Sneezing into a trombone

Church in Tiptree Image copyright YouTube

A man sneezing into his trombone during a band performance in a church is racking up views on YouTube. What do you do when you need to sneeze in awkward places, asks Tom Heyden.

There are two main options when a sneeze is coming - let it happen, or try to ride it out. The decision often depends on your situation. For one unlucky trombonist, it was while playing in an orchestra at a church in Tiptree, Essex. He tried to ride the sneeze. He failed. During a quiet piece of the performance, an elephant-like noise erupts with the timing more associated with comedians than musicians. Julian Bright, conductor and bandmaster of the Salvation Army's amateur London Central Band, which was playing at the time, says he's never experienced anything like it, despite his 35 years' experience playing in brass band and various music groups. "I actually thought something in the PA system had blown up," he said.

Normally you'd move the instrument away, or tactically sneak the sneeze into a loud segment of music, says Bright. But that's not always possible. "If the band had been playing something loud and boisterous, it would have gone unnoticed," he says. The trombonist was seemingly caught between sticking or twisting, with the mental "Abort!" arriving too late. "He says he knew that a sneeze was coming but he was so conscious [about] not playing his part that it all just happened too quickly and he couldn't get his trombone out the way," Bright says. It's a risk all wind or brass players face, explains cornet-player Bright. A sneeze, burp or hiccup is inconsequential for a percussionist, while the trombone is probably the worst of all, he says. The instrument is often used to provide an edgy, aggressive sound. "When you then add a sneeze to the natural tendencies of the instrument, it's a lethal combination."

"I sneeze like an elephant, but never down the cornet," says Bright. The closest he came was while playing in a brass quartet as a teenager. "I was actually physically sick down the instrument, and I just felt the teacher pulling the back of my chair and slowly dragging me offstage leaving the other three playing." The show must go on.

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