I studied with Douglas Yeo for two years, from the fall of 1985 until the spring of 1987, as one of his first students at the New England Conservatory. He had won the bass trombone position with the Boston Symphony Orchestra earlier that year. Although I am fortunate to have had four of the best trombone teachers in the U.S. during my high school and college days, it was Douglas Yeo who set me on a direct course toward winning and keeping orchestral bass trombone positions at the highest level. His teaching method with me was direct, with no nonsense and with great expectation. He earned my trust as a teacher immediately and went so far as to promise tangible results in auditions, provided that I listen to his instruction and follow up in the library and practice room. Less than two years after my studies with Doug, I won my first orchestral audition.
Today, some 21 years later, Douglas Yeo continues to have great success as a teacher. As a small example, within a 40 mile radius of my home, former students of Mr. Yeo hold down bass trombone positions in the top bands and orchestras around;
- Randy Campora: Baltimore Symphony
- Patrick Corbett: U.S. Marine Band
- Zachary Hollister: U.S. Naval Academy.
His award-winning website, www.yeodoug.com, has set the gold standard for musician’s websites. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, this website has global influence and has become one of the main repositories of trombone-related reference material available today. If you have not done so prior to reading the following interview, I encourage you to visit www.yeodoug.com to catch a glimpse of the man, his recordings, his writings and his life philosophies.
As Doug admits, his life is pretty much an open book. Still, I felt that even after having been his student, played beside him professionally, corresponded via e-mail, listened to his recordings and read his writings over the course of the last two plus decades, there remained a few things that I wanted to know about him. Doug was kind enough to submit to my questioning, and I am extremely grateful to him for sharing his thoughts and ideas with me.
This interview was conducted between February 24 and February 26, 2006.
Matthew Guilford: Why did you choose to play the bass trombone?
Douglas Yeo: When I had the chance to choose a musical instrument in the fourth grade (when I was nine years old) at Hewlett Elementary School on Long Island, N.Y., I wanted to play trumpet. But by the time my band director got to people whose last name began with the letter “Y” the trumpets were all gone. So he gave me a trombone. My disappointment lasted only as long as it took me to get home; once I opened the case and blew my first note I was hooked on the trombone.
I played tenor trombone through high school but when I was selected to play in the All-Eastern Orchestra (which was held in the old Hynes Convention Center in Boston in January 1972) during my senior year, I was assigned to play bass trombone on Bernstein’s Candide Overture, Brahms’ Symphony #3 and Dvorak’s Symphony #8. Keith Brown was the conductor and I had to admit I liked playing the bass trombone part. At the time I was playing one of the old King Model 1485 “Symphony Bass” models, really a larger bore tenor/smaller bore bass combination that had been made for the Cleveland Orchestra trombone section under Szell. I never should have sold that horn.
I began my freshman year in college at Indiana University studying as a music education major under Keith Brown. But before I entered I.U. I knew I would be transferring to Wheaton College for the love of a girl (who is my wife of over 30 years) who was going to Wheaton College in Illinois the next year and therefore I knew I would not need to fulfill I.U.’s requirement that music education majors play in the I.U. Marching Band for two years. I very much wanted to play in an orchestra right away so I asked Mr. Brown about it and whether he thought I should audition on tenor or bass. There were something like 50 trombone players in the school of which 12 were bass trombonists, all vying for a spot in five orchestras and three bands. I liked the odds on bass trombone better and in my first semester I played in the fourth orchestra and in my second semester I played in the first orchestra. By the end of that year my relationship with the bass trombone was cemented and after I transferred to Wheaton and began studying with Edward Kleinhammer, I bought my first proper bass trombone, a Bach 50B2 which served me very well until the late 1980′s when I began working with Yamaha to develop the trombone I play today, the Yamaha YBL-822.
M.G.: When did you decide your make music your career?
