Published in BRASS BULLETIN NUMBER 93 1/1996, used with permission.

Copyright 1996 by BRASS BULLETIN

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Having recently returned from serving on the jury at the prestigious Munich International Music Competition, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the progress of the trombone as a concert solo instrument.

Personal Reflections

As a young person in the United States, somehow captivated by playing the trombone, I wondered where it would take me. I enjoyed the chance to play solos with my high school band. My university teacher, Ernest Glover, had been a band soloist with the Armco Band, with Frank Simon, but, with the exception of the military, such jobs had disappeared by the middle of this century, and all the best players were vying for orchestra jobs. Orchestra positions are the best paying and most prestigious full time classical music performance jobs for trombonists in the USA. It is my good fortune to have had one of these positions for twenty-five years, but like so many of my Boston Symphony colleagues, I find it most beneficial to balance my musical life with performances outside of the orchestra, often times as a trombone soloist.

So, as I return after hearing 72 young trombonists compete in Munich, I wondered how our musical society will accept their soloistic ambitions. To my mind, there are at least two factors of influence today which were not present when I began my life with trombone. First, there are very fine artists who have chosen to pursue life as concert solo trombonists. Secondly, there are recordings by them, and others. Young persons, no matter where they happen to live, can hear the best, compare their playing and more broadly form their own concepts. What trombone solo recordings had been done in the 1950's were almost impossible to find, and had very limited marketing. One could argue that this is still the case, but to contrast the availability of Davis Shuman's recordings when they were new to those of Christian Lindberg's today, would show that things have changed. Edward Bahr, recording editor for the International Trombone Association Journal, tells me that the journal has reviewed 150 concert solo recordings since 1975, and that at least 14 more await review. With all these recordings, and the visibility of concert artists such as Lindberg and Alain Trudel (to name only two) where are we going?

The trombone is a tool for human expression

Trombonists are as individual and artistic as any other group of instrumentalists. Since our employment is essentially as ensemble players, our training does not usually emphasize our individual personalities, as might be the case for a pianist, violinist, or vocalist. Our repertoire also pales when compared to these groups. However, like all brass players, trombonists search out fine music to perform, whatever its original form. To hear the artistry of the young players in Munich when they performed the newer repertoire for trombone, one must be very encouraged. To me, the future looks bright! It seems only a matter of time before today's or tomorrow's composers will give us repertoire which will gain more universal respect. The way the trombone is being used is more diversified than ever. The demands on today's players are wider than ever, and the number of quality artists greater than ever. Competitions such as the Munich provide great motivation and opportunity for trombonists. We are grateful to be included periodically in this search to help young talent. Though there has never been a first prize winner, the Munich competition has inspired the careers of the thirteen who have won prizes and gone on to become leaders in the trombone community worldwide. It has also added greatly to the advancement of the 197 others who have taken on the challenge to compete. One hopes the competition will recognize this valuable contribution it has made since 1965, and that the opportunity will continue. To continue to advance the case for the trombone as a concert solo instrument, we, as trombonists, must assert ourselves as performers, show what is possible, and convert those who have traditionally given the instrument little solo respect. The trombone is as valuable a tool for human expression as any other musical instrument. The possibilities are yet to be fully exploited. It seems to me a golden age of opportunity.




Being a Concert Trombone Soloist

Ronald Barron-in conversation with Nick Hudson

ITA Award

Boston Symphony Section Interview

Inside the Boston Brass


Published in the ITA JOURNAL, Volume 30, No. 1, used with permission.

Copyright January, 2002 by ITA Journal

Since 1928, when Maurice Ravel composed BOLERO, the trombone solo therein has become perhaps the most famous, or infamous in the orchestral literature. Discussion of this solo has taken place in no less than four previous ITA Journal articles:

Vol. XI No. 4 October 1983- Joel Elias's interview with Miles Anderson

Vol. 25 No. 4 Fall 1997-Jay Friedman

Vol. 26 No. 2 Spring 1998-Jean Douay

Vol. 26 No. 4 Fall 1998-Chris Buckholz

Additionally, George Broussard did a lengthy interview with Leo Arnaud (trombonist and personal friend of Ravel) which appears in Vol. XIII, Nos. 1 and 2, January and April 1985, and presents his personal view of this work, and the trombone part. Mr. Arnaud subsequently was asked to speak about Bolero at the 1985 ITA Workshop. I ask you to refer to all of the above in addition to this article to get as complete a perspective as possible.

So, what more could possibly be said about the Bolero? I shall offer my personal experiences of performance and suggest how I ask others to prepare this passage. Though I did have the opportunity to perform it with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra in the summer prior to joining the Boston Symphony, it was my first year as principal trombonist in the Boston Pops that made a 'Bolero' impact on me. Arthur Fiedler had a large repertoire, but certain works were like signatures for him. He also had the habit of scheduling obviously demanding works for new members. I suppose it was his way to make them confident or to resign! So, in 1971 the Pops must have done Bolero three or more times each week of the spring season. I might not have always played it my best, but I certainly got used to it. In fact, at one later Tanglewood performance, I was so relaxed, I forgot to enter! It all seemed rather empty for a half bar or so, until I realized it was time for the trombone solo. Rehearsal number 10 grew a bit bigger in my eyes after that! I suppose that is no more embarrassing than when my predecessor on principal with the Pops had locked his slide, and after the Bb opening note, pushed the instrument away from his face, only to then wave at Fiedler and ask him to wait! Of course, that did not happen and the first phrase was therefore missing! Ah the stories..........for trombonists, it is like the big fish that got away! One tale after another when it comes to this solo.

