Due to overwhelming cost of instrument damages, growing concerns for safety and suspicion of hazing, Trombone No. 5, formerly known as Trombone Suicides, will no longer be performed by the Colorado State University Marching Band.
Trombone No. 5 is a routine performed by the trombone section of the CSU Marching Band in which trombone players line up shoulder-to-shoulder and alternate swinging their instrument and ducking. If band members fail to time themselves correctly, they can be smacked by a band member’s instrument in the back of the head or in the face. It is popular among audiences who watch them, but more so among those who perform them.
“I actually came to CSU to do no. 5, I saw the routine first being performed when I was a sophomore in high school,” said Kaelin McDonald, a former CSU marching band trombone player and part of the graduating class of 2016. “I saw that (routine) and I was like ‘no no no, I’m going to CSU, forget everything else, forget academics, forget everything, that’s what I want to do.’ So I did.”
On August 15, the Marching Band was informed they would no longer be performing the routine that had been a staple of the band since the Trombone section created it in 1995.
The official statement and student suspicion
The official statement on the issue cited safety concerns.
“The marching band faculty and the director of the school of music, theater and dance, had reviewed some concerns about the safety of students in the band routine known as Trombone No. 5,” said Gary Ozzello, the Colorado State University vice president for external relations. “We’re always cognizant of any and all safety concerns and continually review anything related to our program to address any issues, so as a result we have made the decision to suspend performances of this routine.”
According to emails obtained by the Collegian through Colorado’s Open Records Act, Dan Goble, director of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance (SoMTD), Rebecca Phillips, director of bands, and Richard Frey, associate director of bands, agreed to use the word “suspend” but that the word “does not leave the door open for a return to No. 5.”
But, the students, alumni and especially band members, were not satisfied with the answer of safety concerns.
“I feel like they’re using injuries for a bigger scapegoat that they don’t want to talk about,” McDonald said.
McDonald graduated last May, and while at CSU she marched for the band for three years. She was part of the trombone section, making her a “Bruce.” CSU trombone players guard why they call themselves “Bruces” – but how they feel about their lost routine is no secret.
After she first saw the routine performed when she was a sophomore in high school visiting Colorado from New Mexico for a band competition, McDonald decided CSU was her school of choice.
Attending a school out-of-state to perform a routine may sound extreme, but this is not an unusual amount of enthusiasm for the routine. In fact, many students decide, or at least are heavily influenced, to attend CSU for the opportunity to march with the band whose routine stole their heart since high school.
Christian Rodriguez is another Bruce alumnus who graduated in May 2016. Like McDonald, Rodriguez saw the routine performed while at a marching band competition in high school. When it came time to pick a college, he was accepted to several schools, including Colorado School of Mines. According to Rodriguez, the decision was not difficult.
“CSU had a marching band one, and two, they did the trombone suicides,” Rodriguez said.
Also like his fellow alum, Rodriguez does not buy that the routine was cut for safety concerns.
“More than likely a trombone hit a trombone and not a person,” Rodriguez said.
One current band member suspects both the safety concern and responsibility of the decision on band faculty to be false. The band member spoke anonymously because according to marching band code of conduct, students could lose their scholarships or be asked not to return to the band if they speak to media.
Like their alumni counterparts, this band member does not believe Trombone No. 5 was terminated solely out of safety concerns as the official statement implies.
“All I know is that we used to have a budget, and then I’m guessing No. 5 ate it all up, because 2014 was actually a really bad year,” said the band member. “We averaged about one broken horn a game, and that’s not good, in fact maybe more than one broken horn.”
An email justifying the cut sent on Aug. 15 from Dan Goble, to CSU President Tony Frank, lists safety and cost as reasons for eliminating the routine.
“While there have been no serious injuries to date, there have been incidents where students have been struck in the face with trombone slides, causing damage to the instruments and minor injuries to students,” Goble wrote.
According to a timeline in an email from Goble, the cessation of the routine had been in the works since August 2011, when Richard Frey began his role as Director of Athletic Bands and immediately had concerns about the safety of the routine. In August 2014, Rebecca Philips assumed the role of director of bands, and had concerns about No. 5 creating a hazing culture.
An email sent on Aug. 29 from Richard Frey to Goble about No. 5, states the routine had caused six reported injuries since 2008, but cost $2,108 in damage expenditures in 2015 alone.
However, in a 5-page document titled, “Justification of the Removal of Trombone Suicide (#5) from the CSU Marching Band” written by Rebecca Phillips, director of bands, states “students paid for repairs as they occurred.”
According to the report, “the expenditure of Music Program Fee funds for avoidable damage to instruments is not good stewardship of student fees.”
The claim that trombone repair costs were inappropriate uses of student fees appears to have been made without the consultation of any student groups or members of the marching band itself.
“The incident that finally brought this to a head was due to a student who … refused to pay for the repairs to her instrument,” Phillips wrote in the report. “After Dr. Frey communicated with her numerous times about the instrument contract over several months, she stated that No. 5 was a ‘requirement of the class (marching band)’ and that she would not pay for damages.”
Although the document uses the word “refused” in reference to the student not paying for damages, an anonymous band member told the Collegian the student was unable to pay. The source said that the student is no longer attending CSU for cost-related reasons not related to marching band.
The student who struggled to pay for instrument damage could not be reached for comment.
Goble did not want students to have to pay for Trombone No. 5 damages, according to an email from Sheryl Highsmith, the budget manager of the SoMTD, to Copper Ferreira, the Assistant Professor of Music Theory on Feb. 1.
In April 2016, Frey, Phillips, and Goble agree to consider eliminating Trombone No. 5, though several students in the band had been told their directors had fought for their routine.
“I know for a fact it did not come from the band directors, they fought very hard to keep it,” said the anonymous band member.
However, according to the justification document, “Dr. Goble made the difficult decision to recommend to the Director of Athletic Bands to remove #5 from the band’s repertoire.”
Though Frey, Phillips and Goble were concerned about public reaction to the decision, they were surprised at the amount of public outcry, according to the document.
“I was proud to have (performed the routine) and it’s really disheartening, it seems to be such an abrupt decision to let it go,” said McDonald.
Editor’s Note: Follow the Collegian in the coming weeks for more information about how the CSU community and University have responded to the end of Trombone No. 5.
Collegian reporter Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tatianasophiapt.