiet. I had a very different purpose in mind for my visit. I took this side trip in order to visit the grave of serpentist Thomas Maynard, who died in 1807. Maynard's grave stone has an extraordinary carving of an English military serpent (shown at left). While very worn, a rubbing of the stone revealed a touching text:
The Band of Musicians of
the South Hants Yeomanry
(of which He was a Member)
in Testimony of their esteem
Caused this Stone to be Erected
In love he lived, in peace he died
His life was ask'd but God denyd.
Mary, daughter of the above Thomas
and of Lydla his wife
departed this life March 18th 1808
This was a nice moment for me. Keith Rogers' grave stone has an engraved image of an English military serpent; his and the grave of Thomas Maynard are the only grave markers that to my knowledge have serpents on them. The esteem in which this young serpent player was held by his colleagues in the South Hants (Hampshire) Yeomanry Band must have been extraordinary given the lavish detail that was afforded his grave stone. In the church yard, I made the acquaintance of two of the church's caretakers, Anthony and Elizabeth Howard who, despite having worked to care for the church yard for many years, had never noticed Maynard's unique grave stone. The three of us enjoyed a nice conversation about the church, Maynard and the serpent, and before leaving, I played two hymn tunes on Keith's serpent - Lead Kindly Light and In Heavenly Love Abiding - in tribute to this fellow serpent player who died over 200 years ago.
I packed up my serpent after having a look around the church itself, with its triple-decker pulpit, font from the 11th century, and west gallery that for many years housed a band of players each Sunday that accompanied the singing of rustic Psalm tunes (it would not have been surprising if Thomas Maynard had been a member of the church band). Anthony Howard made his way up the church tower to join friends in the ringing of the church bells and it was with that iconic sound that I drove to County Wiltshire where I enjoyed a visit with Roger Green and his wife, Frances, and took a trip to the historic village of Lacock to see my friend, Andrew van der Beek, an original member, along with Christopher Monk and Alan Lumsden, of the London Serpent Trio.
All of these trips were a nice prelude to the main event of my trip to England. For many years, a convivial gathering of serpent players has taken place biennially in England. This year was the eighth "Serpentarium," held at Boswedden House in Cape Cornwall, the near western-most tip of England. This rocky coast has some of Britain's most dramatic scenery with soaring vistas, remnants of a now defunct tin mining industry (old chimneys from tin furnaces dot the landscape), and clean, crisp air. Our host was Nigel Nathan, who with Thelma Griffiths, owns and operates Boswedden House. Nigel also happens to be a serpent player. This was the third Serpentarium to be held in Cornwall and it was my first trip to this gathering which this year attracted 14 serpentists from England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland and the United States.
I had never been in this part of England and the drive from Wiltshire was relaxing and interesting. As the sea gradually came into view on the long peninsula where iconic villages like Penzance, Land's End and St. Just are found, a sense of anticipation filled me. I had never been to a larger gathering of serpent players before, and while I had met a number of the players who would be attending, there was uncertainty as well.
I was greeted by Nigel; a cup of tea upon arrival set the tone, and through the afternoon, other participants began to arrive.
The Serpentrium spanned a little more than three full days had a general structure that brought all of us in close proximity in a variety of activities. After breakfast, we would have our first group session. Lead by my friend Phil Humphries (see my sabbatical diary entry for December 29, 2008), we worked on a variety of music that had been arranged for serpent ensemble. Phil had paid a visit to serpent "Headquarters" - that being the home of Clifford Bevan, the leading expert on matters serpentine and the author of the definitive book on the serpent and related instruments, The Tuba Family (Second Edition). Cliff and Phil are also members, along with Stephen Wick, of the The London Serpent Trio. Our music ranged from music especially composed for serpent ensemble (such as the Amherst Suite by Simon Proctor), large scale works in eight parts such as highlights from Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as marches, a Renaissance motet and hymn tunes. Following a short break, we gathered for our second group session. Lunch then was upon us, and the afternoon had time to relax and enjoy the area a bit or rehearse in small groups, talk shop and then gather for our third group session. Following dinner, the evening was a nice time of conversation, additional small group playing and the ubiquitous snacks and beer. And when the lights were turned out, we headed off to sleep, only to get up in the morning to do it all again. And again. The photo at above right shows Phil Humphries in the Meditation Room at Boswedden House, leading one of our sessions, with Michelle Lomas, Chris Gutteridge and Lizzie Gutteridge on Phil's left. The bocal at far right belongs to John Weber. Above left, you see Paul Schmidt, John Weber and me on one of the walks we took where we took in the dramatic vistas of the coast. What would a gathering of serpentists be without serpent hats and t-shirts?!
