New York Variations for Solo Trombone – Program Notes

The piece was written for Leonard “Buzz” Cecil, a friend (American) who was graduating from the Basel Conservatory (in Switzerland – where I lived and worked for 25 years). I like to write pieces that are fun to play and fun to listen to, though sometimes take some work to master. For this one, I chose one of my favorite cities, New York, which has endless material to inspire music. NYV has a short, simple, theme that is not really in any key, though it has some tonal suggestions in it. The challenge in writing a piece for one instrument is to have enough variety to keep the listeners interested with only one instrument. I tried to make every variation distinct and use any and all timbral variations that the trombone is capable of.

Variation one evokes a lively, rhythmic street scene with the use of repeated figures, heavy accents, syncopation, and effects such as ghost tones and fall offs.

Variation 2: Harlem. This is very bluesy, and uses finger snaps, accents, syncopation, cup mute, fluttertongue, and encourages the player to smear (i.e. gliss) ad lib to give a further level of interest.

Variation 3: Central Park. Note: the tempo indicated is too slow. I did not get to hear the piece performed before it was published, which is usually a mistake. When I heard it, I immediately saw that this movement should move quicker. It is sort of a quirky waltz, smoother than the others, but emphasizing the interval of a fourth. In general you should feel free to change anything in this (or any other composition of mine) that you think makes the music (i.e. what you here, not what’s printed) more interesting and convincing. Surprise me!

Variation 4: Broadway. Another evocation of a famous and lively street, using accents, syncopation, vibrato, and even an extra-musical effect – shouting “Hey! Taxi!” (or whistle) – this should be done very loud and dramatically – be convincing! This is not a time to be shy.

The piece is compact, varied, and fun for both performer and audience. I confess that I was thinking more of “old” New York (of the 1930s-1950s) when writing it, but I think the images chosen for variation are timeless enough. NYV was incidentally the required piece for the 1998 Swiss national youth music competition.