Buzz Knight 00:00:01
Hi, this is Buzz Knight, the host of the Takin a Walk podcast series. And we are at the historic North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, the shot heard around the world. And for this episode, my special guest is Adam Hanna. Adam, tell us your story.
Adam Hanna 00:00:20
Yeah, hi, everybody. My name is Adam Hanna. I play trombone professionally in New England currently. And my story is I came from southern Oklahoma. I grew up Chickasaw Native American, and I have a twin brother interestingly. And an older brother. And we all played music together. And I lived in the little small world of Oklahoma with very provincial thinking until I got the courage to move to Texas and pursue a bachelor’s degree in University of Texas Arlington. Then I got married. Wow. And moved overseas to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. And that’s when my eyes really opened up to the bigger, broader world and I educated myself and decided to, when I finished my masters, make the move to Boston because I got into Tanglewood as a fellow with the Boston Symphony and my wife and I fell in love with the area and we decided to stick around. So now we live in, I guess what they call Western Mass in Maynard, Massachusetts, or not quite Western Mass, but west of Boston. And, yeah, we’re just learning and growing here and enjoying life. And that’s me in a nutshell.
Buzz Knight 00:01:36
That’s awesome. So principal trombonist yeah, for the Boston Philharmonic.
Adam Hanna 00:01:43
I am in the Boston Philharmonic trombone section and I play principal trombone in the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, which is a bit ironic because I grew up there and I moved away from there fairly young, 18,19 years ago. And then I never thought that I would win a job back where I was from. I always thought it would be somewhere exotic like Honolulu or Melbourne, Australia, or something like that, but it ended up being right back where I was from. So that’s kind of interesting and ironic in a way to make a full circle. But yeah, I mean, just kind of going on a tangent from that. It’s like you go back to where you’re from after all those years and you sort of have this displaced sense of place. Like, you feel like you know the place, but you’re different, but the place is more or less stayed the same. And it’s kind of an interesting thing to go make music there after everything I’ve learned.
Buzz Knight 00:02:42
Well, so just to paint the picture, we haven’t really started our walk here at the North Bridge yet. This is your first time at the beautiful North Bridge, right?
Adam Hanna 00:02:52
Buzz Knight 00:02:53
So before we begin it, Adam’s got his trombone with him. So noting the place and maybe the moment in time. Anything you want to favor us with?
Adam Hanna 00:03:10
Yeah, I think so. There’s a special Chickasaw piece that I know from my people that I’d like to play here that’s sort of signifying peace and tranquility.
Buzz Knight 00:03:21
Awesome. Beautiful. Adam let’s go take a walk at the North Bridge.
Adam Hanna 00:04:39
Yeah. All right. Now I’m ready.
Buzz Knight 00:04:40
Thank you. Taking a walk Well, Adam, thanks for being the first trombonist on the taking a Walk podcast series.
Adam Hanna 00:04:50
Of course. It’s an honor.
Buzz Knight 00:04:51
We’ve had some other musicians on. We had Jorma Kaukonen from the Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna founding member. And we also had Billy Payne, the keyboard player from Little Feet.
Adam Hanna 00:05:06
Buzz Knight 00:05:06
And singer songwriter Peter Himmelman. Okay, but you are the first Trombonist
Adam Hanna 00:05:12
Well, I’m nowhere near as cool as any of those people you just named, so I don’t know about that forewarning.
Buzz Knight 00:05:17
I don’t know about that. I think that beautiful hymn was very cool. Tell us about that hymn.
Adam Hanna 00:05:23
Yeah, sure. Well, it’s something that I learned retroactively, as in I didn’t know it. Growing up Chickasaw there were certain traditions that I knew, like wearing turtle shakers on the ankles and as sort of a percussion device as part of a ceremony. But I never actually known any, like, Chickasaw melodies or music. A lot of that was lost, and it’s now gone forever. But there’s some things that exist, some melodies that still exist, and that’s one of them. So it’s just something that I learned doing. I’m doing a doctoral degree at Boston University, and it’s just something that I sort of dug up in my research for a project that I was doing, focused on my indigenous heritage.
Buzz Knight 00:06:16
I loved it. It was beautiful.
Adam Hanna 00:06:18
Buzz Knight 00:06:18
So tell us for you on your first walk here, what you’re seeing and observing and feeling about the North Bridge and all that certainly means and how you feel.
