Remembering "The Chief" Emory Remington

Comments and Observations

John Sellmeyer, a Graduate Student at SUNY, Fredonia and a trombone student of Carl Mazzio, recently asked me to respond to several questions regarding the Master Teacher of the Trombone, Emory Remington. John was pursing this subject as a part of a Music Research Course at SUNY, Fredonia. As an Undergraduate student, he studied with Will Harris at Syracuse University.

It was and is my pleasure to relate what information I can about Mr. Remington. I obtained both my Master's Degree and Doctor of Musical Arts Degree from the Eastman School of Music and studied under Mr. Remington throughout my studies towards those degrees.

Here is how I responded to John. I have put his questions in red. I hope I have done justice to relating information about "The Chief" as well as providing a springboard for further accumulation of knowledge about this legendary person and teacher.



John,

I am happy to respond to your questions. I hope I can do them justice. Mr. Remington was a very special person and teacher,and it is difficult to capture in words all that he means to the trombone world and to the people with whom he had contact.

In general, before I answer your question specifically, it needs to be known that Mr. Remington was first and foremost a great and wonderful human being. That in large part is what made him so special. He treated his students and everyone with dignity and respect. And his simplicity made for his effectiveness in personal relations and in teaching the trombone. I had a young daughter at the end of my studies with him, and he loved to have me drop by his house so he could hold my daughter and play a little--that was the kind of man he was.

Now to respond to your questions:

1. As an educator, how do you incorporate the Remington Warm-Ups in your teaching?

I use the Remington Warm-ups exclusively in my teaching. Mr. Remington tried to make everything simple, and the warm-ups are just that. The first one with the long tones starting on Bb, A, Bb, Ab, Bb, G etc were simple except that the purpose was to make sure you could start, sustain, and stop notes properly. This is fundamental to all playing, and I use it exactly as he did with my students. Anytime someone would come into his studio and do something fancy, he would stop them and say---"I want to hear a Bb." A good example is that one day a player from a major orchestra came to take a lesson with the "Chief," and he was telling Mr. Remington about all the things he did on the horn and the approach he took and Mr. Remington listened carefully and said: "let's go upstairs because I want to hear you play a Bb."

The second of the Remington Warm-ups is the legato tonguing one, and this too was simple in that he wanted you to accomplish this legato technic and make it your own. I will elaborate later about his inventing the Legato Tongue concept.

The third of the Remington Warm-ups is the lip slur in various forms. This also was done simply, and I do the same. The ability to get around on the horn with muscular control is basic to all our playing.

2. If you lead a trombone ensemble, how do you use this ensemble enhance your teaching?

I do lead a Trombone Ensemble, and I guess you would say I have carried on the Remington tradition and taken it to new heights. I have two CDs out with guest artists playing with my Trombone Choir at the University of Oklahoma. The first CD is a jazz CD with Rodger Fox of New Zealand with my Choir. It is a good CD, and cuts of it are on Air New Zealand flights to the South Pacific if you listen to the jazz channel on the airline.

The second CD is new with Jacques Mauger of the Paris Conservatory as the soloist. Jacques heard several Choirs around the Country a couple of years ago, and asked if he could do his CD with mine. It is new and soon the ITA will be putting it in the Journal as a gift to every member.

So, yes I use the Trombone Ensemble to enhance my teaching in many ways. In fact, I consider it an extension of my studio teaching, and I do as much teaching there as in the private lesson.

3. As a performer, does/did playing in a Trombone Choir impact your playing? If so, how?

The answer here will be the same as the next question about how it impacts the playing of my students. The Trombone Choir teaches one to match tones, play with outstanding intonation, blend with other players, execute rhythmic patterns together, articulate as one, and maybe some more I can think of later.

4. As a teacher, does playing in a Trombone Choir impact your student's playing? If so, how?

The same as above with the added element of providing a foundation of friendship and brotherhood with each other. I know that the Trombone Sections at my School are always the best sections in the various ensembles, and that is a result of their being friends and playing in the same manner.

