I have prepared the following list after discussing favorite trombone works for jury performances (yes, it is jury season). These are not the only solos I consider when choosing jury literature with students, but these are some of my favorite to listen to and tend to help students focus on their weaknesses the most.
#1- Arthur Pryor, Thoughts of Love: Valse de Concert
The Pryor Thoughts of Love is a great park band style work for students to learn. I have students learn it as part of understanding the history of trombone and what the common repertoire has been for trombonists in the United States. Learning the “brash” park band style is important. This work is also a simple work to memorize, a good skill for students to learn. This is a good work to program on a recital or use as a performance work with a home summer band. The work also provides students the opportunity to work with a small-bore tenor trombone. Many of the highly technical aspects of the work become approachable with a smaller instrument.
For recordings, I explain to students that we are lucky. We have recordings of Pryor performing this work on Arthur Pryor, Soloist of the Sousa Band. Students can study the unique sound and style of Arthur Pryor. I do not necessarily ask students to perform just like him, but it is again good to have a strong historical understanding of the work and its uses. Larry Zalkind also has a good recording with the New Sousa Band of Thoughts of Love. Zalkind has a unique interpretation of the Pryor works that dances between modern and historical that I really like. I also recommend the Ian Bousfield recording from Pryor Engagement and the Brett Baker recording with the Black Dyke Band as other interpretations. My goal is for students to be as educated as possible about the musical and technical options for each work they approach.
Because this is a work composed by the trombone virtuoso for himself, there are many technical and musical issues for students to be aware of. There are improvisational elements and musical decisions that need to be made by students. This is where the recordings they are listening to and making recordings in practice room and lessons is important. Listening is also useful when learning the disjoint style of Pryor, although I do not always recommend trying to completely mimic the sound. Students can also approach using a small-bore tenor trombone for a more authentic sound and artistic ability. If they do use the small bore horn, there are some notes in runs they may want to consider using a quick false tone to avoid clunky slide technique. The high and low range can also be difficult, although playing on a small trombone with the appropriate mouthpiece helps some students. The low range can be difficult on the smaller horn, so having students learn to balance these issues is important.
#2- Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Concerto for Trombone
The Concerto for Trombone by Rimsky-Korsakov is an important work for trombone. It is one of the few concerti by a major composer that many people will recognize without any formal music training. The work appears on many audition lists for concerto competitions and competitions, making it an important work for students to study. Students can learn alternate and rational slide positions from this work. The key signature is also a selling point for students still not comfortable in all keys. The outer movements are in Bb, but the second movement is in Gb. The student will feel more comfortable in a key with many flats after learning this concerto. Finally, this is often an introduction to concerti with cadenzi. Students have a written cadenza from the composer at the end of movement one and two. They can use these cadenzi, as is often specified by competitions, or they can create their own cadenza.
As the instructor I recommend recordings with piano and band accompaniment. Students often run to YouTube for this recording, which is dangerous because of the many bad recordings out there. The piece is approachable for some middle school or high school players, but they may not have the technical skills and tone needed to be a great example for collegiate students. Carl Lenthe has a great recording of the Concerto on his recording From the Audition Window. I also recommend the Per Brevig recording Music for Trombone and Piano.
A number of technical challenges are possible in the Rimsky-Korsakov. As already stated, the key signature in the second movement can give some students issues. Two issues exist because of the publishing technique of the day and a lack of trombone technique from the composer. The breathing choices provided by the two publishers of the work often do not work musically and technically for players. Working through this issue with students is important. They will have a better idea of how to make their own editions afterwards. The publisher also has many articulation markings that usually are just not needed by trombonists. These included the ever popular staccato and marcato over a note marking. Working with students to create an understanding of this marking and why from a historical point of view it may have existed is important. A technical issue I work through with students often is the coordination between the slide and articulation. Especially in the fast passages, students will have some issues present themselves. This is an opportunity for students to work on articulation and coordination. They can also work on fast single repeated articulation. I do not teach multiple tonguing with this work, I have never had a student who needed it at the given tempi.
#3- Ferdinand David, Concertino
The Ferdinand David Concertino is a strong example of a classical style concerto for trombone. As a teacher and performer it can be difficult to perform in auditions and hear in lessons as often as I do. However, its importance to students is invaluable. Students will perform the work at concerto contests, orchestral auditions and graduate school auditions. The work has become one of the major rubrics for deciding the musicality and technical proficiency of student trombonists. After learning the work, students can put it away for years at a time and come back to it with new ideas and ways of executing the technical issues involved.
I recommend several listening resources for this work. The blog by Jay Friedman has a recording of Jay playing the opening material without accompaniment. This recording is useful for students performing the work on an orchestral audition and can also provide some insight on how a major orchestral section leader wants to hear the concerto performed. The Carl Lenthe recording At the Audition Window is a strong interpretation of the work that includes piano accompaniment. For orchestral accompaniment I recommend the Michel Becquet recording from Michel Beqcuet et la musique. This is a live recording and only one or two issues with it. Becquet has a fantastic sound and plays the concerto with a great sense of musicality and proficiency. I don’t always send students to Christian Lindberg, but he does have several recordings. I find them to be overly flashy and he often takes musical ideas out of the context of the work in my opinion.