Here, at right, you can see me with Harry Woodhouse and Wic (you can see a bit of Murray Campbell's head at left and Paul Schmidt's at right). Harry Woodhouse is an icon among serpentists, having authored a small book on the serpent as well as a larger, more detailed study of the church bands in Cornwall that were such a part of 18th and 19th century life in Britain. It was a pleasure to meet him and engage in lively conversation - as it was with each of the Serpentarium's participants.
This was the first Serpentarium since the death of Keith Rogers in January 2008. Maker of nearly 100 serpents for Christopher Monk Instruments, Keith's loss was - and is - deeply felt in our community of serpent players. Before we gathered at Cape Cornwall, we decided to dedicate this year's Serpentarium to the memory and legacy of Keith. There was not a person among our number whose life was not impacted in some way by Keith. Whether we had a instrument made by him (as did Chris Gutteridge, Shirley Hopkins Civil, Murray Campbell and myself) or a mouthpiece he had made, or had benefitted from conversation on the intricacies of serpent making and playing, Keith's shadow fell long over each of us. At the beginning of our first groups session, I said a few words about Keith, and put his legacy in the context that serpent players all knew well. Phil Humphries then recited Thomas Hardy's fine poem, The Choirmaster's Burial (the poem can be read on my sabbatical diary entry for January 21, 2009) after which Phil, Paul Schmidt, John Weber and I played the old Psalm tune Mount Ephriam that was mentioned by Hardy in the poem. It was a fitting tribute to this fine man who we all knew. That I was able to use Keith's own serpent during the Serpentarium added a very strong personal touch to all of this, and this was a nice way to begin our shared time together.
One of the things we prepared through the weekend was two of Keith's favorite hymns that I had arranged for serpent ensemble: Lead, Kindly Light and In Heavenly Love Abiding. A portion of the latter hymn appears on Keith's grave stone in the churchyard of St. Peter's church in the little visit of Yaxham, in Norfolk (see my sabbatical diary for January 21, 2009, for a photograph of me playing his serpent at his graveside):
Throughout our shared time, various groups of players got together for informal reading sessions. While playing in a large serpent consort is great fun, it is in the crucible of small ensembles where much of the nitty-gritty of playing is worked out, as players share solutions to problems, pass around mouthpieces, and share their instruments. The Serpentarium had a wide variety of serpents including several church serpents made by Christopher Monk, two historical English military serpents, a military serpent made by Keith Rogers and several church serpents made by him, a serpent made by David Harding and a Wetter-Berger serpent that was played by Stephan Berger. Having such a wide variety of instruments all in one place - and the generosity of the players was extraordinary in letting others "have a blow" on their instrument - was invaluable to all of us. Wik Bohdanowicz, Harry Woodhouse and Shirley brought along ophicleides as well, and Chris had a lyzarden (a tenor cornett) made by Christopher Monk. All of this made for an interesting basis of comparison. For me, as I am preparing to film a DVD project that will be a teaching tool to help people both learn to play the serpent and learn to play it better (more on this in a few weeks), it was an opportunity to work with players and identify some of the challenges, problems and solutions they face as they cope with the instrument. In the photo at left you can see me with Phil Humphries and Murray Campbell, as we rehearsed the Foxtrot by Sieber which I recorded on my CD, Le Monde du Serpent (in that performance it is played by me with Phil and Craig Kridel). I must say that getting together to play chamber music with these friends was a great, great pleasure.
