Randall S. Campora
Randy Campora has been the bass trombone player in the BSO since 1985.
What does a bass trombonist do?
Every day I come to work and go to the sump pump/laundry/HVAC room in the Meyerhoff basement, because there are only 6 rooms for 96 musicians to warm up in before rehearsals and concerts. This noisy, stinky room is mine because no one else wants it, except the highly evolved cockroaches of Baltimore. After an hour, I go up to the stage and sit with the tuba on my left and the second trombone on my right. We are less than two feet from each other. Most of my work is non verbal. This is my office. Isn’t it just like yours?
The bass trombone is a larger version of the tenor trombone, specializing in the lower range, with a larger bore, mouthpiece, and bell. It also has extra tubing and valves to facilitate lower notes. The tuba and I partner with the cellos and basses and timpani to provide the terra firma of the orchestral world environment created for you, the listener. With the tenor trombones we form the low brass section.
In order to prepare, I start months in advance by studying the orchestral score—this gives me all the information that the conductor has, so I will know how my part fits into the big picture. Next I will listen to recordings from my collection. And then I will start practicing the bass trombone part in my practice studio (that’s what musicians call their Man/Woman Caves).
This is in addition to all the regular practicing that must be done to keep the body and mind in good working order, making it possible to give a command so that the sound and musical phrase that I desire really does come out of the large end of the horn.
The most enjoyable parts of this process for me are seeing the joy on your faces as the audience: you have paid authentic bona fide money that you could have spent on something else, you might have had a hard day at work or taking care of the kids. You might have something grave happening in your life, or you might be on a first date wondering if this is “The One”. It gives me happiness to see that what we give to you is uplifting, edifying, cleansing, and–at the very least–entertaining to you. You are the final station as this wonder we call Western Classical Music makes its way from composer, to performer, to audience. Without you it would be like manning a train that has no stops—what would be the point of that? Even the finest scenery would become banal eventually. Thank you so much for lending us your ears, your minds and your hearts for two hours at a time! I feel honored—it’s not something we take lightly.
My theory is that our society is kept healthy and happy by making a woven tapestry of as many positive things as we can muster, all partnering for the good in us, keeping the negative at bay: museums, schools, hospitals, sports, government, cinemas, theaters, businesses, banks, media, technology, restaurants, churches/synagogues/mosques, grocery stores, barber shops, transportation. If we keep this tapestry strong, thick and varied, there is no limit to the number of positive, useful things we can pass on to the next generation in our wonderful city. The more cities and rural areas doing this the stronger our country is.
Strangest Tour Story:
The BSO toured Eastern and Western Europe, including the Soviet Union, in the Spring of 1987. We flew from London into the airport in East Berlin on a group visa, for our concerts in East Berlin and Leipzig. We could not even go to West Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie because we would not be able to get back into the East, due to the group visa.
The first concert was in Leipzig, featuring Schumann’s second symphony. The hall was filled to capacity in the new Gewandhaus, but the crowd was noticeably polite in their applause after the pieces. I was not sure if they were unimpressed with the performance or because it was risky to be seen in public enthusiastically applauding an American orchestra.
Our encores were chosen by David Zinman to make an overt American statement: a Brahms Hungarian Dance, then an arrangement by Christopher Rouse, done especially for the tour, of the Beatles’ Twist and Shout. In this arrangement the melody was to be played by the trombone section, standing up.
I remember thinking when it started: This could be fun, or they won’t applaud at all and we’ll all end up in the East German Klink!
We stood up and let the melody fly. The crowd erupted with wild whoops and hollers as soon as they realized what we were playing. When we finished they gushed over the top. All that careful politeness and reticence evaporated and there was high voltage in the air and smiles all around. A moment never to be forgotten. We ended the whole thing with Stars and Stripes Forever! I still correspond on Facebook with a friend I met that night in Leipzig after the concert.
What do I do when I am not playing music?
Our BSO rehearsals and concerts usually keep us busy Tuesday through Saturday, and two to three Sundays per month. Mondays are our usual off days. I spend a few hours of my Mondays teaching bass trombone at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. I enjoy helping the students improve and figure out what they want to do with their professional lives. Before I began at Peabody, I taught at the Baltimore High School for the Arts for a year.
My wife Olga is a yoga teacher in our town of Ellicott City, and was born and raised in Czechoslovakia. Our oldest son, Dominik, is a trumpet major at Brigham Young University and currently serving as an LDS missionary in Poland. Our younger son, Raffi, is a senior in high school and will study mathematics at BYU’s Idaho campus in the Fall (he’s going to be the “normal” member of the family). My family is such an inspiration to me, and we spend as much time together as we can given all our activities and the demands of modern American life.
Over the years we have been pleased to be able to do a lot of different things volunteering at our church. We have taught all kinds of classes, conducted the choir, done all levels of Scouts, community projects, working at the Temple in DC. We even led a very small urban congregation on Baltimore’s West side (Park Heights) for a year before we moved to Ellicott City. I shudder to think of the things we would have missed out on had it not been for the chance to be involved in this way–so many wonderful people, so many great experiences.
