Immortalized in the song "Seventy-six Trombones" featured in the musical play "The Music Man , the fictional town of River City, Iowa, had scads of the brass instruments with the familiar slides leading their parade. Next week, the parade is in Columbus, Ga., which will host hundreds of trombone players from around the world, including Statesboro.
The Georgia Southern University Trombone Ensemble will perform in the 2013 International Trombone Festival at Columbus State University from Wednesday through June 29.
The prestigious festival alternates locations between the United States and Europe every year. When Georgia Southern associate professor of music Rick Mason discovered this year's festival was in nearby Columbus, he decided to throw in his hat. The Georgia Southern ensemble was one of 23 collegiate and professional ensembles invited from around the world based on a submitted audition recording.
"We're going to be playing for some of the top professionals in the world, and that's quite an honor to be able to do that and have them listen to us," he said.
According to Mason, who has been leading brass ensembles at the university for 10 years, most people think of marching bands when they think of trombones. They rarely have melodies to play and are usually more of a chord-producing background instrument in the mind of the general public.
Taking an ensemble of six trombones and playing all melody, harmony and rhythm for musical pieces that were originally written for much larger and varied orchestras is quite a challenge. It forces the musicians to stretch the limits of the instrument's tonal range.
"The trombone is a very difficult instrument to play," Mason said.
Because of the slide, you have to have a tremendous ear to be able to play it in tune. The slide also makes it difficult to play with speed and articulation.
"But it's just a glorious sound when done right," he said. "When played in tune, when played well, it's a very, very beautiful sound."
The ensemble is composed of sophomores Eric Spencer of San Angelo, Texas; Aaron Cooler of Canton, Ga.; junior Dalton Daniel of Perry, Ga.; and seniors Sean O'Brien of Alpharetta, Ga., Tim Bragg of Guyton, and Whitt Locke of Dublin.
"These guys gave up a summer to do this," he said. "They could be at home. They could be on a beach. But they're making sacrifices. Some of these guys are sleeping on floors. Some of them have given up the possibility of summer employment, and I'm incredibly appreciative and proud of these guys. I've told them this will be an experience you will remember for the rest of your life."
Daniel, a music composition major, has produced an arrangement of Tchaikovsky's classic 1812 Overture for the six-piece ensemble, which will be premiered at the festival among the nine pieces that will be performed.
The problem is that the original compositions were produced for a 120-piece orchestra, and Daniel had to arrange it for six trombone parts.
"You have to envision in your head what you want to hear. It's challenging, but I loved the outcome. Also, towards the end of it, there's a little bit of creative spice I added into it that's not Tchaikovsky," Daniel said.
Mason added: "To premiere a piece at an international festival, it has to be of the absolute highest quality, and Dalton's work has consistently been extremely publishable and of that quality. I feel very confident that this piece will be a hit with that type of audience."
So, what's so great about the trombone?
"It has a slide!" Spencer quipped.
"It's the only wind instrument that can play a complete glissando (a musical term describing a continuous slide upward or downward between two notes)," Mason said. "That's one of the sounds that attracts young players. You can't do that with a saxophone, or a trumpet, or a clarinet."
"It's also got a lot of power behind it," Bragg said. "They can put a lot of power and energy into music."
"It's got majesty," Mason added. "Plus, it's hard to play cello in a marching band!"