Magazine article The Christian Century

German Trombone Choirs Give Churches a Boost

Magazine article The Christian Century

German Trombone Choirs Give Churches a Boost

Article excerpt

On a recent Monday evening, tourists and locals dining at restaurants next to Leipzig's St. Nicholas Church heard a faint brass band sound accompanying their conversations.

The foreign tourists among the diners had no idea what the brass music was about, but the local diners were accustomed to it. Monday night is rehearsal night for the St. Nicholas Church's trombone choir, one of about 30 such ensembles in Leipzig alone.

"I've played in brass bands in the past, but trombone choirs are great because you play with people of all ages, and you play all kinds of music," said Silke Lantau, a young member of the St. Nicholas trombone choir, after the rehearsal.

Lantau, an 11-year veteran of her instrument, plays the trumpet. Although the name suggests that trombone choirs only feature one instrument, they are in fact church brass bands set up the same way as church choirs, with sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses.

While membership in Germany's Protestant (Lutheran) church is rapidly declining--last year a record 200,000 members left the church--its trombone choirs are thriving. Today, Germany has 110,000 amateur brass players belonging to 6,000 trombone choirs.

In early June, thousands of trombone choir members from all over the country gathered in the eastern German city of Dresden. Registration was up from the last such festival eight years ago.

Nobody is quite sure why the bands are called trombone choirs rather than, say, trumpet choirs or brass choirs. According to one theory, the name is connected to Martin Luther's translation of a biblical instrument, unknown in 16th-century Germany, as a trombone, which was an instrument familiar to Germans. Another theory holds that the first trombone choirs used the name as a way of distinguishing themselves from secular brass bands.

"Trombone choirs became popular about 100 years ago, during the Protestant revival movement in Germany, when lots of churches moved their services outdoors and needed accompaniment," said Reinhard Gramm, a board member of Germany's association of trombone choirs. "But today churches have both organs and trombone choirs in their services."

Christoph Kassler, a hobby trombonist who has led the St. Nicholas trombone choir for the past 13 years, has seen membership grow even as service attendance has plummeted from 1989, when St. Nicholas peace prayers spawned the demonstrations that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. …

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