D.Y.: I would say it was when I was a sophomore in high school. The high school I attended at the time had an excellent music program and when I got to high school for the start of 10th grade (our junior high went through ninth grade), I was entranced by the amazing variety of music making opportunities at the school. My band director, Steve Work, was a demanding, wise educator who saw something in me that needed some serious refining. After placement auditions in the fall of my first year in high school I found myself sitting first chair in the school wind ensemble, ahead of upperclassmen who clearly were better players than me. That sure provided a motivation for me to work hard and after a few weeks, Mr. Work brought me aside to tell me that putting me first was all part of a plan to see if I would sink or swim, that he had worked it all out with the other players. I was relieved when he put me back in the middle of the section where I belonged but his little trick worked and I learned how to practice and work hard. I had many friends in the band who brought me along and taught me a lot about music and I’d say it was the influence of bassoonist Toni Lipton (who now plays in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra) that was the biggest thing that led me – without really knowing much about it – to head toward a career in music.
M.G.: Were your parents supportive of your career choice?
D.Y.: No, they were not especially supportive. My mother was a trained pianist and a church organist so she appreciated that I liked music. But as a career? No, neither of my parents thought it was practical and they were not very happy when I decided to major in music.
M.G.: What were the factors involved in choosing a college?
D.Y.: I chose Indiana University because of its reputation and because I had worked with Mr. Brown at All-Eastern Orchestra. It was the only school I applied to. I transferred to Wheaton because my then girlfriend, now my wife, was going there. That was enough reason for me! But Wheaton was a great place for me where I really developed my musico/spiritual world-view and came under the loving, guiding hand of my mentor and friend for the last 30+ years, Edward Kleinhammer.
M.G.: What/who were your biggest musical influences?
D.Y.: I’ve already mentioned my first high school band director, Steve Work and Toni Lipton, both of whom I credit with giving me the needed jump start from just playing the trombone for fun to wanting to take it more seriously. Keith Brown was my guiding hand the year I was at Indiana University. Once I got to Wheaton, two people truly changed my life: Harold Best and Edward Kleinhammer. Dr. Best was the dean at Wheaton’s Conservatory of Music. He was my first true mentor. He took me under his wing and taught me the importance of excellence in all I do, that I needed to exercise good stewardship of the gifts God had given to me. Mr. Kleinhammer showed me the importance and value of the disciplined life. He did not suffer fools gladly, he had incredibly high standards and would never tell me I had done something well if I hadn’t. He knew what I had inside me and he was the person who presided over it coming to the surface.
Being in the Chicago area for two full years (I completed my undergraduate degree in three years, going straight through college in three years and two summers) was a huge influence as I went to hear the Chicago Symphony regularly in Orchestra Hall and Ravinia. Seeing and hearing Mr. Kleinhammer do each week what I wanted to do was inspiring to me. On the other hand, leaving Chicago and moving to New York City (where I got my master’s degree at New York University) was equally influential as I learned that “the Chicago way” was not the “only way” or the “best way.” I remember hearing the St. Saens Organ Symphony three times in the same week, twice in Carnegie hall (one performance was by the Orchestre de Paris) and once in Philharmonic Hall (with Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic). I was stunned: Each performance was enlightening and NONE of them were like the CSO. I learned in that week that I had to become my own person, not just try to imitate my teacher and try to be something I wasn’t. I needed to find my own style, my own musical personality.
George Roberts also was a huge influence. We became acquainted in 1982 and have been friends ever since. His gentle, quiet manner combined with his drop dead gorgeous sound and style made him a huge role model to me. And then there were the great musicians who I did not know personally but were role-models to me for any number of reasons: Horowitz; Rostropovich (as a cellist, not as a conductor!); Caruso; Beverly Sills; and so many more I could not even begin to count.
M.G.: What/who are your biggest musical influences now?
D.Y.: Since joining the Boston Symphony my musical influences have been divided roughly equally between some of my BSO colleagues and other people outside of the orchestra. Sitting every day in the orchestra has allowed me to become intimately acquainted with the playing of my colleagues, some of whom have had a great influence on me. For the first 17 years of my career in the BSO I sat between tubist Chester Schmitz (who retired from the BSO several years ago) and trombonist Norman Bolter. In my mind, Chester was – far and away – the finest tuba player who has ever walked on the face of the earth. His sound, style and musicianship was unparalleled and I learned a great deal from him. Likewise Norman has been a great partner and inspiration to me in the orchestra. But it is not just brass players that have given me much to consider. Timpanist Vic Firth, bassoonist Sherman Walt, clarinetist Harold Wright and many others have turned phrases and produced sounds that have all given me much to think about. I feel that when I go to work each day I am getting a personal master class from my colleagues. That is an immeasurable bonus of my job.
