I’m starting a new section on heroes — my heroes. So far, they’re all in the music profession, but who knows where it may lead eventually.
First up, is retired long-time Principal Trombone with the Toronto Symphony, Gord Sweeney.
Gord came to Toronto from Dallas to take the position of Principal Trombone of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the mid 1970s, around the same time that I was a student at the University of Toronto. In the U of T Concert Band, we were preparing the Berlioz Grand Funeral and Triumphant Symphony, and newly-arrived Gord was asked to play the extended solo trombone funeral oration in the second movement. I will never forget the first note he played at the first rehearsal. I had heard really beautiful brass tone before, but nothing like this. Effortless, ringing and huge, his gorgeous sound filled the entire rehearsal space and left an impression on me that is still there forty years later. During his tenure, Gord was never really into playing trombone sonatas or concertos. What he DID do was play the living snot out of the trombone orchestra repertoire — best Mahler 3 ever, Saint Saens Organ symph., Bolero, Sibelius 7… the list goes on!
Over the years, I’ve gotten to work with Gord on many occasions. A highlight was a 1986 recording for CBC with the Toronto Brass Society and the Elmer Iseler Singers called Welcome Yule. The quintet included other Toronto Symphony principal players. I can now say that it’s some of the best playing I’ve ever done — it’s really hard to play badly when there’s that kind of playing going on around you!
Gord has, in my estimation, one of the greatest sounds that it’s possible to produce on a brass instrument. Through the ensuing decades, other players have come along since I first heard him — I can say that he has been equalled, but never bettered.
The photo is from last year after a Hannaford Street Silver Band concert that we had both attended. The drinking establishment is The Jason George on Front Street East in Toronto.