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Mute Stories II - Tenor Trombone

 
After the considerable success of the Classic trumpet straight mute, my trombone friends started asking when I was  going to make a trombone straight mute.  It was an excellent  idea, there were really no good trombone straight mutes on the market in 1969. I pictured a trombone mute with the same general shape, curves and sound as the new Classic trumpet mute, enlarged to trombone size. I am not an acoustician and know nothing of Helmholtz curves or other acoustical lore. My approach was instinctive and artistic, with future input from my trombonist friends.  I started by drawing full scale what I pictured a trombone mute should look like. I had no paper large enough, so I cut open a paper bag and used a marking pen. The drawing in hand, I talked with our landlord, who had wood-working tools in the basement of our two flat. I wondered if he would like to work with me to make a trombone mute. He was very interested so we went from there. He found a block of wood, large enough to make a tenor trombone mute model. Much as sculptors find a statue inside a block of marble, we searched for the trombone mute in this block of wood. He trimmed and shaped with a saw and then started spinning it on his homemade lathe. I watched over his shoulder and guided the curves. Finally we had a good looking model, a solid wooden trombone mute. Important to trombonists it also fit well in the hand. Now it had to be converted to a real aluminum mute. I took the model to our metal spinner and they made a wooden mandrel from our model. With this mandrel they could spin a mute, take a little wood off the mandrel and make a slightly smaller mute, trying to find the optimal size. With many samples, each a little smaller than the last, I had my trombone friends start testing.  

My testers were the trombones of the Lyric Opera Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Ardash Marderosian, then principal trombone of the Lyric Orchestra and Jay Friedman, then and now principal trombone of the CSO were two important testers..The testing was not difficult. They all chose what is now our tenor trombone mute. It is pretty much as I imagined and drew it. It is easy blowing and has a good traditional straight mute sound. This mute was well received worldwide. In 1974, during a visit to Prague we went to a concert of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. The first trombonist was using the new Tom Crown tenor trombone straight, this  only a year after we introduced it. We do no advertising, so the word of mouth of this new mute traveled fast. 

I have enquired on Facebook to find early users of this  mute. Outside of Chicago, where Lyric Opera and CSO trombonists used the Tom Crown trombone straight mute from its birth. the earliest user outside of Chicago was Axel Maukner, longtime principal trombonist of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin. I was in Berlin for a year from 1973 to 1974 playing in the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper. I somehow brought with me or had sent mutes for the trumpets and trombones. In Berlin, at a luncheon in our honor, Donna and I,  thirty years later, were pleased to see our friends from long ago.  Axel brought along his mute to show and tell that although retired from the opera he still used that mute I gave him in 1973 on his gigs.