Frost welcomed big, booming sounds for the Trombone Choir

It seemed that very few people in the audience in Gusman Hall were exactly sure what to expect. Though dozens were seated, there was little chatter. Attendees silently looked around the concert hall and pored over the program, hoping to figure out how this ensemble would sound.

The 20-member ensemble, consisting of both undergraduate and graduate students in the Frost School of Music was directed by assistant professor of trombone Timothy Conner and featured conducting by two graduate students.

The ensemble’s performance of “Motet,” a piece by UM alum Christopher Reider, set the tone for the entire concert. The sonorousness of the massed trombones is one that is truly rich and unique, and Reider’s contemplative and wistful composition was suited perfectly to it.

The group performed Gordon Jacob’s “Trombone Octet,” a three-movement piece full of variety.

This allowed the ensemble to show its versatility, with the music ranging from soft and delicate to loud and blasting sections that the 20 trombones pulled off superbly.

Jessica Hawthorne, a second-year doctoral student for trombone performance, then took the podium to conduct an arrangement of a scene from Wagner’s “Die Walküre,” an opera best know for its famous “Ride of the Valkyries” excerpt. Listeners might have recognized the music from a number of films and TV shows, most notably the film “Apocalypse Now.”

Hawthorne explained that her love for the trombone choir stemmed from her time at the prestigious Eastman School of Music, which has a very highly acclaimed trombone studio founded by Emory Remington, a famed trombonist and music educator. Remington founded the first ever trombone choir at Eastman in 1941.

Another student conductor, Thomas McKee, a first-year masters student in trombone performance, led the choir in his original arrangement of “Drones,” by the band MUSE.

“Conducting the trombone choir and making music with them is such a fun experience,” McKee said.

Stepping away from the large, 20-person ensemble, the group shrunk to just a quartet, which performed a new arrangement of Camille Saint-Saëns’, “Feuillet d’album.”

The piece, arranged and performed by sophomore music engineering major Aaron Geldhart, helped provide a nice change of pace in the concert. The simplicity and accessibility of Saint-Saëns meshed perfectly with the smooth and flowing sound of the trombones, contrasting nicely with the brash and edgy music that came before it.

With the whole group now reassembled, the choir then played Anthony Barfield’s “Dreamcatcher,” a tour-de-force piece that tested the limits of each player. The incredibly difficult selection featured tenor trombones soaring high, bass trombones blasting low and some very intricate technical lines that were performed expertly. It was clear that the ensemble had put in a great deal of work in bringing out the nuance of the music.

As an encore, the group played an arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The choir surprised the crowd by playing the song with a soft, chorale-like section at first, before shifting rapidly into an audacious fanfare, a quick jazzy number that clashed with dissonance.

The result was a performance that left the audience both impressed with the musicality and chuckling at the absurdity of it.

“This type of performance is truly unique … The kind that you could only see at Frost,” said Kyle Elgarten, a sophomore majoring in trumpet performance.

The Frost Trombone Choir performs next at 8 p.m. on March 26, 2018 in Gusman Hall.