Letter: Musician Frank is still going strong, aged 90

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The name Frank Mathison may not mean anything to most everyday people but he is certainly known within the classical music world.

He is also known of by most serious trombone players worldwide. This is because he was, for 40-odd years, bass trombone player with The London Symphony Orchestra.

He was recently made a lifetime honorary member of The Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra, in which he continues to play the bass trombone.

He first picked up a brass instrument in his early teens when he was caught being mischievous outside of Lindley band room. Getting himself out of trouble he declared he’d “come to join t’band” so he was easily persuaded to go in and have a go and ultimately joined the now well known championship brass band playing the flugel horn.

After two years’ conscription with the army in which he continued to play the trumpet in a military band, he came back to Huddersfield to live with his parents.

He was by now playing the trombone and did a short season with the Huddersfield orchestra. That was in 1948, some 70 years ago.

He then won a scholarship to Birmingham School of Music where he studied and achieved a music degree. When the meagre grant money ran out, he had to find work and found several jobs. One was at the Wolverhampton Hippodrome in a production entitled “Nudes of all Nations”. This was a short employment as the show didn’t run very long.

He then successfully auditioned for the Carl Rosa Opera Company which toured the country, but this also did not last very long.

He was encouraged by his music professor, Harry Greensmith, to audition for the City of Birmingham Orchestra. The audition went well and he was offered the post of bass trombone, so he and his new wife, (Kathleen Jackson from Meltham) moved down to Birmingham where they had their first child, a daughter, they called Helen and a few years later they had a son called Peter.

He stayed in Birmingham with the CBSO for 13 years until a world famous conductor called Jachsa Horenstien, who had heard and admired Frank’s playing, recommended him to the LSO as they were looking for a new bass trombone player to join their orchestra. Frank did the audition and was again successful.

It was the same time that another musician from the area joined the LSO. His name was Willie Lang, for many years principal cornet with Black Dyke Brass Band and later principal trumpet with the LSO. He is now remembered for posterity by an information plaque about famous local people on Sowerby Bridge train station platform.

Maurice Murphy, a world renowned trumpet player, was also principal cornet with Black Dyke and he also became principal trumpet with the LSO, both of these fine musicians were close friends and professional colleagues of Frank.

Anyway back to Frank himself. He stayed with the LSO for over 30 years playing under many great conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, Sir Adrian Bolt, Thomas Beecham and many more.

Andre Previn who was their principle conductor for many years, became a well-known celebrity character because he brought classical music to the public with the BBC’s TV show ”Andre Previn’s Music Night” and he went on to feature in the now famous sketch in the Morecambe and Wise Christmas special in which Eric attempts to play Grieg’s piano concerto.

In the mid-seventies a little known composer called John Williams composed and conducted his music to a film called Star Wars. He chose the LSO because he particularly liked the sound of the brass section but of course the whole orchestra were and are top notch.

The film, as we all know, became an incredible success and the music, even now, is played again and again and used in subsequent Star Wars movies which are still being made today.

The orchestra was then employed with John Williams again to do the music to the Star Wars trilogy sequels, Superman and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Frank has also played on the sound tracks of many other great films like An American Tale, the story of an emigrant mouse trying to make it big in America (music written and conducted by James Horner) and concerts with the late John Barry, famous among other films for his Bond themes.

Frank retired from the LSO in 1993 and moved up to Hebden Bridge where he had bought a holiday cottage back in the early sixties and visited several times a year, so that he felt at home here in the Pennines.

He still continues to play the trombone, unlike many of his professional colleagues whom gave up playing entirely.

He now plays with Huddersfield Philharmonic who gave him the honorary lifetime membership but also with the Halifax Symphony Orchestra who are performing Rimsky Korsakov’s “Scheherezade” and Rachmaninov’s Piano concerto No 2 (the music from Brief Encounter) at Square Chapel, Halifax, on Saturday, November 25.

He also plays regularly with the Friendly Brass Band in Sowerby Bridge where his son Peter is principal cornet.

It is a fourth section band and a far cry from the days of the LSO but it gives him the opportunity to continue playing without the commitment required of higher section bands.

Now in his 90th year he has no plans to retire from playing and all his musical colleagues are very happy to have such a character still playing with them…and long may it continue.