For those who have never played in a band or orchestra, these musical groups utilize what is called a ‘chair system.’ Each section of the group consists of ‘chairs’ that serve as rankings. The first chair of a section is typically reserved for the section leader and often the best player.
That said, in 1985-86, Tyrone Block sat in the last chair of the trombone section of his middle school band. His band director even told his mother that he had no talent.
However, the 13-year-old refused to accept these words as truths. Being told, “he couldn’t” gave him just the push he needed. He became relentless in his pursuit of music and practiced every day. His efforts quickly came to fruition as he went on to excel in his high school band, making all-state for three consecutive years. After high school, he pursued Music Performance Degree at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, where he was deemed a Walt Disney All-American and Brass Player of the Year for two consecutive years. Upon completing his undergraduate degree, he set out on his musical career.
He toured with the United States Navy Show Band throughout the United States and across the world. He also excelled in the classroom, pursuing his graduate studies at one of the world’s most renowned and respected music programs at the College of Music at the University of North Texas (UNT). He received his M.M. (Masters of Music) in Performance from UNT with a related field in ethnomusicology. At UNT, he also completed his D.M.A. (Doctorate of Musical Arts).
During his musical and collegiate career, he won numerous competitions and received several awards, including:
- Northeast Arkansas Young Artist Concerto Competition
- Walt Disney All-American Marching and Duke Ellington Jazz Band
- First in his class in the Armed Forces School of Music
- Distinguished Leadership Award at the Army School of Music
To say that Dr. Block has proved wrong his middle school band director, Bill Tucker, would be quite an understatement. Dr. Block has silenced any doubts from critics during his career receiving numerous accolades, special recognitions, and playing with some of the best jazz musicians in the world. Yet, it was an email he received this past November that the 49-year-old describes as the ‘pinnacle of his career.’
“I was just blown away. I still am!” he says.
On November 9th, the International Trombone Festival (ITF) extended an offer to Dr. Block and his quartet, “Coal Hill Quartet” to perform and present “Global Music, Small Ensembles: Using Chamber Music as an Entry to World Music” for the next festival taking place in Columbia, Georgia, in July 2021.
The ITF is the largest and most widely attended trombone event in the world, with most European, Asian, Australian, African, South American, and North American countries represented. However, only a small number of trombonists are selected to perform or lecture each year. Receiving an invitation to play at this level is the highest honor that a trombonist can receive.
Dr. Block will play alongside Coal Hill Quartet members Chris Sharpe, Dr. Michelle Flowers, and Shawn Smith. All of whom Dr. Block considers good friends and excellent musicians.
“I became a member of the ITF in 1990. To be selected to not only perform but also to give a lecture – I was just amazed. Thank you, Lord! This is not only a dream of mine but of everyone else in the group to actually perform at the ITF.”
The Coal Hill Quartet’s presentation will highlight African American and Slavic music styles in addition to Brazilian and Hawaiian music. Dr. Block explains that the group hopes to offer a unique perspective into the stylings and arrangements of music outside of the traditional Western point of view. “There’s a lot of diversity, and through this presentation, I think that we can demonstrate that we need to include these styles into a canon of music that needs to be performed and presented to high school and college students,” said Dr. Block.
Dr. Block says that the Coal Hill Quartet will most likely perform “Global Music, Small Ensembles” at Texas Woman’s University, Tarleton University, and Southwestern Assemblies of God University leading up to the event. Through multiple performances, the group can perfect their pacing and chemistry for the performance and presentation.
Reflecting on his past 30 plus years in music, he was overcome with gratitude as he listed out all of his inspirations and supporters throughout his time as a trombonist, all of whom have led him to this critical point in his career. “There are Heroes in everybody’s field,” he says. “There are personal heroes in the Trombone world that I look to – Musicians that have inspired me throughout my entire career.”
From playing alongside his brother, Rodney, in the “Block Brothers Duet” to playing on the biggest stages in the world, hundreds have influenced him over the years. He wanted to take a moment to honor the following individuals:
- Otis & Ida Block – Tyrone’s parents
- Rodney Block, Tyrone’s brother
- Lawana Hunt – former Choir Director at West Dumas Church of God and Christ
- Bill Tucker, Tyrone’s middle school band director
- Marty Reynolds, Tyrone’s instructor at University of Arkansas at Monticello
- J. Daniel Smith – Tyrone’s former worship pastor and now Senior Pastor at Bethesda Assembly of God
- Dr. Joel T. Griffin – close friend and fellow musician
- Dr. Linda Robbins, former Music Department Chair at Southwestern Assemblies of God University
- Dr. Del Guynes, close friend, fellow musician, and former Dean of the College of Music and Communication Arts at Southwestern Assemblies of God University
- Tony Baker – Professor of Trombone at the University of North Texas
- Dr. Vern Kagarice – Professor of Trombone at the University of North Texas
Dr. Block mentioned that he could go on for hours listing the individuals that have personally impacted him, but he wanted to make sure that his wife, Dr. Melody Block, received the credit that she is due.
“That woman is amazing,” he said firmly. “She’s stuck it out and has been there for me. I wouldn’t be here without her.”
“Without faith, this doesn’t happen. It just doesn’t. I was a country boy from Dumas, Arkansas – a town of 5,000 people. My parents were poor. We didn’t have a lot. My mom and dad got a trombone for me, and they could barely make payments on it. But, my parents had a dream that their children would be something. And southern Arkansas at the time I was growing up… – it was just a very racist time. And if you’re black coming from there, there is a degree of ‘you’re not worthy of your success. Your lot will be this.’ But, not my parents. They said, ‘not my children.'”
Some of Dr. Block’s most influential moments are the years he spent playing trombone in his church growing up. He recalls the times his family and church community lifted him up, encouraging him to pursue both his faith and his passion for music. These are the moments he clings to and cherishes to this day. Because he was shown the love of Christ throughout his upbringing, he chose to demonstrate that same love to others throughout his career, even in the midst of adversity. This extended into his teaching at Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU).
“God has made the difference in how I play, in how I teach, and how I live my life. Following Christ and sharing that with my students and how God has gone before me in my life and prepared the way – that’s what I want to pass on to my students. Just give it to God. Know He’s real, have faith and trust wholeheartedly in Him.”
“He is good. God is always good.”
Today, Dr. Block still enjoys performing around the country and performs locally with his quartet, the “Doc Block Jazz Quartet,” and SAGU musical group, “Tyrone’s Bones.” His musical career is far from over, but as he approaches the greatest career opportunity of his life, he reflects on what has led him to this point and God’s faithfulness.
And, remember Bill Tucker, his old middle school band director? Dr. Block remained in contact with him over the years until his former instructor’s recent passing.
Now scheduled to play on the biggest international stage, Dr. Tyrone Block believes that Tucker would be proud of the man and the musician that he has become. Most importantly, he would be proud of the fact that he was proven wrong by his last chair trombonist. The student he believed possessed no talent became one of the best trombonists in the world.
“I have to thank him, you know? Sometimes, you have to be told you can’t, and you can choose to accept it or you can fight it.”
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