Recent concerts, and playing the alto trombone

I am currently playing in 2 orchestras, both based in Cheshire, necessitating a fair bit of driving to get to the rehearsals, but it’s definitely worthwhile. Coincidentally, I have been learning to play the alto trombone, having played the tenor and bass since I started learning the instrument at the age of 11. It has not been easy, as the alto trombone is pitched in E flat, while the other members of the trombone family are (mostly) pitched in B flat. When I started my alto trombone project, I read about the different ways of learning to play the music, which included a number of ‘short cuts’ involving transposition, but I decided to adopt the ‘purist’ approach, and learn the new positions and the alto clef simultaneously. I decided to do this because, in the long run, it is likely to be most useful. Music for alto trombone is invariably written in the alto clef after all.

My learning has been given a focus by the fact that the recent concerts I have been preparing for have first trombone parts written for the alto trombone (although they are playable on the tenor trombone with plenty of high note practise). For example, in the concert I played in last night in Nantwich, we played Dvorak’s 8th symphony, which has some superb trombone writing in the first and fourth movements. This symphony has a particular resonance for me (no pun intended) because I once played the first part in a concert by my student orchestra (at UCL), and I remember struggling with the requirements of the music. So having the opportunity to play it again was, in a way, an exercise in exorcising some ghosts from the past. Thankfully, it all went well, and I will no longer have nightmares about this piece!

Moving on, next Saturday (9 April) in Middlewich I am playing in a concert which includes another Dvorak symphony, this time the ‘New World’, no. 9. I’ve played in this a couple of times before, but not using the alto trombone. There are some amazing moments, including the brass chorale at the beginning and end of the slow movement (the one with the ‘Hovis’ theme, for those who may not know the rest of the symphony). The first time I played in this symphony was in the mid 70s, with my county schools’ orchestra, and the main thing I remember is that the cor anglais soloist had problems with his instrument during the big solo in the slow movement, such that he couldn’t play it properly. Hopefully that won’t happen this time. The other pieces we are playing in this concert are Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Glinka’s ‘Ruslan and Ludmilla’ overture. The Elgar first trombone part is actually written for a tenor trombone, so I have had to rewrite the music to play it with the alto. But I’m sure Sir Edward wouldn’t mind!

One unexpected ‘plus’ about playing the alto trombone is it is so small and light. Having been used to carrying a bass trombone around, this is very liberating. But I haven’t given up on the bass, and will no doubt be using it again soon.

If anyone is interested in coming to the concert next week, it is in Middlewich Civic Hall starting at 7:30 pm. Drop me an e-mail for ticket information (

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