Archive for the ‘Trombone’ Category

An Interview with Toby Oft

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014


Toby Oft is the principal trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He recently sat down with me to discuss the BSO section, music careers, equipment, and much more.

It seems like yesterday that we were at Tanglewood fitting the section and you were discussing your yearly schedule (symphony, solo, pops, Tanglewood summers, teaching). How have the physical demands of your job affected the way you approach equipment?

The physical demands of my job in the Boston Symphony are often intense for the flexibility required to produce a very wide range of tone color which, with responsible practice, I can more or less achieve with most equipment on the market today. The effort level involved with tone production is the most important factor for me to manage. With good equipment I can achieve a wide range of tone color using very little effort. Because effortful tone production generally relegates me or anyone else for that matter, to a rather inexpensive sound, it is important that I am able to hear as close as possible, the color spectrum that is in my head coming out the bell of any new equipment that I consider.

I look for an easy vibrance in the response and a gentle transition between the partials that doesn’t railroad me over natural slurs. The vibrance helps me match and fill out the trumpets and horns when necessary, and gentle natural slurs allow me to match the note transition of the string section whenever that is more ideal. It is important to note that the vibrance I require should also include the temperance of the warmer sound characteristics of a large bore tenor so as not to be piercing or one dimensional.

What are your acoustic goals for the section with the additions of Steve and Jim? How has Edwards helped?

The acoustic goals I have for the trombone section of the BSO are choral by default so it helps a great deal for us all to be on the same make of instrument that our voices achieve a good blend without anyone sticking out unnecessarily. The fact of the matter is that the larger the trombone, the later in the dynamic range it fluoresces to brilliant tone colors. Steven, Jim, and I can thus build our chorus of sound in tutti passages like a pyramid of volume with bass as the big bottom and principal on top without competing with each other for brilliance in the sound.

Edwards has helped us enormously. For although the preceding paragraph is somewhat rife with idealism consistent with what most trombone players hope for their section, it leaves out the fact that all three of us have different faces and specific ideas for what we the individual want to sound like. We each pick up a horn with a sound in our mind and look for equipment that will get us there as easily as possible. Then we sit down and play the last page of Symphonic Metamorphosis for the zoom recorder and decide if it still fits within the pyramid of balance indicated above.

You recently made the switch to the T350-HB. I had been beta testing this in-house, but working with the Boston section gave me an opportunity to test this valve section in the field. It was originally meant for Steve, but you fell for it. Can you tell our readers how that happened?

Steve and I have very similar tone goals, which is great because we can trust each other for feedback as we navigate our jobs in the BSO. This fact however, often has us envious of each other’s equipment. When you sent the T350-HB to Steve to try, I heard him play and was instantly in love. I didn’t want Steve to feel like I was stealing a special prototype meant for him, though, so I only said, “If you’re going to play that horn then Christan is going to need to send me one, too.” I waited an excruciating three months before he told me he was finished with it and then I pounced.

I did a great deal of my trombone study in Chicago where much of the answers to any of life’s problems is “more air”. Thus, a Thayer valve suits me much better than a Rotax valve. That I could support my tone production and phrase goals with free air and a beautifully colorful bell is a dream come true for me.

We talk a lot about balancing sound and feel. What is your ideal sound-to-feel ratio? Do you think about it at all when fitting a horn?

Feel is the first place I check when trying a new trombone or mouthpiece. I DON’T EVER want to feel like I have to arm wrestle my trombone to get through a concert with the sound I have in mind for my part. The less resistively I can get to the sound I have in mind for my trombone, the better it feels to play.

The physical demands of your job are intense. How do you recover from the daily “grind”?

It truly depends on the day. Most recently, the best recovery for me has been practicing solo music and insisting on time to exercise at some point in the day. There is a certain amount of self soothing that happens with TV shows, etc., but I find that if I don’t limit what you might consider short term happinesses for activities that garner a more enduring smile like good sleep and exercise, my ability to stay in the game is diminished over time.

The orchestral music scene has undergone a lot of changes in recent years. What career advice do you give your students?

Take as much ownership of your success as possible. Work very hard when no one is looking. Show up for opportunities. Smile & Shut Up.