Outside the orchestra my life has been taking some interesting turns in the last 12 years. I have become captivated by early music and am thrilled to play and listen to music that I paid little attention while in the focused march to becoming an orchestral bass trombonist. This has been a wonderful journey as I have gotten to play (on serpent, ophicleide and bass sackbut) with a completely different kind of musician than my life as a modern orchestral player has had me play with regularly. There are two spectacular players of the serpent, Michel Godard and Bernard Fourtet, who are so creative, so expert and so inspiring that hardly a week goes by without my listening to one or more of their recordings. But then there is the music itself. J.S. Bach is high on my list of influences now; I intersect with his music every day in some way.
M.G.: Did you consider any career(s) other than music?
D.Y.: Like most young boys, I aspired to a number of fanciful careers: I wanted to be an astronaut, an architect, a soldier, to work in the business world like my father. But once music hit me hard in high school, there was nothing else I ever considered. I pursued music with a single-minded sense of purpose. After graduating from Wheaton I worked for five years in a variety of jobs including freelancing in music in New York City, working as a secretary for three different businesses and being a high school band director for two years. But a career as an orchestral musician was always my goal.
I did have an important epiphany, though. After taking a few auditions and getting close to winning, I had a long talk with myself and with God. I concluded that I had been going about things in one important wrong way. I had been trying to make a deal with God, saying, “Look, God, just give me a job in an orchestra and you know how happy I’ll be.” I had it completely backwards. I released my dream. Instead, my prayer became, “God, show me what you want me to do with my life. Whatever it is, I’ll do it the best I can, but you’re going to have to show me. If it’s not for me to play the trombone professionally, it’s OK, but you’re going to have to lead me in my journey to what you want me to do.” I realized at that moment that perhaps playing in an orchestra was not going to be my career. But more important, I realized that was OK. I realize now that my releasing the goal – while still pursuing it because I felt that was where God was leading me – was an important step on my ultimately achieving the goal. I’m not playing in the Boston Symphony because I’m the greatest bass trombone player in the world. I’m in the BSO because it is my calling, it is where I HAVE to be, where I was destined to be. Once there, I had (and have) work to do which is much more than just playing the trombone. I’m there for a purpose, and from my platform there I have myriad opportunities to interact with people – audiences, individuals, groups. That is a big thought.
M.G.: What do you like to do completely outside of music?
D.Y.: My wife and I love to hike. Our idea of the perfect vacation is to go to one of our favorite places – Zion National Park or Acadia National Park, or any of a number of other fantastic spots – and spend a week or two hiking in the great outdoors. We also like to ride our Gary Fisher tandem mountain bike, especially at Acadia National Park and at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts.
M.G.: What could you reveal about yourself that we might not discover through studying with you or reading your writings?
D.Y.: My beverage of choice is Diet Coke, the only beer I drink is Guinness, my favorite place on the planet is Zion National Park in Southwest Utah and I love cats.
M.G.: What is your favorite piece/composer to perform in the symphony? Why?
D.Y.: I’ve had an evolution on this. Like most trombonists I began my career never feeling like I got enough Bruckner, Mahler and Strauss. Now that I’ve played and recorded so many of those pieces, they still resonate with me, but Strauss and Bruckner generate a little less enthusiasm while Mahler still affects me deeply. In recent years I have come to appreciate Berlioz in a new way. At one time I was no great fan of his music – after all he only wrote for a bass trombone in one piece (his Funeral and Triumphant Symphonie) and it seemed he wrote endless unisons for the trombone section. After studying him more, I’ve come to appreciate his remarkable compositional gift and how he understood the orchestra like no composer before and since. The most “fun” pieces as a trombonist are Mahler #5, Schubert Great C Major Symphony, Haydn Creation and Mozart Requiem. Then there are the pieces that I love to play so much that I don’t want to leave the stage after they’re over because they are so potent and speak to me deeply, like the Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. I also love opera and the BSO has played a lot of opera over the years. Being a part of Strauss’ Salome and Elektra, Berg’s Wozzeck, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, and many Wagner operas (on bass trumpet and contrabass trombone) has been a thrill. Finally, working with John Williams and playing and recording some of the best of his film music still sends a feeling up my spine that is rarely matched by any other music.