The photo above shows all of the participants at the 2009 Eighth Biennial Serpentarium, gathered at the front wall at Boswedden House. Look at the faces of each of us, and our instruments. There is much that is being said in this photo. Those pictured are:
Top row (left to right:): Chris Gutteridge (England), Lizzie Gutteridge (England), Michele Lomas (England), Murray Campbell (Scotland)
Middle row: Christian Körner (Germany), John Weber (USA), Shirley Hopkins Civil (England), Harry Woodhouse (England), Stephan Berger (Switzerland), Nigel Nathan (England), Wic Bohdanowicz (England)
Bottom row: Douglas Yeo (USA), Phil Humphries (England), Paul Schmidt (USA)
I left Boswedden house early on Tuesday morning for the six hour drive back to London's Heathrow airport and then the long flight home. This trip was, indeed, "all serpent, all the time", and I gained so much from all of these happy activities. Visiting with friends, doing research in museums, and making new friends all combined to make this trip one of the most satisfying of my sabbatical from the Boston Symphony.
Continuing with the theme, "all serpent, all the time," I have just returned from a long journey that saw me driving 2200 miles through 10 states in what turned out to be one of the most interesting and rewarding working trips of my sabbatical.
Embarking on a trip of that many miles brought me through areas of the country both old and new. It was a trip that passed by towns in Pennsylvania with evocative names - like Bethel, Kutztown, Krumsville, Bethlehem and Quakertown. And there were more than a few references to our country's rich history, with a particular emphasis on the American Civil War. You don't find signs for these kinds of places in the Boston area: Gettysburg, James Buchanan Birthplace, Molly Pitcher Highway, Potomac River, Antietam Battlefield, Washington's Office, Luray Caverns, New Market Battlefield, Blue Ridge Parkway, Stonewall Jackson House, Booker T. Washington National Monument, Yadkin-Pee-Dee River, Billy Graham Parkway, Andrew Jackson State Park. Rich names and places that were part of the joy of a long trip.
This sabbatical period has included many performances and teaching opportunities, mixed with vacations and other satisfying activities. When planning my sabbatical over the last two years, I decided I wanted to do a recording project. What form that would take was not initially clear to me, but as time went on, I thought it would be exciting to explore a form in which I had very little experience: video.
In 2004, I made a 14 minute video at the Yamaha factory in Hamamatsu, Japan. Titled Making Trombones, it was a brief survey through the trombone manufacturing process. It was my first experience being part of a video where I was responsible for talking to viewers.
Given that there are many people who find the serpent to be so fascinating but recognizing that it a rare person who has access to a teacher who can help them learn the instrument, I decided to embark on a video project that would help people learn to play the serpent. For this, I enlisted the assistance of my friend, Craig Kridel.
Craig and I have known each other since I began playing serpent in 1994 and our friendship is deep and abiding. Together we have been party to many serpent-centric activities, and our ongoing discussions on how to raise the profile of the serpent and advance questions about the instrument both as players and scholars have lead to many satisfying interactions. Craig is also the founder of Berlioz Historical Brass, a collective of musicians of which I am a part which is devoted to exploring the world of 19th century brass instruments.
Putting together a video of this nature was a monumental project, of which only the first steps have been completed. From concept, to script, to assembling all of the necessary things needed for production, finding a venue and videographer to say nothing of the work required to practice instruments was a multi-month long process. But with Stage 1 now complete, I can already look back at what has happened thus far with a great feeling of satisfaction.
As I thought through the possibilities this project afforded me, I decided to divide the video into four sections. The first would be an historical introduction to the serpent and related instruments. While many people have heard about the serpent - they have seen one on a wall in a museum or in a musical instrument picture book - few have heard the sound of the instrument and fewer still have seen someone play one. If "a picture is worth a thousand words," a video is worth a million. Because the serpent underwent some dramatic evolutionary changes in the 19th century, the video would provide me with an opportunity to play a variety of instruments, many of which have never been recorded before.
For this first section, it was necessary to collect many instruments to both show and play. Craig and I have many serpents and related instruments in our collections and putting them together last week gave us an opportunity for a rare photo of 19 of our instruments, all of which were used in the video (photo above,at left). These included many French church and English military serpents as well as an array of bass horns - a family of instruments that evolved from the serpent into a shape with an upright bell. Here you can see us with our instruments, clockwise from upper left: church serpent in D by Christopher Monk, church serpent (one key) in C by Keith Rogers, unsigned military serpent (three keys) in C, military serpent (three keys) in C by Keith Rogers, soprano serpent ("worm") by Christopher Monk, Moravian bass horn in C by Robb Stewart, church serpent (three keys) in C by Forveille, English bass horn by Robb Stewart, church serpent (two keys) by Baudouin, bass cornetto (one key) in G by Roland Wilson, serpent Forveille by Darche, unsigned bass horn (German?), contrabass serpent in CC (the "Anaconda" - "George") by Christopher Monk, church serpent in C by David Harding, cimbasso by Nicholas Perry, serpent pavillion, ophimonocleide by Coeffet. Craig is holding his church serpent in C by Christopher Monk and I am holding a church serpent (two keys) in C by Keith Rogers.
