Etude Magazine, April 1955: Two Centuries of Trombones

bobjones

No posts since December? Er, Happy New Year? To get things rolling again, a trombone article from the April, 1955 issue of ETUDE magazine is discussed below. The history of The ETUDE magazine is recounted here. This particular issue featured the ad pictured in the inset on the back. Click for a larger version.

The April, 1955 issue of ETUDE music magazine featured the article, “Two Centuries of Trombones.” The title was a little deceptive: instead of covering everything about trombones over the course of two centuries, the piece focussed on how trombone playing was historically significant to the town of Bethlehem, PA. Specifically, the town trombone choir’s performances were used to mark events that were solemn, lighthearted, or . . . anything. Below are excerpts from this article that frustrated readers of this website — yearning for new content — may find edifying:

Etude Magazine

“Why trombones? It has been suggested that the somber tones of these slide instruments were in keeping with the idea of playing chorales to announce a death as well as providing music at a funeral. Add to that an all-weather instrument for outdoor playing (although the slides of the trombone will freeze in very severe winter cold), and you have a practical as well as an aesthetic reason for the use of the trombones.”

Remember, though, these trombonists were not buskers. In fact, in stark contrast to buskers, the trombonists could be mobilized immediately as defenders of the town, particularly around Christmastime.

Bethlehem trombonists focus sound energy safely inward

Bethlehem trombonists focus sound energy safely inward

“A legend has grown up around the Christmas tromboning of that year [1755]. The story has long been accepted by many people that late Christmas Eve a war party of Indians camped across team Monacacy Creek, planning to attack the settlement as the sun rose. However, the trombonists from their rooftop position greeted the day before the Indians. The redmen, hearing sounds they could not understand, thought that it was the voice of the Great Spirit telling them to leave Bethlehem in peace.”

It’s likely that some sort of qualifier was needed there, like “may have thought it was the voice of the Great Spirit.” Or, a complete revision: “The native americans, hearing sounds they quickly identified as trombones, felt a little sorry for the pale-skins and decided that any sort of attack was simply not worth it.” Anyway, back to Christmas:

“Of course, at Christmas the trombone is not neglected. The Christmas eve love feast is opened with the playing of Hail Thou Wondrous Infant Stranger, and later the vigil services begin with the notes of Hark a Voice from Yonder Manger. These are old chorales. Either one or both may have been used in 1755. At that time it was the custom for the trombonists to announce Christmas day at dawn.”

etudeapr55trb2

The majestic sounds of the trombone are both festive and appropriate for Christmastime, and likely met with the approval of the townsfolk (provided the intonation was halfway decent). The possible downside? It seems the musical encouragement meant the trombonists were always up and playing at the crack of dawn regardless of the time of year or holiday. Easter is next, and naturally that involves waking everybody up, too. But how? With a large F-Bass trombone with a handle that allows the player to reach the longer slide positions.

“Long before the congregation assembles in the church, from whence they proceed to the cemetery, trombonists pass through the community awakening the sleepers with the chorales announcing that The Lord has risen.”

By the time 4th of July rolled around, the town had the good sense to put the kibosh on the “up-early and always playing the trombone” thing:

“In the past it was even customary to herald the Fourth of July at daybreak, but this custom has been given up, either because folk living near the church liked to sleep on a holiday morning and objected to being disturbed at sunrise, or the trombonists themselves preferred Morpheus to Polyhymnia.”

Importantly, there can be no ETUDE trombone article without a funny little anecdote that involves the total disruption of a beleaguered trombonist’s embouchure. Here goes nothing:

“Stories are still told of how one player’s false teeth fell from the steeple to be shattered on the roof of Simon Rau’s drug store far below, but there is no record of a trombone ever having fallen to the same doom, although from time to time someone’s hat becomes a casualty.”

To conclude this ETUDE article, there’s a quote from Rufus A. Greider, who, 80 years previous to 1955, had written about the unwavering dedication of the Bethlehem trombonists.

“It requires not a little self-denial to serve as a performer of the trombone choir. He is required to attend all services when they are used. He is obliged to assist in announcing every death which occurs in the congregation, to play at the funerals, to play on every festival, morning and afternoon, to perform before the celebration of the Lord’s supper. He is duty-bound to go to the graveyard or climb in the church belfry at all seasons and in every kind of weather; cold or rain must not be heeded, he goes through it all.”

In other words, these guys should have unionized.

Next:

“THE END”

That’s one way you know an ETUDE article is over. There’s a big “THE END” at the article’s conclusion.

THE END

Hip-Hop and the Gmail Fiasco

Google Houdini picture

H Houdini at gmail dot com?

Back in the day, when Google first started up “gmail,” I got one of the early invites to the service. Because I was present not-too-long-after the creation, I was able to pick a fairly straightforward user name that consisted of my first initial plus my last name. It was great, or at least it seemed great at the time. Sadly, even though my shiny new google email address was all mine, over time a lot of people began trying to use it. The reasons seemed various, but the simplicity of my address meant that:

  • It was used as a made-up address to register for various types of online things, or given in answer when someone else kept bugging that person for their email address in any number of ways.
  • Other people assumed they had the correct address for the person they were trying to email.
  • A small of group of people apparently thought the email address was theirs somehow. They even tried to reset the password. But, you see, the reset email comes to me.