Adam Hanna 00:06:34
Yeah, well, I mean, this is my first time here, but so far I’ve lived sort of close to the area within 10 miles or so, 15 miles or so for a couple of years now. But just in this general area, I feel a strange sense of belonging that, ironically, I don’t feel in Oklahoma. I grew up there. But when you go back home, you have these fond memories and you have this sense of place and this sense of belonging because it’s your home. You grew up there. But when I go back to Oklahoma now for my work, because I live here in the Boston area, and then I commute to Oklahoma City for the work, and I just don’t feel that sense of place there. It feels displaced, which is kind of interesting considering the heritage of the Chickasaw people were originally from Mississippi, from the northern Mississippi wooded area, and they were relocated forcefully to Oklahoma. And it’s just strange. It doesn’t feel like home somehow. But this is a place that I’ve never been, at least not a few years ago when I moved here. And I feel like I belong here. I feel like the turf I walk on is like I belong to it, not the other way around.
Buzz Knight 00:07:56
I love that because I think when we all come here, we tend to feel that way about, certainly this pretty incredible spot. As we’re here, there’s a group of members of the military that are here, look like from a battalion. And then further over the North Bridge, a group of students that just came in a bus. So it’s often a very active place, but frequently it’s not that busy as well. Yeah, so it’s a pretty cool spot right here in front. We’re looking at the grave of the British soldiers. We speak of sacred spots as well.
Adam Hanna 00:08:46
Buzz Knight 00:08:48
So how did you first become a Trombo?
Adam Hanna 00:08:52
Well, that actually came from sort of an accident in school. You have things you can enroll in elementary school and middle school and extracurricular things. And music was one of them. And my mom, actually, who was Chickasaw, she always listened to music, all types of varieties of music. And I remember the sensation I had when I put on headphones for the first time, actually. And my mom was kind of a metal head, actually. She listened to a lot. I know it’s funny whose mom does that? But she listens like, I don’t know, things like Def Leppard and U-2 and stuff. And I remember putting a Sony Walkman I put whatever random CD I could find because I thought it looked cool. And I pressed play and put the headphones on. And that sensation was just mind blowing to me. So I thought, okay, I want to do music. It’s the coolest thing ever. It just really resonated with me, that Def Leppard CD all those years ago. So then I approached my parents about playing music and they said, okay, well, the school has something. So I went to the band director who basically gave me a set of instruments to choose from. And I wanted to choose percussion. They already had too many. I wanted to play guitar. They said they don’t have a guitar program now. I wanted to play clarinet because I thought it looked cool. And there were too many clarinets already. But there was this old trombone there, wasn’t in very good shape, and I ended up kind of getting stuck with that. And I remember being upset, but by the end of the day, I was already playing around with it and having fun with it. And I got quite good at it quite quickly. I remember it was a source of confidence building, too, through middle school and early high school, too. I was subject to school bullying and things like that, and I had a low self-esteem. But when I had that trombone in my hands, none of that mattered because I felt like my mind was on a different rail, a better track, somewhere where I knew I belonged. And I was almost like, transported every time that I would start practicing and start working on whatever music I needed to work on for school and then eventually for college, auditions and then eventually for professional orchestras. I have that same feeling now when I pick up the trombone. And just last night I was playing in the Hartford Symphony for their gala concert and I mean, just every time I pick up the trombone and start playing music, I feel transported, I feel like, outside of myself. And sometimes it’s hard to get back inside myself after that.
Buzz Knight 00:11:38
Well, that’s a great description. So as we’re at the midpoint of the bridge looking out over the river, beautiful spot here at the North Bridge, taking a walk, you’d let into certainly something I always think about and love asking a musician talk about the power of music, what it does for us, what it means. What it means. Certainly over the last few years, even more.
Adam Hanna 00:12:09
Yeah, especially over the last few years, I can say, but I can’t alone speak to the power of music overall, but it has an ineffable quality. It’s something that I can’t necessarily describe, but you can see in nature. For example, we’re here on the bridge looking out over the water and there’s a pack of Canadian geese. And what’s interesting is when I got the job in Oklahoma. I was happy to have a job in an orchestra. But I wasn’t too thrilled about the prospect of possibly moving from this beautiful area that we live in. Massachusetts. To the middle of Oklahoma. Where at the time there were a bunch of wildfires anyways. But I remember when I got there. I went to the Oklahoma River and I saw a pack of Canadian geese and I thought. Well. That’s crazy. I didn’t know that they had those down there. So it made me really happy. And I often come out and observe nature and look for motifs in nature like that, and even just like shapes of the river or certain trees. And you can relate that to music, too. And, I mean, that’s a whole topic on its own. But especially in the last few years since Covid became with us, music has been so important and such a huge part of this recovery phase. And I think people need art right now. People need like, a breath of fresh air. And I think you can get that in nature or you can get into music. In my case, I like combining the two, which is why I’m often out in nature practicing my instrument.
Buzz Knight 00:13:59
Do you detect people these days when you’re part of an orchestra? Do you detect they are even more engaged and loving it even more, if that’s possible?
Adam Hanna 00:14:11
Yeah, I would say so. I would say there’s more of a sense of being grateful for being there because I think before the pandemic. There were a lot of things and even still but there were a lot of things that people took for granted and even people. Like in the professional all industries. But in the professional music industry too. Where it’s like you can take for granted that you are holding an instrument and sharing music with other people that need it at the same time you’re making a living. And now that landscape has changed a lot. So you have a lot of people that I think tend to be more grateful and even maybe more expressive. But to be honest with you, I think this is going to resonate with everybody. But this pandemic has been exhausting, just exhausting. I haven’t found a lot of outlets or areas of rejuvenation. I mean, music is a great tool, but you need more than that, too, because music represents something. It’s symptomatic of substance. It’s symptomatic of you have to think about what were the first notes ever made, what was the first music ever made? Was it a rock or was it the human voice? And eventually you had some person walking across the park somewhere or nature and thought of a tune and memorized it, probably, or wrote it down on some stone tablets, who knows? Yeah, and that was symptomatic of that experience in nature, which is why indigenous culture is so cool, because you have this such a strong connection to nature. And so there are all these things that sometimes melodies I come up with in my head because I often wonder, what does Chickasaw music sound like? And there are actually some very prominent Chickasaw composers. One is Jared Tate, who writes for, I think, The West World Show on HBO. He does a lot of other things, released CD with San Francisco Symphony and all of this. He’s definitely like big time composer. And I often wonder, what does Chickasaw original Chickasaw music sound like? Gosh, we’ll never know. But actually I feel like that’s not true because there are these hereditary things, these motivate things that happen in our existence and our heritage that come through. So these melodies that I have in my head sometimes I’m thinking, could that be Chickasaw? Because I can’t place it. Usually if I make up a melody, I’m not super, super creative. So I’m like, oh, that’s a thing from Star Wars.
Buzz Knight 00:16:56
That’s a cartoon theme.
Adam Hanna 00:16:57
Yeah, that’s a cartoon theme, right? Yeah. But then sometimes things come out and just playing my trombone improvisation wise, and I’m like, I wonder if that is coming from somewhere deep, somewhere indigenous, probably. So I think that’s kind of cool. And I don’t think all is lost per se, as far as that culture goes musically.
Buzz Knight 00:17:18
So what else in terms of either music or literature, what else inspires you?
Adam Hanna 00:17:28
Gosh that’s a really good question. I would say story, actually. I married a creative writer. She writes middle grade fantasy novels. So my wife, at least she’s a very creative person and she’s always making and inventing stories and even analyzing them. So other areas of inspiration for me would be something like cinema, just following stories. And there’s so much I mean, let’s face it, like cinema is what opera was in Puccini’s time, you think about the composer John Williams. I’ve worked with John Williams a few times now, unfortunately, it was on my bucket list and I got the fortune of working with him.
Speaker 3 00:18:12
Adam Hanna 00:18:12
And I played a film night with him in Miami, and I worked with him here at Tanglewood in Massachusetts. And I remember when I was talking to him, he’s very generous with his time. And I remember we spent about half an hour chatting backstage. And I remember that when I was talking to him, I thought, what is going through his head right now? Because it’s not my conversation. He’s probably writing the next who knows what, Jurassic Park melody. Who knows? And I think at the time, he was writing for the newer Star Wars movies, so I was wondering what’s in his head? And I remember standing there thinking, this is like meeting Puccini or something, or Beethoven. The world maybe hasn’t fully realized that yet.
Buzz Knight 00:18:56
That’s incredible. What a thrill.
Adam Hanna 00:18:59
Yes, it was.
