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FAME marches with '76 Trombones' to a Guinness World Record

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Published on: Monday, October 28, 2013

By Alexis A. Goring

Torrents of rain could not stop more than 400 people gathering June 1, 2012, at Nationals Park to witness a record-breaking experience: FAME, a local organization, broke the Guinness World Record for largest trombone ensemble with 368 trombone players performing a new orchestration of the classic “76 Trombones.”

“There are many things that FAME — The Foundation for the Advancement of Music and Education — had planned to achieve, however we had no idea that we would be a lead participate to gain recognition as a Guinness World Records winner,” said Toni Lewis, founder/executive director of FAME.

The record-breaking event held special meaning for Arena Stage because it was an opportunity to commemorate its 2012 blockbuster production of “The Music Man.”

“I was contacted by WTOP radio to inquire about FAME and our ability and willingness to help accomplish this incredible feat (in a short timeframe). They advised that they were reaching out to other organizations as well. In late March (2012) we were notified that FAME was selected as the nonprofit to partner with Arena Stage,” Lewis said.

American composer Meredith Willson penned “The Music Man” as a stage and film musical where the conniving traveling salesman Harold Hill sings of the marching band of his dreams as being “led” by “76 trombones.”

Lawrence Goldberg, music director for Arena Stage, put together an all-trombone arrangement of “Seventy-Six Trombones” titled “7600 Trombones” for the record-breaking event.

Planning to make history took a lot of behind-the-scenes work and involved multiple key players, starting with Arena Stage.

“We were doing a production with ‘(The) Music Man’ and the idea originated with our marketing team,” said Neal Racioppo, Director of Marketing for Arena Stage. “We were talking about we had to have an event and ‘Let’s have 76 trombones there, wouldn’t that be fun?’ And the more we thought about the logistics of that, we thought, ‘Well I wonder how many we can get? Maybe we should see if we can get a lot’ and then it grew to, ‘Let’s go for the world record.’ So we looked up what the world record was which was 289 in the Netherlands like in the mid ’90s, and we thought, ‘Oh, we can do better than that.’

“So we reached out to our conductor, our musical director for the production, and he was game so he created a new orchestration of the song ‘76 Trombones’ that had seven parts to it and we actually grew it to eight parts ranging in complexity from very, very difficult to relatively easy. We had a wide range of performers, everyone from novices to experts.”

Maestro Lawrence Goldberg called this new composition “7600 Trombones,” and it was executed by 368 trombone players from various backgrounds and places from within and outside the Washington metropolitan area. The seven different parts represented a variety of ranges and levels of difficulty. Goldberg conducted the performance at Nationals Park from his position in centerfield.

“The original number of trombonists registered to help set the record was over 500, but due to the severe weather, the number dwindled although it was still a record setting amount,” Lewis said. “The majority of the trombonists came from the Washington metro area, however several from across America and Canada traveled to Washington also participated. Trombonists from all levels of proficiency, advanced-beginner up to seasoned professional, participated and became a part of trombone history.”

Experiencing this event had the power to bring emotions to the surface of even most composed people.

“When everyone got on the field and they started playing, I’m not going to lie, I started crying,” Racioppo said. “It was an emotional thing for me. It was probably more relief and exhilaration than anything else but it was a lot of work and to see it all finally happening was exhilarating.”

The event drew music lovers and distinguished community leaders such as Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith, D-23A.

“The event was an example of the magic that can happen when community stakeholders, businesses and nonprofits work together,” Valentino-Smith said. “To achieve a world record is outstanding.  Toni realizes, and I agree, that music can really make a difference in the lives of our young people. The look on the kid’s faces as they participated in this event was priceless. This event was something they will never forget and neither will I. I hope this serves as an impetus for everyone to work together to achieve great things.”

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