Trombone takes Yeo around the world, then to ASU


April 18, 2013

When Douglas Yeo was a fourth grader at Hewlett Elementary School on Long Island, he was offered the chance to play a musical instrument in school. He wanted to play the trumpet, but family history conspired against him.

Since his last named started with a Y, he was the last student to get an instrument. It was not a trumpet, since all the trumpets had been chosen. Download Full Image

“I was unceremoniously given a trombone,” Yeo said.

With the trombone, Yeo also got a lesson that has stuck with him all his life, and one that he works to impart to his students at ASU: Have dreams and goals, but hold them loosely, since there might be “another road.”

Had he refused to take the trombone, chances are that he never would have been a member of the Boston Symphony for 27 years, played on the soundtrack for “Schindler’s List” and other films with John Williams and the Boston Pops, or made best-selling solo recordings.

Yeo, who is completing his first year as ASU’s trombone professor in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, fell in love with the trombone after he had played it for a bit. “I learned that you could do things with the trombone you couldn’t do with other instruments. I realized that composers have used the trombone in unique ways,” he said.

“The trombone brings a particular kind of color to ensembles. It can speak in the range of the male voice.”

Yeo likes to quote the composer Hector Berlioz, who wrote in his “Treatise on Instrumentation” of 1843/44, “I regard the trombone as the true leader of the race of wind instruments which I have described as ‘epic.’ It possesses nobility and grandeur to a high degree and it has all the solemnity of high musical poetry, ranging from a calm, imposing, devotional aura to the wild clamors of an orgy.  

“It is up to the composer to make it chant like a chorus of priests, or utter threats, then muffled groans, then a subdued funeral knell, then a resounding hymn of glory, then a piercing shriek, then a mighty fanfare for the waking of the dead or the death of the living.”

Yeo majored in trombone performance at Wheaton College (Illinois), with his sights set on playing in a major symphony orchestra. But he first had other paths to follow.

After graduating from Wheaton, he moved to New York City where his wife, Patricia, was finishing her degree at Columbia University. He looked for trombone jobs, and finally took an office job, along with his part-time trombone gigs, to help pay the bills. After a year, he decided to go to graduate school at NYU and then teach high school music.

Yeo writes in an essay titled “The Puzzle of Our Lives” (http://www.yeodoug.com/articles/puzzle/puzzle.html) that he continued practicing all the while, still focused on playing for a symphony orchestra. In 1981 he won a chair in the Baltimore Symphony, then four years later auditioned for the Boston Symphony and was, at last fulfilling his dream of playing bass trombone with a major ensemble. But that wasn’t the last piece in the “puzzle” of his life.

“Professionally I had achieved a significant goal. To be playing in that great orchestra has been a great privilege and joy, but while I've enjoyed a measure of success as part of the Boston Symphony, I believe there is a lot more to life than getting the right seat in the right orchestra, and there was more to my own story than I have just outlined,” he writes in his essay.   “The important thing for each of us to realize is the answer to the bigger question I talked about earlier: 'How do we put together the puzzle of our lives?'”

For Yeo and his wife, the next step was “life after the BSO,” which they began thinking about several years ago. “I didn’t want to be playing in the Boston Symphony until I could no longer hold a trombone,” he said.  “We began earnestly seeking what we felt would be the next season of our life. I knew there were other things I wanted to do and that God wanted me to do.”

The Yeos first decided to move west, away from the cold weather. “We have been vacationing in the West since we were married, and we settled rather quickly on the idea of moving to Arizona.”

The first step was to find a church they could call “home,” Yeo said, in the area they wanted to live in. Then, they bought their house in Goodyear, in the foothills of the Sierra Estrella.

Meanwhile, Yeo had been talking with Kimberly Marshall, then the director of the Herberger School of Music, about teaching part-time at ASU. Suddenly, the talk turned to a full-time position on the faculty, and Yeo accepted.

In the months since he set up shop in the Music Building, Yeo has turned his neat-as-a-pin office into a veritable cheering section for student trombonists. Everywhere the students look there are inspiring photos and trombone memorabilia – posters from tours with the Boston Symphony and Pops, photos of famous trombonists, original cartoons about the trombone by noted artists, and a first pressing of the 78 RPM record of Tommy Dorsey’s, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.”

His bookcase is filled with books about music, life, the arts, which he encourages his students to read – and loans to them ­ – such as biographies of composers, books on how culture intersects with art, such as Jacques Barzun's “Darwin, Marx and Wagner” and “From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life,” books on how to play music such as “Dance and the Music of J.S. Bach.”

Also available for borrowing are his recordings, ranging from one-of-a-kind LPs to DVDs and CDs, such as a video of Mstislav Rostropovich playing the Bach "Cello Suites" and John Elliott Gardiner's concert performance of the Berlioz "Symphonie fantastique" on period instruments.

Behind it all is his great desire to motivate students to be their very best. “Excellence” is one of his favorite words. He wants the students to think beyond today and imagine themselves as successful musicians, to consider carefully the impact that acts of youthful rebellion, such as body piercing and tattoos, will have on them. “An orchestra, for example, will want to hire you for a very long time and they want you to fit in. Remember: the people interviewing you may very well be from your father’s or grandfather’s generation.”

Yeo said his primary act of youthful rebellion was growing his hair long. He soon decided he looked silly and cut it. It was a reversible decision.

During his career with the Boston Symphony, Yeo did much more than just sit in his chair and play the music. He practiced, of course, but he also taught at New England Conservatory, explored historic brass instruments such as the serpent, ophicleide, bass sackbut and buccin, performed and recorded with the serpent, led the New England Brass Band, soloed with the Boston Pops and much more. He describes himself, aptly, as an “Energizer Bunny.”