I was at an audition once in Europe where a fellow candidate had been asked during his audition why he used vibrato on Bolero and he quickly replied, “The saxophone solo that precedes the trombone solo is typically played with vibrato so I chose to build upon that theme.” I remember thinking that was a far more cogent response than I could have mustered which would have been something like, “I use vibrato on Bolero because my teacher told me to and I guess because it’s on my favorite recording?” My fellow candidate had already taken much more responsibility for his success. Thus, he was able to quickly defend his artistic interpretation and ultimately ended up winning the position we all coveted.

There’s a thing that all magicians know, as much as their patrons ask, people actually do not want to know how the magic trick is done. Practice as much as you need to, but do the bulk of it when no one is looking. Either because no one likes a show off or because they really don’t need to know how your magic trick is done; keep things professional.

There are opportunities out there and 90% of getting everything you deserve in this tight career field is showing up and when you do, put your best foot forward with QUIET CONFIDENCE. Smile and shut up because the ability to thrive and adapt quickly is contingent on your ability to listen and learn.

Watching your father teach trombone lessons via Skype at Tanglewood was inspiring to me. Talk about his influence on your life, both musically and otherwise.

My dad, Mike Oft, has made his way in this world with vigor, patience, and endurance. I found a great deal of strength in doing my best to emulate his work ethic and found that on a long enough time scale, I could equalize any lack of talent through diligent thoughtful practice. Exercise has always been a way of life for my father and I observe that because of it he seems to age much slower than all our family friends and also has an emotional resilience most people do not possess.

What are your interests outside Symphony Hall?

I am insatiably curious about the things I love in my life, which makes me a total geek about certain people and experiences I hold most dear to me. Things like clothes, coffee, exercise, single malt, and movies are a distant second in a world that consistently comes back to music.

I’m looking forward to hearing (and working with) you, Steve, and Jim for a long time. Thanks for letting me take part.

Joseph Alessi Interview with the All-Star Orchestra

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Joe Alessi is the principal trombonist of the All-Star Orchestra, a group comprised of some of the best symphonic musicians from around the United States. The orchestra meets once a year to record familiar and contemporary works in the hopes of educating and encouraging a greater appreciation of classical music.

Joe sat down to be interviewed as part of the project. Watch below if you’re interested in finding out what instrument he played before switching to the trombone, how he sounds on Mahler 3 with a lazy slide, and much more.

Trombone Delivery Times

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

We’re getting busier! That’s great for business, but unfortunately, that means longer wait times for our trombone customers. Symphonic tenor and bass trombones now take 60-90 days to deliver. Our straight trombones (jazz, alto, etc.) take 60-90 days.

If you’re looking to make a purchase, be sure to get your order in early. After all, we don’t collect payment until the horn is ready for delivery.

Scott Shelsta to Perform with Manassas Symphony

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Former “Pershing’s Own” trombone soloist Scott Shelsta will perform with the Manassas Symphony on March 1, 2014. The program will include Ferdinand David’s Concertino and Arthur Pryor’s Thoughts of Love.


Manassas Symphony Orchestra
March 1, 2014 @ 8pm
Hylton Performing Arts Center
10960 George Mason Cir, Manassas, VA 20109

Darrin Milling Wins Award

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Darrin Milling recently received the Cultural Merit Award from the Carlos Gomes Brazilian Society of Arts, Culture, and Education, along with the prestigious title Comendador, named after Brazil’s celebrated composer and maestro, Antônio Carlos Gomes. The ceremony took place on February 12 in Los Molinos restaurant in São Paulo, Brazil. Congratulations, Darrin!

The BSO Interviews James Markey

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

We all know that James Markey has won two auditions with the New York Philharmonic and one with the Boston Symphony. But perhaps you don’t know that he was a church organist when he was 14 (as he says it, that was a much better way to make money than working at McDonald’s). Or that he has a rather unique hobby. Watch the video to learn all about it and much more.