I can’t say I have any hobbies, though in the past I used to play golf. I stopped playing many years ago when I lived in Baltimore City and the courses were not convenient to get to. Another reason I quit: golf is the closest thing I have ever experienced to playing a musical instrument, and I was already doing that. I look forward to playing again in a few years when I have more free time.
Last year I started watching Dr. Who on Netflix and now I am addicted to the Timey Whimey stuff. I would try to get help but I really don’t want to be cured that badly. Besides, I have some Welsh ancestors in my family tree, and the series is filmed in Cardiff, Wales, so I can blame it on DNA. Allons-y!
What are some things not many people know about me?
During the orchestra strike of 1988-89 I taught general music at a Baltimore County elementary school in the Southeastern part of the county. That was the most challenging job I’ve ever had.
I am still pretty fluent in Spanish, though rusty. I used to be able to hold conversations in Czech and Italian but those have faded quite a bit.
I served as a missionary in the Spanish speaking parts of Houston in the 1980s, where I met some of the most amazing and humble humans on this planet. Also: pupusas!
In the past I have served on the Players’ Committee, the Artistic Committee, the Committee for the Future in the wake of the 1988-89 strike, and the Music Director Search Committee. I am grateful for the things I learned in these endeavors, and for the people I worked with.
The great golfer and Masters champ Billy Casper stayed at our home in Tallahassee, Florida for a few years when playing in the PGA’s Tallahassee Open in the early 80s. Billy was the nicest, most down to earth man: we’d follow him on his round during the day, and go fishing together in the evening.
I come from a sporting family: My father, Steve Campora, was the fullback on the BYU football team, and the catcher on the baseball team; his brother, Don, was a rookie offensive lineman for the 49ers the same year Artie Donovan was a rookie for the Colts; my cousin Bronco Mendenhall has just left the head football coaching job at BYU to coach at Virginia. I got none of that talent, however.
I was born on my grandparents’ walnut orchard in California’s San Joaquin Valley, outside Stockton. My grandfather Domenico came from northern Italy when he was 12, and had a wonderful tenor voice, with dreams of becoming an opera singer. He took his new bride, Rhoda Holt, all the way to New York City in the 1920s and paid the bills by singing in an Italian restaurant in the Bronx. His voice teacher eventually arranged a recital for several opera impresarios in Manhattan, including the MET. His voice teacher, serving as his pianist, came to the recital drunk and the performance was a disaster. My grandparents returned home to the orchard where they decided to live the simple life. He died in a tractor accident when my father was fifteen. I often imagine grandpa checking in on me during BSO concerts, and I think he especially enjoys it when we have singers involved. I assume he’s always there when we play operas in the Lyric!
Many years ago I had my trombone stolen from my car in Mt. Vernon. After a few days I got a call. The voice on the other end of the phone had a raspy, Godfather-like voice with an Italian accent. Are you Campora? Yes. Do you own a large brown box with something metal inside? Yes. My son and I found it in the park by Mercy Hospital, we work for the city on the gardening crew. My son wanted to throw it away but I said, wait!, it’s got an Italian name on the tag. Come to my house in Highlandtown tomorrow at noon and I’ll cook pasta and give you your brown box back. The trombone was untouched, in perfect condition. The pasta was superb. I love Baltimore . . . they even had painted window screens.
Biggest life change: choosing to follow a Whole Food Plant Based dietary system as a cancer survivor (see below). I did not think we could do it, but now after a year we are so glad we did!
I was a BSO subscriber the year before I joined the orchestra in 1985. For the 1984 season I sat next to a wonderful retiree named Bob in the terrace center section, three rows from the back. Bob is probably no longer with us, but often I look up there during concerts thinking of how much he loved the music. His only complaint: he didn’t like the Pops and found it hard to skip a week without a concert!
Favorite outdoor place on earth: Wakulla Springs, Florida.
My least favorite composer: Bernstein.
My favorites: Prokofiev, Mahler, Bruckner, Hindemith, Janacek, Strauss, Vaughn Williams, Sibelius, Mozart, Respighi, Berlioz—oh boy, the list could go on.
The hardest to play: Strauss and Brahms.
What is my one parting bit of advice to you?
A year ago I was diagnosed with stage 1 esophageal cancer. It is not usually found in the early stages. Our family was greatly blessed. I took three months off the orchestra to have major surgery, and now my scans are all clear and my health is drastically improved, with a positive outlook. I had such a wonderful experience with all the doctors and surgeons at Hopkins Hospital (Drs. Molena, Lidor, Canto and Solaiman), the nurses and the staff. How richly blessed were are in Baltimore to have such phenomenal doctors and health care within minutes of our homes. They were the perfect model of professionalism and I fell in love with all of them. My thoughts are so often with those who don’t survive cancer and other such maladies, and their families.
My advice: when it comes time for your periodic colonoscopy, ask your doctor to sit you down and ask you all of the esophagus and stomach related questions. If your doctor hears you say anything remotely concerning (chronic acid reflux, difficulty swallowing), it is a very simple and painless thing to have an endoscopy done with your colonoscopy. This is the best way to find it early, because by the time obvious symptoms arise it can in many cases be already advanced.
Congratulations on making it all the way to the end of this! If I had a prize I would give it to you. I simply cannot thank you enough for being a part of our wonderful BSO audience, and I can’t wait to see you at the next concert. God bless you and yours.