Nineteen instruments, all of which were shown and most of which were played in my video. The process of working to learn to play some of the bass horns (most of which were new to me) was a rich exploration. We experimented with various mouthpieces as well, as we continue to "negotiate" what the sounds of some of these instrument were at various times in history.
From there we travelled to the Joe and Joella Utley Collection of Brass Instruments of the National Music Museum, the location for filming. I had previously been at the Utley Collection two years ago to play two rare metal serpents that are are part of the Collection; that recording was for a DVD that wil accompany a book about the Utley Collection that is being written by Utley Collection Curator, Sabine Klaus. It was a logical location for the filming of my video, providing a warm background of instruments. I could not have asked for a more gracious host than Joella Utley. Martin Aigner was engaged as the videographer and we were on our way.
After recording the historical overview section of the video (which included my playing, among other instruments, a bass cornetto, shown above at right along with my church serpent by Baudouin, and a serpent Forveille, shown at left), I turned to the second section, a "lesson" on how to play the serpent. Drawing on 19th century serpent method books, I discussed issues of ergonomics and posture, breathing, and how a person could approach the instrument for the first time. It was more of a conversation than a lecture, and I demonstrated how to play the serpent myself by playing exercises and etudes. As it turned out, my trip to England last month - where I interacted with a great many serpent players - proved to be very timely, as I had in my mind some of the specific challenges that players at the Serpentarium demonstrated. Our time together in England allowed me to address particular issues that are common to many players.
The third section of the video found me playing duets. I recorded the top part of an historical duet for serpents so the viewer could play along with the bottom part. I then recorded the bottom part to the same duet so the viewer could play the top part. Music for these duets - and for all of the demonstration exercises, etudes and warmuups - will be provided as PDF files that accompany the DVD. Recording these duets - I used three instruments including my serpent by Baudouin, and two serpents by Keith Rogers - will provide me an opportunity to interact directly with viewers. The photo below, at left, shows me recording duets on my serpent by Baudouin.
Finally I recorded a segment I called, "The Serpent Question" - a conversation about where you can get a serpent, recordings, music and other resources relating to the serpent. A component of this video will be the introduction of the "Rogers Mouthpiece," a new mouthpiece that is being designed for use on a modern baritone horn or euphonium that will give the modern instruments a sound more akin to that of the serpent. I see this as a potential first step for players to begin to make the transition to playing the serpent, allowing them to play their modern instrument in a small wind group so they can better approximate the more woody, breathy sound of the serpent that is such a distinctive part of the instrument's character.
When the recording sessions were complete, the long process of packing up began. The challenge of putting 19 instruments in a mini-van was considerable (no, that is not a trombone you see in the photo at right, but a bass horn in a trombone case). My time in South Carolina was very rich in myriad ways, and I look forward to the process of editing the video that will take place over the next few months. I am hopeful that by the first of the year, I will hold my video - titled, Approaching the Serpent: An Historical and Pedagogical Overview - in my hand and begin the process of distributing it to a world wide community of people interested in learning more about this most remarkable instrument.
This was the last working trip of my sabbatical, which will conclude at the end of this month. The video was my most ambitious sabbatical project, and I move ahead into these final days of my sabbatical with a great feeling of satisfaction. The Boston Symphony summer season at Tanglewood is on the horizon, and my musical attentions have returned to the bass trombone. There is more yet to do in the coming weeks, and the adventure continues.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven;
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast way stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to tear and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time for war, and a time for peace.
And so I have found myself in a season - a rare, special season of sabbatical - and that time is now ending. During this time, I have enjoyed a great many things, some of which I have detailed in this diary. When this time was being planned, it seemed fitting that it end not with another trombone recital or masterclass, or a trip to explore exciting research pursuits. Instead, it was to be a time of refreshment with my wife, a summing up of a time, and to, in a special way, "gather stones together" and put all that has transpired in the last six months in context.