Anyway, what all this means is that I’ve gotten lots of crazy email over the years. Blow-by-blow accounts of drunken vacations across Europe, notices from coaches and choir directors, “special thanks” from businesses about “your inquiry.”

I do try to respond and tell people of their error. I’m always nice about it, unless the temptation to “put people on” is too great. For example, one email was intended for “Pastor Chris.” Update: I should note here that the email I received was sent to a group, and that one of included addresses was “@” DHS (Department of Homeland Security) dot gov.

Pastor Chris I know this is your down time, but (smile) if time permits you please take a look at the other two items in this email and send us your reply by Thursday, that is when our next meeting, after Thursday night [sic] we hope to have an idea what is needed budget-wise and be presenting it to you for your approval shortly.

Thank you,
Anniversary committee
EB

My response:

Dear Committee:
Thank you very much for your email, and for your acknowledgement that this is my (smile) downtime. I have no problem with providing input, but first, I must be completely candid and tell you that I am not (smile) pastor Chris. While my name is Chris, and I have no particular training as a pastor. Nevermind; on to the budget.

We will need to budget for plenty of office supplies, particularly sticky-notes. The brand does not matter, but I am partial to 3M. On to these sticky notes we shall write reminders to ourselves to check the accuracy of email addresses we intend to use for the official business of the anniversary committee. If necessary, we shall affix these sticky-notes to our foreheads. This will allow others to see the reminders, even if we cannot remember ourselves.

Further, if we work for some government agency, say, the Department of Homeland Security, we shall refrain from using that email address to conduct the business of the committee. The anniversary committee, while it no doubt conducts important work, should not “gum up” (smile) the email of the DHS. Write this admonition on a sticky note. Affix it to your forehead if necessary, then pause and get a Gmail account.

All Best Wishes and Regards,

Not-a-Pastor, Chris

Recently, I got some hip-hop — nothing in the message but a sound file. The subject line read “song.” The linked mp3 file below is an excerpt.

Roll Up (Excerpt):

Of course, the message demanded a musical response. Fortunately, I had a short Garageband track I had already composed that would fit the purpose well. All that was necessary was to add an extra vocal, and voila!

Email Wrong:

Commander Trombone Classic: View to a Polka

Happy New Year! The following article ran on Commander Trombone in 2005.

As you might or might not expect, Commander Trombone has by this time played numerous gigs on the trombone. Trust me, if you were to read my résumé, you’d quickly see that the word numerous is used numerous times in regard to gigs.

The Show’s On:
Big Joe alerts the neighbors

Some time ago, one of the aforementioned gigs was playing trombone on a cruise ship. I played in the show band. As its name suggests, the show band played for the cruise ship shows. It was a kind of all-purpose musical organization whose functions included “playing on” comedians, jugglers, and magicians, playing with the occasional competent singer, and playing light dance music for the older cruising demographic. The show band did not play top forty cover tunes or Texas Two-beat — there were other bands on board for that sort of thing. For dancing, we played simple adaptations of big-band tunes, waltzes, tangos, etc.

After a long night of shows for the cruisers, the show band was often obliged to play a late-night dance set. When we needed to clear the room — perhaps because we had had enough and wanted to retire to our cabins or the bar for the evening — one kind of tune was guaranteed to get the job done: a polka. Almost always, a simple rendition of Pennsylvania Polka would be enough to make our listeners lose interest and wonder what was being served at the Midnight Buffet.

Happy Music for Happy People

Make no mistake, however: Polkas are a constant fountain of joy for some. Specifically, happy people. To clarify a bit, not all happy people are polka lovers, but polka lovers are generally happy people. In fact, that’s how Big Joe describes his polka-dance show: Happy Music for Happy People.

If you’ve never heard of Big Joe or the Big Joe Show, it’s probably time you did. Currently, the program airs Wednesday and Saturday night on RFD-TV, a network that is carried by Dish Network and DirectTV.

The Big Joe Show is a polka dance show. It’s not your father’s dance show like American Bandstand or Soul Train, it’s your grandfather’s dance show — if your grandfather really liked polka.

Even if you aren’t particularly a polka fan, you may find the Big Joe Show endlessly fascinating. There are three basic reasons for this phenomenon:

  1. Big Joe himself, who is always clad in a colorful, shiny, piano vest and cummerbund. Who lives, sleeps, and eats polka? Big Joe does.
  2. All the bands on the show are live bands, featured in the same space as the actual dancers. The quality of the bands varies greatly — some are quite good, but there is the occasional tubist whose batting average in relation to hitting the correct notes is quite low. You get the picture — tuba farts to a polka beat.
  3. The dancers. There won’t be any of the self-conscious dancing you see on the MTV. These are not self-consciously “cool” people. These are simply happy people. Remember — happy music for happy people?

The production values on The Big Joe Show vary greatly. For example, a typical episode features video that turns from hazy and washed-out to completely clear depending on the camera and camera angle being used at a given moment. This camera effect, combined with the styles of eyeglasses and hair, make it harder to guess what decade all this dancing and merriment is taking place in.

Below are some Quicktime samples of the show. If you can, though, tune in and turn on to the Big Joe Show at the next available opportunity.

Big Joe’s Commercial for CDs:

Joe Beno Band with an introduction by Big Joe: