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30 year veteran of Colorado Symphony remains hopeful after an unprecedented year

2020 marked 30 years with the Colorado Symphony for trombonist Paul Naslund. He's never had a year like it.
Credit: Rocky Mountain Public Media

DENVER — Paul Naslund is a trombonist in the Colorado Symphony. He has been with the Denver music outfit since 1990. In his 30th year, 2020, things have been way different, to say the least.

“It’s full of surprises,” Paul says in his naturally positive demeanor. “We started out about 15 months ago with all kinds of projects. We were going to do some recording and we were looking to do a tour this last September.”

Needless to say, that never happened.

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When COVID-19 hit in March, the Colorado Symphony operations were suspended, leaving all parties involved in a state of limbo.

“First, we're told somewhere around April 1 we should have some news and hopefully we can go back,” Paul says. “We were just on hold. The city owns Boettcher Hall so they kind of call the shots.”

“We were telling our audiences we’ll be back, just sit tight, we’ll do these programs down the road,” he continues.

As the suspension was originally supposed to last just until April, Paul was open and grateful for the two week downtime to practice his trombone and spend time with his family.

“For a musician to be given some extra time to practice is actually a gift,” he says. “When we first thought we had two weeks it's like, ‘Great I can just have some time to just rebuild, rest, recoup,’ because we have a pretty rigorous schedule playing every single week, three or four concerts.”

Of course, the two weeks turned into nine months and counting, but Paul still chooses the optimistic outlook.

“For me it was a time to connect with family. I'm really thankful for that,” he says. “I've got a teenager in high school, and with my schedule and my wife’s schedule, it seems like this at least gave us time to catch up a little bit.”

But with the absence of employment, the tension rises, and uncertainties remain.

“It was really uncertain. We're not going to work, and we have health insurance needs also,” Paul says.

Good news and help arrived in the form of a generous symphony board and government programs, because Paul had been on unemployment since May 1.

“Our symphony board rose to the occasion and really helped us out. We also were able, through government assistance, through these Cares Act Programs, to apply for loans for payroll. That helped a ton,” he says. “Everyone is making a reduced salary, but it was something we all agreed on.”

In the absence of the regular symphony performances, Paul participated in occasional recordings as well as a few small brass ensemble shows at Red Rocks in the summer, during the brief easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

“We were limited to only, I think, 175 people in the audience,” Paul recalls.

But it’s the experience of having the full audience connection that Paul misses the most.

“Even though we played for a few people at Red Rocks, you just miss that interaction with people.” Paul chuckles and adds, “We're having a great time, we may look really still and serious but we're definitely having a lot of fun and the music's impacting us every bit as much.”

Though the long term outlook might seem bleak, Paul’s optimism shines through.

“There are a lot of things that could be a lot worse,” Paul says. “I don't want to see what's worse but there are a lot of things that could be a lot worse, so I just try to stay optimistic and try to not to get too down.”

With some developments in the works to help make future audiences of the Colorado Symphony feel safer, Paul sees a better future.

“The long-term future of the orchestra, the long-term future of all music around Denver has a lot of promise,” he says. “I think a lot of people are going to bounce back once we can all get back inside.”

Paul will be there in the back row with his Trombone, playing for 30 years and counting.

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