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From NASA to Trombones

"The first movement of Wind Tunnels should begin as if it is a ‘Roman military call’ in a stentorian manner."

I am delighted to interview Dave Deason composer, pianist and retired university professor about his new piece ‘Wind Tunnels for trombone quartet’. Wind Tunnels was premiered and recorded by the Szeged Trombone Ensemble in 2018 and now, it is published by Saker Music.

How did the idea come to compose a trombone quartet?

Around 1980, I wrote a brass trio with the title Wind Tunnels, scored for trumpet, horn, and trombone.  The first performance of it was by a student ensemble coached by Gerard Schwartz at the Juilliard School.  It was subsequently performed numerous times by several brass ensembles at various universities and colleges.  As a pianist, I was unfamiliar with the large repertoire of brass music.  However, a few years ago, I heard for the first time the wonderful Trombone Quartet, Op. 117, by Derek Bourgeois, and I was struck by the power, energy, and majesty of the trombone in an ensemble setting. So, I decided to try my hand at writing a trombone quartet.  Because I still liked some of the ideas in my original brass trio, I decided to include them in the new trombone quartet.  The final composition ended up being a very different conception than the original brass trio.

Dave Deason composer portrait
Dave Deason composer
Is this your first composition for trombone quartet?

Although I have written several brass ensemble pieces, Wind Tunnels is my first attempt at a trombone quartet.  I hope to write more trombone quartets in the future, along with even larger brass ensemble pieces.

Where did the idea of title come from?

The idea for the title came from observing wind tunnel experiments with my Dad, who was an engineer at NASA.  I became fascinated with the incredible magic and power of these machines. In a manner of speaking, perhaps a brass instrument could be considered somewhat analogous to a wind tunnel, in that it is a ‘tunnel’ through which air is blown.  Of course, the aeronautical purpose is not needed, unless a player has the most powerful lungs in the universe!

You dedicated the piece to the Szeged Trombone Ensemble. How did you find this group of trombonists?

After writing the piece, I had no idea who to send it to for a possible performance, as I had only a minimal acquaintance with any trombonist.  Through an internet search, I came upon the website of the Szeged Trombone Ensemble.  It looked and sounded like a very dynamic group.  While not thinking that anything would necessarily come of it, I wrote Gyorgy Gyivicsan.  Not long after, I heard back from Gyorgy asking to see the score and hear an audio file.  That request was followed later by an email saying that they wanted to record the piece.  Naturally, I was very thrilled to be associated with such an awesome group!  Because of their spectacular performance on the CD, it seemed only natural to dedicate the piece to them.

Szeged Trombone Ensemble
Szeged Trombone Ensemble
You mentioned that you haven’t had much experience with trombones. What were the challenges of composing this trombone quartet?

The primary challenge for me was not being able to find a player to work with when I was writing the piece.  Since I retired from college teaching several years ago, I lost contact with former brass playing colleagues, so I had to rely on what knowledge I gained from players through the years.  Although I am a pianist and organist in both Classical and Jazz, and I can play all woodwind instruments, I am not a brass player.  So, the challenge was for me to determine whether certain parts of the music would not only be playable, but whether certain difficult ideas I had would even be worth the effort to learn.  I have always found it difficult to write a virtuoso level piece, except for the piano, when there is no one to work with and advise.  I try to put myself in the position of the performer concerning how to express a musical idea with the least amount of rehearsal time.  Complex compositions, which require extensive practice time can be expensive.

Are there any performance notes that you would like to share with us, and the future performers of Wind Tunnels?

The first movement of Wind Tunnels should begin as if it is a ‘Roman military call’ in a stentorian manner. The bulk of the movement should be played at a relaxing speed, but not in a frenetic manner.  The second movement is a ‘song’ and should be played in an expressive and cantabile manner, giving attention to the antiphonal and overlapping entries.  The third movement can be played at a very fast tempo depending on the skill level of the performers.  As a virtuoso ensemble, the Szeged Ensemble featured a brilliant tempo – very fast, but exciting and controlled.  Other ensembles should feel free to pick a speed that is right for them according to the acoustic space they are playing in.

I am sure that there are lots of fantastic stories in your career  (way more than we could share in this article), but in a nutshell what would be those milestones that you would like to highlight?

Among the more significant events that I have been fortunate to experience as a composer, the following are a few of the more memorable milestones:  My Gossamer Rings for Soprano Sax and Concert Band was premiered by the US Navy Band with Dr. Steve Mauk as soloist in 1983 at the University of Maryland.  Following several other performances around the US, it was awarded third prize at the American College Bandmasters Association Convention in 1987 at Old Dominion College.  My Chamber Concerto for Horn and Percussion was recorded in 1986 by the late Meir Rimon with the Indiana University Percussion Ensemble under George Gabor.  The Eastman Saxophone Project recorded my Carnival for 8 Saxes and Vibraphone in 2005.  My Trio for Flute, Soprano Sax, and Piano was recorded by the Verismo Trio at the University of Wyoming in 2006.  In 2000, I was voted the Oregon Music Teachers Association ‘Composer of the Year’.  For the convention that year, I was commissioned to write a piece for 2 pianos entitled The Sugar Beet Suite.  We had a blast!

Thank you Dave for the interview and these great stories! I am very much looking forward hearing this piece by many trombone players!
Wind Tunnels for trombone quartet was published by Saker Music in 2020.
Dave Deason: Wind Tunnels for trombone quartet sheet music cover image
Dave Deason: Wind Tunnels for Trombone Quartet

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