An Interview with Jon Whitaker

Thursday, February 6th, 2014


I’m thrilled to announce that Jonathan Whitaker has returned to the Edwards family. Jon is the Assistant Professor of Trombone at the University of Alabama. Roll Slide has become a trombone powerhouse in recent years. In addition to his studio duties, he also manages, teaches, and conducts for the Alessi Seminar every summer. He’s comfortable in venues as varied as Avery Fischer Hall (where he has performed with the New York Philharmonic) and the Super Dome (where he was the featured soloist with the Million Dollar Band at this year’s Sugar Bowl). Jon recently released a solo recording titled Nature’s Gift, which is available for purchase on his site.

Jon and I sat down to talk shop last week…

CG: Thanks for taking the time to visit with us, Jon.

JW: Absolutely!

CG: 2013 was a busy year for you. Can you take us through the highlights?

JW: It sure was… filled with tons of fun projects. But I must say, the highlight of 2013 was the birth of my son, Garrett.

The top of the musical list for me would have to be giving the world premiere of Jim Stephenson’s Three Bones Concerto written for Joseph Alessi, Peter Ellefson and myself at Alabama and then performing it at the 2013 Eastern Trombone Workshop. Joe and Pete are my heroes on the instrument and I am so honored to be able to share the stage with them in this project.

Editor’s note: You may watch the premiere performance here, here, and here.

I also enjoy performing and teaching at the Alessi Seminar each and every year it is in the US. 2013 marked my fifth consecutive Seminar!

In addition, some other highlights would be performing the Leopold Mozart Concerto with the National Music Festival Chamber Orchestra and the release of two recording projects!

I also really enjoy the successes of my students — competitions, successful recitals, completion of degrees, etc.

CG: How do you balance performing and teaching?

JW: That is a tough one. There are many weeks where this is a real challenge — balancing 23 students, studio class, trombone choir rehearsals, countless committees, family and practice. I like to keep myself busy and I always try to have some sort of playing project on the books all of the time. I also try to play a little in every lesson I teach, just to keep things working on the horn throughout the day. I arrange my schedule so that from 7 – 10am is “my time.” I go to the gym most mornings and then practice a healthy dose of fundamentals before I start teaching.

CG: Many young players are laser focused on performance. What advice do you give these players as you groom them for careers in music?

JW: I think it takes a special type of student to be successful in a performance career. I don’t think that a student necessarily needs to be the most talented player at a young age to be successful (although it doesn’t hurt). The students that I feel like are the most successful are the ones that have the best work ethic and that do the right thing, the right way, at the right time… all of the time. This is something that I preach all of the time to my studio! They may not all get the message but the ones that do will have a great chance at being successful.

CG: What is the best advice you’ve received from your teachers and mentors?

JW: I have been fortunate to have so many great teachers and mentors throughout my life. From my early college years, Ray Conklin at Murray State University instilled the importance of playing with a good sound and was insistent on correct fundamentals. I can’t remember many lessons with him in which we didn’t spend some time on fundamentals. Tom Ashworth at the University of Minnesota was an incredible role model because of his versatility and virtuosity. Many of my most important moments in lessons with Tom were when he was demonstrating… always inspiring. At IU, Dee Stewart instilled an ease of production that leads to a resonant sound. This was always the message and I couldn’t hear it enough. Midway through my career at a DMA student at IU is when I met Peter Ellefson. There are too many instances to count where his playing, teaching, advice, counsel, and wisdom left a lasting impression me… still does to this day!

Another important mentor is Ray Cramer (long time Director of Bands at IU). His advice about teaching is something that I think about each and every semester. He told me to, “take every student as they are and make them better every time you have them in the studio. Everything they have done up to that point is out of your control.”

CG: You played Edwards in the 90s before moving on to Bach, Greenhoe, and Shires (all of which are professional, American-made instruments). We’re happy you’re playing our horns again. Talk about this instrument journey you’ve been on. How can people learn from your experiences?

JW:Well, I have recently wondered why I took the journey to begin with. I have always been drawn to the sound of a Bach trombone. That is the sound I grew up listening to. I have always been in search of an instrument that I could make that sound on but with a little effort as possible. When I played the Greenhoe for the first time I was drawn to the sound and it was a great deal easier to produce than on a stock Bach trombone. The Shires was a step further in the direction of ease. But something still wasn’t right with it. This current setup is a great balance between ease of playing and getting the sound that I have had in my head for years and years.

