Trombone vs bumblebee

flight of the bumblebee

Flying bumblebee

“Everyone knows” that the trombone can’t play fast. In the orchestra, trombones are likely to be playing long chords when everyone else has a moving part.

Even in jazz, Stan Kenton assumed that bebop would spell the end of the slide trombone.

So some trombonists try to prove that “everyone” is wrong. Bass trombone soloist and clinician Alan Raph has pointed out, “Trying to be the world’s fastest trombone player is like trying to be the world’s tallest midget,” but nothing seems to keep trombonists from trying.

Here are three of many videos of trombonists playing “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

On the Spike Jones show, Tommy Pederson never quite made it all the way through the piece, but it wasn’t his fault. Pederson obviously had technique to burn. The pianist is Frank Leightner. I don’t suppose it would be possible to find any serious collaborations. If you know of any, please post in the comments.

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SSgt Carmen Russo got to play the piece all the way through with the U.S. Army Band. In fact, he plays it three times. On three different trombones. But like the Pederson clip, the performance was not intended to be humorous, not one of the serious moments on the concert.

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SSgt Ben Kadow and the United States Air Force Heartland of America Band “Brass in Blue” offered a jazz performance on a tour. A jazz solo is not at all comparable to a solo on a symphony or concert band concert, but they don’t play it for laughs.

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There really isn’t any place for a trombone soloist playing that fast on a serious concert segment. Writing even a short snippet in an orchestral part at that speed would be absurd.

And yet the idea that trombones are good only for playing chords and maybe some arpeggiated lines (in unison, of course) has been around a long time.

One critic wrote a whole journal article on how composers had misused the trombone He even sniffed disdainfully at the solo in Mozart’s Requiem and severely criticized (trombonist) Holst’s trombone writing in The Planets as being uncharacteristic.

Am I the only trombonist disappointed to be counting rests or playing eggs while the horns are wearing themselves out? Or if the part has some interesting thematic significance, finding that it doubles either the horns or the trumpets?

I can’t play “Flight of the Bumblebee,” but I have some stuff almost as ridiculous. I wonder it I could get Silent Brass and polish Czardas while the conductor keeps rehearsing parts in the middle of my 100 measures of rest?

Please share any good stories you may have of trombonists making imaginative use of long intervals in rehearsals without getting to play a note. Or really flashy solos with orchestra or concert band, taken seriously.

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Source: “The Misuse of the Trombone” / J. A. Westrup. The Musical Times (66: June 1, 1925), pp. 524-25.

Photo source: Some rights reserved by xamogelo.


Trombone vs bumblebee — 7 Comments

  1. At my highschool, which is a relatively modern highschool, we are fortunate to have a well funded arts program. As such, we attract a large crowd of students to both marching band and symphonic band. In my experience of four years, as I am now a senior, I have never played piece so ridiculous and so dramatic to play as Vesuvius. The louds were really loud, the softs were haunting, the dynamics were communicative and emotional, and the rests were… 158 measures long. 158 straight measures in a 3 page piece during which, to add insult to injury, I had to keep track of time in an alternating pattern of 9/8, 3/4, 4/4, and 7/8. Other than that, the only other truly terrible thing to happen to me as a trombone player was when the All State tryout piece required me to play about 12 straight measures in 16th notes, all above the staff and some of which actually expanded into treble clef.

    • Hi, Randall. The trombones have 150 measures of rest in Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, but at least they’re all the same meter and there’s no need to count until the tempo change. It’s good your school district supports the arts, and I hope you’ll enjoy playing trombone for a long time.

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