In Broussard's interview Arnaud states that Ravel wrote the melody with a flamingo (flamenca) gypsy woman doing her work in mind. I must report that the most memorable performance of which I was ever a part, was a Pops TV show with the Spanish dancer Jose Greco and his lovely black gowned castanet wielding partner. Their dancing made the music so poignant. This leads to my first point. Being a dance, one's sense of time is critical to performing it. You can't labor over it, but feel it so strongly inside that nothing can change it. When playing at an audition, prepare the time, hear the drum, get the piece going in your mind before beginning to play. After all, it has been going for quite some time before you play in the orchestra. This establishing of the time and mood is critical to a successful rendition. In any audition, this is perhaps the most challenging aspect for any player, to change atmosphere with each excerpt and present a strong sense that one broadly understands the music from which any excerpt comes. We often speak about differences in style, but actually showing it is not an easy feat. Any great music has room for interpretation, and will survive such, so long as it does not get too far away from the generally accepted style. That said, you can play something any way you like, but to get someone to pay you for it will take your doing it at least somewhat like the usual practice. With Bolero, Mr. Arnaud says that he put in turns, and that the glisses came from someone ( probably LaFosse) trying to sound like jazz, when Ravel asked him to play more like Leo. This may be not unlike Leonard Bernstein asking me to sound more like Tommy Dorsey in a low register solo with a solo tone mute, in our premier performance of his "Divertimento". I ended up playing open, with some vibrato and gentle fell, but I doubt if it ever sounded like my image of Tommy Dorsey. You see, players as well as composers have a lot to do with establishing performance practice. Lenny seemed pleased, what can I say? So, today, one is expected to use the glisses, whether Ravel originally intended them or not. Certainly, Arthur Fiedler expected them to be there! I dare say, that if questioned, most conductors today would expect glisses in the trombone solo. Most have likely heard it that way, no matter who started it!

After agreeing that one needs an unshakable feeing of time, and use of glissandi in the first two phrases, let me add only that there should be no sense of running out of steam as the tessitura lowers. I once had a string player ask me if it was not the lower range of the solo which was the most demanding, because he heard players get weaker and fade out near the end. This observation surprised me, and made me realize once again that it is not over until it is over! So, in addition to counting accurately as the line descends, keep the intensity going until the solo passage concludes. In fact, in listening to the two recordings which I have done, I would say that I did not keep the dynamic as I am now suggesting. (I expect I will get another chance!) Don't forget!

The trombone solo is marked mf, and should not sound forced, but should not be timid either. It is surrounded by larger tutti scoring and needs to feel strong and directed. It could be said that a SOLO dynamic mark might well equal a tutti mark one level higher. This is generalizing, but often true. So, play like a soloist, it is your big chance!! Imagine all the Moorish imagery you can, the sultry whirling dancer, the mystic of the Basque culture. Can you hear the castanets? Play it for all it is worth! For me, such imagery will go a lot further than any concern for the trombone.

That being said, it is difficult to remove oneself from the trombone. So, if you must........I refer you to Jay Friedman's article in the Fall 1997 ITA Journal regarding Bolero. I very much agree with his comments there. In addition, may I suggest backing off a little after the first top Db and making a cresendo through the balance of the phrase, robbing a little time from the second C-Bb sixteenths to make the gliss longer and therefore hopefully more dramatic. For the balance of the solo passage follow Jay's advice. If you do not have the issue to which I refer, do not spare the vibrato, do not play with a sloppy slide technique, and build intensity all the way to the end. If you read this and still can not understand or need more information, contact Jay, or me through my web page    Ravel's Bolero is a fascinating and captivating composition. For trombonists it is a challenge and honor to perform. Don't forget that this solo is only a minute in time, and music, all music, is too important to us to let such a short time ruin such a wonderful part of life! Enjoy it!  Do you dance?


RONALD BARRON-in conversation with NICK HUDSON

THE BRASS HERALD, Philip Briggs Brass Festivals Ltd., 2 The Coppice, Impington, Cambridge, CB24 9PP  UK.  February-April 2008 Issue 22 Pages 16-19

It becomes big news when one of the Principal brass players of one of the USA's finest orchestras decides to take retirement, even bigger news when two players from the same section decide to take a back seat. Ronald Barron, Principal Trombone of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Norman Bolter, second trombone and Principal in the Boston Pops Orchestra have recently announced their retirement. Before they both decide to put their feet up (!) I thought it would be nice to catch up with Ron to tell us a little about his decision and his life in the orchestra.

NH: First of all many congratulations on your forthcoming retirement from the BSO. You must be one of the longest serving Principal Trombones of any professional symphony orchestra, when did you officially accept the trombone position and what were your musical experiences prior to that. 

RB:  I joined the Boston Symphony in September of 1970, and was principal in the Boston Pops from 1970 until 1983.  I moved to first in the BSO in 1975.  Before the BSO, I was second in the Montreal Symphony for two seasons and before that I was in Music College, twice working in the summers with the American Wind Symphony in Pittsburgh.

NH: That's some background. Why the move to Boston? Montreal Symphony has some band! Is it a job that you set your sites on from your college days?

RB:  I had no ambition to move to Boston or anywhere else for that matter, but I was let go in Montreal.  The first player moved to second, in that he had seniority and I did not win the audition for first, so that was it.  In retrospect of course, it turned out great, but who knew at the time.  It was a rather odd thing. I had been the second choice originally, in 1968, when offered the job, but I took it.  The same audition result occurred two years later, and the winner (the same guy) took the first position.  Oddly, he left Montreal after a few seasons, moved to Boston and actually took a lesson with me!  Now that’s weird.  Anyway, he went on to a fine career as a full time player in another orchestra, but I always found the sequence of events to be a strange one.

NH: I have very fond memories of listening to your 1970's LP recording with trumpeter Gerard Schwartz; 'Cousins'. It was a real inspiration to me and gave me my first insight into the music of Arthur Pryor. I'm sure many people will have heard this album, it must have been recorded about the same time you joined the BSO?

RB:  “Cousins” was recorded in February 1976, in New York.  Parts of it still exist on a CD titled “Cornet Favorites”. That is a reprint of the LP of the same name plus some cuts from “Cousins”. The material was essentially the same style. The recording was one in a push by Nonesuch to record a lot of Americana as part of the bicentennial in the US. It received a Stereo Review Record of the Year Award in 1977, so I'm rather proud of that! While it seems fair to say that this style is not musically complicated, it's a window into American culture which I feel is important to preserve. The brass soloists of this time set the standard for playing to which most still aspire. From Arban through Souza and all the others of that era, we have a tradition which deserves remembering and honoring.

NH: Pryor had a very unique playing style, did you feel you had to honour his musical approach to these pieces or were you intent on stamping your own mark?

RB: Perhaps a bit of both, though I never looked at it that way. I feel players often cheapen these pieces with some of their interpretations.  They play great, have more than enough wonderful technique, but do things which play down to the weakest elements of the style.  Arthur was a great showman, but he took his work very seriously, never performing unless he could practice at least two hours a day. He was very proud and I think honored his listeners.  To play his works as though one is making cheap music for dumb listeners truly insults the essence of this style. As I suggested, it is not high art, but it is honorable and for my taste needs to be revered as such, not as cheap trash with no musical depth.  There were things which Arthur did which I can not, but I feel I understand the style and I feel a kinship with it.  Though I added the cadenza in Annie Laurie, I feel what I did is definitely something which Arthur would have approved.  It was never my intent to improve upon or personalize any aspect of Pryor’s solos. It would be difficult to say more than that here, but rather to demonstrate the style by playing and discussing it live.

NH: Tell us a little about your college years and your own personal mentors...a certain Ernie Glover comes to mind?

RB:  Yes, I'm quite nostalgic about Ernie these days. He passed away just after I left school in 1968.  I'm quite sorry he never was able to follow my career. He would have been proud to see one of his students in the BSO. Ernie was soloist with Frank Simon and the Armco Band in the 1920’s and 30’s, and was an original member of the American Band Masters Association in 1930, joining all the big names in the band business. After a lengthy career as a member of the Cincinnati Symphony, and a teacher at the Conservatory, he was very much looking forward to his retirement in 1968, when he tragically died.  As I retire, I can’t help but reflect on all of that. He was quite an inspiration to me. Along with Ed Kleinhammer with whom I took a few lessons, he formed my thinking and approach to trombone.  I'm proud to have been his student.

College provided a rounded and diversified opportunity for me.  It seems I played in every ensemble possible from jazz band, marching band, orchestra, brass choir, wind ensemble, to doing Broadway shows at the local professional theaters. I suppose I somehow had time to practice and get through classes.  I recommend to students to take advantage of all type of performance chances, one never knows where life will take you, and all experience adds up.  I know the jazz environment I had in college and high school helped when it came to Boston Pops work, though I would be quick to add that the orchestra has trouble swinging as much as a smaller band, it certainly helped me.

I also did some big band work on the road out of Cincinnati, where we would drive somewhere in the Midwest and be the Buddy Morrow Band, or the Warren Covington Band or something else. Also, there was a gig as the James Brown Band in Montreal. That was a hoot!  I might add here that the instructor I had for brass repertoire at CCM was Betty Glover, former student and wife of Ernie, with whom he worked in the Cincinnati Symphony for many years.  Betty is retired and living happily in Provence, France. She too was very influential in school, and has a lengthy list of successful students.

NH: Obviously the music business has changed dramatically over the years with work for trombone players in short supply. Have you found that your teaching approach has changed because of this?

RB: I suppose not.  Recognizing, or at least trying to feel, what lies ahead for my students is important, though no one really knows where things will go.  As I suggested above, I have always encouraged students to pursue all types of performing opportunities.  To be prepared for this, I push technique, range, articulation, etc. anything one might need to be as well rounded and prepared as possible technically.  No one can really teach musicality to a student, this must come from the students themselves, by digesting all music possible and then doing something with it.  I can express my own feelings, which I hope can be positive, and can show what I believe to be musical, but one’s complete life experience teaches more than one’s trombone teacher can impart.  We must each put it together to meet our own unique needs. It's like my wife’s lifetime career as an elementary school teacher, where she often said that a child will learn when they are ready and not before.  No matter how much a parent pushes, the child will gain the ability/knowledge for whatever it is when they are physically, emotionally, or developmentally able to handle it, or I could add, when they see the need to do so.  This is definitely true with any student, at any age, no matter what you tell them as a teacher.  I hope for my students that they will find satisfaction with music, but as you say, it can be unpredictable at best.  The longer I live, I feel that way about most things however, so why not give music a chance to make your life worth living!

NH: You've recently released a CD of alto trombone repertoire; tell us a little about your thoughts surrounding this 'unsung hero' of the trombone family.

RB: My interest in the alto trombone began later on. I went to the Munich competition in 1974, having no idea what it was really about. One of the three required pieces was the Albrechtsberger Concerto.  Though most players were performing this on the tenor trombone, I thought it might be nice to do it on alto.  Well, though there were commercial instruments around, both Conn and Bach in the US, I couldn't buy one - they were scarce. The companies only made them when they got a lot of orders, then they made a batch, then forgot about it for some time, maybe a few years, until they made some more.  Anyway, I bought a small bore tenor instrument, made by Beacon, a Boston name long since out of business.  I took it to Bill Tottle the local repair fellow and he cut it down to Eb with the tuning on the slide.  It sounded really nice but was terribly out of tune!  So, I took this Eb tenor to Munich and played the Albrechtsberger on it.  I'll never forget Bill Cramer, long time trombone icon and teacher at Florida State Univ. coming to me during the competition and asking me what brand of alto I had. He was hanging around with the jury and said that the jury was curious.  I said with some strange pride that it was a BEACON.   This response left him totally bewildered. I assume he reported to the jury, and I imagine they felt the same.  Anyway, I managed to play well enough to get a prize, but it was no thanks to the awful pitch of that thing.  I still have that instrument, though I never play it! I later bought a commercial instrument and again it sounded good but with poor pitch.  In the last 20 years I got more serious and in the late 1990’s I found what I currently have, a Yamaha 8710K, which apparently is a Kuhn model.  I find it the most balanced and satisfactory instrument I've played; very even and well in tune. I very much enjoy using it in the orchestra and for solo playing. Hence my last two recordings on alto trombone, and a much greater orchestral use, mostly for repertoire before 1850. However, it was great on Gurrelieder! One must put in the time on alto, like anything else.  It can not be only a thing you pick up once in a while, with high hopes! (pardon the pun)


NH: You've completed a remarkable nine solo recordings over the years, some featuring French and American repertoire. These recordings are a fabulous reference point for college students looking for definitive performances of classic trombone literature. Tell us a little about them.....

RB:  Well, I had no preconceived notion that I would do such a thing.  It just seemed like a good idea.  When I was a student there was little to hear in recordings by trombonists. Now, of course there are hundreds!  It has become like a business card.  My choice of repertoire initially represented pieces I knew, and which I felt were often played by students.  That seems to still be the case.  I've learned a great deal and really improved my playing in undertaking these projects.  I think I will be even more devoted to American music in future recitals.  We have a young and evolving culture in this country, in many ways struggling for identity, so many different influences. Performing what we have, encouraging new works, and attempting to discuss and demonstrate what we have done feels important to me.  Naturally, we look to Europe for musical inspiration; the orchestra plays almost entirely European music, had its beginnings as an institution to do just that, but is searching for direction and balance to survive in our culture.  At least, on an individual level, I can represent American music in all its evolving diversity and try to bring a sense of pride to what we now have, and what is to come. 

On the French question, there is so much worthy 20th century repertoire for solo trombone that it was easy to assemble the material on my two CDs.  This too is justifiably worth hearing and performing, and is very popular among students and professionals alike. Of course, the history of the concours pieces is so strong and worthy that students everywhere use them and will continue to do so. They are designed to be used in showing growth of a young player.  I should like to think that ITA, BTS, and other trombone societies can encourage composers to provide new repertoire with actual melodies and manageable technique, to encourage younger players. It is fine to have works which show off great performers, but most players can not access these compositions, and only hear them. They admire the performers, but it stops there.  The large collection of French concours works helps provide performance opportunities for these less grand players.

Music comes from everywhere, it's just that these two areas of focus (American and French) have provided the material for five of my recordings. By no means do I wish to suggest that there is not other worthy material.

NH: This is interesting Ron, I too have found that in this day and age we hear far too much 'technically based' playing, this is all well and good when looking for audience 'flash' factor but I believe music is a medium that should touch the emotions. There simply isn't enough emphasis on the importance of making music out of simple melodies.  I remember my mentor,  Howard Snell telling me that you can spot a fine player by simply listening to them play an eight bar melody……

RB: It seems everyone wants to know the secret……as though there is one.  Such as, what is the most important aspect of playing?  Seems like a silly question, doesn’t it?  After some thought, I often respond ‘a lovely sound’.  You know, I think maybe that’s true.  You can make someone truly melt with a beautiful sound when all the notes in the world mean little.  There was a great contest in 1879 between Jules Levy and Matthew Arbuckle, who both were cornet soloists for Patrick Gilmore.  Levy was billed as the ‘greatest cornetist in the world’ and Arbuckle as the ‘great favorite American cornet player’.  Gilmore, ever the showman, loved pitting the two against each other until he actually did just that, by having both featured on the same concerts. The fans of each would applaud their guy and boo the other.  Levy’s technique was impeccable and Arbuckle’s lyric beauty was unmatched.   How could one decide?  Clearly each camp had their star. As they say, you can’t please all the people all the time, but I must agree with you and Arbuckle, that a beautiful melody can make life as meaningful as all those brilliant notes anytime.

NH: Going back to French repertoire, I hear you've recently uncovered a hand written copy of the Saint Saens Cavatine, signed by the composer himself.  This sounds really interesting, how did you get hold this?

RB: You've asked a ‘very big’ question here.  What I have is the only copy of the Cavatine made by Saint-Saens before giving it to Durand to publish.  He sent it to its dedicatee George W. Stewart, the director of music at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.  Stewart had hired Saint-Saens to attend the fair, compose the official piece, conduct concerts of his own works, and generally be important.  He did this, and in late July, early August 1915 sent a thank you note to Stewart; the Cavatine. The copy I have was given to me by a friend here in Boston who had bought it from a cut out bin on the street at a local (long gone) music store in 1952.  He had it for 53 years!  It is signed by Saint-Saens, and there is correspondence regarding its existence between Saint-Saens, Stewart, and Durand.  This is all leading to a book; “Saint-Saens, Stewart, and the BSO”.  Stewart was an original member of the Boston Symphony trombone section in 1881.  Because of WWI, he engaged the Boston Symphony to come to the San Francisco fair in 1915, where Saint-Saens heard them during their two week engagement.  So, all the pieces have come together for a most intriguing story, which I have been researching for three years.  It is now time to write!  This is at the top of the list of things to do after I leave the orchestra. So, I hope to eventually have a book for sale, which I hope will be of interest to trombonists as well as others.

NH: Wow, this sounds fantastic. You must keep us up to date with the book, I'm sure it will be a wonderful read.

There must have been so many highlights of your time with the BSO. Asking you to pick just one is probably an impossibility. However, what would you rank as your greatest musical memory or achievement throughout your time in the BSO?

RB: You're quite correct to say that picking one is nearly impossible.  I suppose one wonderful memory would involve the Dvorak Cello Concerto.  I have an LP of this with Rostropovich and the Berlin Phil., done in the 1960’s.  I listened to this over and over when I was in college, and was taken in by the beauty, power, and joy of the piece and the performers.  Then, 20 years later, I had the unbelievable joy to record this with Rostropovich, and the Boston Symphony in Symphony Hall.  Such a long life connection was very emotional for me.  I think this performance is even better than my old LP!  It's not easy to have events later in life surpass the impressionable nostalgia of youthful formative influences. Then, perhaps five or so years ago, at Tanglewood, Rostropovich was again working with us, maybe it was even again Dvorak, I'm not sure, but I did go to him and tell my story.  That it had been so important to me, I think that made it meaningful to him as well. He was very gracious in thanking me, and I felt complete in that I had found the chance to share this with him.  He was a great artist!  His death in 2006 was very sad for us all.


NH: One of the great things about the BSO is the fact that you've had such a stable trombone section over the years. You have some wonderful musicians in the bone section; Norman, Doug etc How long have you all been together?

RB: Norman joined the orchestra in 1975 and Doug Yeo joined as Bass Trombonist in 1985. We have an unspoken understanding.  It will be hard on Doug to lose both of us this year.  It just seems that the time is right.  Norman and I have many years of musical energy remaining and I think I can speak for him as well in saying that we wanted to spend more of it outside the business demands of the orchestral schedule. I have more respect for the music than ever, I'm just not interested in performing those same works again and again, wonderful as they are.