So we went hiking in Wyoming.
In 1978, my wife and I went on a six week camping trip from New York City to California and back again, exploring twelve of our country's National Parks in the west. This was a rare opportunity for us and it began in us a love of the National Parks and a desire to some day return to them for more lengthy visits. In recent years we have done so - often with our daughters as well. While we don't camp any more, we love to hike together and our trips have brought us to some of the most beautiful and inspiring places on earth: Zion, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Arches, Bryce, Glacier. We have returned to many of these again and again - Zion, especially - but for this trip, it was time to revisit places we had not touched our feet upon in 31 years: Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
Yellowstone was the first American National Park, established in 1872. It was the first in what became one of the most successful governmental experiments in the world - the setting aside of vast tracts of land "For", in the words inscribed on the Roosevelt Arch (erected in 1903) at Yellowstone's north entrance (shown in the photo at left), "The Benefit and Enjoyment of the People."
Yellowstone covers a vast area of Montana, Idaho and (mostly) Wyoming. Within its boundaries are several distinct areas, each with its own flavor and feel. In each can be found stunning natural beauty and close encounters with a variety of wildlife including bison, elk and bear. We chose to return to Yellowstone to more deeply explore much of what it had to offer - an exploration that left us, at times, simply awed by God's creative hand.
We began our trip in Yellowstone Canyon. Images of the Yellowstone River's upper and lower falls (photo at right) have become icons of the vast American west. Hiking along the south rim of the canyon brought us up close to the enormous power of water. Its speed and sound - and the sound of rushing water is one that has always fascinated me - were close enough for us to touch.
While exploring the Canyon area of Yellowstone, we also got to appreciate the American bison. These enormous animals - who have often been mis-named buffalo - roamed through the park at will. One took up residence next to our cabin - grazing across from it on our first afternoon and sleeping under our window the following morning. Powerful, strong (many weigh up to two tons), fast (they can run up to 30 miles per hour) and noble, we enjoyed spotting bison all through the Park, often stopping to look at them at length in admiration. Being up close to such large and interesting animals was a rare treat.
We enjoyed several hikes, first to Elephant Back Mountain that overlooked Yellowstone Lake (pictured at right). A trail through the woods brought us to dramatic vistas of the lake and the Absaroka Mountains that are further to the east. The sharp, jagged, snow-covered peaks of the mountains contrasted with the lush forest through which we hiked. We were also aware of the effects of the forest fires of 1988 that burned nearly one-third of Yellowstone's forest land. Scores of fallen lodge pole pine trees littered the landscape while new growth - spawned when their pine cones were opened by the fire and the seeds took root in the ash covered ground - surrounded us, already between 10 - 20 feet high. This mixture of the dead and the living - the old and the new - the hurt and the healthy - was always in our eyes.
By contrast, our hike up Mount Washburn - one of the highest peaks in the Park - was full of a different kind of drama. On a clear day, we climbed over 2200 feet in four miles of hiking (one way), arriving at a fire station at the peak, 10,243 feet above sea level. From there we could see over 50 miles in all directions. Cold and windy at the summit, the view was inspiring. From there we could see every part of the park - including Yellowstone Canyon - and beyond, to the Grand Teton mountain range in the south. We met up with a young hiker from France on the way up and enjoyed conversation with him for several hours. Such is one of the unexpected joys of hiking - meeting up with nice people with whom you share a love of the outdoors, and learning about them and their lives.
After several days in the Yellowstone Canyon area, we travelled south to explore Yellowstone's famed geyser basins. "Old Faithful" is the most well-known of Yellowstone's many geysers, spouting thousands of gallons of water with the regularity of approximately 90 minute intervals. But there is so much more to Yellowstone's thermal features than "Old Faithful." Other geyers, springs and pools, like "Morning Glory Pool," "Grand Prismatic Spring," "Fountain Paintpots," "Artist Paintpots," "Steamboat Geyser" bubble up with water, steam and mud, creating an artist's palate of colors that cover all of the colors of the rainbow.
And then there was the rainbow itself.