But my favorite THING to do in the orchestra? Play soft chorales. I love playing softly. REALLY SOFTLY. For me, the most rewarding part of any piece is the moment when I get to play a soft chord with the rest of the low brass section. It may not be moment that has any great musical significance and most people won’t even notice it. But the satisfaction I get from being part of a soft chord is something that I find deeply rewarding, far more rewarding than blowing my head off in some fortissimo passage.
M.G.: What do you consider the hardest part of your job in the Boston Symphony?
D.Y.: I started playing the trombone when I was nine years old. This year I turn 51. Twenty-one years in the Boston Symphony. Four years in the Baltimore Symphony. Five years after college as a freelance player in New York City. Three years in college. All with a trombone on my face. I love playing the trombone. It is my primary musical voice and it has given me (and continues to give me) great pleasure. But the trombone dictates many life decisions. Such as how much or when I go to sleep, or what food I eat, or how early I leave for work in the morning. Even when I take some time off like I do every September, I still am thinking about the trombone, how it will feel when I get back to it, what my new goals for the year are. Some things on the trombone are easier than ever and others are harder than ever. That’s the double edged sword of experience and aging. The joy of playing the trombone is sometimes – rarely, thankfully – coupled with a feeling that the trombone dictates much of what I can do with my life. I see colleagues, mostly string players, who can get out of their car and literally walk on stage without having played a note on the fiddle before the downbeat of a rehearsal. I can’t do that. My wife has learned what foods I can and can’t eat before concerts with certain repertoire. One day I will wake up and say, “Wow, I don’t have to warm up today.” That will be a new day. But for now, the benefits of a life in music far outweigh the challenges that I need to push through in order to enjoy that life.
M.G.: Where do you see yourself after retirement from the symphony?
D.Y.: I don’t have a crystal ball and I have seen enough problems in my life and the lives of others when we try to orchestrate the future. But I do think about retirement and what life might look like then – and I am closer to it now than I’ve ever been. I see the real possibility of my retiring in 2015 at age 60, after 30 years in the BSO. In that year I’ll also celebrate my 40th wedding anniversary. Three big milestones in one moment in time. I see myself putting down the bass trombone for good when I retire from the BSO – after all, if I wanted to stay in shape on the trombone (and I can’t imagine my wanting to play it if I wasn’t in shape), why would I retire from this great job?! But I would continue playing other instruments like the sackbut, ophicleide and serpent, and continue my love of playing music with early music groups. I envision traveling more, reading more, reflecting more, writing more and some things which remain private thoughts at the moment. But all of that thinking really may amount to nothing. I have a very loose grip on my future and I am confident that God will lead me in a path that will have me being very fulfilled while at the same accomplishing the purposes for which I was given breath to walk on this earth for a time.
M.G.: You are arguably one of the most influential trombonists of our time through your position, recordings, teachings, writings and website. Any thoughts on what that means?
D.Y.: I am truly blessed. Through the accident of birth (which, of course, is no accident) I was given the opportunity to audition for and play in one of the world’s great orchestras. I can say without any hesitation that my career has been everything I ever dreamed it would be. I have accomplished every goal I ever set before me in music. I’ve played every piece I ever wanted to play, played with every conductor I wanted to work with, been around the world more times than I can count, played in all of the world’s great concert halls, been inspired by great soloists and colleagues, been rewarded with dedicated, hard-working students, made recordings, worked with a company (Yamaha) to design a trombone and mouthpiece to my own liking. My wife still loves me after more than 30 years of marriage and my two daughters give me reason to be proud of them every day.
