Dr. Neill H. Humfeld
"It's a beautiful day in Commerce!"
So began many lessons and greetings with my teacher, Dr. Neill H. Humfeld. It occurred to me the other day, that at age 41 I am the youngest person to have studied with Neill Humfeld. I feel that the special person and teacher that he was needs to be shared with a new generation of trombonists! I was fortunate to begin my studies with Dr. Humfeld in the spring of 1987, what would have been the end of my 8th grade year. My father studied with Dr. Humfeld in high school and knew exactly with whom I should have lessons! I left home in August of 1991 to attend Curtis, and Dr. Humfeld passed away that fall after a very long battle with cancer.
Neill Humfeld was born in Clay Center, Kansas. His early trombone teachers were Maurice Faulkner, and Wayne Snodgrass. He attended the University of Kansas where he studied with Gerald Carney while pursuing a degree in music education. Neill was a veteran of the United States Air Force, serving in a band that provided the bulk of the Air Force's West Coast musical needs during the Korean War. For an excellent article about Dr. Humfeld's life, please see the Fall 1990 issue (Vol. 18, No. 4) of the ITA Journal written by Vern Kagarice. Join ITA (if you aren't already a member!) and you can download the journal from the archives.
After his military service, Dr. Humfeld attended a summer workshop at Eastman to study with Emory Remington. At the end of the seminar, he was asked to stay on as a graduate assistant. He completed his Master of Music and went on to complete his Doctor of Musical Arts in 1962. It is notable that at this time, he was already a faculty member at East Texas State University in Commerce, Texas (now Texas A&M University - Commerce).
Mr. Remington is remembered as the "gentleman trombonist" and if there is someone who personified that example more than Neill Humfeld, I would be shocked to hear of it. He was the kind of teacher that motivated his students through his obvious love, both of music and of his students. Dr. Humfeld was an unfailingly positive person. Whether through his own health issues late in his life, or in dealing with his students setbacks and failures, he was the man who always looked on the bright side and, most importantly, taught the rest of us to follow his lead. In spring of 1991, he played a trio with my dad and I on the Commerce High School band concert. This was, as far as I know, his last public performance. He was obviously in great pain, but he still managed to walk out on stage and play the 3rd part to the trio with all the beauty and care that he always brought to his music. He had a smile on his face, and most importantly, left me with a beautiful memory of that concert together. That was just the kind of person he was.
Dr. Humfeld was a clinician for Conn for a large part of his career, switching to Selmer/Bach in his later years. He played a fair amount in my lessons, sometimes on his 1950s vintage 88H or on a newer model gold brass Bach 36B. What I remember most was his sound. Dr. Humfeld had the most beautiful, sweet, mellow trombone sound I have ever heard. He was not a "muscular" type player, but one who strived for efficiency, flexibility, and beautiful sound at all costs. I think most modern players would find his sound "soloistic", "bright", and "round". His fluidity while playing Rochut etudes and his effortlessness was something to behold.
Rochut's were a staple of nearly every lesson. I remember a very funny conversation I had about my sophomore year that went something like this:
Dr. H: So, do you have any questions, sport?
Me: Um, well, Dr. Humfeld, I was wondering when I'm going to start working on technique?
Dr. H: You mean, like playing fast?
Me: Yes, sir.
Dr. H: Well, let's see...(flips to back of Rochut book)... Try this one!
Me: Uhhh, oh, ok... I see what you mean now.
Dr. H: (big smile)
Dr. Humfeld impressed me another time with his empathy and positive attitude. I came in for a lesson the week after my Area band auditions my sophomore year. This was the step right before making All-State. I had practiced like crazy, made first chair at All-Region, and was ready to go… I totally bombed my Area audition! I walked in to his studio and Dr. Humfeld said, "Well, how'd it go?" I promptly burst into tears, and blubbered on about a bad warmup, and getting nervous, etc. I was embarrassed and mortified to be such a mess in front of him. He just smiled and proceeded to tell me a story about some recital he had once played that, according to him, was just about the most embarrassing event to ever take place in anyone's life, then we proceeded to talk about what went wrong at my audition, and what I could do to make sure it didn't happen again. Positive reinforcement, empathy, and problem solving! I will never forget that lesson.
There is so much more to touch on in this amazing man's life. It is my hope that other "Humfeld students" (as we all proudly call ourselves!) will chime in below in the comments and add your own stories and memories. Thanks very much for reading, and remember:
It's a beautiful day in ___________ (insert your place here)!!!!!!!