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13 May, 2012

Procession of the Trombones

A loop-de-loop anglerfish trombone.
One of my favorite parts of the procession is the brass. I take vicarious pride in the fact that our little town can marshal several marching bands with horns. It says something about a place that its people have the community spirit to band together and play in a parade without being in high school or even a uniform, necessarily. At least, not the kind of uniform most people think of for marching bands. Olympians walk to many drummers in bands of butterflies and fish. My favorite this year were the anglerfish, a creature who has appeared in many forms in every Procession I've witnessed. 

Besides the benthic headgear, they featured a trombone. The weird and wonderful trombone. Valves, trombonists don't need no stinking valves (although that too can be arranged), they slide right in to everything from classic orchestral maneuvers to burlesque innuendo and of course, the comedic wa-wa-wa-waaaaaah.

My fascination with this instrument goes back to early childhood, discovering the odd case in the attic in which lay my dad's high school horn. I never did learn to play it, but over the years the yellow glow of the bell and the miraculous versatility of the slide captured my imagination. Not enough to get me to follow in his marching band footsteps, but definitely sufficient to fixate on trombones in the sea of brass. For years, my favorite record of his was the one with "76 Trombones;" I'd listen, charged up, imagining rank upon rank of trombone.

There's something in the slide. Not pushing buttons like on those other horns, but exercising exquisite touch to hit the right notes, capable of being a little off if that's what works; like Hawaiians slacking the keys of their guitars the trombonist can expand what the horn can do. The flow from one note to another can roll smoothly, the air keeps flowing if the player keeps blowing, hills instead of steps. Liquid languidity is possible.

Or rollicking. Laughing. Outright craziness. There was this guy who would appear at punk rock shows in Richmond in the early '80s, trombone at the ready, jumping up on stage and unleashing manic solos. Trombone players tend to be the interesting ones even when they are not crazy, or at least that's how I imagine them. The guy willing to learn how to master the slide and take up the instrument for which so few songs are written must have something driving him other than a desire for acclaim and groupies. 

So here's to you, trombone players of the world. I salute you, especially when you ply your trade with an anglerfish on your head.

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