Alvin Curran, the composer (b. 1938), lost his dad’s trombone, only to have it relocated decades later. In a New York Times essay this past weekend, “The Trombone Comes Home,” Curran tells the story of the instrument’s role in his childhood education and activities, before he switched to piano and, later still, composition. He also tells the story of its reappearance. The discovery provides an emotional end to the tale:
I let it sit for a few days to acclimatize. The with my wife, Susan, snapping pictures I carefully removed the layers of wrappings one at a time with a kitchen knife — and then opened the latches to reveal an unpolished silent brass corpse inside, smelling exactly the same as it did when I surreptitiously opened that case for the first time some 70 years earlier in Providence.
Included alongside the essay is a nearly two-minute composition by Curran, “The Lost Trombone.” It’s described, succinctly, as follows:
A composition built on a single B flat note played on the recovered trombone by the author, electronically processed and produced with Angelo-Maria Farro.
For unclear reasons the essay itself makes no direct connection to the piece, and in no way gets into its existence, let alone its composition and recording process. It’s a riveting miniature of repetition, the threadbare note echoed and layered, its held tone circling round and round, building if not to an orchestral impact, then at least that of a sizable chamber ensemble. You enter into the weathered tone, much as Curran himself was taken by its accrued meaning and experience:
For me, it was the essence of unabashed musical Americana, its mouthpiece an amalgam of chopped liver, Mom’s tuna salad, kosher hot dogs, kasha and planetary garlic breath fused with silver and steel and a century of house mold.