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?

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