– The Talmud
Others will have to judge how influential I have been but my overarching desire through my career has been to help people. People like Dr. Best and Mr. Kleinhammer helped me so much that I knew it was important for me to thank them by giving back to others. A former student of mine, Wes Citron, graduated from Boston University and gave me a nice print which was inscribed with the following quotation from the Talmud, “Whoever teaches a student teaches that student’s student – and so on until the end of man’s generations.” And so that is true. There is a piece of Mr. Kleinhammer in me. So I pass that piece on to my students and to others. And they pass it on and it keeps going.
When Arnold Schoenberg joined the army during the First World War, an officer asked him if he was “THE” Arnold Schoenberg. He replied, “You see, no one else wanted to be, so I had to take it on.” I don’t know why God made me “Douglas Yeo.” He surely could have chosen someone with fewer failings than me to take it on. But He took a very imperfect person and gave him a job to do. And I’ve tried to do whatever He has led me to do – whether it be with the trombone, in the classroom, in the teaching studio, or with the typewriter or computer keyboard – with passion, commitment and purpose. As I reflect back on what has happened thus far in over 51 years of life and look ahead to what might come in the future, I am truly humbled and amazed at what has happened. It is a thought that sometimes leaves me very quiet in contemplation.
M.G.: How do you want to be remembered?
D.Y.: That’s not for me to say. I’m aware that when I retire from the Boston Symphony my name as a musician will begin to fade off the scene. It always happens – people want the new guy. Once you retire, most people will forget what you did on the trombone. How do I know this? Easy: Name the New York Philharmonic trombone section from 1968. Boston Symphony from 1972? Cleveland Orchestra from 1987? Five trombone players from the Sousa Band? Having trouble? I see young players who don’t know the name Arnold Jacobs. Allen Ostrander is just a name on some music. Davis Shuman is unknown. No, we are all forgotten in time. It is not for us to write our legacy. That is written by others.
I recall a little plaque that my wife’s parents had hanging in their house. A little saying, trite, but as with most trite sayings it had a lot of truth in it: “Only one life, t’will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” And so it is most likely the things I do and have been that have been formed by my Christian faith – my willingness to help people, to interact with people’s lives on a deeper level, to be available as a mentor – that I would hope I would be remembered for. I hope, too, that I will be remembered as a husband and father who loved his wife and children, who was loyal and faithful to them and who encouraged others in myriad ways.
I think it’s interesting that the New Grove Dictionary of Music doesn’t mention me in the article about the trombone (why should it?!) but I am mentioned in the article about the serpent. That does give me a little pause. Others decide for you how you will be remembered.I’m OK with that. Unlike Presidents who seem to spend their last few years in office polishing their legacy, I’m content to look ahead, not back.
M.G.: What is your pet-peeve with your students?
D.Y.: A lack of curiosity. I have an insatiable appetite for wanting to know more about just about anything I’m involved in. I read voraciously, I love doing research, going to libraries. “Going the extra mile” was instilled in me by Mr. Kleinhammer. Most students don’t understand this. For instance: I was recently coaching a student trombone quartet which is working on some of the Bruckner motet arrangements by Ralph Sauer. I suggested that they get the vocal score and listen to a vocal recording so they could play it with a vocally informed style rather than simply as four trombone players playing “trombone music.” A week later and none of them had looked at the score or listened to a recording. If I had been in that quartet I would have been in the library five minutes after the coaching was done, and would have listened to five recordings, bought the score and tried to understand why the music is so transcendent. I can’t instill that curiosity – I don’t shove things down my student’s throats. They have to WANT it themselves.
Over the years many talented students have come into my studio at New England Conservatory. Those who have been successful in music (or other pursuits) have all demonstrated the same qualities – a commitment to excellence, musical curiosity, a passion for the trombone and a sense of trust in their teacher. It is the rare person today who has those attributes. I don’t scream and yell and throw furniture in lessons like some well known teachers. I cannot “make” a student do a thing. They have to want it and if they understand that, they will be able to persevere through the hard work and trials to discover if their combination of talent, hard work and destiny will lead them to their goal. They won’t know if they don’t try. Unfortunately, most students really don’t try, expecting things to just come their way. Curiosity leads you to know how good good enough is. If you don’t know that, you won’t ever reach the highest level even if you have the talent to do so.
