Review


Philip Brink
The Trombonist's Toolkit:

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Publisher: Cherry Classics Music
Date of Publication: 2019
URL: http://www.cherryclassics.com

E-book. 134 pages.

Genre: STUDY MATERIALS

Teachers are sometimes tempted to set down in writing compendia of what trombone students should know. Books attempting this lofty goal include Reginald Fink’s The Trombonist’s Handbook, Denis Wick’s Trombone Technique, and Edward Kleinhammer’s The Art of Trombone Playing (or its successor Mastering the Trombone written with Douglas Yeo). Over the course of 15 chapters, Brink attempts this same feat with mixed results. The first four chapters are devoted to fundamentals: air, embouchure, tongue and slide. Chapters 5 through 8 focus more on equipment: the F-attachment, bass trombone, other instruments and a general discussion of equipment. Chapters 9 and 10 focus on musicianship and emotional/psychological factors. His final chapters cover: teaching, “Other Information,” an essay about trombone in Thailand, “Useful Information,” and finally, an appendix chapter.

One of my concerns about this text is the lack of clear organization. Many times I had to stop and scratch my head as to why information appeared where it did. For example, a breathing exercise presented on page 3 appears again on page 6. Why? In another instance, his chapter on air begins with a highly technical description of the breathing process whereas his chapter on embouchure jumps directly into exercises. Why don’t both chapters begin in a similar manner? Furthermore, there is an “embouchure” sub-heading in the “Embouchure” chapter. Why? His section on warming-up/cooling down pivots to paraphrasing comments by Jeff Nelson about visualization and self-recording. This may be useful but what does it have to do with warming-up or cooling down? He finishes the embouchure chapter talking about practice mutes and the importance of hearing live performances to develop sound concept. Why? In his F-attachment chapter, he refers to such positions as F2 and F3 but never presents a clean slide position chart explaining this nomenclature. Instead he includes a list of instructions such as, “Fifth position will be almost the same as B flat sixth.” I assume he means that F5 is in the same place as 6th position on the B-flat side of the instrument (without the valve). Couldn’t this have been explained more clearly? Furthermore, the valve positions in musical examples appear well below the notes; so far that that they are much closer to the musical line below than above. This is confusing. It is apparent that portions of this book originally were class handouts. I wish greater effort had been made to create a more cohesive and cleanly-written book.

That said, there is a wealth of information in this book and some of it is quite good. His practice methodology suggestions are solid. Similarly, his discussion of audition preparation is useful and arises from real-life experience. In his chapter on tonguing, he points out, “Go for a uniform result, not a uniform approach.” This is excellent advice.

However, other pieces of information are either confusing or wrong. To show the advantages of the valve, he reproduces a passage from the trombone part to a Chopin piano concerto which involves a rapid move from an A-sharp in 1st to a B in 7th. That’s fine, but the musical example also indicates 6th position for a G-natural. In his discussion of free buzzing he refers to pressure generated by the diaphragm and also refers to opposing sets of diaphragm muscles. If I’m not mistaken, the diaphragm is a single muscle that is only active during inhalation. In another spot, the author states that just intonation is “…only useful when working with like or like-pitched instruments.” I disagree.

With respect to the famous Bartok Concerto for Orchestra gliss (B-F), he states, “A major reason for the development of the modern double valve bass trombone is the need to play this glissando properly.” This statement is odd given that the standard double valve bass trombone doesn't solve this particular tritone puzzle very well. He also states, “John Coffey of the Boston Symphony was the bass trombonist to perform this part first – he simply played a regular glissando C-F, which, in truth, is serviceable.” These statements compelled me to reach out to Douglas Yeo, former bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony (after Coffey) for clarification. In his reply, Mr. Yeo wrote, “The author cites Boston Symphony bass trombonist John Coffey, who was the first bass trombonist to negotiate the glissando, and says that Coffey ‘simply played a regular glissando C-F, which, in truth, is serviceable.’ Au contraire. Coffey actually had great difficulty negotiating the glissando and was, in fact, quite disgusted that Bartók wrote something he deemed ‘impossible.’ Coffey's glissando as heard on the recording of the second performance of the Concerto (December 30, 1944) shows him to have played an interval of less than a major third, not even close to a tritone; his contempt comes through loud and clear. And even so, C—>F would hardly be ‘serviceable.’  A perfect fourth is not a tritone.”

I value Mr. Brink’s wealth of experience. I also admire his efforts to write this compendium. Useful information can be found among its pages but, to find these nuggets, the reader must wade through confusing organization, a writing style that at times borders on stream-of-consciousness and details that are simply wrong.
-Brad Edwards
Arizona State University

 

 

 

 

Reviewer: Bradley Edwards
Review Published June 14, 2019