I also think that we change as players, both in concept and as well as physically. Over the course of the last couple of years I have lost around 125 pounds and I feel like I have had to adjust my approach to some things from a technique standpoint. These type of adjustments lead to my need for different equipment.

CG: I have to be honest… I’ve learned a lot from working with you (and Pete Ellefson, too — an avid Bach junky). You play tested the early Getzen 4047DS against your Bach. Now you’re playing the T350-HB. What makes that horn work for you?

JW: I was actually a bit sceptical of the Thayer valve with the harmonic brace when you first sent it to me. My initial setup before coming to the factory was built for stability, which is what I was needing — a horn that was stable and that slotted perfectly on every partial. But, it was a very tight blow. Once making the trip to get fitted, I found that the HB was a crucial part of the balance of this instrument for me. I am always amazed at how the valve affects the way the horn plays on the open side. I have always loved how open horns tend to blow with a Thayer valve but I also love the stability of a horn with a rotor valve. For me, the T350-HB is the perfect balance of ease, stability and resonance.

CG: Your new CD Nature’s Gift is now available. I’m sure our readers would love to know more about what it takes to record a CD, from the creative to the technical. Can you share some details about this recording project?

JW: If you want to learn about yourself as a player, record a CD!!! The process of recording requires such great concentration, endurance and consistency! All of the rep on this project (except for the Demos) are works that I have performed many times and I think this is an important part of the success of the sessions themselves.

I also choose to do all of the editing and post production on this project myself. At times I thought I was crazy for doing so, but in the end I am glad that I did. I certainly learned a great deal from the process that will help me in future projects.

The title track of the CD is a piece written for me by my good friend Anthony Barfield. Anthony and I first met at the 2007 Alessi Seminar and have collaborated on a number for projects over the years including two other commissions, one for Stentorian Consort and Joseph Alessi and the other a version of his piece Here We Rest for solo trombone and band that was premiered in Carnegie Hall in 2012. We have also collaborated on a recording project of his piece Red Sky with the University of Alabama Wind Ensemble.

This piece was written in dedication to my daughter, Ainsley! In the piece, Anthony captures the real joy and emotion of becoming a father and just how much of a gift children can be in a person’s life.

The commissioning of Eric Ewazen’s Visions of Light has proven to be an extremely important part of my career. While a DMA student at Indiana University, I was very fortunate to conceive and administer the commission of this fantastic work for trombone and wind ensemble. The work was written for Joseph Alessi and the Indiana University Wind Ensemble (Ray Cramer, conductor). We were extremely fortunate to be able to offer the world premiere at the MidWest Clinic in Chicago in 2003. This project began a long friendship with one of my true heroes, Joseph Alessi!

CG: Tell us about what we can expect to hear from you in the next year.

JW: I have 4 solo performances scheduled for this semester:

  • Red Sky by Anthony Barfield with the UA Wind Ensemble on February 8
  • Colors by Burt Appermont with the UA Symphonic Band at CBDNA on March 1
  • Three Bones Concerto by Jim Stephenson with Joseph Alessi, Peter Ellefson and the UA Wind Ensemble at the American Bandmasters Association Convention on March 5
  • Hymn to a Blue Hour by John Mackey with the UA Trombone Choir

I have also commissioned a new work for trombone quartet and saxophone quartet by Nick Demos to be premiered at the 2014 National Music Festival with the Mana Saxophone Quartet.

There are also plans for me to perform Red Sky at the Manhattan School of Music next year. And I will probably start working on ideas for my second recording project.

CG: What are three things our readers may not know about you?

JW: I am an avid bass fisherman… I just wish I had time to do it. There are very few things that are as relaxing as a day on the water.

I actually wanted to play the clarinet in grade school. My band director said, “Nope. You are tall. I think you should play trombone.”

I love a good cigar!!! Actually, that is no secret to many of your readers.

CG: Thanks for taking the time to share with our readers, Jon, and thanks for playing our horns. We look forward to hearing great things from you and your studio.

Marshall Gilkes’ Farewell WDR Concert

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Marshall Gilkes has been a member of the WDR Big Band for the past four years. This Friday, he’ll perform his final concert with the band in front of 120 audience members at the Sendesaal in Bremen, Germany. Fortunately for the rest of us, it’s going to be streamed live online.

