Trombones on the Beach
March 10, 2010
While cycling down the coast in Kauai last week, I chanced upon an extraordinary sight. I heard the trombones before I saw them, actually. Brass scales and arpeggios caught my ears as I whooshed along, providing an unusual sonic backdrop for the palm trees, sandy beaches and ocean setting.
Eventually, the perpetrators of the sound came into view: two young men wearing blue floral Hawaiian shirts, black slacks and black shoes were standing next to each other on the path by the beach, playing in the open air.
I couldn't resist stopping. "Is this some kind of art installation or a rehearsal?" I asked. The guys laughed. We got chatting. I found out that they were two members of the Honolulu Symphony's brass section. According to the trombonists, the orchestra is pretty much on its knees financially. In a last gasp to keep its players employed, it has been sending out players to do educational programs and give community concerts in different parts of the islands. The players I met had traveled to Kauai to teach workshops in schools and give a benefit concert for United Way with their colleagues from the Honolulu Brass ensemble.
That evening, I attended the concert, which attracted about 200 people. The ensemble played a lot of light music such as a medley of tunes from John Williams' score for Star Wars. People seemed to enjoy themselves. What I liked best about the performance was its interactivity. The musicians all talked about their instruments and the audiences were given ample opportunity to ask questions throughout. Many questions were asked about everything from technique to repertoire to instrument cleaning methodologies. After the concert, audience members lingered on to talk to the players.
I left feeling quite emotional about the experience of hearing this fine, hardworking group of musicians play. I wonder what awaits them in the coming months? Will they all be out of work by the summer? It can't be easy making a living as a classical musician in Hawaii. One of the trombonists I met is thinking about moving to San Francisco. He says the Bay Area is one of the few parts of the country where a musician can pick up a decent amount of freelance work owing to all the part-time orchestras in the region. The other player is planning on staying in Hawaii. Picking up and moving isn't as easy when your wife has professional responsibilities and you have a small child. Whatever happens to them, I wish my seaside brass players courage and fortune for the future.