as soon as I’d played a few notes on this borrowed instrument I was bowled over by its
vocal and expressive potential.
I took to it like a fish to water - in short, I’d fallen in love!
it seemed to me a paradox that, although the instrument clearly had unique characteristics as well as the potential for creating a great sound, it was nevertheless so little used
the early history of the soprano trombone
the soprano trombone has been around for a long time, possibly stretching back
as far as the early 15c, but we can't say for sure since very little is known about the early history of the
trombone family as a whole, and even less is known about its most junior member.
few historical instruments have survived and documentation from the
period is both scarce and contradictory
what can be said with certainty, however, is that the
soprano trombone is an instrument that has been used, albeit sparingly,
to support the upper voice in vocal groups for hundreds of years.
j.s. bach wrote for it in three cantatas (BWV 2/21/38),
it is briefly referred to in one of w.a. mozart's scores (C-minor mass),
it has been argued that c.w. gluck intended it (orpheus and eurydice),
18c revisions of works by g.p. telemann include it (passions of st john and st mark),
the stockholm opera ordered a set of trombones in the 1770’s including a soprano trombone.
the moravian church have used the instrument continually since the18c,
a number of instruments from 17c onwards survive
to this day in museums and instrument collections, one of the earliest
is the instrument by christian kofahl, dated 1677.
but why is it so difficult to find out more about the history of this instrument, so difficult that
even our greatest scholars seem unable to uncover many of its secrets?
why initiating a soprano trombone project?
questions struck me very early on - why has this instrument
with such a long and arguably distinguished history been so little used,
and why is it hardly used today?
is it an instrument worthy of rediscovering, and
is it an instrument worthy of, so to speak, being dusted off and brought up-to-date
in order to find it a proper place in contemporary musical life?
can/should the manufacture of replicas of historical
instruments - soprano sackbuts - be commissioned in order for their
use in period performance be made possible?
can a modern, fully professional chromatic instrument
be commissioned? and, equally important, would
I be able to learn to play it to a high standard?!
would it be suitable as a beginner instrument
for very young children?
how has the soprano trombone project developed since 2011?
further development of the modern instrument seemed essential.
with that in view i commissioned
the german instrument manufacturer thein
to make a soprano trombone with a relatively large bore/bell
and fitted with an F-valve, thus fully chromatic and with an extended
low range. the idea was to achieve a beautiful sonorous trombone-like sound that would
sit comfortably as the upper (soprano) voice in a larger trombone ensemble, and it
had as far as possible to avoid any trumpet-like brightness in the tone
practice, practice, practice!
a great deal of time and work was, and continues to be,
essential in order to gradually learn to control and play the instrument
to a high level
performances and the commissioning of new music:
a considerable number of pieces have been
commissioned and premiered
for solo trombone
trombone with piano
and for trombone quartet (SATB).
the continually expanding list of new works includes pieces by
the trombone trio pandora’s box and I are in a long-term
partnership promoting and performing music for SATB trombone quartet,
on its own as well as in collaboration with vocal ensembles. this work has taken us to week-long
projects at places such as the setubal festival in portugal and the cumnock tryst festival in scotland,
performing music for vocal ensemble and trombone quartet
the soprano trombone as a starter instrument:
this is a key part of the overall project.
after all, if the instrument is to
have a flourishing new career then it needs plenty of players playing it!
the beginnings of a framework and a workable structure of
contacts and interest has been put in place
where is the soprano trombone project (STP) today?
considerable national (UK) and international interest
has been generated over the previous years and this will continue to help
push the project ahead with further commissions,
performances, instrument development and recordings
tim ewers and kingston university have been and continue to be instrumental in
supporting the project - writing music, providing space, contacts and facilities
as well as putting in a lot of hard work with the aim of securing funding
for the continuation of the project
the young scottish composer scott lygate was commissioned by
james macmillan’s cumnock tryst festival
to write an SATB trombone quartet
premiered october 2016
a CD recording of new music will be recorded (subject to funding applications),
part-funded by kingston university, london UK
the trombone trio pandora’s box is in a long-term partnership
to create music and performances
including the soprano trombone as part of an SATB quartet
in talks with the vocal ensemble apollo5, planning to stage
a major concert in london (subject to funding applications) with
pandora’s box quartet in a programme of renaissance and new music
for vocal ensemble, trombone quartet (SATB) and electronics.
some of london’s main music hubs and educational establishments are planned to
take part in pilot-projects (subject to funding applications) providing workshops and lessons
for beginner soprano trombonists. the small soprano trombone makes it possible to (very literally!)
reach beginner players at a considerably younger age than is usually possible
with the standard tenor trombone
the examination board MTB have agreed to create an
examination syllabus grade 1-8 (initially grades 1-3)
specifically for the soprano trombone
a major british instrument manufacturer - wessex tubas - are currently designing and planning to
manufacture an affordable quality instrument to our own specifications.
this is an essential part of the STP in order for the very important
educational aspect to be achievable
spontonality, cornwall, UK (2015 and 2016)
brunel university (trombone and electronics)
JW3, london, with the turntablist matt wright
pandora's box at the setubal festival, portugal
goldsmith's college, london (trombone and electronics)
'grofus, hultmark & ryder' at london college of music (2016)
notes inégales: purcell's opera king arthur at the 2016 spitalfields festival, london
queen mary university london recital (november 2016)
2016 premieres and performances
world premiere of 'salt' by john kenny at the 2016 setubal festival,
with the headspace ensemble
second performance at the cumnock tryst festival, scotland
recordings and performances at spontonality 2016
kestle barton, cornwall, UK
video recording of 'vocal shafts' by roger dean
for soprano trombone and electronics
video recording of 'metaphors of space and of time' by oded ben-tal
for soprano trombone and electronics
world premiere of 'the barony a-frame' by scott lygate
a cumnock tryst commission 2016
for pandora's box trombone
2017 premieres and performances
a series of recitals, workshops and talks during september/october for soprano trombone,
piano/keyboard, live electronics and poetry, with roger dean and hazel smith
is in the process of being finalised.
spontonality festival in cornwall, UK, october 2017 - five days of performances and
recordings with zoë martlew (cello), julian bliss (clarinet),
tony woods (saxophones) and tim west (piano).
2018 premieres and performances
grünwaldsalen, stockholms konserthus, sweden, february 2018
premiere of a new 1-hr programme of music for
soprano trombone, trumpet, bassoon
all in all, this fledgling
soprano trombone project has
so far fully achieved, and in many respects
vastly exceeded, all my
hopes and expectations at this stage in terms of
progress, support and interest
it's all pretty exciting!