A Man, a Plan, and a Flaming Trombone [Watch]

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What has a brass bell, a mellifluous tone, and shoots flames 26 feet into the air? That would be Valentin Guerin’s trombone.

A UT exchange student from France, Guerin, 25, is an aspiring professional trombonist who enjoys both classical and rock music—and he likes making classical music performances more like rock concerts. “A rock concert is a show,” he says. “People go because they know something exciting will happen.”

So over two years, he developed a prototype of what he affectionately refers to as his “pyro-trombone” (there’s a patent pending). Guerin describes the mechanism as similar to a large water gun, except that he fills it with flammable liquid instead of water. Plumes of fire shoot out from the instrument whenever he presses a trigger on the left side; he likes to punctuate particularly climactic moments in a song with extra-long flames.

The effect is mesmerizing, especially during a nighttime concert like the one he and eight other UT trombonists performed in front of the Tower last week.

Playing with fire, of course, comes with a unique set of challenges. Guerin has to get permission from the UT Police Department and the fire marshall whenever he wants to perform on campus. “They’ve been really friendly!” he says. Although he’s never had a problem, someone is always standing nearby with a fire extinguisher at the ready, and listeners must watch from a safe distance.

Musically, the pyro-trombone is a little more difficult, too: The fire heats up the instrument, which raises the pitch. Guerin compensates by lowering the slide slightly. “The worst thing that can happen is the instrument bends a bit, and then you just bend it back,” he says. “You can do anything with a trombone.”

Guerin, who is also attending college in Denmark, says he came to the Forty Acres because the Butler School of Music’s trombone studio is one of the best in the world. “I have enjoyed my time in Austin very much,” he says. “It’s super easy to collaborate with other students in a way that is not possible in Europe. When I wanted to make a video of the pyro-trombone, I just walked into the film school and found a student who would help.”

Now he’s hoping his eye-catching instrument will help him and his classmates go to Spain for the 2015 International Trombone Festival this summer. A crowdfunding page he helped set up to fund the UT Trombone Choir’s trip promises “perks that will set you on fire,” including exclusive videos and concerts.

Guerin is planning a career at the intersection of music and pyrotechnics. “My dream goal is to organize huge concerts with fire,” he says, “To organize the opening ceremony of the Olympics—that would be my dream.”

Photo by Marshall Tidrick / Daily Texan


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