There is a common issue of the dotted eighth note and sixteenth note in the David concerto. After working on this with many teachers, I have found the easiest way to work on this is with another person. The other person can be a teacher or student; with a metronome they can keep track of that rhythm. Often the sixteenth note becomes compressed to the triplet and the triplet has a tendency to compress as well. Being sure the student is really listening to good recordings is vital to solve this problem. Many students need to think about the rhythm away from the context of the baring system to really play it proficiently. This can also help with issues in the triplet conversion. Range both high and low can be an issue in the concerto as well. I have students work on scales and arpeggios in Bb, Eb, C, and F while working on this work. The idea is to increase the comfortable range both up and down using scalar passages. I also have students do a fair amount of lip slurs moving from the comfortable middle range into the high range. Most of the movement up in the concerto is through natural and lip slurs.
#4- Georg Christoph Wagenseil, Concerto per Trombone
The Wagenseil Concerto is one of the early works for alto trombone. I think it works as a strong introduction to the alto trombone for undergraduate students who have a strong understanding of the mechanics of the instruments and clef. Students who are not prepared to perform in alto clef or are uncomfortable with the alto trombone as an instrument will struggle with the work. It is important that the student be technically proficient to execute the musical nuances of the work. When a student lists the ability to perform on alto trombone on a resume, I want them to have knowledge of the basic repertoire for the alto trombone. Because of this stipulation, I think it is good to start students with this work early.
I recommend several recordings for learning the Wagenseil Concerto for Trombone. Jörgen Van Rijen has a strong recording of the work, Sackbutt. The style is appropriate and will help students to differentiate the light style and articulation style that is so different from romantic style tenor trombone performance. I also recommend the Alain Trudel album Trombone Concerti and for a recording with an older European style I recommend the Branimer Slokar Posaunekonzerte. A combination of recordings will help most students develop their own musical and style ideals.
The challenges associated with this work include the use of the alto trombone. Students need to be comfortable with the slide positions, partial adjustments and have a strong knowledge of the scale patterns on the specific horn to be successful with this concerto. The style is very light and string like, finding the optimal point of resistance between the horn, mouthpiece and articulation is important. Many students come prepared with a compact sound, which I like to open up and keep lighter. This issue can be approached various ways, in my own performance I tend to work on arpeggios in the key I am working in, playing short notes, sometimes with air attacks and just the smallest amount of tongue articulation possible. I work with students to reduce compression from the articulation to open the sound and create a light, clear sound.
Additional challenges that this style of music brings up are the ornaments and unwritten cadenza. With young students, I listen to recordings with them and discuss the ornament options. With more advanced students I ask them to turn this into a research project. I provide the book of Bach ornamentation styles as reference and ask them to listen to recordings to make choices. All students have a copy that they actually write out the pattern they are going to use and practice from, so they have a specific decision. The cadenza is difficult to teach. I know some teachers just don’t have students play it, but I try to work with students to either improvise a cadenza (referring to our Baroque scholars at the college for help) or provide one of the three written candenzi I have used in the past (The Alessi cadenza, Chasanov cadenza, and my own created cadenza). All three are different and provide many options for students. Sometimes they are able to create there own version from these models.
#5- Paul Hindemith, Drei Leichte Stücke
The “Three Easy Pieces” by Paul Hindemith is written for cello. The name references the cello ability to play much of the work in first position with few complicated string changes. As a trombone work, it is a fine introduction work for tenor trombonists learning the bass trombone or tenor trombonists working in second partial. The work is also a strong introduction to the works of Paul Hindemith to trombonists who are required to have a certain amount of skill before attempting other works by the composer specifically for the trombone.
As the instructor, I find it valuable for students to listen to a variety of recordings. The first recording I recommend to students is Niall Brown, Hindemith for Cello and Piano. This is a strong representation of the options the cello and piano have and the student trombonists can learn from the string interpretation. I usually ask students to find at least three cello recordings before listening to trombone recordings of the work. The trombone recordings I recommend include the Ron Barron Hindemith on Trombone and the more recent Paul Pollard Point in Time. The Paul Pollard recording is especially useful to students working on tone production in the low range. If they are struggling I often pair Point in Time with Pollard’s many online videos about daily routine and tone production.
A number of technical challenges are present in this work for students to work on. There are several sections of duple against triple rhythms. Students will need to work on the rhythm away from the trombone, usually with a metronome. These passages must be very strict because the piano continues in the duple meter without a change. Additionally, the work helps initiate work in the valve for tenor trombonists and double valve dexterity for bass trombonists. I recommend students use false tones to help open up the first and second partial passages, especially at the end of each movement at a low dynamic level. Students should also be able to buzz the passages if possible, not at dynamics marked, but to be sure the vibrations are heard in the head. Because this is a cello work, there are no breath markings and some of the phrases are out of control for many student trombonists. I try to work with students to make rational breath choices that are musical when possible. This is also a fine chance to work on breath control in the low range with many students. The musical issues that present themselves to students can vary, some students are ready for the challenge and others not. I find that listening to many recordings helps most students. The work is also very vocal, so having a student sing passages, even an octave up, can help with dynamic and color choices.