Yeo also is a prolific writer, turning out articles and dictionary entries about the trombone and historic brass instruments, and he is now writing a comprehensive book on the trombone.

Yeo also writes essays and commentaries for his personal Website, yeodoug.com, and is an oft-invited chapel and commencement speaker.

Underpinning his career and life is his belief that God has a plan for his life. He cites his audition for the Boston Symphony, which easily could have been a failure for a key missed note.

He writes, “I thank God that I did not play a perfect audition when I was seeking the Boston Symphony job. Being hired in spite of imperfections (in the natural sense, can you imagine a conductor hiring a player who not only missed but completely slaughtered the high "b" in “Hary Janos” in a final round!) showed me that it was not my talent alone that put me in the BSO but rather it was the ordained plan of a Sovereign God.

“How could I ever think that a missed note would keep me from accomplishing God's will if it is what He wanted me to do?”

(To read Yeo’s essays, see photo galleries from his musical career, and learn more about his faith and philosophy, go to www.yeodoug.com. Also visit www.asutrombonestudio.org)

Professional Learning Library connects K-12 educational resource sites


April 18, 2013

With the iTeachAZ program in more than 35 school districts across the state, it shares a common problem with many other education programs: one central online site to collect and share resources among their faculty, students and educational partners.  

And they are not alone. The Teacher Preparation program in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has sections of many courses taught at all four Arizona State University campuses by as many as 20 different people. Actually, across ASU, more than 60 departments have K-12 educational content on their individual websites with little to no connection between them, not to mention community colleges and school districts around the state with their own resource pages. professional learning library, pll Download Full Image

To connect all these resources to one location, the ASU NEXT/Teacher Quality Partnership Grant at the Teachers College has launched the Professional Learning Library (PLL) at pll.asu.edu. This online venue allows pre-service and in-service educators to connect, collaborate, share and learn. A search engine makes the content easy to find, with secure communities for members to participate in inter- and intra-institution collaboration.

“As the iTeachAZ program has developed, we have resources that have been placed all over the place, online, through email, different databases,” said Robert Morse, an iTeachAZ program specialist. “What the PLL has allowed us to do is take all those resources and put them in one place, and more importantly made those resources so now they’re searchable.”

Currently, more than 1,200 educational resources, including presentations, learning modules, course materials, videos and professional learning trainings are posted on the PLL. New content is constantly being added by partners, such as: Teachers College, ASU NEXT Grant, Arizona Ready-for-Rigor Project , Ecology Explorers, Eight – ASSET Educational Outreach, Embodied Games for Learning, Inside the Academy, Learning Forever, ASU Mars Education Program, Sanford Inspire Program, Teaching Foundations Project, and Technology Infusion.

 “The Professional Learning Library is bringing all this content to one place for a searchable database,” said Heidi Blair, technology director for the NEXT Grant. “We’re not replacing the other sites, but linking them together by providing a discovery tool that allows users to search by standards, topics, providers, resource type, grade levels and other criteria. This allows the stewardship of content to remain within the producing unit.”

The PLL includes both a free public-facing site and a secure login area for members to access additional role-restricted materials and learning opportunities. Members may create communities for collaboration of ideas and materials and participate in private discussion forums amongst invited users.

“Some of the resources we restrict access to the teacher candidates enrolled in our Teachers College while other resources we post and allow anyone to have access to them,” said Ryen Borden, executive director of the Sanford Inspire Program. “So we have flexibility in making those decisions about access during the process of posting our resources online.”

The majority of the content is available to the public. And it’s not just useful for teachers, but for students and parents, as well. iTeachAZ senior Laniray Pomeroy is excited about the opportunities the PLL will provide him as he completes his teacher candidate studies, and later when he plans to be managing his own classroom.

“When it comes to designing lessons and building on your lesson plans, you really don’t know where to start,” Pomeroy said. “With the PLL, I have a great resource to build on what I think is right already and it helps me grow that knowledge. It’s a great community where lesson plans are already built in. It’s a great way to flow from there.”

Being able to serve teacher candidates as well as in-service teachers throughout their careers is part of the PLL’s plan to provide long-term benefits to ASU and the greater education community. As a repository for a number of projects, the site provides a place to disseminate information and useful resources.

“As the director of a grant, I think about sustainability a lot,” Borden said. “The PLL is a great resource to us. It’s a place where we can create resources and then store them there so people will be able to access them long after the grant has ended. So I see that being a benefit not only to my grant, but to the university overall.”

While the PLL continues to add new content, it’s also evolving to meet the demands of its users.

 “I found that working with the PLL team they’ve been very responsive to my needs,” said LeeAnn Lindsey, technology infusion and professional development coordinator at the Teachers College. “Pretty much anything I’ve asked them to help me with or gone to them and said, ‘This is what I’d really like the PLL to do, can it do this?’ They’ve really helped me find a way to make the PLL work to meet my needs.”

The PLL team is providing training workshops for users as well as content providers. If you would like to learn more about the PLL, request a membership or have content that might be appropriate for the PLL, please send a message to asupll@asu.edu. Additionally, stay updated by liking the “Professional Learning Library” Facebook page, or following “asupll” on Twitter as the PLL continues to grow.

“As a grant funded project, the PLL serves the needs of the grant both now and in the future,” Blair said. “With an eye to the future, the PLL supports ASU-wide efforts to connect with the PreK-12 education sector with the research and work being done in this Level 1 research institution.”