Through a mix of unusual circumstances, some related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself able to attend Christmas Eve services at my own church, instead of visiting family several hours away. I volunteered to perform a prelude for the service, and selected an arrangement of O Come, O Come Emmanuel by Stephen Edward Gerber. That arrangement was just one of many quality settings of hymns on Douglas Yeo’s album Cornerstone.
Douglas Yeo (b. 1955) was bass trombonist of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra before moving to the same position in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where he was a member from 1985-2012. Since retiring from the orchestra he has served as trombone professor at Arizona State University and later at Wheaton College, his undergraduate alma mater. Mr. Yeo’s website, established in 1996, was the first major trombone-related website on the internet. Internet service at my high school was established around that same time, and I quickly became familiar with Mr. Yeo, his writings, his playing, and his Christian faith. As a young Christian preparing to step into the music business, I found his reflections to be particularly helpful as I began to navigate our professional world. I continue to find his thoughts on matters both professional and spiritual to be edifying, which I have enjoyed both through his writings and through a few personal interactions over the years. Most of Mr. Yeo’s online activity these days takes place through a blog entitled The Last Trombone, which readers here will almost certainly enjoy.
Released in 2000, Cornerstone includes sixteen tracks, mostly arrangements of old hymns but a few more recent tunes, as well. None of the arrangements are technically difficult showpieces but are instead in a vocal style to which the bass trombone is particularly well-suited. While listeners will appreciate Mr. Yeo’s beautiful, warm sound, as a trombonist always looking for quality material to play in worship services, I found this album to be a helpful tool for sorting through the morass of lesser arrangements to find the “really good stuff.” I have performed several of these arrangements multiple times over the past twenty years, including the aforementioned arrangement of O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
An added benefit of this album was my first introduction to the work of Bill Pearce (1926-2010), a trombonist, singer, and Christian radio broadcaster who contributed one arrangement and several narrations to the album. As a trombonist he had the “chops” to keep up with many of the great commercial trombonists of his generation, but chose a career working largely in the Gospel music and Christian radio industries. Mr. Pearce’s arrangements were all out of print by the time Cornerstone was released, but through the magic of Interlibrary Loan I managed to reproduce a complete set, and have played several of his settings in church services and even in recital.
Cornerstone is not available through the various streaming platforms but can still be purchased in audio CD format through Hickey’s Music. It is highly recommended.