Emory Remington: A Profile - by Ralph Sauer (Los Angeles Philharmonic (Principal Trombonist, retired)

Posted on 11 December 2017

Born December 22, 1891, Emory Brace Remington took up the trombone at age fourteen. His own remarks about that beginning are perhaps most appropriate: “All along I was fascinated by the trombone. I’d seen pictures of it and that was all I’d talk about. Finally, the next-door neighbor came home with an instrument from a pawnshop and gave it to me. I didn’t know the first thing – I thought you just went up and down on the slide.”

In 1929, he became a member of the Eastman School of Music Faculty and first trombonist in the Eastman Theatre Orchestra (which was later called the Rochester Civic Orchestra and then the Rochester Philharmonic). For the next twenty-eight years, he never missed a concert. After his retirement from the orchestra in 1949, he continue to teach his beloved pupils for another twenty-two years until his death, December 10, 1971, making a grand total of fifty years at Eastman. His influence and the influence of his legion of students have been enormous.

A typical lesson with “the Chief” (as he became affectionately known) consisted of his own special warm-ups, involving scale and arpeggio patterns in all keys, vocalises, dramatic orchestral style etudes, and perhaps a solo piece or a few orchestral excerpts. As the student became more advanced, the material increased in difficulty at a pace that was demanding but not overwhelming. The number of pages that the student prepared was not assigned, and within reason, could be varied by the individual. Remington’s principal teaching device was to sing virtually every note in every lesson. Again, his own words are most descriptive: “If I had a special distinction, it was that I tried to make the trombone sing with a human quality. In the old days, no one asked fundamental questions like tongue placement, breath control and so on. I just played as it seemed right to me. There was very little material then that treated the vocal line. It was marches, Boom, Boom, dah, dah, a lot of the German school, very smeary on the slide. The old school was to spit it out. I was strong on articulation, in the mouth like a singer. I didn’t blow into the horn, I sang into it, as little resistance as possible. I’ve always treated the instrument as just another voice.”

He had a baritone voice of uneven quality but the ability to convey phrasing, articulation, and sound quality in an uncanny manner. He estimated that he sang six to seven hours a day. If the student listened carefully, the various aspects of playing could be deduced from this continual vocalization.

The only time that he did not “sing along” was when a solo was played just prior to performance, or the occasional opening phrase of an etude. After a few measures, he would usually say: “Hold it! Not like that; more like this”, and launch into song. Then student and teacher would begin again together. On rare occasions when the student captured exactly the right qualities of the first phrase, “the Chief” would enter on the second. This was the highest form of praise and was worth more than any of his spoken encouragements. Technical explanations were completely absent. It may be difficult for some to fully understand, but this was the essence of his “osmosis” style of teaching. Each student was free to learn as much or as little as was desired. He treated all his students the same. There was no star system. The talented players were allowed to develop their gifts at the rapid pace on which they thrived. The average players were gently “pushed” to higher levels of attainment. The problem players were usually coerced, without their realizing, into non-performance areas of the profession.

If Remington’s method had a weak point, and this is debatable, it was his reluctance to make technical suggestions to his students. While it is true that some of his former pupils were helped by other teachers more adept at the technical aspects of teaching, this manner of working with people was foreign to his humanistic nature. He realized (as the teachers of today should) that only a few would ever make their living as performers and that false encouragement and long, painful adjustment periods would usually lead to frustration and disappointment. As Howard Hanson, former Director of the Eastman School, so eloquently said: “Remington did not teach trombone, he taught people.”

This article originally appeared in The Brass Bulletin, #21.

View Mr. Sauer's music on our site

Purchase a Low Brass solo by Mr. Sauer and receive a free piece of music.

More Posts

Search our store