NH: I notice you've recently changed allegiance from Conn to Edwards. Being a 'Conn' man for so many years, what made you make the change and how has it affected the overall sound and musical approach of the section?

RB:  It would be perhaps difficult to say for sure how this has changed the whole section, but my Edwards instrument gives me some of the same lyric beauty my old Conn had, adding stability and strength necessary for the bigger orchestral repertoire.  I made this change ten years ago after many years of playing both Conn and Bach interchangeably in the orchestra.  Norman and I both played our Conn 88H’s to begin our careers.  I started with it in 1963.  He now plays a Shires and I feel the combination works well.  We will always remember our Conns and use them for certain things.  They are wonderful instruments for singing beauty.  Having moved to the Edwards, I find the 88H lean and limited when I return to it. It does not project or center as well.  It is hard to say how I might use both instruments when I do not have to think about the orchestra. We will see.


NH: I also hear that you have been kept busy with your other interest, your Bed and Breakfast business. How do you find time to keep this running as well as keeping the hot seat in the BSO?

RB: My wife and I have been doing our B&B business for 22 summers.  For now, we'll continue.  We have a substantial investment in the property, and I know will enjoy continuing the relationships we have cultivated over this time.  We might expand the time frame of operations to the shoulder seasons of summer, but what success this might bring remains unsure.  Until now, the summers have been action packed!! Between the B&B, the orchestra, the Tanglewood Music Center, and practicing, (sometimes very little) life has been too hectic.  This will be a major change with orchestra retirement.


NH:  I'm sure you're not going to be twiddling your thumbs after your retirement. Do you have any plans?

RB: Well, as I said, the book is on the front of the agenda.  Our B&B might expand, come see us!!  My interest in wine has led to some certification in the field, and I might find some type of employment there.  Not sure yet. Additionally, I do hope to rekindle the kind of recital/master class activity, which I enjoyed some years ago.  In 1996/97, I had the pleasure to visit all over the USA, England, the continent, and Japan to perform recitals, work with students and teachers and feel quite enriched doing so.  I do not know how many places might welcome a return engagement but I am ready and willing.  As I suggested earlier, there are years of energy remaining, and new experiences are essential for everyone, even after 40 years in the orchestra.

NH: I'm sure after people have read this article the 'phone will definitely start to ring! It's been a real pleasure talking to you and hearing about your life Ron, you've been a true inspiration for many a trombone player and I wish you all the best with your future musical activities.

For more information about Ron and his activities visit the SCHEDULE page on this site.



International Trombone Association Journal, October 2005/Volume 33, Number 4 Page 34

Article by Harold Popp, Associate Editor



International Trombone Association Journal July 2008/ Volume 36, Number 3, Page 21

ORCHESTRAL SECTIONAL -BSO trombone section interview

By David Begnoche

At Dennis Bubert’s invitation, trombonist Dave Begnoche met with Ron Barron, Norman Bolter and Douglas Yeo, the members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s trombone section for the last twenty-two years.

DB   Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts with the ITA readership. More than anything, this is really a celebration of the section as a twenty-two year era comes to an end, with two of the three of you about to retire.

RB    I haven’t really thought about it like that too much, but it is a length of time, like anything. There’s a stability element within the section, and within the orchestra as well. The audition process changes and affects a lot of things. You can never tell how the change of one member can impact the entire brass section, or orchestra, for that matter.

DY    And now there will be two people leaving, essentially at the same time, within the same season.

NB    And you [Doug] won’t be in the new section very long.

DY    No, I won’t be in the next group as long as I’ve been in this group. So this is the big part of our careers as members of the Boston Symphony. We’ve been together since May 1985.

NB    The section comprises more than two-thirds of my professional career.

DY     For me it will be more than two-thirds, and for Ron, almost half. We don’t have many twenty-two year periods in a lifetime. You might get three or four if you’re fortunate. We haven’t even lived three twenty-two year periods, so in many ways, this has been a defining portion of who we are.

DB    Ron and Norman, you joined the orchestra a number of years before Doug, so perhaps you can talk about the evolution of the section.

RB    Well, I’d been playing second [in the BSO] for five years before the principal opening happened in the late spring of ’75. When I think I first started wanting to play in an orchestra, I really didn’t aspire to play first. I think what happened was, I ended up in Montreal, and then here in Boston playing second. Being young and spirited, which I hope every young player is, circumstances led me to want to aspire to more. Then I went to the Munich competition in 1974, where I met Becquet, Slokar, Sluchin among others. By the time I came back from that I felt committed to trying to play first somewhere, but I didn’t know where it was going to be. And then Bill Gibson left Boston, so I auditioned and won the position. Norman joined soon after, bringing all his talent and drive and fire. Seiji was excited to have his first new players, and the trombones had a lot of visibility. We were kind of go-get-em young upstarts, and we played with a lot of enthusiasm. Gordon Hallberg was bowing out around the time Norman came in, and really we had many years of alternates in the bass chair before Doug joined.

NB    Some things just clicked when Doug joined: there was a certain ease – that ease is really what you hope for when a new member joins. I guess that’s a big part of the audition process: it’s not just finding the best trombonist, but finding the best musician to fit your section. I think when Doug came, in many ways it was a very unifying factor. You know, Doug was very open and from the beginning Ron would say “Hey, let’s try this equipment for this piece” or “… something different for that piece.” Even back in the ’70s, we would play Bachs on the big pieces and Conns on some of the lighter repertoire.

RB    That’s right. Norman and I were doing that from the first year he came into the section. On period pieces we would scale down, me on alto, Norman on a smaller bore horn, and Doug on single valve.

DB    Yes, that’s one thing that seems unique to this section: your long history of using different equipment – different size, different sounding equipment – even within the same concert.

DY    That’s one of the things that might be a little bit different in our section, the openness to use a wide variety of different equipment. In many sections, you’ll find all three players playing the same type of equipment. We’ve never been like that. The instruments we’ve played as our main default are simply the ones that each of us individually feels the most comfortable on. Currently, that would be Ron playing an Edwards, Norman playing a Shires, and me playing a Yamaha.

