You only love me for my trombone parts.

A few years ago, I subbed for one of the local community symphonies. I did not enjoy the gig. It was a long, hard concert, that required me to play a lot of hard, high, music. I had to borrow a small bore horn to cheat my way to the endurance necessary to get through the concert. My performance was judged (unfavorably) by a single missed high note. I thought the orchestra, as far as an orchestra can have a personality, was haughty and condescending way beyond their collective ability to perform. And then they stiffed me on compensation on a technicality.

After that wonderful experience, I got a call from their personnel director asking me to audition for the principle trombone chair. I’m sure any rational person reading this is thinking that I would jump on the chance to ignore them, but no, being an irrational, borderline psychotic “pleaser” personality, I asked for the audition list. The first thing on the list was “Ride of the Valkyrie.”

That’s it.

Now, the trombonists in the audience (and those reading who were present for this debacle, or some portion of my rants on this debacle) know that there are no fewer than two possible excerpts from Ride that are often played at auditions. The measure numbers vary by edition, but the bottom line is, there’s a B-minor section and a B-major section, both of which are obnoxious on their own merit. I’ve seen the B-major section asked for on its own: it goes that half step higher to A-sharp, and varies in dynamic marking from forte all the way up to fortissimo. Makes you hit almost the entire compass of what is expected from an orchestral tenor trombonist, except for the whole playing at levels that don’t offend the cellos thing.

There are a lot of better trombonists, better musicians than myself making commentary on the excerpt on the internet, although darned if I can find all the ones I’ve read. (Could they possibly have been in actual bound printing?) I think at my level of playing, the keys to the B-major section (beyond not lousing up the key of B!) come in two aspects of the piece. One is to not play it the way Elmer Fudd sings it: he gets more of a quarter/two sixteenths feel, but the actual marking is a dotted eighth/sixteenth/full eighth. This actually came up in the AWCB a number of years back, and I actually said that to the section: “Don’t play this the way Elmer Fudd sings it!” The second is in leaving yourself enough top end to get louder at the end without letting your tone get brassier than you (or whoever you’re playing for) likes. There are actually three dynamics in there: a fortissimo at the beginning, which cuts back to forte, back to fortissimo, then a rinforzando of the fortissimo at the end. The way to approach that depends as much on the ensemble as the trombone section, but in an audition setting, it’s up to you to make sure you’re placing yourself in a range that allows enough dynamic contrast to fit the intended effect.

This rankles me a bit, I have to admit. I know that’s what we do, we sit on the back row and passive-aggressively wait for our opportunity to remind people that we’re there, and we can play. And the trombonists I know revel in this: we’re all fans, to some degree, of Mahler and Wagner and Bruckner. Find me a trombonist that really likes Harold in Italy, and I’ll find you a violist who really wants to saw away unheard at the peak of Bruckner 8. And when was the last time you heard somebody rant about the trombones’ delicate, sensitive entrance in the last of Strauss’ Four Last Songs or some such?

But anyway, I called the personnel director and asked, “Which Valkyrie excerpt do you want?” and received several seconds of awkward silence on the phone. Then he said, “Well, if you don’t know that, maybe you’re not the right fit for the orchestra.”

I had a lot of things run through my mind at that point, but most of them aren’t fit to reprint. What I actually did was agree with him, thank him for his time, and politely decline the next three times he called to ask me to audition.

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