This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Clubs for Trombones

12 February 2016

In previous decades, many men enjoyed the camaraderie of membership in a fraternal or professional society. Musicians had their clubs too, and one of the least known organizations was the Benevolent and Loyal Association of Slide Trombonists. Based very loosely on masonic rituals, at the height of its popularity the B.L.A.S.T. established numerous lodges scattered around the world. Members acknowledged each other with secret handshakes and took great pride in knowing how to play the society's mysterious "Lost Chords of the Antiphon".

Being a secret club with a limited membership, photographs of B.L.A.S.T. musicians are rare, especially when pictured in the formal attire reserved for ceremonial events. These four trombone players, dressed in stiff white collars and ties with tailcoats, wear the society's special Satin Sash of the Seventh Position, though for some reason they have discarded the customary white gloves and top hats. The two gentlemen in the center hold tiny treble soprano trombones, while other two have the old fashioned bass trombones in G.

Originally this musical association was called the Benign and Lawful Assembly of Trombones, with the unfortunate acronym of  B.L.A.T., and was open to trombones of every persuasion including rotary and piston valved trombones. As B.L.A.T. lodges became seemingly overrun with valved brass players who knew nothing of the ancient techniques of the slippery slide or the wonders of its infinitely variable pitch, and who really joined only to take advantage of the lodges' free beer, the trombone traditionalists reorganized the society into the Benevolent and Loyal Association of Slide Trombonists.

Here we have an unidentified Ivy League ensemble of B.L.A.S.T. players from 1907 with seven trombonists demonstrating the full consort of different sized Posaunen. Standing left to right are an alto trombone, soprano trombone, two tenor trombones, and a grand bass trombone, while seated on the grass in front are two soprano trombones. Note that all their instruments are fitted with music lyres. The mouthpieces of the two tenors and the bass are fitted into short crooks or pigtails that lower the instrument's fundamental pitch allowing it to better mangle the tuning of the higher trombones. Note also that the slide on the bass trombone is fitted with a handle to extend it beyond the player's arm length, further complicating the ensemble's intonation.

Of course the main motivation for becoming a member of a B.L.A.S.T. chapter was the opportunity to play music with like-minded trombone enthusiasts. Understandably, a trombone choir can get uncomfortably raucous when playing indoors, so most lodges took their music outside. Here we have another B.L.A.S.T. ensemble of 14 trombonists standing in an unknown garden acoustically shielded with ivy covered walls. Bass trombones stand at the left of the line, which progresses to the right with several common tenor trombones, followed by a few altos, and then a clutch of soprano trombones.

The official motto of the Benevolent and Loyal Association of Slide Trombonists was a Latin phrase taken from the ancient guild of the sackbut, the medieval precursor to the trombone.

Clarisonus melius, quam recte
Better loud, than right.

As music fashions in the 20th century moved away from trombonists' time-honored choral anthems and contrapuntal fugues to the new wave of ragtime and foxtrots, younger trombone players found membership in a B.L.A.S.T. lodge to be less than appealing and failed to join in numbers that would sustain the club. Instead they fell in with dance bands and football clubs, and sadly this musical society disbanded many years ago. It's quite possible that few musicologists today even know about its esoteric history, as I had to make most of this up on my own.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where "Fore!" is the word of the day.


Wendy said...

Oh YOU! Seriously, as I read along believing every word, I kept wondering what benefit could be derived from being in such a secret club. This Valentine's Day, may your valves never leak.

Sharon said...

Ha Ha Ha! Like Wendy, I was reading and believing it all but was wondering why as good musicians normally want to share and not be secretive!
Very clever :)

Anonymous said...

Well what do you know, Mr Mike has a well developed sense of humour. Well done. I presume the soprano trombone is real though. I know the soprano saxophone but haven't heard of a soprano trombone before.

ScotSue said...

I was beginning to wonder about BLAST - and then I read your final sentence! Thanks for keeping me guessing. A fun post with great photographs that matched the line ups in the prompt.

kathy said...

Well played.

Deb Gould said...

I can honestly say I've never seen so many different trombones (big, little, medium) with so much tongue-in-cheek history! Fabulous!

Bob Scotney said...

All you needed to complete this post was a rendering of 76 Trombones.

Little Nell said...

You certainly made us ‘slide' into that one! Well done.

Barbara Rogers said...

What a lovely piece of tale you wove for us! Chuckles and maybe even laughing out loud!

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

After I stopped laughing, I had to regroup entirely as I actually thought I'd seen someone wearing the Satin Sash of the 7th Position. And don't tell me "Better Loud than Right" isn't a great slogan in use somewhere somehow. Most entertaining as always.

Titania Staeheli said...

Excellent; told with gusto; I am sure you had as much fun writing as we had with reading.


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP