Hodges returns to the trombone

Juneau Symphony veteran to play solo at summer pops concert

Posted: Friday, June 08, 2007

Jack Hodges joined the Juneau Symphony in 1966. As the longest-tenured member of the orchestra, he's generally known for his tone, dedication and role as principal trombonist.

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But there is that matter of his 17-year fling with the trumpet - a bold, small-mouthpiece world of valves and finger positions he attempted to learn in a well-deserved respite from the trombone slide. Hodges was never satisfied with his trumpet playing in the high register, and he dusted off his trombone about three years ago.

The instrument and the orchestra were happy to have him back in the lead chair.

"It gave me more appreciation for trumpet players," Hodges said. "I just couldn't play at the same level as the trombone, and I'm glad I switched back."

Hodges, 56, will play his first solo with the Juneau Symphony on Saturday, when he's featured in Felix-Alexandre Guilmant's "Morceau Symphonique" during the Summer Spectacular pops concert.

What: Juneau Symphony "Summer Spectacular" pops concert.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, June 9.

Where: Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium.

For more information: 586-HORN.

Tickets: In advance, $20 general admission, $15 for students and seniors and available at Hearthside Books or www.juneausymphony.org. At the door, $2 more.

It's a piece he first learned as a trombone student in Washington, D.C., before his family moved to Juneau when he was a sophomore in high school.

"The one thing about classical music with an orchestra is that the trombone generally has a fairly minor role," Hodges said. "It's nice to have this opportunity to play a solo, so people can hear what the trombone can really sound like.

"It's called a romantic piece, and I would call it more of a melancholy romantic piece but with some real excitement in it," he said. "It gets fairly loud at times and soft at others. It's quite dynamic."

Saturday's pops concert also will showcase "Made In America," a 10-minute Joan Tower piece commissioned by the Juneau Symphony Orchestra and a consortium of 64 other orchestras spread across all 49 of the other states.

The project was started by Ford Made In America (www.fordmadeinamerica.org), a partnership of the American Symphony Orchestra League and Meet The Composer.

It allows orchestras in smaller communities the chance to premiere a new work by a major composer. Most big-timecomposers, such as Tower, are in demand by big-pocket, big-city orchestras.

Tower's piece weaves off variations of "America The Beautiful."

"You have some bombastic stuff, some lyrical stuff, some hymn-like stuff," conductor Kyle Wiley Pickett said. "It's modern but accessible. It's really a pretty neat piece. She has a very good musical language."

Besides Towers and Guilmant, the concert will include Franz von Suppe's "Light Cavalry Overture," Richard Strauss' "Blue Danube Waltz" and "Radetzky March" and for the finale, Dmitri Shostakovich's 25-minute "Jazz Suite No. 2."

"This is sort of a Boston Pops-style pops concert," Wiley Pickett said. "It's kind of the lighter classical music, things that are really familiar to people. You play it because it's fun."

Hodges recently retired after a long career as a pilot with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

He grew up in Washington, D.C. When he was in the fourth grade, his mother decided he should play the trombone. She liked the sound of the brass instrument. Furthermore, Keig Garvin, an accomplished trombonist, happened to attend their church.

Garvin was widely considered one of the best solo trombone players in the world. He played for years with the United States Army Band.

Radio listeners in the 1930s, '40s and '50s may not have recognized his name, but they likely heard his rich tone during the group's weekly national radio broadcasts.

Garvin also played scores of big bands and ensembles. He did not typically take students as young as elementary age, but he accepted Hodges.

"It seemed very strange at first and very difficult to play," Hodges said.

"He was such a perfectionist, and I can remember when he would show me how to play a part, how he would carefully pick up his trombone with such dignity and play it beautifully, perfectly," he said.

"He showed by example how he expected things to be done," he said. "I can remember going over a lot of pieces, my dad driving me to the lesson, and frantically trying to do a decent job when I got there."

Hodges was 16 when his family moved to Juneau. With his experience and the technique he had learned from Garvin, he was soon invited to join Cliff Berge's symphony. The orchestra in those days was similar in numbers to its present form, but it rarely brought in out-of-town performers to fill out the sections.

"I don't stand out at all," Hodges said. "I've just played over a longer period of time, and it's just because I happened to come here as a sophomore in high school with the background I had."

"The trombone is a funny instrument," Pickett said. "You have to sit for a long time, but then when you have to play, it's always critically important.

"As far as his musicianship, (Hodges is) terrific and adds a lot," he said. "He has such a nice unassuming and kind and soft-spoken presence in the orchestra. He's one of those dedicated people."

• Korry Keeker can be reachedat 523-2268 or korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.

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