Music

What it's like to be confined with a trombonist

They're all smiles but Karina Bharne, spouse of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra's bass trombonist, admits 'it can be a little much.'

They're all smiles but Karina Bharne, spouse of the VSO's bass trombonist, admits 'it can be a little much'

'I’m pretty shameless about practising in the living room,' says bass trombonist Ilan Morgenstern (left). (Supplied by Ilan Morgenstern)

"I would say perhaps it would be as loud as a lawnmower if you had your windows closed."

Karina Bharne has been spending much of the COVID-19 pandemic confined in a one-bedroom apartment in Tacoma, Wash., with her husband, Ilan Morgenstern, who is the bass trombonist of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

"My apartment building has closed down all of our commons areas," Bharne explained to CBC Music, "so Ilan practises in our apartment. I've been doing more work from home, though I still go to the office to collect our mail and deposit cheques in the bank."

Bharne, who's executive director of Symphony Tacoma, has been busily working to keep her organization alive and thriving during the lockdown. "When Ilan is practising parts that are completely repetitive, I do have to put on headphones in order to drown out the sounds of the bass trombone," she says. "It can be a little much."

And when video-conferencing is required for board meetings, Bharne draws the line. "I do ask Ilan to leave the apartment and practise somewhere else."

Bass trombonist Ilan Morgenstern practises at home while 1 of his cats follows the score on a TV screen. (Supplied by Ilan Morgenstern)

"Confinement practising is also a bit different," she continues. "When you are recording a piece, there are multiple takes involved so it becomes repetitive, which can be more difficult to listen to. Ilan is also a perfectionist, which doesn't help."

While Morgenstern is sensitive to his housemates — their apartment is also home to three cats: Peach, Lola and Ari — he needs to keep up his daily practising.

"I'm pretty shameless about practising in the living room," he says. "What's funny is that the cats are so used to it they sleep through anything I play, but the slightest touch on the food dish and they're all immediately up!"

With his concerts cancelled, Morgenstern is keeping himself busy (and his embouchure in shape) with side projects and online collaborations.

These include a method book called Trombone Exercise Library Project, which he's working on with trombonist and music technologist Brian Santero of the New York City Ballet, as well as a virtual performance of Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me." Morgenstern arranged it for trombone quartet and enlisted some colleagues (including the VSO's principal trombonist, Brian Wendel) to play it in support of Doctors Without Borders:

Bharne, a former trombonist herself, feels she's been a tolerant, supportive spouse during these extraordinary times.

"I think having played trombone puts me in a unique situation where I understand the difficulties of everything Ilan is practising and am always continually dumbfounded as to how he can achieve such talent on the instrument."

"However, in general, the trombone is a loud instrument," she adds. "I will be OK if I never have to listen to the bass trombone part of Fanfare for the Common Man ever again."

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