My first post after a long summer hiatus comes a few days later than I had planned, and that might not be a rare occurrence in the coming months. While I hope to maintain my usual weekly writing schedule and have a full slate of planned topics for the coming academic year, that schedule might prove to be difficult to maintain. Why? Because the low brass studio at Ole Miss is growing by leaps and bounds! When I arrived in 2012 there were eleven low brass majors; now there are 24. Add to those a couple of students taking lessons on doubling instruments (something I always encourage) and I find myself teaching 26 lessons per week at the university, in addition to ensemble rehearsals, teaching high school students after school, grading, and other faculty responsibilities. Our trombone ensemble now has 19 members (compared to nine four years ago) and the tuba-euphonium ensemble 13 (compared to six at one point that first year). I am thankful for the growth and very much enjoy my work, but this schedule is already proving quite tiring…and we aren’t even through the first week of classes! So please excuse me if my ability to write with the regularity for which I have striven in the past is compromised at times.
Anyway, my main topic for this week is a report on my visit earlier this month to Santa Fe, Argentina, for the annual Trombonanza event, which I mentioned in a post back in May. Knowing some of the “big name” trombonists who have been invited to Trombonanza in the past, I was particularly honored and surprised to be asked to come. After a supremely enjoyable and I think successful event I am still honored and surprised but also extremely thankful for the opportunity.
What is Trombonanza?
Regular readers of the International Trombone Association Journal will already be familiar with Trombonanza, due largely to the efforts of Dr. Irvin Wagner from the University of Oklahoma, who has attended several of the Trombonanza events in past years and written about it for the Journal. Essentially, Trombonanza is a weeklong celebration of all things low brass, with teaching, learning, and performance opportunities for trombone, euphonium, and tuba players ranging from beginners to university students to seasoned professionals and adult amateurs. The teaching faculty is drawn from throughout Latin America, the United States, and Europe, representing a wide variety of styles, repertoires, and perspectives. Concerts include recitals and solo performances with large ensembles by faculty members, trombone and tuba-euphonium ensemble performances by faculty and students, and two performances by the entire assembled mass of faculty and students—over 170 players!
I was invited to attend in order to teach bass trombone, perform a half-recital with piano as well as a concerto with the municipal concert band in Santa Fe, work with student chamber groups, and perform with the faculty ensemble (which I also conducted for one piece). Between all of those activities were clinics and masterclasses for players of different levels, altogether making for some very long days. It was an exhausting but very satisfying week.
Instruction and Performance at Every Level
As a bass trombone faculty member, I found myself working primarily with older students and young professionals (beginners, after all, rarely play bass trombone), particularly because I was also assigned to conduct the most advanced student trombone choir. This was perhaps for the best, since I speak practically no Spanish, and the classes with older students always had someone there who was able to translate. I enjoyed working through some of the standards of the bass
trombone repertoire and a bit of orchestral literature, as well, with such accomplished and motivated students. Still, I had some enjoyable and productive sessions with the younger students; while I usually have very little patience with clichés, the saying “music is a universal language” often seemed to hold true. (Of course, it helped that everyone present could read music!) One boy in particular decided to take me under his wing and try to teach me a bit of Spanish; my first words were “hola,” “cómo estás,” and “wi-fi.” 🙂
A Friendly and Intense Environment
What impressed me most about Trombonanza is how the environment there was simultaneously friendly and intense, characteristics which too often seem unable to coexist in the music world. At many musical gatherings, either the environment is friendly but the musicianship suffers, or there is a high level of musicianship but people are egotistical and even ruthlessly competitive. At Trombonanza, though, the faculty and students were unfailingly supportive of and encouraging to one another, even while demanding of themselves and others very high levels of performance. The atmosphere was often familial; many of the students attend Trombonanza each year, and while the faculty members from the US and Europe were new to the event, most or all of those from Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America had attended several times and knew each other quite well. One could even characterize the rapport among most or all of the faculty and students as loving. All of this made for an event that was both personally and artistically satisfying.
One Special Moment
The moment from the week that I found most moving was one in which I was not personally involved at all, but one which I think best characterizes the spirit prevalent at Trombonanza. There was one little boy in the euphonium class who was, I believe, ten years old, and had only been playing for a few weeks. His playing was understandably somewhat behind even the other younger euphonium students, and while he was eager to learn and seemed to enjoy himself, he was not able to keep up very well with the planned ensemble music. Undaunted, one of the tuba teachers, Vasile Babusceac, was determined that this young man would get to perform on the Thursday evening ensembles concert, which was attended by a full house of over 800 people. He arranged to play a short, simple duet for tuba and euphonium with this young man, who performed admirably for someone so new to the instrument. Afterward, the crowd erupted in applause and shouts of “Bravo!” Needless to say, that boy will never forget that night. I’m not sure I will, either—and I’ll even admit to being a bit teary-eyed at that moment.
The reaction—and the presence—of that crowd also highlights something great about Trombonanza: the people of Santa Fe have very much adopted it as “their” festival. All of the performances were attended by concertgoers not connected with Trombonanza at all, sometimes in very large numbers. What a satisfying contrast to conferences and festivals elsewhere whose concerts are attended by the people participating in the event.
Beyond the musical experiences, the food in Argentina is terrific. I was told before I left that I had to try the steaks, which were delicious, but the chicken, pork, and fish were also wonderful, and mealtimes provided great opportunities for friendship and camaraderie. Barbecue in Argentina, called asado, is simple yet tasty, usually seasoned only with salt and the flavor given to the meat from the smoke. I drink alcohol so rarely that I am practically a teetotaler, but I did sample several
delicious local beers and wines, particularly at one restaurant that was across the street from a large brewery, with fresh beer pumped in directly through a series of pipes above the roadway. Breakfast is evidently not a big deal in Argentina; we were served very simple morning meals at the hotel and were told that this was typical for their country. Of course, with lunch and dinner being so big who had room for a huge breakfast?
A Wonderful Experience
These short reflections can only scratch the surface of what was a wonderful time of performing, teaching, and fellowship with low brass players from around the world. Toward the end of my visit I was interviewed by a local television station and the reporter asked if I would come back to Trombonanza in the future. If I’m ever invited, my answer will be “absolutely!”