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Kansas City trombonists challenge tuba players for Christmas brass supremacy

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More than 100 trombonists are expected to gather this Saturday for the annual Trombone Christmas Kansas City. Like last year's event, shown here, the concert will be held outdoors, at Haverty Family Yards at Union Station.

Trombone Christmas Kansas City is scheduled to take place this weekend with more than 100 trombone players outdoors at Union Station.

Tuba Christmas has been around since the 1970s, so Trombone Christmas is a bit of an upstart.

The first event featuring slide trombone players took place in 2010 in Anaheim, California. Now there are more than a dozen across the country, including one in Kansas City since 2017.

“Admittedly it was trombone players feeling just a little bit left out,” says Frank Perez, the director of bands at Baker University who helps spearhead the event in Kansas City.

Musicians of all ages and skill levels participate in the low brass holiday concert of traditional and modern seasonal music. In 2021, at Union Station’s Haverty Family Yards, a 10-year-old was the youngest player.

“She was very concerned that she wasn’t going to be able to hold her part,” says Will Biggs, director of instrumental music for Gardner Edgerton High School, and one of the organizers.

“And it was really heartwarming to see the older trombone players come out and help her out and show her how she could be successful on that day. It was just great to see,” Biggs says.

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In 2021, trombonists of all ages played seasonal music at the annual concert at Union Station.

The Trombone Christmas Kansas City coordinators spoke to 91.9 Classical KC’s Brooke Knoll; the conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

The sound of brass instruments is almost as common during the holidays as carolers. Why do you think that is?

BIGGS: I think a big part of it is kind of rooted in the Salvation Army bands, because a lot of brass bands back in the day would go out and try and, you know, drum up support for the cause of the Salvation Army. I think that just has kind of gotten to be ingrained in our brain as one of those sounds that you're going to hear around the holiday times.

Frank, how did you and Will come to lead Trombone Christmas?

PEREZ: We have a parent organization namedBones West out in California, in Anaheim, California, that was started by bass trombonist George Roberts, otherwise known as “Mr. Bass Trombone.”

George Roberts played with the Nelson Riddle band and Sinatra, and he started a trombone choir that was very inclusive of elementary, middle school, high school, and college-aged students and professionals. He wanted to promote the trombone and share his love of the trombone with anyone who would listen, and obviously encourage the young players to think about careers in music.

Trombone Christmas was started by Bones West (in 2010). And six years ago, I looked at Will and I said, “Will, I think it's time that we have a Trombone Christmas here in Kansas City. What do you think?”

BIGGS: At that time there were only seven trombone Christmas locations around the country. And we approached Union Station to help us with a venue and help us figure out how to get kids and parents and older trombone players registered.

That first year (in 2017), Frank and I learned a lot about how we should organize things, and we had about 150 trombone players that very first year. And we filled the hall there in Union Station.

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Trombone Christmas Kansas City participants get decked out in Santa hats and seasonal sweaters. Some also decorate their trombones, as these musicians did in 2021.

Trombone Christmas happens in the beautiful and cavernous Grand Plaza, the largest space inside Union Station. Those acoustics must be amazing, but perhaps a little challenging. How do you coordinate all the musicians in that space?

PEREZ: That's a wonderful question. We were wondering the very same thing the first year; we were concerned about the echo and the delay.

Will and I ... bring about 40 years of teaching experience to this event. And so, we knew what the challenges were at the very beginning.

One of the things that we did was carefully place the different sections or the different parts — part one, part two, part three, four, and five — so that they would coordinate musically and support each other. The next thing we found out is that we needed to have a second conductor, or two, about part way down the rows of the ensemble so they can mirror what the head conductor was conducting and keep the ensemble. And then the last thing we did is we advised the students and community members and professionals, that, the further they were back from the main podium, they had to anticipate and be early.

So, everybody with their excitement focused, and they were able to adjust their listening to make sure that we all maintained together.

Occasionally there's a blip or two, but we have a rehearsal right before our event so we can get some of those little nuances and challenges addressed before we present the concert to the audience.

The concert and rehearsal forTrombone Christmas Kansas City take place outdoors on Saturday, Dec. 10 in theHaverty Family Yards of Union Station, 30 W. Pershing Rd., Kansas City, Missouri 64108. The concert begins at 2:30 p.m.   

Brooke Knoll is the digital audience specialist and on-air host for Classical KC. You can reach her at brooke@classicalkc.org.
Sam Wisman is a Senior Producer for 91.9 Classical KC and a backup announcer for KCUR 89.3. Email him at samwisman@classicalkc.org.
Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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