Buzz Knight 00:19:00
So let’s walk back over the bridge here. So there’s a gentleman I worked for many years ago when I was in particular managing talent at a radio station, and he remarked to me, when I was talking to him about it, he said, you are the conductor of the orchestra and you need to get all the musicians in your orchestra playing the tune you want. That’s your job. So if somebody who’s been on the other end, you in an orchestra being led by a conductor, whether it be Benjamin Zander or whomever, give me your impression of his comments relating to leadership.
Adam Hanna 00:19:48
Yeah, now that’s very interesting, and from a certain standpoint, I agree with that. But also, I can see, I think, that certain conductors come into an orchestra, like, for example, in Oklahoma City Philharmonic, we’re very grateful and blessed to have Alexander Mickelhwate, a very prominent German conductor. He has a very clear vision when he comes in and stands in front of the orchestra, and his job is to sell that vision to us as the musicians. And then it’s our choice to buy that vision or not. And sometimes we don’t agree with it, but if you go along with it, then you can see that point of view. It can become political sometimes, but in general, the orchestra’s job is to be together and to sound cohesive and to share a message with the audience. And sometimes that can get a bit lost in the politics of an orchestra. But that’s the overall goal is to make the audience feel that message. And if the conductor says that’s what they are thinking, usually best just to go along with that. But as far as leadership in the orchestra goes, there’s a hierarchy for sure. I mean, you have principal positions, which I’m in a principal position, but that doesn’t make me like the, quote unquote boss of the orchestra or whatever. It’s just the principal trombone position. So I have two other trombones in my section and I’m trying to relay the conductor’s message to the rest of my section and the other principal players do that as well. It’s principal violin seats and principal percussion even. So there’s sort of a trickle down effect that happens.
Buzz Knight 00:21:39
So, Adam, as we’re winding down our walk here at the North Bridge, what are you working on these days besides all your work with orchestras?
Adam Hanna 00:21:50
Yeah, sure. So I’m doing an independent project this summer with my, I would say trombone hero named Christian Lindberg. He’s quite a famous conductor and trombones and I mean, he’s produced more CDs than any living trombonist, I mean, any trombones in history really and he’s quite extraordinary. So I got the rare opportunity to work with him a few years ago in some private lessons and a master class that he did in Germany. So I went there and I did that for a week. He called it his master class from hell. So it was a crazy thing where you’d wake up and run 5 miles and eat a granola bar for breakfast and play trombone 9 hours straight, that sort of thing. It’s very intense and I just sort of stayed in touch after that and he proposed the idea to record some duets at his recording studio in north of Stockholm. He has his own mansion and small island there, I guess. So we’re going to go a friend of mine actually when I went to Tanglewood in Boston Symphony one of my trombone co fellow colleagues there actually ended up winning a job in the Vienna Philharmonic and he’s going to fly from Vienna to Stockholm and I’m going to fly to Stockholm just here in a couple of weeks and pick him up. So we’re going to go over to Christian’s house together and collaborate on the CD together where we all kind of play a part and he’s going to produce it on his album European Grandmother. And so it’s going to be a very big deal for me. Very cool project, sort of a dream come true. And after that I’m finished with the summer and then I start kicking back and hitting the sandy beaches.
Buzz Knight 00:23:34
There you go. Oh man, that’s great.
Adam Hanna 00:23:37
Buzz Knight 00:23:38
Well, thank you for taking a very special walk here at the North Bridge in Conquer, Massachusetts, Adam Hanna and I was wondering if you might sort of play us out.
Adam Hanna 00:23:50
Yeah, absolutely. I’ll go ahead and give you just a little bit of context for this. So I don’t play it out of the blue here, but this is an old song called I’m Getting Sentimental Over You made famous by a trombonist, Tommy Dorsey and he had a very particular type of vibrato that I’m going to try to capture here and like what we were saying earlier, how music can transport you. And I often feel that when you listen to something and you feel transported and that music ends. There’s a little bit of hang time where you feel like you’re still in that place. And then you come to and you’re like, wait a second. Okay, I’m here in my car driving, or I’m at my desk or whatever, wherever you are. And you have this feeling where you come back. Well, in this case, I’m going to try to establish that sense of place and try to see maybe how long you can stay there when it’s finished. It could be interesting. And then the great thing with modern media is you can hit the replay button and go right back to that place.
Buzz Knight 00:24:52
There you go.
Adam Hanna 00:24:52
In my opinion, it’s as good as being in that place. So this, I would say maybe 1920 is Paris.
Buzz Knight 00:25:00
Nice. Thank you, Adam taking a Walk with Buzz Knight is available on Spotify, apple podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.