RB    We really feel strongly about that, about using instruments that fit into the string and wind texture. We were devoted enough to find the color that seemed appropriate, even if it meant trying different equipment. Why not? Trumpet players do it all the time. Your concept doesn’t necessarily change, but equipment does change your overall sound, there’s no doubt about it. You know, though we’ve been using instruments by different makers lately, blend is a curious thing, and it’s not unlike like paint: if you’re trying to make a chocolate color, you have to start with white and red and blue and you mix it together and you get one unified, blended color - it doesn’t have to be three shades of brown. Maybe that’s the key to section playing. Homogeneity happens from the musicianship; the instruments are just vehicles to that end. They amplify certain possibilities. You need to play with the ear, not the lip or the eye. That’s what makes the difference. The embouchure fine-tunes what the ear really wants to make happen.

DY     Just as recently as last summer, the Symphony purchased a set of five trombones by Kruspe made in the ’20s - an alto, three tenors and a bass.

NB     Doug heard they were for sale, and was able to persuade the BSO to buy them to match the Austro-German rotary trumpets, like the Schagerl rotaries the trumpet section currently uses. They sound fantastic.

RB     They’re really great: very colorful. It’s a quite a unique sound.

NB    We did a rehearsal of Rhenish five minutes after the instruments arrived. Ron sounded phenomenal on the alto.

RB    They’re perfect for that repertoire - they have such an integral woodwind-string component in a way that fits in more than the American brass instruments. 

DY    All that to say, we’re not into the one-size-fits-all for each other or for any piece.

NB    We’ll look at each other, talk about it, and decide what we want to use. Not using it just for its own sake, but for the timbre we want, the conductor we know, the space we’re in, or other events happening in our lives.

DB    Speaking of spaces where you perform, obviously Symphony Hall here is an extraordinary space. In a previous conversation, Norman, I remember you describing the hall as an extension of your instrument.

NB    Very much so. I think a hall has a lot to do with the sound you create to fill the space. You can actually play with the hall and I know a lot of halls are less resonant, so sections have to do things to achieve excitement and resonance through driving perhaps more than they would want to in order to achieve their musical goal. It should always be about the musical goal. This hall seems to take certain things. For example, we went through an era when Doug and I were playing on Monettes and Larry Issacson, who was second in the Pops in those days, played a Monette too. That was a very different and special sound but everything is a point in time. We talked about time and things coming together at a certain time. At another point in time, those instruments and those people may not work. And so, can you change in order to continue to exist? I think a lot of times, players think that they need to stick with this or that, no matter how they feel, and that can shorten a lot of careers for a number of reasons.

RB    You know, we never talked about it too much, but the overall sound of the orchestra – the richness in the bass in Symphony Hall – gives a fullness to the sound no matter who’s in there. The bass sound is very intense in there, and, of course, we had Chester on tuba, with this mammoth, easy sound under us. In Symphony Hall, it can lack a little diction, so you might be able to play with a little bit leaner sound and still have the hall fill it out. It makes a big difference, and day-in, day-out, it makes you hear differently - and makes you play differently if you allow it.  A bad hall is not a good thing, and there are plenty of bad halls out there. We’re very lucky here. It’s the overall texture of the orchestra, and the space in which the orchestra plays. And over time, I think one becomes part of the room more than you realize. It’s not the equipment you play on. I never had in my mind that I would cultivate a particular type of sound – it’s just what seems comfortable or natural for the repertoire.

What’s fascinating to us, after all those years of Seiji saying “too loud, too loud,” now Jimmy [James Levine] is driving the strings nuts telling them to play “louder, louder.” (laughter) I’m playing louder for Jimmy than I ever did for Seiji, yet we’re never written up in the paper for overbalancing. It takes an overall orchestra.

DB    Speaking of Seiji, so often people talk about the sound of an orchestra, the sound of a section and give the conductor great credit in molding that sound, sometimes rightfully so. When you look at Berlin with Karajan or Philadelphia with Ormandy, for example, there is a certain character that is unique to them. This section shares something almost unprecedented in American orchestra tenures of conductors with Seiji Ozawa, who was here the vast majority your time with the BSO.

NB    Seiji was here 28 years, I think he started in ’73 and I started in ’75 or something like that.

DB    So he was the conductor of hire for all three of you.

NB    Yes, he hired Ron for principal (but Ron was first hired by Steinberg as second in 1970), then later, me for second and Doug for bass.

DB     So how do you equate his influence on the orchestra as influencing the way the section plays?

RB     You know, really, Seiji never said much one way or the other, as a style thing. Norman and I talked about this [color and equipment] early on. Many of these color things, at least in the trombone section, were a result of our internal activities, not so much Seiji – he really left us alone. [Color] came through literature more than anything else.

NB     When I think about it, and I think about players that Seiji has hired at certain times, I think he was very into the individual, if he liked a player and what they had to offer. A strong musical personality, that’s what he picked. In my case I think he went out on a limb a little bit. (laughter)

DB     …as he has with a few other players, Jacques Zoon [former Principal Flute] is a very unique player.

NB    Charlie Schlueter [former Principal Trumpet]…

DY     Jamie Sommerville [Principal Horn]…

NB     Exactly: different kinds of players. Seiji picked up on something that he liked which could vary with each player depending on that “thing.” I think our section is really a microcosm of that individuality.

RB     Of course, we’re mostly talking solo positions, but in general, I think that’s right. You know, I think you really need someone with a sort of extroverted confidence – put the spotlight in their face and see if they can do it – for these principal positions. And that’s what’s awkward about the trombone as an instrument: the trombone doesn’t get that many chances. I felt that my solo interests helped sustain me enough over the years that when the spotlight did come at me, I wasn’t unprepared for it. I think that’s tough for trombone players, because the function in the ensemble just isn’t that soloistic. We provide the color and the accents more than the tune; we’re the add-ons to the texture, and once in a while we get a tune, but it’s not like we’re melody instruments in the orchestra.

