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Here Comes Treble: An Unholy Blast From The Past

"The thought of a steam-powered trombone made my insides shudder,'' writes columnist and musician Isabel Bradley.

While browsing through Openwriting.com at lunch-time today, I came across the following paragraph in Greg Hill’s latest column:

‘Mr. Frothington… owned an "arcade" in the business center of Scranton, PA in the 1890s that featured a 200-horsepower steam-powered trombone that could be heard five miles away. It played music, a "fearfully fantastic" version of "Home Sweet Home," at 6 AM, 12 and 1 PM, and again at 6 PM, which didn't appeal to residents of the Westminster Hotel, which Frothington's arcade abutted. "Why the inmates of that hotel do not take shots at him as he walks down the street," the New York Times editorialized, "is a question impossible to answer."’ *

The thought of a steam-powered trombone made my insides shudder.

I hasten to add that there is nothing more glorious than sitting, embedded in the centre of a symphony orchestra playing at full throttle, trombones blasting away along with everyone else. The sounds surround one, fill the soul to overflowing with their glory, well up from deep inside and blot out the world and all its ugliness until there is only music.
After such an experience, one feels doubly alive, full of joy and passion.

Of course, the trombones, with their full, rich and brassy sounds, are a huge part of that invigorating, uplifting experience. In the midst of a Dvorak or a Brahms symphony, when they finally find the right notes at the right time after weeks of frustrating rehearsals where those slippery slides never settle where or when they should, well, the whole orchestra is ready to stand up and cheer. We would, if we weren’t so busy blowing our instruments as loudly as possible, or scraping away on those strings as fast and hard as we can.

But a steam-driven trombone, played at a volume heard five miles distant? I can’t imagine a more awful racket. I’m grateful that the trombones I know are all driven by simple, human lung-power.


Until next time… ‘here comes Treble!’
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By Isabel Bradley


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