James Griswold

At what age did you start playing the instrument you play in the PSO? 

I began playing bass trombone at age 16 in my junior year of high school.

Did you learn another instrument first? If so, which one?

I had begun piano at about age 10 or 11 but didn’t stay with it.  In junior high (7th grade), I started on trumpet but was moved to euphonium pretty quickly by the band director.  From there, it was just a long slide down the register over the years, moving to tenor trombone, then bass trombone and finally, in my senior year of high school, tuba.  Bass trombone has remained my main instrument, however.

Why did you choose your current instrument?

I have always liked the low voice, regardless of the type of music.  Whether it’s Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition or something from Blood, Sweat and Tears, I like the low stuff.  I also like the wide variety of sound that the bass trombone can make, from exceedingly rich, deep and mellow to downright harsh and nasty.  (I think most dragons and orcs in the movies are depicted with the bass trombone).

How long have you played with the PSO?

Roughly 15 or 16 years…can’t recall exactly when I started.

Where do you live? 

I live in Lee, New Hampshire

Do you play with any other groups? If so, which ones?

I play in the Portsmouth Brass Quintet and in the Seacoast Wind Ensemble (on tuba).

What do you like about playing with a symphony orchestra?

The repertoire is second to none though really great parts for the low brass are, unfortunately, somewhat few and far between.  Regardless, I enjoy the ambience and experience of so many instruments played by such accomplished individuals, creating something larger than the sum of its parts.

How do you spend your time outside of the PSO?

I retired several years ago from a 30 year career in hydrogeology but for the past 23 years, we have operated a 56-acre farm in Lee where we raise elk and asian pear for the local market.

What is your favorite piece of music to play on your instrument?

That’s hard to choose but it would almost certainly be something in the brass quintet literature.  With just five in the group, there’s nowhere to hide. You have to know your part.  Also, the dynamic range of brass is arguably the largest of any of the families of instruments—we can get very, very soft, but we can also create a veritable wall of sound. That range creates opportunities for some interesting music. 

Tell me about your musical education.

I’ve had essentially nothing other than playing in bands and orchestras in secondary school and in college.  My training is in hydrogeology…I know far more about differential equations and ground water hydraulics than I do about music theory.  But I work hard on my parts and make sure I can play them, so I’ve continued to perform.  I do pay close attention and listen a lot to others with musical experience and ability far greater than mine, both in what they say and in how they play, so I continue learning and improving.

Any recognition or accolades you want to share?

I served as Selectman in my town of Lee for six years.  That was enough, but it gave me an appreciation of both the administration and the politics of a town.  It’s not an easy job, for sure.  It also helped me develop the hide of a Cape buffalo…not much bothers me after that experience!