5. What is your overall impression of Mr. Remington and his contributions to the trombone community?

First, my overall impression of Mr. Remington is that he was a wonderful man who devoted his life to serving his students, the art of music, and the entire trombone world. He did not "work at this," if you know what I mean---it was his natural manner.

Second, one of main ways in which he impacted the trombone world was with his teaching. I am not sure there was such a highly respected teacher of the trombone before he came along. He turned out so many fine students who had an impact on the way the trombone was even perceived in the entire musical world. He turned it into a respected musical instrument by other instrumentalists, conductors, and musicians. He accomplished this with what I call a "simplistic approach" to training students. There was a reason and method in everything he did in lessons; however, he rarely verbalized any of it. He sang constantly, and in doing so the student tried to emulate what he was doing with his voice and moved into a whole different realm of musical and technical understanding.

Some examples of his teaching include:

A. He tried to make playing the trombone very natural. Regarding breathing, for example, he would say "take as little breath as possible." This was and still is important. So many players today strive to take in so much air that the body becomes tense with the result being a less pleasant tone to say nothing of the physical complications later from which so many have suffered in life with such as Focal Dystonia.

B. Another example of his teaching is that he would instruct a student to hum "Mmm" and play. I had been taught to keep my lips slightly apart before coming to the Chief, and I now know that he was absolutely correct in his approach. He was merely going about things using the scientific approach of the scientist Bernoulli. The Bernoulli principle is that air velocity produces decreased pressure. Thus when you blow air through the lips, the decreased pressure makes them come together. So if one works to keep an opening between the lips, one is fighting nature and science. So Mr. Remington was exactly correct, though he probably never heard of Bernoulli.

C. A third aspect of his teaching was that he made one feel as if you were the only one or thing he cared about in a lesson. This made the student give his/her best without ever being told to do so. Everyone just wanted to do well because of his attitude.

Third, a central aspect of the impact Mr. Remington has had on the Trombone World pertains to his innovations in playing. Central to this is that he really invented the "legato tongue" for trombonists. Before Mr. Remington trombonists were using the natural slur or even smearing, and he was the first to utilize the legato tongue. This is really, really important to know.

Here is the story as he told me. When he was a kid, he was a boy soprano. One day either his brother or a neighbor gave him a trombone. He started playing it without taking any lessons, so he just played in the same manner as he sang. For example, if one sings "Happy Birthday" there is a consonant to start every vowel. Consequently, he just put some articulation at the beginning of every note just as happened when he sang. It was not until his was a late teenager that he realized that he did not play as other trombonists did. An old German horn player turned around to him in an orchestra one day and said "sonny, you keep playing that way with your tongue because you can play with the valve instruments." It was then he fully realized that how he played the trombone was different from others. It is interesting to think that he was so lucky to not have a teacher; otherwise, he would have been taught to play just like everyone else and would not have come up with this new technic.

6. How did Mr. Remington use his own Warm-Up Studies in his teaching?

This question is basically simple to answer and at the same time a complex issue. "The Chief" started every lesson with his Warm-Ups. Of course, every student had already played before showing up for a lesson; consequently, there was no need to merely get the lip going. So there was a deeper and more complex issue here. What it probably comes down to is that these "so called Warm-Ups" were in reality the fundaments of playing the trombone coupled with the individual technical needs of each student. He would always start with his long tone study, go to the legato tonguing exercise, and then to lip slurs and more complex issues involving such as scales and range building.

To elaborate further, I think it was his concept, though he never verbalized it to me, that one starts as a beginning in every lesson. The first thing a beginner strives for is to produce a tone, hence the long tone Warm-Up. Another way of putting this is that every great player starts just as a beginner does every time the horn is picked up. The best trombonists in the world still get their horn, blow something very basic, then proceed. Therefore, I think Mr. Remington wanted each student in the lesson to properly start a tone, sustain it correctly, and finally release it without a blemish. When you stop to think about it, those three tonal production concerns are probably what gets most people hired or fired in the real world. So Mr. Remington made sure you could accomplish the very basic approach to the horn first. Another aspect is that the long tone Warm-Ups were also a matter of his teaching his concept of tone. One always played the long tone Warm-Ups at a very moderate volume or even a soft volume which in reality puts purity into the tonal concept rather than blood, fire, and ugliness.

