Benjamin Coy

Trombonist

Music stands

January 11, 2015 at 1:21 pm

Each role in an orchestra comes with its own set of non-musical challenges. For instance, percussionists carry a lot of equipment and need early access to venues to set up, not to mention special parking privileges for loading and unloading. Trombonists are no exception, but our challenges are sometimes less well understood. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve shown up to a hall to find my chair placed directly against the back wall. For any other musician, that would not be an issue, but the trombone extends six inches or so behind the player’s head. A little space behind the chair is non-negotiable. Similarly, the instrument can extend as much as six feet in front; usually I can work with whoever is in the next row up to find a little room for my slide, but when space is tight (like in a pit orchestra), the set-up crew’s knowledge of these kinds of issues can make all the difference.

Another issue is the type of music stand used. Many ensembles have invested in a set of “orchestral” stands, with a shelf underneath the main desk for string players’ rosin, wind players’ reeds, etc. For trombonists, that shelf occupies valuable slide space; its presence interferes with the ability to watch the music and the conductor. Last year, the SSO played a side-by-side concert with our associated youth orchestra, and every stand and chair in the building, however old or ugly, was needed on-stage. The crew gave the “good” equipment to the professional musicians, but in the trombone section, we immediately took our stands and swapped them with the “cheap” student stands to avoid the shelf.

The Chicago Symphontrombone_standsy uses a modified music stand for the trombone section that not only omits the shelf but offsets the post from the main desk, giving even more room for the slide. Such a thing is not strictly necessary to play, of course, but it certainly makes life much easier. Is it worth the investment? Three trombone-friendly offset stands from Manhasset cost a total of $182.67. Compared with $255 for a single cello chair from Wenger, it seems like orchestras that can afford one could afford the other.

I don’t think the largest issue here is funding. Financial resources are always tight, of course, but a $60 stand is a negligible investment for a one-time purchase. I expect that most people managing equipment for orchestras are simply unaware that trombonists don’t prefer the same kind of stand that the rest of the orchestra does. And why should we expect them to know? Most often, these people are not trombonists, and they’re busy with innumerable pressures trying to keep a complex organization running. While of course we don’t want to be the squeaky wheel, it can’t hurt to be more communicative about the things that would make our jobs easier.

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