DB     One thing that’s always stood out to me is that this section has three very strong and very vibrant personalities. We can see that individuality far beyond your instrument choices. It seems that the Symphony is just one facet in each of your musical lives, as can be seen with multiple solo recordings for each of you, as well as other interests.

NB     I don’t know of any section with even one solo CD by every member.

DY    Ron has nine solo trombone albums going back to Cousins and Le Trombone Français, I have five solo albums (four on trombone and one on serpent) and five with New England Brass Band as conductor and soloist, and Norman has four. The thing is, all of our albums are different kinds of things. Ron’s recording an album of alto trombone music, I’m recording with brass band, and Norman’s recording his own compositions. We have often played on each others’ albums, but largely our interests have been quite varied.

NB    Each of us has found areas of interest as musicians outside the BSO that have kept us inspired and engaged as creative beings. We’ve all made choices to expand the nature of our art and integrate it into the whole of our lives. I think our section has had many influences that have helped shape us as a “section.”

DY    We each have been active in different writing undertakings, too. I had one of the very first trombone websites on the internet (February 1996), even before Online Trombone Journal or ITA. Ron and Norman, too, have their own websites that are fantastic and these have given us a place to further express ourselves and share our interests with others. Then you look at the articles and arrangements…I think what Norman said is true: if you look at all the creative output, almost all self- produced, it has been something we’ve done because we love it. Norman didn’t publish a piece of his until relatively recently; he’s been composing since he was very young, but it wasn’t until mid 1990s when it blossomed into what it is today. It wasn’t like this was happening right away when Norman was twenty, first joining the orchestra, then - boom - all of a sudden he’s making solo CDs: this came later. I didn’t make my first CD until I was forty-one years old.

DY     We’ve had a lot of ways of expressing our musical and life ideas. There’s been cross-pollination between the three of us and there have been a lot of individual tracks taken. I think we have all gained and learned from what the others have done.   

DB    It also seems that because you have been part of each others’ projects and undertakings, not just observers, this has given you each a greater understanding of each other. There is a bond when you understand a certain wavelength beyond something that you might otherwise only experience on stage together. You mentioned being part of a greater musical community, and not just unique to a row in a box known as Symphony Hall.

NB    Right. I agree with that, and plus at the same time we are so individual. I know Ron is the first born, Doug the first born, I’m the first born …

DB     So three alpha dogs… (laughter)

NB    Yeah, three leaders in their own way, unified by musical goals. I think we’ve done pretty well considering that.

DY     I think what we are saying here is something really important and I don’t think something I can stress enough: our life as three members of the Boston Symphony, that’s not our whole life. We have vibrant musical lives outside Symphony Hall and also really vibrant parts of our lives that have nothing to do with music at all. Ron owns a Bed and Breakfast and he’s a food and wine expert. My wife and I go hiking in the wildlife parks of the west and are very involved in our church. Norman’s work with Frequency Band encompasses much more than musical exploration.  It’s not just “the trombone is my life.” I keep going back to [John] Swallow’s words: “trombone is something I do, it’s not who I am.”  It’s a part of my identity, it becomes a vehicle to speak through so that we can express certain kinds of things, but it’s not who I am.

NB    After all, a trombone career is relatively short, really. I don’t have the body I had at twenty and I don’t know how I did what I did back then. (laughs) We must be open to evolve. This is why I think it’s very important to have other interests. You know, it’s interesting because one of my principal teachers was Steven Zelmer from the Minnesota Orchestra and ironically Doug Wright, a former student of mine, took his place. He [Zelmer] was very diversified: an avid gardener, huge wine collector, stamp collector, flag collector - it was unbelievable. He would have dinners and make sure we had the right wine the right cigar and the right flag was outside. The thing is - he brought all that to his love of the orchestra. Let’s face it: where do you get the food for your art? What is it a medium for? If there aren’t other things going on, what’s your art going to express?

DB     You have to have something to say if you’re going to convey anything valuable.

NB      Exactly!

RB     One’s life experiences, and how they enrich us and change us or make us who we are at any given time can’t help but be reflected in the way we then deal with music as a medium of expression for who we are. And if it doesn’t express who we are, or what we’re attempting to convey from the written page, then I don’t think it’s of any use - just filling up space and time, without saying anything.

DY     That is a difficult thing to covey to those students at this time who are looking for the formula, the quick fix or method on how to become “great.” I say: “when was the last time you went to the Museum of Fine Arts, or when was the last time you walked through public gardens, or walked down the street and looked up instead of down?”  The diversity of our experiences - the positive ones and the struggles, the disappointments and heartaches - you have to put that into your playing.  When I work with a student on the Mahler 3 solo, I want to hear some of that struggle, some of their pain. I think because the trombone alone has not been the only thing in our lives we have tried to make the individuality of our voices come through, even in a section context. 

NB     I agree. I know we all teach and have our own styles and approaches but one thing I know we don’t do is say “it has to be like this or that.” You tailor it to the person, of course, but this cookie-cutter thing for me is “death to art” - to think this piece has to be played this way. Yes, there are informed performance practices with any given piece, but for a student to relinquish the “artistic self” to purely copy a dogmatic approach is dangerous. Hey, I don’t know exactly what Beethoven thought. I just don’t know - but I make the best assessment I can. I’m sure, though, if he thought a player was coming from the love of his piece and the genuineness of that love and that was coming through in their playing he would say “thank you,” right? Then he’d say, “now just do it a little softer.” (laughter)

DB     Speaking of balancing, you alluded earlier to keys to section playing. Do you have some thoughts to share on that topic?

RB     There’s an instinct that’s built after twenty-two years together that is hard to describe. When you work together, after a while you cultivate a radar. It takes listening, working together, and time.

DY     Sitting next to each other all these years, I know how Norman breathes, he knows how I breathe, we know how Ron brings things in, we know what little rituals we go through before we play, we know which thing is a little more challenging for each of us, we know when we can lean on each other, we know when it’s OK to say “how ya’ doin’ ” - and when it’s a good idea not to say something….

