A pre-history of orchestra conductors




Long ago, the leader of the instrumental ensemble at a court or large church was called the concert master. Orchestras came later. Nowadays, orchestras still have a concert master. The public notices this person mostly because he or she is the last member of the orchestra to come on stage. The conductor comes next. The earliest orchestras had no conductor the way we think of conductors. Conducting as we know it, was well known by the fairly small choirs of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In fact, some choirmasters held a rolled up sheaf of paper in their hand (or … Continue reading

Kid Ory and the tailgate style of playing trombone




Born Edouard Ory on Christmas day 1886 near New Orleans, the future jazz great Kid Ory would have been classified “octaroon” before the Civil War. His father was white, of French ancestry. That explains the French spelling of his name on his baptismal certificate. His mother was the daughter of a Hispanic and an African American, so he had one black grandparent. Under racial segregation, however, he was simply regarded as black and educated in the local black school through fifth grade Kid Ory’s early career Kid Ory was born and raised on Woodland Plantation in LaPlace, Louisiana and began his … Continue reading

The glissando: from bad trombone technique to a common performance idiom




Perhaps no technique more perfectly characterizes the idiom of the slide trombone as the glissando. Its first deliberate use in performance is fairly recent in the long history of the trombone, and its acceptance as a legitimate technique came somewhat later. Nowadays, we tend to think of glissando and portamento as synonyms. They are, indeed, played exactly the same way, so it seems odd that the portamento enjoyed early approval and that all manner of musicians, including trombonists, strongly disapproved of the glissando within living memory. Daniel Speer provides the earliest reference to the glissando I have found (1687), when … Continue reading

Gate crashers: trombones in Handel’s Messiah




Merry Christmas! Although Messiah is, strictly speaking, not Christmas music, having been composed for Lenten performances, today we most often hear it at Christmas. Handel used trombones to great effect in two of his oratorios, Saul and Israel in Egypt, both first performed in 1738. Apparently he did not have access to trombones in any later year; he considered adding trombones to two later oratorios, not including Messiah, but soon abandoned the effort. Unlike most other music of his time and earlier, Handel’s did not suffer posthumous neglect. The Concert of Ancient Music, founded in 1776, actually had a rule … Continue reading