Trombone tradition spans family generations
For a youngster, playing the trombone is a challenge. The “slide” is often longer than the young musician’s arms, and keeping control can be difficult when extending it out.
Sometimes it gets away, and drastic measures are needed to stop it.
“Once in a while you have to use your foot,” remembers Don Brooks of Bethel, who learned to play in the 1930s.
For his great-grandson, Christian Brown, it’s a more recent memory.
“I’ve used my foot before in a concert,” said Christian, now a Telstar High School freshmen. “It almost went off the end and I had to catch it.”
Don and Christian are separated by two generations, but sharing their devotion to the brass instrument has created a unique bond across the years.
Don was in grammar school in Bethel when he started taking private trombone lessons.
The instrument, he said, “just appealed to me. I enjoyed it from the start. They had a band and an orchestra in the old grammar school, and I played in them.”
It was the beginning of a lifelong commitment to playing in musical groups – both informal and organized.
“My mother played the piano and my brother the drums,” he said. “We had sessions at the house.”
Don played a trombone that he acquired in 1942 (and still owns).
In high school, he played in the band at Gould Academy. In keeping with the times, the music was swing.
He also played with a group at Saturday night dances in West Bethel and Locke Mills, as well as in concert bands at the Oxford County and Fryeburg fairs.
After graduation, he went on to college at the University of Maine.
There, while studying electrical engineering, he played in the marching and concert bands.
“We played at football games,” said Don.
After college he went into the Army and didn’t play much over the next 20 years. But then began a stint with the Kora Shrine Temple band that took him all over, from the annual circus in Lewiston to Georgia and Montreal.
“That trombone took me more places than anything else I ever did,” he said.
Christian remembers going to the Shrine Circus when he was little.
“I thought I’d like to play in the band at the circus,” he said.
He also remembers trying to play his great-grandfather’s trombone at around age 4. But it wasn’t just an idle distraction.
“I got interested watching him play,” said Christian.
And in a familiar pattern, Christian started taking trombone lessons in grammar school. He was in third grade when he found out that lessons were offered.
Remembers his mom, Tatum, “He came home and said he was going to play. There was never any question.”
He used one of Don’s several trombones, a lightweight, student model.
“I enjoyed it right from the start,” said Christian.
He was dedicated to practicing, said Tatum, and in the early days “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Hot Cross Buns” echoed regularly through the house.
After a couple of years of lessons, he joined Don in their first performance together, with the Mahoosuc Community Band at the Woodstock Elementary School. They sat next to each other.
In middle school Christian played regularly in the MCB with Don for about a year.
Don would give Christian suggestions. “He’d help me with slide positions because I’d mess up,” said Christian. In turn he would help his grandfather, who has difficulty hearing, keep track of the conductor’s instructions.
Toward the end of middle school Christian became busy with other things and got away from the band. So did Don, who retired last year.
But Christian has continued playing, now in the high school band.
As Christmas 2012 approached, Don decided he’d like to get one of his other trombones recondi-tioned to give to Christian.
During that time, Don had some health problems. On Christmas Day, he was in a rehabilitation facility in Lewiston. The family traveled there to spend the holiday with him, and they brought a large, boxed present with them for Christian.
“At first I had no idea what it was,” he said. “But then I smelled trombone oil. I was really excited.”
The heavier instrument has a better sound quality than the student one he had been using, Christian said.
He’s adjusted to the different feel of the instrument, and is now preparing to be in the pit orchestra for the high school’s upcoming musical, “The Wizard of Oz.”
This summer, he hopes to again pick up the family torch with the Mahoosuc Band.
Christian also plans to continue playing through his years in high school – and beyond.
“I want to play in college,” he said.
Not surprisingly, he hopes to attend his great-grandfather’s alma mater and follow a familiar course of study.
“I’ve wanted to go to the University of Maine since I was in fifth grade,” he said. “I want to study engineering.”
(Note: Christian’s mother, Tatum Brown is a production assistant at the Citizen.)