RB     Really, it’s about one word: respect. Respect for the music, respect for your colleagues (the colleagues in front of you as well as the ones next to you), and serving the music. Knowing your role is an aspect of section playing we often take for granted. You don’t really have a group, just a collection of individuals, without shared respect. Historically, the BSO directors have hired some really outstanding players, real “personalities” on their instruments, but the artistic goals are never compromised by their personal expression. It should feed into the collective, and I think it has. Leadership comes in many forms.

DY     For me, and I think Ron and Norman would agree, I was very fortunate to be in this orchestra when you had some really great individual character players many of whom aren’t playing with us anymore, players like Norman’s uncle Sherman Walt [bassoon], Buddy Wright [clarinet], Vic Firth [timpani], Chester Schmitz [tuba]. These guys were individual personality players beyond compare.

NB     It’s so true. Everything they played meant something. There was never a dull note. I don’t care if it was a tutti passage or not, it still had something that was alive in that passage. Blend never meant bland to them, which I think can happen all too easily. A lot of that I think is what has made the BSO unique, those kinds of players.

DY     People ask me “who were your teachers” and I say, “well, I studied with Edward Kleinhammer and Keith Brown and Chester Schmitz and Vic Firth and Joe Silverstein,” and the list goes on and on. Just sitting between players like Norman and Chester for all these years has been a lesson. If you have the ears to hear, you will learn and if you are closed off like you know everything, you will never grow.

NB    You know, openness and staying inquisitive is a choice. I think I’ve learned staccato from every instrument of the orchestra - how to do it like a bassoon, how to do a pizz like a cello, how to be like a muted trumpet… it’s a spectrum thing. If you don’t start to think in a different spectrum and learn from all the instruments, then you can find yourself stuck. If you asked trombonists around the world, they wouldn’t agree on things, so you have to take it in and make your own art. It’s interesting: we’re influenced by everyone we are with. Just look at the section: next to our families, we’ve probably spent more time with each other than sometimes a lot of family. I think we figured out that it’s been something like 20,000 hours together minimum; that’s a lot of time.

DY     People say days move slowly and years move quickly and I can’t fathom that twenty-two years have passed.

DB     As you look back on this era about to finish, what are some of your most memorable performances?

NB     The Brahms Symphonies with Bernard Haitink were pretty magical and a there was Liszt Faust Symphony with Leonard Bernstein conducting that’s memorable.

RB     We did the Dvořák Cello Concerto with Rostropovich years ago, which is something I’ll never forget, and some of the Miraculous Mandarin performances with Seiji stand out, too.

DY     The Bruckner 3 with Kurt Sanderling was incredible. It was maybe the most beautiful and majestic Bruckner experience I have ever been in. A lot of what’s great about moments can’t be said. It’s like taking a photo of the Grand Canyon: it just doesn’t come close to giving you the real picture.

DB     What about recordings?

NB     The Mahler 7 would stand out to me as a special experience.

DY     Some of the Spielberg stuff with John Williams. There was a scherzo for motorcycle and orchestra which we were practically sight reading on the recording. It came off a fax machine that morning and we only had time run it before recording. That was exciting!

RB     You know we used to do a lot of recording. When I came into the orchestra in the ’70s, we were recording constantly. It felt like every free day was filled with recording sessions. My first Pops season, we worked six-day weeks – rehearsals in the morning, preparation for TV shows, recordings in the afternoon, concerts at night, twelve or thirteen recordings for TV shows throughout the eight weeks – all that work is gone. Today, so many kids buy this tune or that tune in a download, so we need to embrace new mediums. Those new mediums don’t provide the same visceral relationship between humans – it’s not the same thing. It’s complicated. I feel like I’m getting out of the orchestra at a time when it’s facing more challenges than when I came in. Boston is fortunate because of the structure we have with Symphony, Pops, and Tanglewood, which helps make it financially stable.

DB    What advice do you have for those entering a world that two of you are leaving?

NB     I still warm up and I’m 52. (laughter)  In a way, it’s the same world, and in another, it’s very different. I look out over the orchestra and it’s not the same orchestra as when I joined. How could it be, thirty-two years later? There are over eighty different members. I would have to say if they are walking into an orchestra position, don’t think it’s going to be the be-all and end-all and the only thing in life. Take the other richness of your life and try to put into the orchestra because it will make that experience more meaningful and put it into perspective. It will also bring more depth to your music-making. Above all, never think there is only one way to play, because then you will be eating your own words when you have to change mouthpieces as your physiology changes, or [change] technical style when your breathing changes with age.

RB     Embrace all of life and bring that into your trombone playing. Be flexible; gain your experience and your insight and your abilities as broadly as you can: you never know which ones are going to flower or provide opportunity. Increasingly, I think, people have to take risks, and really be your own advocate. I mean, just look at your quartet CD, it’s a perfect example. You have to do all that kind of stuff today, because you never know what will come out of investing in something you believe in, putting yourself out there. This career takes courage as well as skill. You know, I always looked at the term “talent” as “desire”: there has to be an aptitude at some level, but that won’t get you very far. You have to have the wherewithal and desire to stay on target, whether it’s that or anything else. I think on some level, the things that you do are a reflection of who you are.

Norman Bolter retired in December 2007, and Ron Barron will retire at the end of Tanglewood 2008.

To contact members of this section, please see their websites:

Ron Barron:

Norman Bolter:


About the interviewer:

Trombonist Dave Begnoche maintains an active career as a freelance musician and has held positions and recorded with the Joffrey Ballet Orchestra (Chicago), Albany Symphony (NY), and the Spoleto Festival Orchestra (Italy), among others. He has performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and has recorded with the Boston Pops under John Williams. A passionate performer of contemporary music and an active teacher and clinician, Dave’s work with Pulitzer Prize winner John La Montaine has resulted in the final version of the composer’s Trombone Quartet (2006). Dave is a founding member of trombone quartet Stentorian Consort whose debut CD Myths and Legends was released on Albany Records in August, 2007.

The Mystic (CT) native was recently appointed International Trombone Association Affiliates Manager and AIM Membership Coordinator. Dave has written articles and conducted interviews for the ITA Journal, the Brass Herald and the American Composers Forum. He may be contacted at



An Interview with Ronald Barron by Anne Mischakoff

June 1997 Volume 51, Number 11, Page 18 The Instrumentalist Magazine

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