Moving on, after the long tone Warm-Up, he normally did the legato tonguing simple exercise. This also, was a matter of getting the fundamental, physical body doing the proper thing. He would sing "Da Da Da", and the student would then do that in the horn moving down in pitch normally in a chromatic fashion. Because he had invented legato tonguing, this was a salient part of his teaching concept. He believed and practiced "that every note in a legato passage was tongued." He did not like the natural slurs that are possible on the horn because the melodic line would become uneven; however, with the legato tongue the whole musical line becomes smoother. Remember, he was a singer, so everything on the horn was done to replicate singing.

Of course, following getting a proper tone and established the legato tongue, Mr. Remington moved on to lip slurs and other exercise to assist the needs of the individual student. In my own case, my upper range was not as strong as it should have been, and he had me do an exercise on the overtone series during which I had to extend the range upwards on each sequence while always starting in the middle. Now understand, he never said "you need to work on your high range," he merely taught each individual student according to his instincts at the moment.

Overall, it is my perception that the Remington Warm-Ups are not really so much used to "warm-up" but really as an approach to the instrument. Though the so called warm-up routines, every student became indoctrinated into the style of playing which Mr. Remington advocated. And it must be pointed out that his style was proven to be great, it revolutionized the world of trombone playing, it became the accepted manner of playing the instrument, it influenced how the rest of the musical world perceived the trombone, and turned the instrument into a richer musical form of musical expression. Therefore, those simple Warm-Ups in themselves became the "pace setters" for all. By the way, this is still going on around the world. Everyone knows the "Remington Warm-Ups." Furthermore, the biggest sales of Don Hunsberger's book of Remington Warm-Ups are to young people in Asia, and, of course, they never met Mr. Remington and perhaps do not even know who he was, yet they recognize the value in approaching the horn in "his manner."

7. Describe his relationship and history with his instrument, the Conn 88H, and how that influenced you?

This is a subject about which I know very little. By the time I got to the "Chief" it was clearly established that he liked the 88H. I was personally extremely lucky because i had already purchased an 88H a couple of years before I went to Eastman, and my horn was and still is a Classic. I do remember while at Eastman in the my first days months, that he really encouraged (maybe even a stronger word is needed here) a couple of the new students to get new instruments. Also, I played the Remington mouthpiece and basically still do. As I understand it, the mouthpiece which bears his name was originally an old German Mouthpiece that he liked, and Conn made a copy of it and put his name on it. The only modifications for me is that I now play a Doug Elliott Mouthpiece, but I had Doug copy of Remington rim which is what I use.

As for the 88H, I would like to find out more information.

8. How has his teaching influenced yours? Are there similarities? Differences?

What can I say. His influence is everywhere in my teaching. I approach almost everything just as he did it. I do the Warm-Ups every lesson even if the student has been playing 4 hours, for example, I sing along with the students or sometimes play along, rather than taking a mechanical approach to teaching such as telling a student to, for example, play such and such passage softer or whatever. I just sing it and ask the student to do it in the manner as I sang it, I get involved with the life of the student, I follow their work in ensembles just as he did, I support them in their other class work, and on and on. The only difference I can think of is that he was the Master--not me. He was a pioneer in the field where I am fortunate in that I have his model to follow. He was naturally a good musician and person which is an inspiration and example to still work toward.

In closing, there are not proper words nor enough words to fully articulate the impact that "The Chief" has had on the world of the trombone and the total musical world. He impacted every student that he taught, and he continues to impact the entire world though his teaching, playing, and personal legacy. It is an honor to have known him and to call him "my teacher."

Irvin L. Wagner

University of Oklahoma



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