While visiting the "Old Faithful" area, we stayed at the Old Faithful Inn, one of the great old lodges of the National Parks. Staying there was an exciting experience - masterful architecture, creative use of wood for structural and decorative purposes, and a tremendous amount of history. On our second day at the Inn, we set out to explore Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin for several hours. Upon leaving the Old Faithful Visitor Center, we walked out in the midst of a light rain and saw a tremendous rainbow that reached across the sky, arching over the Old Faithful Inn. Never had we seen such a long, vibrant, complete rainbow. We stood looking at it as it grew in length and intensity and, after several minutes, began to fade and disappear. This tremendous sign of God's covenant with mankind - read about it in Genesis Chapter 9, Verses 1-17 - has been very special to our family, and the rainbow was a very special and unexpected part of our visit to Yellowstone.
From the Old Faithful Inn we travelled south to Grand Teton National Park, another park we had just tasted on our 1978 cross-country camping trip. The majestic drama of these craggy peaks - headed by the largest of the range, Grand Teton - is inspiring. The Tetons rise up seemingly from nowhere, with a great valley in front of them. Covered with snow nearly year round, the snow melt from these great mountains feeds many lakes at their feet. Wildlife, too - especially elk and bison - roam the valley. As I did during our recent trip to Grand Canyon National Park (see my sabbatical diary entry for March 23, 2009), I just had to get out trombone and blow a few notes to these great mountains (photo at left). As we drove and hiked through the park for several days, I could hardly take my eyes off these dramatic peaks that took on different looks when we viewed them from different angles and at different times of day.
Our two big hikes in the Teton Range took us to Taggart Lake (photo at right) and Jenny Lake; the latter hike covering eight miles and 1200 feet of elevation as we walked through Cascade Canyon, up to Inspiration Point and around the lake through parts of forest that had been burned in fire. Tired, but very satisfied, we felt such an appreciation for God's creative hand as we got deep into the woods and experienced much more than one could appreciate from roadside overlooks.
When we visited Grand Teton National Park in 1978, we stopped by the Chapel of the Transfiguration, a small chapel built in 1925 to serve a local community that did not wish to worship in the town of Jackson. Located in Moose, Wyoming, on the edge of the Park, we decided to visit it again.
An aside: there has been great joy in revisiting Parks that we first saw over 30 years ago. In some cases our memory is very vivid, and things now seem to be exactly the same as they were decades ago. In other cases, the landscape has changed - such as the 1988 fire in Yellowstone - or our memory hasn't been as clear as we thought it was. In a sense, while we had visited these parks and many places in them long ago, there was a beautiful freshness to everything we did, whether revisiting an "old friend" or making a new discovery.
The Chapel is in an idyllic, almost iconic setting - a window inside frames Grand Teton over the altar. Built of lodgepole pine, the Chapel has pews made of quaking aspen. We spent a little time there, both inside and out, enjoying the setting and the quiet of the moment. Pat noticed a hummingbird flying around a large flower pot, and I noticed two beautiful stained glass windows that celebrate God's creation in the small foyer. "O Ye Ice and Snow; Bless ye the Lord" and "O Ye Winter and Summer; Bless ye the Lord." Visiting this frontier chapel - surrounded by the magnificent beauty of the Teton range - was a nice moment for us.
We also took on a new appreciation for elk. Jackson, Wyoming - the small town just south of Grand Teton National Park - is home to the National Elk Refuge. We were captivated by the story of how this land was set aside to help elk survive the tough Wyoming winter. Local residents work to feed thousands of elk for several months each winter. Each spring, local Boy Scouts collect the antlers that male elk had shed and the antlers are auctioned each May as part of Jackson's "Elk Fest" - the sale of which support both the elk feeding program (80%) and the Boy Scouts (20%).
The long drive from Jackson back through Yellowstone to Mammoth Hot Springs brought us back in contact with more of Yellowston's wildlife including a great many more elk and bison, before flying home from Bozeman, Montana. We left throught the same north gate to Yellowstone that we entered over a week ago. We "People" certainly did benefit and enjoy the park, and are grateful for the vision of our country that set aside this remarkable piece of land to refresh and inspire us.
This trip was a fitting bookend to the end of my sabbatical. My life in music is a rich one, full of rewarding artistic experiences and collaborations. But being in the great outdoors is a completely different side of life. While in Yellowstone, there was no television, no radio, no cell phone service, no Internet availability. Yes, I took along a trombone and practiced every day. But the pace we have during our hiking vacations is very different than that in our city life in Boston. I arrived home tired but satisfied, as I now begin the process of looking back at the last six months and considering the implications of my sabbatical. More on this in a few days. For now, there is much work to be done to prepare for my return to the Boston Symphony next week. The party isn't over. It's just begun.
At 4:00 PM this afternoon, Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director James Levine stepped to the podium in the Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood, the summer festival home of the BSO. After a few words of greeting, he gave the downbeat for the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Symphony 6. And with those first notes ringing across the stage, through the Shed and out onto the vast lawn, I turned another page of my life.
My sabbatical is over.
For everything there is a season, as the author of the book of Ecclesiaastes wrote (Ecclesiaastes 3:1). And this very special season of my life - the season of sabbatical - is now past. It has been a very, very rich time for me. It will take some time for me to consider all of the implications of the vast variety of activities I undertook. Recitals, masterclasses, solo performances, conducting, research, vacations, hiking, rest, practice, visits to family and friends. And much more. You have read about some of this in my diary, but there is much that I didn't write about that is part of this fruitful time.
I have some people to thank for all of this. First, my wife, Pat, has been tremendously supportive of me - my sabbatical took me away from home a great deal and Pat was both understanding and helpful as I travelled around the world to enjoy my sabbatical explorations. Our marriage of nearly 34 years is a testimony to God's faithfulness and her love for me. I thank the Boston Symphony for giving me this opportunity to be absent from my job for a time and then to come back to it today. I am grateful to YAMAHA Corporation for their generous support to many colleges, universities and events in which I took part. But most of all, I am grateful to God fo all He has taught me in this time. I undertook 40,000 miles of air travel; over 5,500 miles of driving. That's a lot of traveling. In all of this time, I never was in an accident; I never was ill - never so much as a sniffle. That was a tremendous gift from God.
And here is an immediate, practical thing to report. On most of my trips, I took along my YAMAHA Xeno YBL-822G bass trombone (pictured at right on stage at rehearsal today). I usually checked it as baggage since it does not fit in most airplane overhead compartments. The result of 10s of thousands of miles being thrown by baggage handlers around the world? Not a single dent in my horn. The case was battered but is still completely intact, and once again YAMAHA has shown that even the smallest detail in an instrument - the case - is not unimportant to them.
Having experienced six months of my making my own schedule, I wondered how it would feel to be back at work with the Boston Symphony, with my life governed by the clock and a very structured, pre-determined schedule. It felt fine. In fact, in many respects, it felt as if I had never left. This is the life I have known for over 28 years and it is a comfortable, rewarding routine. I was very happy to see my colleagues again, and to make music with them. Tanglewood is a beautiful place - where I played my very first concert with the Boston Symphony in August 1984. While on sabbatical I had gotten together with our principal trombonist, Toby Oft (pictured with me at rehearsal today, at left), every week that I was home. We kept up our friendship and now continue our playing collaboration where we left off last December. We got together to play duets yesterday, and at rehearsal today, it felt that we had not missed a beat after not playing together in the orchestra for six months. It's such a pleasure to be back at work with him and other colleagues, and today I just soaked in the sound of the Boston Symphony and found myself so grateful to be back.
Today brought another milestone: as of midnight last night, I concluded my term as Vice President of the North American Brass Band Association, and a member of its Board of Directors. My time on the NABBA Board of Directors was a busy, intense and rewarding one. I came to NABBA with particular goals and I am pleased to have achieved them. I will continue to work on behalf of brass banding in North America and look back on my time as Vice President as one that brought me in contact with a great many people from around the continent that share my passion for the British Brass Band.
This is my last entry in my sabbatical diary. This is the third such diary I have kept online, the others being my chronicle of the 1998 Boston Symphony European Tour: A European Tour Odyssey (that appears on the British Trombone Society website) and my account of the preparation for the Boston Pops' participation in Superbowl XXXVI January/February 2002: The New England Patriots and the Boston Pops: A Superbowl XXXVI Diary. This latest exercise, like the others, has been fun to put together as it helps me remember things that have happened during a fast-paced time.
Thank you for joining me in this sabbatical diary, and sharing my journey with me. New pages to this adventure we call "life" await.