Longhorn trombone ensemble heard across ocean

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Daniel Fears, Alex Glen and Josh Balleza, along with Matt Carr (not pictured), toured Europe this past summer as the trombone quartet Subito Bones. The group won first prize in the quartet competition at the International Trombone Festival in Paris.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

As Subito Bones co-creator Alex Glen begins to set up his trombone, his eyes become fixated on the instrument. He carefully attaches the horn to its slide. The mouthpiece is the final part of this musical puzzle. His lips begin to vibrate as they connect with it, and an airy sound permeates through his polished horn.

Subito Bones takes its name from the musical term “subito,” which means “suddenly” or “quickly.” The group decided on the name while heading to a private party for a performance back in 2010. Composed of four music performance students (two of whom have graduated), this trombone ensemble prides itself on its diligence and dedication to its musical studies.

Inspired at a music festival Glen and Matt Carr attended in December 2009, the two created Subito Bones soon after, enlisting the help of Josh Balleza and Graham Gibson, who became the group’s first bass trombonist. After a string of bass trombone replacements, the group finally settled on Daniel Fears in 2011. Fears has been Subito Bones’ bass trombonist ever since.

“We had known Daniel for three years and had decided that an audition was not necessary,” Glen said. “We just went with him and it worked out.”

From playing private parties for UT President William Powers Jr. to performing for President Barack Obama, the quartet has become a distinguished musical ensemble. However, the group’s acclaim did not come quickly. Like their peers, each member came to UT nervous and intimidated.

“Four years ago, my first performance [at UT] was a complete wreck,” Balleza said. “You get here and you have to perform every day for a crowd of people. It can be nerve-wracking,” Fears said. “But all you can do is mess up, and slowly improve from it.”

Such perseverance from the members has resulted in Subito Bones’ latest accomplishment — competing overseas.

This past summer Subito Bones toured Europe, performing in Germany, Switzerland and France. The quartet’s journey abroad ended on a high note, when the group won first prize in the trombone quartet competition at the International Trombone Festival in Paris. Subito Bones was the only American ensemble selected to compete in the final round of the competition.

“It was an honor to be chosen, considering our competition,” Fears said. “That made us step our game up and work harder.”

Where most ensembles perform with their sheet music, Subito Bones memorized its repertoire­ — 12 to 15 minutes of music. Such a strategy required a strict work ethic, which the group followed diligently: two hours a day, five days a week.

Subito Bones’ strenuous plan of action worked in its favor. The judges for the International Trombone Festival unanimously chose the group not only for its performance, but also for boldly playing without sheet music.

“Jane Hagris, who teaches at North Texas, talked to us for a long time and told us that the memorization was key,” Glen said. “She said that the memorization enabled us to play the music more clearly than the groups that performed with their sheet music.”

The ensemble encountered some problems overseas though. After missing a train in Switzerland, the quartet decided to give an impromptu performance in a subway station. As the group began to perform, people crowded around them, including some not-so-friendly police officers, trying to enforce the subway’s performance ban.

“The police officers were just staring at us and speaking to us in German,” Glen said. “But fortunately, some of the crowd members came to our side and defended us. So the officers just let us go and told us that we could not play in the subway.”

Since returning home, the group’s accolades and achievements have gained recognition throughout the country.

“Through Subito Bones we hope to do clinics and master classes at different universities,” Glen said. “Once Carr returns from California, we hope to pursue some of those opportunities.”

Individually, some of the members already have opportunities. Fears will be featured in an article in the British Trombone Society’s newsletter for his performance at the International Trombone Festival.

“It’s a great opportunity to share my experiences with a whole new audience,” Fears said. “Hopefully, it just helps in opening more doors.”

Professor Nathaniel Brickens, director of UT’s Trombone Choir and one of Subito Bones’ coaches, looks forward to the quartet’s blossoming career.

“The group has pursued and achieved some great goals,” Brickens said. “They have a great chemistry, which only adds to their appeal.”

As doors continue to open, Subito Bones will be ready, trombones in hand, for anything that may come its way.

“At the end of the day we’re all just trying to become better musicians,” Balleza said. “We want to keep our minds open to new opportunities and change people’s perception of the trombone.”

Printed on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 as: Trombone quartet tunes up in Europe