THE TROMBONIST AND THE FIRECRACKER
August, 1998, Montevideo, Uruguay Paolo Esperanza, bass-trombonist
with the Simphonica Mayor de Uruguay, in a misplaced moment of
inspiration decided to make his own contribution to the cannon shots
fired as part of the orchestra's performance of Tchaikovsky's 1812
Overture at an outdoor children's concert.
In complete seriousness he placed a large, ignited firecracker, which
was equivalent in strength to a quarter stick of dynamite, into his
aluminum straight mute and then stuck the mute into the bell of his
quite new Yamaha in-line double-valve bass trombone. Later, from his
hospital bed he explained to a reporter through bandages on his mouth,
"I thought that the bell of my trombone would shield me from the
explosion and instead, would focus the energy of the blast outward and
away from me, propelling the mute high above the orchestra, like a rocket."
However, Paolo was not up on his propulsion physics nor qualified to use
high-powered artillery and in his haste to get the horn up before the
firecracker went off, he failed to raise the bell of the horn high
enough so as to give the mute enough arc to clear the orchestra.
What actually happened should serve as a lesson to us all during those
delirious moments of divine inspiration. First, because he failed to
sufficiently elevate the bell of his horn, the blast propelled the mute
between rows of players in the woodwind and viola sections of the
orchestra, missing the players and straight into the stomach of the
conductor, driving him off the podium and directly into the front row of the audience.
Fortunately, the audience were sitting in folding chairs and thus they
were protected from serious injury, for the chairs collapsed under them
passing the energy of the impact of the flying conductor backwards into
row of people sitting behind them, who in turn were driven back into the
people in the row behind and so on, like a row of dominos. The sound of
collapsing wooden chairs and grunts of people falling on their
Behinds increased logarithmically, adding to the overall sound of brass
cannons and brass playing as constitutes the closing measures of the Overture.
Meanwhile, all of this unplanned choreography not withstanding, back on
stage Paolo's Waterloo was still unfolding. According to Paolo, "Just as
I heard the sound of the blast, time seemed to stand still. Everything
moved in slow motion. Just before I felt searing pain to my mouth, I
could swear I heard a voice with a Austrian accent say "Fur every akshon zer iz un
eekvul un opposeet reakshon!"
Well, this should come as no surprise, for Paolo had set himself up for
a textbook demonstration of this fundamental law of physics. Having
failed to plug the lead pipe of his trombone, he allowed the energy of
the blast to send a super heated jet of gas backwards through the mouth
pipe of the trombone which exited the mouthpiece burning his lips and
The pyrotechnic ballet wasn't over yet. The force of the blast was so
great it split the bell of his shiny Yamaha right down the middle,
turning it inside out while at the same time propelling Paolo backwards
off the riser.
And for the grand finale, as Paolo fell backwards he lost his grip on
the slide of the trombone allowing the pressure of the hot gases
coursing through the horn to propel the trombone's slide like a double
golden spear into the head of the 3rd clarinetist, knocking him
The moral of the story? Beware the next time you hear someone in the
trombone section yell out "Hey, everyone, watch this!"