M.G.: What is the best piece of advice you can give to an aspiring young bass trombonist?
D.Y.: Know who the standard is. When I retire from the Boston Symphony someday and John Doe who has just graduated from Podunk University School of Music wants to audition for my seat, who is his competition? The other people who come to take the audition? No. His competition is me. Douglas Yeo. That’s right. And I won’t even play a note at the audition.
That’s because I have set the standard for the bass trombone chair of the Boston Symphony. When I leave, the BSO will want to hire someone who will hopefully have many of the same capabilities I had but who will also bring new things to the chair. That’s how the orchestra will get better over time, by finding people to replace retiring people who can help bring the orchestra to a new level. If the audition committee doesn’t hear someone they think can fulfill that role in the bass trombone chair as compared to what they’ve already had, they won’t hire anyone and will hold another audition and will continue holding auditions until they find the right person. Just because you’re the best player at an audition doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination mean you’ll be hired. You have to play against the standard and that’s the person whose chair you are auditioning for. If you understand that, you’ll know what you should be working on. If you think that’s “unfair” then you will be flipping hamburgers, not playing in a major symphony orchestra because you don’t understand the standard. My best students, the ones who have been successful in music and other careers, have understood this.
I tell my students that it’s easier to get elected governor of a state than it is to win the bass trombone chair in a major symphony orchestra. Why? Well, there are 50 states and each of them elect a new governor every four years. Pretty good odds against the fact that there are fewer than 30 major orchestras and people in those jobs can stay in the job for 30 years or longer. No re-election campaigns! This is a tough business with long odds. I tell most of my students at their first lesson, “You know, the odds are stacked against you winning a big job.” How they respond to that statement will tell me a lot. If they start to cry that tells me something. If they say I’m mean and cold-hearted it tells me another. But if they say, “Yes, I know that. But trombone is my calling and I have to go for it,” well, that student will get the very best I can offer him or her. Because that student understands that while the odds are long and the chances are slim, someone has to play bass trombone in every orchestra and why shouldn’t it be him?
Keep the standard in mind. Don’t rest on your laurels or think that just because you’ve had success in the past that somehow you are owed more success in the future. The unique combination of talent, hard work and destiny will unfold for each person who is on the path. Only if you truly understand the goal will you have a chance to be one of the few.
M.G.: What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?
D.Y.: There is no single highlight, but a number of them that stand out that make for immense satisfaction in my life of music. Certain orchestral performances: Haydn’s Creation with Simon Rattle, Schoenberg’s Pelleas and Mellisande with James Levine, Brahms 2 with Bernard Haitink, Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony (playing serpent) with Ton Koopman, Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet (playing ophicleide) with Jeffrey Rink, Bruckner 3 with Kurt Sanderling, Mahler 2 with Leonard Bernstein, Bartok’s Miraculous Mandarin with Seiji Ozawa, Monteverdi’s Vespers (playing bass sackbut) with Grant Llewellyn, recording the soundtrack to Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan with John Williams, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (playing serpent) with Grant Llewellyn, recording Handel’s Royal Fireworks (playing serpent) with Martin Pearlman. The list goes on and on.
My work with the New England Brass Band, a gifted group of amateur players (including my wife who plays second baritone horn), has been exceptionally rewarding. Winning our section at the North American Brass Band Association’s National Championship was a thrill I cannot put into words.
Then there were the moments in time, things that I never would have gotten to do were it not for my life in music: seeing Iguazu Falls in Argentina, standing in front of Mahler’s grave in Vienna, smuggling Bibles into China from Hong Kong – all of these things came about as a result of being on tour with the BSO. Then I’ve had some remarkable solo opportunities, such as being the first bass trombonist to play the John Williams Tuba Concerto (with John conducting the Boston Pops), playing Chris Brubeck’s Bass Trombone Concerto and Simon Proctor’s Serpent Concerto (with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops), premiering Vaclav Nelhybel’s Bass Trombone Concerto (with the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble conducted by Frank Battisti) and playing Eric Ewazen’s Bass Trombone Concerto (NEC Honors Orchestra conducted by Richard Hoenich). These have been memorable and cherished moments.
