Musical performances are special – they transcend time and convey thoughts, emotions and concepts more effectively than any other method of communication. I often reflect upon how musicians of the past would have interpreted and conveyed the music they played.
I wonder what the musical life of trombonists 200, 300 or even 600 years ago was like. As I journey in to Newcastle Youth Orchestra every Saturday morning, I realise that the process of getting to performances would be roughly the same; I would go by car or a bus, they would probably walk or ride in a horse drawn cart or possibly catch a steam train – granted modern traffic congestion makes it a lot harder these days, but either way we would eventually make it to the performance venue. However, it is in the actual performances where differences are immediately obvious.
Firstly, orchestras I play in actually have a brass section which includes trombones, played by musicians who specialise in trombone rather relying on players of other instruments who played the trombone only when needed. Secondly, we all play on modern trombones, not the sackbutt, our early ancestor. Thirdly, rather than mere operatic offbeat accompanying parts or Brahm’s obligatory warm up phrases before the big blasts, we have so much more variety, interest and, simply put, more notes to play.
Modern composers are using the brass more frequently in compositions and arrangements. Whilst many orchestras including the NYO perform traditional repertoire without trombones, orchestras are increasingly delving into adventurous territory. I feel fortunate to live in a time when there are so many great works for brass. The opportunity to play more involved works is what really keeps us coming back to NYO, though of course there are other drawcards including the opportunity to perform and socialise with talented young musicians and a musical director who is enthusiastic about featuring all sections and instruments of the orchestra.
Since the formation of this young orchestra, it has been pleasing to delve into the more serious repertoire involving brass. The brass section of NYO has been steadily improving, and went ahead in leaps and bounds with our opportunity to play in a masterclass with the American Brass Quintet. This group enthused us with their passion for raising awareness of the capabilities of brass instruments, performing brass works from all musical periods, commissioning new works and conducting workshops for young brass musicians. Since listening to their enthralling playing and wise advice, we are now thinking at a broader ensemble level. Regular sectional rehearsals have helped drive this home, and now the next step is to take what we have learned as a section and integrate this with the rest of the orchestra while also exploring performance repertoire for brass ensembles.
This orchestra season contains works that feature the brass, including Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance and Sea Songs by Wood. I will be fortunate enough to be playing the Trombone Concerto by Bourgeois. This is a very interesting work, with lyrical melodies, unique harmonies, and a rapid finale that stretches the trombone’s technical boundaries. I am excited to be representing the brass section of NYO and very much look forward to further developments and innovations in brass composition and performance.