The Keep Me Playing Project

I began playing trombone as a 4th grader at Tri-Central Elementary School in rural Indiana. It was a bit of a mistake. My family didn’t have money for an instrument at the time, so I was supposed to mark down being interested in a school owned instrument: Tuba, baritone, or French horn. Luck being so kind, I ticked off trombone instead of tuba. Thus began 22 years of trombone.

Dat 42BO Doh
Yes, this trombone. Bach 42BO. Now and forever (it seems)

Flash forward to age 32. I hadn’t played in a few years, not since leaving the country on Fulbright. The trombone had been in storage, with only a little time spent over the summer of 2014 practicing. Since starting at Akamai, music has been far from my mind. Sure, I wrote a piece for highScore, and defended a dissertation, but I hadn’t really been active as a musician. Moving back to Kansas City, I became president of the Kansas City Electronic Music and Arts Alliance, a more non-profit management and artistic direction than active music making. Composing, and especially trombone performance, were still not priorities. However, life is strange. A performance opportunity at the University of Missouri of Giffen Good by Louis Goldford crossed my inbox. Originally I was looking for other trombonists. I sent a few messages and didn’t get any takers. Skimming the score, I decided I could handle the piece.

To the trombone I went. Performance was scheduled for mid February, and it was late November when I officially accepted the opportunity. To be in performance shape, I would need to spend quite a bit of time practicing. That’s exactly what I did, building up stamina to a couple hours a day, putting in a lot of time on basics. It wasn’t till the last couple weeks that I really shed Giffen Good.

My HS life
The last time I practiced

What surprised me was how quickly I picked it all back up. If anything, my technique is better now than when I was playing regularly with Black House. The credit definitely goes to being in much better physical shape and a new mouthpiece. After quitting smoking and running many miles a week, blowing is free and easy. Giffen Good certainly has its challenging parts, but nothing some concentrated practice couldn’t solve.

The performance went incredibly well. Everyone involved was thrilled with the performance. I found myself in good playing shape with nothing to play. No more concerts lined up, not opportunities. Just me and my old trombone (A 17 year old Bach 42).

Thus “The Keep Me Playing Project” was born. I don’t want to slip back into complete boredom. I really enjoy playing trombone. However, there is a lot of terrible music. It ranges from fairly boring pseudo-modern Romantic style music (Paul Creston’s “Fantasy for Trombone” is a standard) to far modernist, more akin to performance art. I’m looking for meaty pieces, dense and difficult, but still fun to play. Pieces that take me a while to learn, that require my full attention, and I can fit together into a program. This program is tentatively dubbed “The Inappropriate Trombone.”

Captain, I'm not a trombone
But he wishes he was

You’re probably wondering about the title, considering my poke at performance art. What makes something inappropriate for trombone? Well, here’s a nice example–I’m currently enjoying playing Bach Cello Suites and Brahms Cello Sonatas far more than the majority of trombone literature. Pieces that question and push the technique of the trombone, while still maintaining a strong musical sense. Want me to play with a sax mouthpiece? Sure. What about a kazoo? Alright. Multiphonics? All day every day. Have me play fast. No, faster than that. No, seriously, I can go faster than that. Think Bach Cello Suite Gigue fast. I’m not there yet, but I’m working, hard, to get there.

I’ve already commissioned several composers for this project. The pieces will be unaccompanied or with electronics. Maybe, if they ask nicely enough, I’d consider a duet. I’m also pushing for this to be collaborative. Sketches and ideas are hopefully going to come my way. Maybe sessions at my house or over teleconferencing. We’ll try out some crazy ideas. Or, maybe, just see if I’ve got those lip trills fast enough yet.

Be on the look-out for most posts about the music, booking the shows, and maybe even doing a recording. Just…something, anything, to convince me to not pack away the trombone again for years at a time.

Tags: blog trombone