But if I had to pick one highlight – only one – it would have to be playing in the pre-game show at Super Bowl XXXVI when the New England Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams. As an avid football fan, getting a chance to go to a Super Bowl (as a member of the Boston Pops Orchestra) was a more than rare opportunity; being given a ticket by Patriots owner Robert Kraft so I could stay for the game (along with the whole Pops orchestra) was overwhelming, and watching the Patriots win arguably the most exciting Super Bowl in history was simply over the top. If you had told me when I was nine years old that as a result of playing the trombone I’d get to go to a Super Bowl, get paid to go there AND get a free ticket to the game I would have told you that you were nuts. But it happened. Unforgettable!
M.G.: What characteristics do you admire in others that you do not see in yourself(or would like to see more of in yourself)?
D.Y.: I have been too impatient at times. With myself and with others. I think quickly and too often have acted too quickly. This is something that has changed (thankfully) in recent years because I have seen more of the value of reflection that has been modeled by others so admirably. I have high standards, something that Mr. Kleinhammer instilled in me. Sometimes that gets misinterpreted as an arrogance which is not my intention at all. I am not an “expert,” I don’t know “everything.” It does me no good to say, “But I’m really not that way!” If people perceive you in a certain way, you cannot change that perception from a defensive posture. I have learned a lot over the years, and many lessons have come the hard way. I am not a blame-shifter and I take responsibility for my thoughts and actions and their consequences. I won’t get a chance to live my life over again so what I can hope to do is to move forward having learned lessons of the past.
M.G.: What music do you enjoy listening to outside of mainstream classical?
D.Y.: CDs in my car right now: several recordings by the Britannia Building Society Brass Band, a new CD by the female vocal trio “Trio Medieval.” Highlights from Howard Shore’s soundtrack to Lord of the Rings. Bach Cello Suites played by Rostropovich. A Gregorian chant disc and a CD of Bach chorales (for use when stuck in traffic).
In my iPod: 30 gigs of music, mostly non-classical, including Frank Rosolino, Latin bands, brass bands, Civil War instrument bands, Wycliffe Gordon, Bruckner motets, hymns sung by English choirs, an album of music for alphorns and choir, Urbie Green’s 21 Trombones albums, Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, J.J. Johnson and Andre Previn playing Kurt Weill songs, several Anonymous 4 albums, and much more. I don’t listen to much classical music any more that I also play in the orchestra – I have played it so much that I listen while I’m at work – after all I am a trombone player and have much more time to sit around and listen on stage than I do having to play! I listen to a lot of early music including Bach, Montiverdi, Purcell, consorts of early music players, Gesualdo, Palestrina. Ninety-nine out of 100 times if I’m listening to classical music off stage it is music without trombones in it and it is early music. I’m going backwards in time. It feels great.
M.G.: Doug, you are one of those people whose energy seems to vibrate at a higher frequency than most others. I have seen this in Christian Lindberg as well, having met him on a few occasions. You are a very high achiever in all that you pursue. Were you born this way? Do you push yourself to be this way? Were you hyper-active as a child? Do you believe that others can learn to burn as brightly as you do?
D.Y.: The most beloved member of the New England Patriots football team is linebacker Tedy Bruschi. Why? He is passionate on the field, a leader, a positive influence in the locker room, a person dedicated to helping his community, a family man and a person with a smile on his face. His nickname is “Full Tilt Tedy.” When I go to Patriots games at Gillette Stadium, I wear a jersey with Bruschi’s name and his number 54 on it. I’ll never play for the New England Patriots but I think I understand something about what makes Tedy tick because I’m very much the same way. I wake up each morning excited to be alive with a day ahead of me that is full of opportunities. I have only so many days to breathe on this earth and I want to make the most of them. Eternity is going to be terrific but it won’t be the same as what I can do today!
