It sounds like a joke: “The good news is you get to lead a 115-piece group. The bad news is they’re all trombones.”
Actually, that’s good news, too. Last week Trombone Christmas performed its second annual show in Anaheim, California, playing seasonal tunes with an all-volunteer group of 115 slide trombonists. While this is shy of the world record of 289 trombonists at a single concert, it’s a great showing for the group’s second performance.
Organizer Douglas Grieve was kind enough to share some of the details with me.
Scott Yoho: Where did the idea for Trombone Christmas originate?
Douglas Grieve: About four years ago the word went out that they wanted to set a world record at Disneyland for tubas. So I borrowed a baritone from a friend, and when I got there I realized that about a third of the performers were trombone players who were just there to play some Christmas music and have a good time. So that’s how the whole idea started.
SY: Who creates your arrangements?
DG: It’s a community effort. We started with the premise that we wanted to standardize, so we use four tenors and two bass trombones (see full details here). I’ve created some of the arrangements, Mark Divers did some, and then Jim (James) Christensen, who was the music director at Disneyland for 35 years, has also contributed some arrangements.
Plus we have composition contests every year, which generates new music. This year the contest was to create a closer for our show, last year we had a fanfare contest.
SY: Have some performers traveled great distances to perform with the group?
DG: The winner of last year’s fanfare contest, Travis Maslen, flew down from Sacramento join us, and did again this year. The winner of this year’s closer contest, Larry Mills-Gahl, flew in from Columbus, Ohio.
SY: Tell me he’s a trombone player.
SG: He’s a bass trombone player.
SY: Even better! Are your arrangements done in Finale?
DG: I use Finale, I know Mark Divers uses Finale, and Jim would, but he’s never used a computer in his life. [Laughter] Jim has been hand-writing his arrangements – he’s a big Hal Leonard arranger among other things – but he does everything by hand. What usually happens is he’ll give a score to me and I’ll enter it into Finale.
SY: Do you have plans to make your arrangements available to others?
DG: We want to publish the book. We’ve had several enquiries from people interested in creating their own Trombone Christmas, but we need to publish the book before we make our arrangements available to others.
SY: I’d like to accompany this post with one of the YouTube videos from your 2010 performance. Do you have a favorite?
DG: My personal favorites are the Fanfare and the piece that follows: Angels We Have Heard on High. When you put something like this together for the first time, which is what these clips are from, you don’t what’s going to happen on the downbeat. When that hit and we heard how in-tune it was and how well it sounded, we were all having a great time.
I’d like to thank Doug for his time and would like to end with two items from The Trombone Christmas FAQ page:
Q: Can I bring my valve trombone?
A: Sure, but you must leave it in the car, Trombone Christmas is for slide trombones.
Q: Is this kinda like Tuba Christmas?
A: No, we have trombones.
Let us know if you have any questions OR answers by clicking on “Comments” below.