The concert will feature Marshall’s big band arrangements. If you’re unfamiliar with his playing, below are a few samples of what you can expect to hear when you leave work early on Friday to catch the concert.

T396-A Trigger Saddle Issue

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

If you purchased  a T396-A model in the last year, we would like to let you know about a potential issue with your instrument’s trigger saddle. Our machine shop supplied us with a batch of these saddles where the back radius is too similar to the dimensions of the silver cross brace on which it sits. This prevented the flux and braze from flowing evenly under and around the brace when the horn was manufactured. This is not an issue with our most recent T396-A’s as we fixed the issue by softening the saddle’s radius, which allows the flux and braze to do their jobs.

If you purchased a T396-A between January and August 2013 — and notice a separation between the trigger saddle and the silver brace — please send us an email with pictures so that we can repair your horn before the saddle fails entirely.

This repair is necessary only if there is a separation between the saddle and the cross brace. 

We’ve posted two images below to help you determine if you need a repair. The first one shows an instrument with a noticeable gap between the cross brace and saddle. It had been repaired by an instrument tech, but I personally applied stress to the trigger to see if the repair would hold. It did not.

Gap between saddle and brace

The second picture shows a saddle with an even application of silver braze around the joint. If your instrument looks like this, then no repair is needed.

Correct saddle

My worst fear is hearing of a failure of one of our horns. Please check your instrument and let us know immediately if a repair is needed.

Dave Taylor Performs Works by Dave Taylor

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Dave Taylor. Photo by Robert Del Tredici.
Photo by Robert Del Tredici

We’re always interested in Dave Taylor’s performance schedule. After all, it’s as unique and eclectic as he is. True to form, he recently performed concerts in one of New York’s premiere venues, Bargemusic, which is essentially a floating stage beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Here are a couple reviews of the performances:

From The New York Times:

The virtuosic bass trombonist David Taylor figured in three pieces that played with the astounding range of sound effects his instrument is capable of. He was joined by Ms. Vinokur in his own “And If All were Dark,” a deeply satisfying short piece that draws a sonic arc from flylike buzzing to rich, mellow tone and back again.

From SoundWordSight:

The festival ended, Sunday, with the world premiere of David Taylor, TOO Suite, for himself on bass trombone, and Olga Vinokur, piano. Here jazz funeral blues met poetry Schubert used, and gave the festival a theatrical, popular send off. Dave is acknowledged to be the master of this instrument.

Over the next year, Dave is set to perform his own compositions in numerous venues. Here’s the rundown:

  • Dave will present a masterclass at the Manhattan School of Music with special guests Eric Ewazen, Daniel Schnyeder, and Johnny Reinhart on February 13.
  • On February 21, Dave will perform Double Diploid, his composition for bass trombone and string quartet, with The International Street Cannibals on their EKPHRASIS concert.
  • In March, Dave and the New York Trombone Consort will perform a concert for Shapeshifter Lab.
  • Also in March, he’ll present a recital at Brooklyn Brass Fest that will feature two of his compositions: Too Suite for Bass Trombone and Piano and Mute Maeutikoi for Bass Trombone and Trombone Ensemble (featuring The New York Trombone Consort).
  • Dave will join fellow trombonist Josh Roseman in April at The Loove in Brooklyn. He’ll perform a concert of his own music that Josh plans to film and record.
  • June begins with a two-week Holland tour with the Dutch trombone ensemble The Low Brass Connection. Performances will feature Too Suite for Bass Trombone and Trombone Ensemble (as performed by the Washington Trombone Ensemble).
  • After the tour, Dave will come back to the US to take part in the Summer Trombone Workshop. The workshop will feature performances of many of Dave’s compositions.
  • Also in June, Dave will perform his composition Hoppy Daze is Here Again (a radio opera for bass trombone and orchestra) with the ensemble Cabinet.
  • In August, Dave will once again be in Europe, this time to perform a concert of his compositions at the Outreach Festival in Schwaz, Austria.
  • Summer ends with a performance at the Labor Day Bargemusic Festival. He’ll perform a commissioned work. More details on that later.

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