While I am very energetic and passionate in all that I do, I also know the value of rest and quiet contemplation. I spend time doing this every day, to slow down the pace and keep things in proper perspective. I’m blessed that my passionate outlook on all I do comes with a good medical outlook – my blood pressure, pulse and cholesterol are all in the excellent ranges. Being passionate is different than being excitable or hyper-active. I try to get a good rest every night (sleeping from about midnight to 7 a.m. – as I’ve gotten older a nap once a week is a good thing), eat well (my wife is a fantastic cook and we have a balanced low-fat diet), and not let stress get to me. I exercise regularly and try to take care of my body since I know when it finally breaks down, that’s the end.
I think the main thing is that my insatiable curiosity feeds me in a healthy way. I don’t like to waste time. I don’t watch TV except to see a documentary on a subject that interests me or to get the weather forecast. The TV news makes you dumb. It’s not news, it doesn’t teach you anything really useful and it leaves you feeling hopeless. Think about what CNN says: “We give you the world in 30 minutes.” The world? The WORLD? Come on, that’s ridiculous. If you want to know about the Middle East, turn off the TV and read the Bible, the Koran and history books written from all sides of the issues. Not just books on the New York Times best seller list but books written 50 and 100 years ago. Correspond with people who live there, go visit it yourself. Get a broader view than you can get in a 30 second politically driven sound bite. Develop more than a superficial understanding of things. That’s how you get to know what’s going on in the world. TV is all about marketing and getting you to tune in again tomorrow. I don’t like being manipulated like that. Instead, I read voraciously, contemplate deeply and take the information I have and turn it into something that will cause me to DO something with it.
I got through life without watching an episode of M*A*S*H*, The Simpsons, Survivor or American Idol. I just don’t find them interesting. I love having fun and I love to laugh, but I don’t need TV to make me laugh or to help me relax. I relax by reading a book, studying a score, researching an idea, meditating on the Bible. I laugh when talking with a friend or my wife, or when I observe something in REAL LIFE that is truly absurd or funny. TV is too passive an activity for me. Think of what you could accomplish in a lifetime if you turned the TV off one hour a day!
So, with the time I have from not wasting time, I can do things that make a difference. The highest compliment a person ever paid me was, “Doug, what I like about you is that you work to change the world and you make the devil mad.” That’s me. Look, nobody ever strives for mediocrity. But excellence and “difference making” doesn’t come from sitting around and passively letting things happen to you. I’m an active participant in everything I do. At the same time I don’t feel stressed, anxious or jittery. I’m just glad to be alive and, in the words of the old Gospel song, want to, “brighten the corner where you are.” I can’t solve the Middle East situation, or famine in North Korea or civil war in Somalia. But there are things I CAN do so I just do them. To me that’s good stewardship – being a good steward of the talents and abilities God gave me. It’s about moving beyond the trombone or any “thing” in this world and acting in a way that is informed by my world view, no matter where that will take me. John Swallow once said, “Trombone is something I do, it’s not who I am.” Sage advice. To his axiom I add a corollary: “My Christian faith is who I am, it’s not something I do.” That faith informs me in all I think, do and say. And one of the things it informs me about is the keen knowledge that I have a responsibility to be faithful to God by being a faithful steward of all he has entrusted to me. Not for myself but on behalf of others. In book III of Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf says to Denethor, “But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit or flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?”
Yes, wise friend Gandalf. I know.
M.G.: Please add anything else you would like to share about yourself with us that was not asked.
D.Y.: Life is short. Pray hard. Be nice. Help people. Show up on time. Pick up your trash. Pick up someone else’s trash. Be honest. Be the kind of friend who can tell someone things they need to know but don’t want to hear. Accept criticism. Don’t be defensive. Be a leader. Don’t play trombone like you have something to prove. Use your turn signal. Tell your kids you love them every day. Slow down. Look up. Get out of the practice room. Don’t jaywalk. Squeeze the toothpaste tube from the bottom. Polish your shoes. Cut your fingernails. Clean your mouthpiece. Bring a pencil to rehearsal. Kick back and relax. Change the world.
Thanks, Matt, for this opportunity to talk to people about some things that are important to me. You were one of the few students I’ve had who understood what I was talking about. I’m very proud of you.