For those seeking in-depth information about the trombone, whether for research or casual reading, Trevor Herbert's The Trombone is an exceptional single source on the instrument. Topics covered in this text include the origins, developments, repertoire, players and techniques of the trombone. While other sources on the subject of the trombone may cover many of these topics, few may be said to be as complete. This work also incorporates recent historical discoveries and modern perceptions of the instrument.
Herbert, a former professional trombonist, presents the topics in his book with a skillful understanding of the nature of the subject. While presenting topics mostly in chronological order, he pays special attention to how the trombone was used in different times and places, taking into account the nature of the players and listeners. Although scholarly, the book is intrinsically straightforward and enjoyable to read. It exhibits numerous illustrations and musical examples.
Herbert notes in his introduction that The Trombone is built upon a considerable amount of scholarship and research on the trombone, as is evident by the exhaustive list of bibliographical data at the end of the work. He is quick to point out that he himself has added little to that wealth of information. This said, however, Herbert's book reveals a great deal of information not commonly known about the instrument.
The Trombone begins, as one might expect, with a description of the parts of the instrument and their development. Here, Herbert gives himself the opportunity to introduce the instrument with a detailed analysis of its components and an account of significant modifications over the past six hundred or so years of its existence. He follows with a chapter entitled "Trombone Technique", which allows him to introduce how the instrument was perceived and played over the same time period.
From here, Herbert delves into more detail, using time, location and the use of the instrument within a cultural and social context as a guide. This is easily seen in a chapter on the trombone during the Renaissance. It begins with general historical information, describing the nature of governments in Europe, the importance of the church, and the locations of frequent trombone use. This background is then used to help explain the nature of the trombone players, their employment, and subsequently the development of the instrument during that time. Herbert uses a similar approach to discuss the origins of the trombone, with attention paid to important subtopics like the Renaissance slide trumpet and even topics of lesser connection such as the clarion and claret. The sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries also receive ample coverage. Herbert should be praised for his explanation of the height of use of the instrument in the seventeenth century and then its subsequent drop to near non-use in the eighteenth century. Only with the insight and explanation of the culture and aesthetics of the people of those times does this sudden change make any sense.
In the nineteenth century the trombone regained popularity. Herbert explains that music education becomes important with the advent of the conservatory and that people begin to see the trombone as a solo instrument. With these changes in European and American aesthetics, the trombone grows in stature in popular music, jazz, orchestra, military bands, and solo performances. Of these, jazz has a lasting influence on the use of the instrument well into the twentieth century, affecting much of what is played and how it is played.
The aforementioned important topics are covered in the remaining text. Herbert pays special attention to the use of the trombone in the orchestra. Since the eighteenth century, the orchestra has been the most important source of employment for trombonists. He also addresses valve trombones, Moravian trombone choirs and other popular religions' use of the instrument. He concludes the book with a chapter entitled "Modernism, Postmodernism and Retrospection" where he brings the reader up to the present use of the trombone, including its prominent soloists.
The book also contains some interesting and useful appendices. They include lists of surviving trombones made before 1800, centers of trombone repertoire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, slide trombone methods, valve trombone methods, orchestral trombone sections in orchestras from 1780-1930, and trombonists ca.1928 who endorse C.G. Conn, one of the most prominent producers of trombones at the time. It does not, however, contain any separate list of solo or orchestral literature. Presumably that would be a large enough subject to be another book.
The Trombone has already been well received. Herbert presented the research for this book at the 2005 International Trombone Festival in New Orleans. Since then, many trombonists from all parts of the world have spoken highly of it. Boston Symphony bass trombonist Douglas Yeo, for example, on his popular web page touts this text as being one of the finest of its kind.
This book is essential for all music collections; it will benefit any library or individual user with an interest in trombone methods and history.
Eastern Michigan University