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What Is a Trombone Ensemble?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

A trombone ensemble is a musical group of trombone players who play together. These brass ensembles play in academic, professional and entertainment settings and are highly versatile in the type of music they perform. Trombone ensembles are similar to and may encompass trombone choirs, which are slightly different in that a trombone ensemble generally has fewer players, with the use of the word "choir" being more likely the bigger the group gets. The word "ensemble" simply means to perform in concert with one another, so directors are not necessarily strict in whether they refer to a group of trombonists as an ensemble or choir.

Flexibility exists regarding the types of trombones present in trombone ensembles. Tenor and bass trombones are used with the most frequency in any number of combinations, simply because these are the two most popular types of trombones. If a group has a composition or arrangement where a slightly higher treble part is necessary, players may use the alto trombone so performance is not as physically taxing as trying to play in the upper register of the tenor. The use of soprano trombones, which are similar to trumpets with slides instead of valves, is more of a novelty. This is because soprano trombones are difficult to play in tune, and because the required embouchure generally accommodates trumpet or cornet players better than trombonists.

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Probably the most common place a person encounters trombone ensembles is the academic setting. Students may form a trombone ensemble as early as middle school for events such as Solo & Ensemble, talent competitions or annual school shows and fundraisers. At the college level, serious trombone students usually participate in these groups in order to gain performance credits. Their concerts are attended with the greatest frequency by other students and faculty within the brass department.

Professional trombone ensembles exist but tend to be fairly small in size, such as a quartet. These groups often release professional recordings and try to market themselves for entertainment purposes, but because most people prefer full bands or are more familiar with string or woodwind quartets, professional trombone ensembles are not quite as popular as other groups.

Those who are in a trombone ensemble often have trouble finding music to play. The number of compositions specifically for trombone ensembles is limited. As a result, it is common for trombonists or trombone choir directors to arrange songs intended for other instruments. Trombone players have an advantage in that they can perform with variety of tones and techniques, so people who arrange trombone ensemble music can pull out everything from Renaissance dances to contemporary jazz and pop.

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