The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Founder Kevan Feyzi talks about the new Madison Area Trombone Ensemble (MATE), which will perform its FREE inaugural concert this Sunday in Madison. It features University of Wisconsin-Madison trombone professor Mark Hetzler as guest soloist.

March 27, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday, the Madison Area Trombone Ensemble will makes its official local debut when it performs its inaugural concert, with UW trombone professor and member of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet Mark Hetzler as a special guest soloist.

MATE 6

The FREE concert is 3 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church, 203 Wisconsin Ave., Madison, WI.

A new all-volunteer ensemble, MATE features many of the areas top trombonists, students, as well as members of the community, all of whom share a passion for music-making and trombone.  Members play in a wide variety of groups, such as the Madison Symphony, the WYSO Youth Orchestra, the Madison Jazz Orchestra, the Madison Mellophonium Jazz Orchestra, the Madison Brass Band and Phat Phunktion. (Performance photos below come from MATE when it performed at Barnes and Noble booksellers as part of the Wisconsin School Music Association’s “Music in Our Schools” Month Bookfair on March 13).

Mark Hetzler will be the guest soloist in David P. Jones’ “Bone Moan,” a work for solo trombone and six-part trombone choir. The piece draws on rhythms and harmonies found in not only jazz, but also reggae and Latin popular music. In both the solo and ensemble parts, the piece uses a full range of the trombone’s capabilities through the use of glissandi, mutes, flutter tonguing and other techniques.

MATE will also perform a piece by Madison-area bass trombonist and prolific composer-arranger Rich Woolworth, plus arrangements for trombone choir that span a variety of eras and styles, including works by Luca Marenzio, Franz Joseph Haydn, Randall Thompson and Duke Ellington.

The Ear asked MATE founder and player Kevan Feyzi (below) to talk about MATC and he kindly responded with an email Q&A:

Kevan Feyzi

When, why and how did the Madison Area Trombone Ensemble come into being?

Last summer, I was playing a bit with the Madison Mellophonium Jazz Orchestra (a large jazz band which performs charts from the Stan Kenton library). I looked to my left and right, and noticed that all four other trombonists are some of the finest players in the area and were doing this pro-bono. They each truly love to play, and do so as much as they have the time. In other groups I work with many other fine trombonists who have the same philosophy. All of us seem to get along quite well. So the light bulb then popped into my head: What if we all got together to make some music?

In the fall, I floated the idea around to trombonists around town and received very positive feedback, so I decided to go ahead with it. With some help from Steve Ash, who directs the Glenwood Moravian Trombone Choir, and the generosity of the staff of First United Methodist Church, the group finally got off the ground in January. We’re now 15 strong!

What do you and other members like about the trombone so much as to have created an all-trombone ensemble?

We’re all certainly biased, but consider this: Are any of the other members of the brass family as dynamic and versatile as the trombone? The amount of tone colors we can generate is so vast. I can hardly think of a genre of music where a trombone wouldn’t fit in. So we can play any sort of music, even in a group setting. And when you have a dozen-plus trombones playing together, you get something really remarkable. To me, it’s a collective sound that’s unsurpassed by any other collection of instruments.

I also have a lot of fun arranging for trombone choir — we can cover about the same range as a human, SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) choir. Choral music lends itself quite well to a group of trombones: in fact, on the March 30 concert we’ll be playing my choral arrangement of Randall Thompson’s well-known “Alleluia.” (You can hear a tribune choir perform Morten Lauridsen‘s “O Magnum Mysterium” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Trombone

What kind of repertoire will you favor? Original compositions? New music? Older established repertoire? Transcriptions? Classical music? Jazz and crossover music?

I make a point NOT to favor any one style (jazz versus classical) over another. Trombones sound great in all music, so let’s show off our versatility! For example, we’ll start off with some Renaissance music, some Haydn, and move chronologically forward — more or less — into the 20th century and jazz. There are all kinds of great arrangements and transcriptions for trombone choir—some great ones being done by members of the group in fact — but original repertoire is harder to come by.

So I’m particularly excited about a piece contributed by Monticello-based trombonist and composer Rich Woolworth (below top)  called “Octagon,” as well as the piece we’ll feature Mark Hetzler (below bottom, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) in, David P. Jones’ “Bone Moan.”

Rich Woolworth trombone

Mark Hetzler 2011 BIG COLOR Katrin Talbot

Mark Hetzler and David P. Jones (below) are long-time friends, and the two have collaborated on many compositions for trombone. I like to feature a few original trombone choir compositions on any performance, but these two stand out because of the local connections. The more we can play from the output of area composers, arrangers or members of the group, the better.

David P. Jones full face

Bone Moan CD cover

Do you worry about establishing another music group in a city with so many music groups already?

I suppose if money were a concern then I might, but this is a community group. MATE’s mission is one of music-making and camaraderie, while sharing the unique sound of a trombone choir with music lovers. I think that we can achieve that regardless of the amount of other groups in town. For a mid-sized city, we have a notably large music scene in Madison, which means that some very fine players can’t always commit to a series of weekly rehearsals and a performance or two.

About the only thing I’m concerned about is having enough players to make the group viable. But I’m quite satisfied about how the group has grown — 15 is a great number for a trombone choir, and it should only grow from there.

MATE 7 close up

What are your plans for future concerts and events? Is membership open and how does one audition?

I have a summer performance in the works much like what we’re doing this month, but I’d like to introduce the group into other performance settings as well. A group of trombones works just as well at a jazz festival as it does in a concert hall — we just have to play the appropriate repertoire. Membership is open to anyone in the community who plays the trombone solidly, and has a decent amount of experience. Anyone interested in joining is welcome to sit in for a rehearsal to see if they enjoy it.

What kind of support is the group seeking to keep it going?

A good-sized audience at our performances, and lots of positive vibes! I don’t keep a budget for the group: the players are all volunteering their musical talents, and I volunteer my own time outside of rehearsal to promote the group and keep things running smoothly. That being said, donations will be accepted at performances in order to purchase new music.

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

Creating and directing this group has been a real bright spot for me in what’s been one of the worst winters in history. I’m very thankful for all the trombonists who have donated their time and efforts toward getting us off the ground, and I’m excited to keep it going!

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