Josh Bynum, professor of trombone in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music, took home a UGA Creative Research Medal last year for his album Catalyst, a collection of classical pieces inspired by classic works of art, music and literature. In this interview with our Office of Research colleague Michael Terrazas, Bynum discusses his approach to music pedagogy and research, as well as his love for that most epic of orchestral instruments:
What is something most people don’t know about the trombone?
The trombone has so many characters. If there’s one instrument that can play multiple roles, the trombone does that more than anything. Some people think of the raucous, smeary-sounding trombone, which is part of the character. Some people think of intense, forceful playing, which is part of the character, but it’s also capable of incredible beauty. Because of the slide—it’s a fretless instrument—it is actually very similar to the violin or the cello or the voice, in that it’s capable of more seamlessly moving around the register.
Hector Berlioz is a well-known composer of the Romantic era, and he wrote a treatise on orchestration where he went through each instrument family talking about its characteristics. When he gets to the trombone, he says, “The trombone is what I consider the head of the family that I’ll label as ‘epic.’ It’s capable of creating the feeling of chanting priests, but also orgiastic demons.” So it’s that and everything in between.
More and more often, trombones are being used for solo vehicles by very prominent composers, but the bread and butter of what we do—and Berlioz even says this—is groups of three or four of us playing together, providing harmonic support for whatever the melody might be doing in a certain time.
We travel in packs. We like to play together. It takes a really interesting mindset, the kind of person who says, “Yeah, that’s what I want to do. I just want to play chords. Sure, I love the melody, but I really just want to play beautiful chords together.”