Thursday, April 13, 2017

Eastern Iowa Brass Band

Eastern Iowa Brass Band
Arfon Owen-Tenor Horn Soloist

I wanted to return to the United States and give a plug for the Brass Band that is essentially in my own back yard.  The Eastern Iowa Brass Band rehearses in Mt. Vernon, IA, but they perform in Cedar Rapids, West Branch, Davenport, Des Moines, and at North American Brass Band Association events from time to time.

I have been acquainted with a lot of the performers in this group over the years.  A couple of them have even performed in the same ensembles as I, but that is par for the course around NE Iowa and NW Illinois.  There was a time I even received a call from a member trying to recruit me for an open tuba spot back in 2004 or 2005.  Two hour drives on US 30 did not sound like a good idea to me.  I was already traveling nearly two hours to play in the Rockford Wind Ensemble at that time.  

I have had the pleasure of hearing the band play at the Iowa Bandmaster's Convention in Des Moines and at an event in Davenport many years ago.  They work hard and they take their musical craft seriously.  I also like that they play outdoors for patriotic events at the Hoover Presidential Museum in West Branch.  The video above is from their most recent concert.  The selection is Slavische Fantasie and the soloist is Arfon Owen who visited my class last month.  The EIBB schedule is here:   You can also find more information about these Iowa musical ambassadors there beyond when they are performing.   Please enjoy this performance of the Eastern Iowa Brass Band!!!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Listening Party Part Deux

Our professor, John Manning, was on the East Coast this week performing and giving masterclasses, so the students of Advanced Brass Literature, had another listening party.  

The first selection was an arrangement of Fugue in D Minor by Bach for Horn Quartet.  This performance by the Budapest Horn Quartet is simply outstanding.  

Our second selection was from the pen of Benjamin Blasko.  Victory Fanfare is for Trumpet Ensemble and Concert Band.  Tromba Mundi and the US Navy Band provide the performance in this video.

The selection that I brought to the party is the Divertimento for Brass and Percussion by the late Karel Husa.  This work is scored for three trumpets, four horns, three trombones, tuba, and two percussionists.  Husa scored this for brass quintet, and John Boyd arranged it for concert band.  Husa passed away on December 14, 2016 at the age of 95.  I was blessed to have been one of his assistants for the Contemporary Music Symposium at Illinois Wesleyan University in 1989.  I have never met a kinder man than Karel Husa.  

Our fourth selection was from the pen of Pulitzer Prize winning composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.  The Clarino Quartet for trumpet ensemble is scored for piccolo trumpet, e-flat trumpet, and two C trumpets.  This is the first movement of the work.

The next selection is brass ensemble by John Williams.  Quidditch from the Harry Potter film series is score for three trumpets, four horns, and three trombones.  

Our final selection was Alec Wilder's Jazz Suite for Four Horns, Harpsichord, Bass and Drums.  I have played several tuba works by Alec Wilder in my undergraduate years.  His music is creative, diverse, and amusing at times.  This is the first movement from the suite, Horns O'Plenty.  

I hope you enjoy these diverse selections from our class.  I think we covered a lot of territory musically in our party.   

Monday, April 3, 2017

Vivo Montana (Bulgaria)

Vivo Montana
Several years ago I was introduced to the musical genre Chalga.  Chalga is a type of popular folk or dance music prominent in Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries.  The music is unique mix of Western electronic dance music, folk music, and other influences.  I was in research class for my Master's program when we listened to several Bulgarian folk and popular musical selections.  One of the artists we listened to is Azis.  Azis is a gender fluid Chalga artist.  His music and music videos were a little shocking to me at first, but I quickly became accustomed to the fusion of musical styles and the gender fluidity of his video persona.  Here is a glimpse of Azis.  
Vivo Montana is a brass band made up of young men that play popular music of Bulgaria on Brass Instruments.  The clip at the top of this post has a similar style to Azis' music, but the acoustic brass elements are less processed and sound less clean musically.  However, the energy is still there.  The men play trumpets, baritones, trombones, tuba (sousaphone) and percussion.  Vivo Montana, hail from the city of Montana, Bulgaria in the Northwest section of the country.  These young men attended a math and science high school together and organized their band with the help of their music teacher.  The band has appeared on Bulgaria's Got Talent and other television shows.  The group has their own web page with dozens of performances in video and Soundcloud audio.

I find their performances to be enjoyable and full of energy.  I would not say they are polished in a professional sense, but that is where the charm begins.  The performances are edgy and at times dangerous.  My embouchure is screaming at me watching all of the choreography and movement.  You can see the joy on their faces.  The music is just a portion of the entertainment package, just as Asiz uses video and imagery to enhance the music.  No, I do not expect you like the music, nor the performers, but I encourage you to step out of the box and just experience this style of performance.  I feel their work is important historically.  In 1991 when the iron curtain fell, Western influence, poured in.  This music is a product of that cultural revolution in Eastern Europe.  There is validity and a humanness to this product that I find intriguing artistically.  My life in the United States has been rather tame artistically.  Imagine if we lifted all kinds of societal restrictions and cultural assimilation tactics from the States.  What could we accomplish artistically or musically?  Look at Bulgaria!  Vivo Montana and Asiz are obviously celebrating their freedom to pursue music in a personal way.  Now I wait for America's Got Talent to have all manner of ensembles hit the stage......

Friday, March 31, 2017

Belgium (Brass Band Buizingen)

Brass Band Buizingen
Brass Band Buizingen is a championship caliber brass band from Halle, Belgium.  They are the cultural ambassadors of Flanders.  The band originated out of a fanfare band from a local porcelain factory in 1879, but the current brass band was founded in 1975.

The current band has won the Belgian and European championships.  The video above is from the 2014 Belgian championships.  This selection is Electra by Martin Ellerby.  The group has worked with many fine soloists, and has recorded several discs of music.  The most familiar name on their soloist roster, for me anyway, is euphonium virtuoso Steven Mead.  I grew up in Professor Brian Bowman's neighborhood so I have a bias for euphonium and tuba soloists.  

This particular group appears to have grown from humble community origins to professional ranks.  I am not sure of the vocations of many of the musicians, but the organization has corporate and private sponsorships available.  It is very possible that the band operates much like a small or mid-sized American orchestra based on the level of advertisements, recording information, and perceived business model.  I wonder if there is government support here too, since they are cultural ambassadors?  

Electra is a test piece written in 2012.  It is one of over 20 original works that Ellerby has written for Brass Band.  He has also written for orchestra, concert band, choir, and chamber ensembles as well.  His Euphonium Concerto is quite stunning, but that is my bias opinion.  Two works that have received some attention here in the States from the concert band world are:  Paris Sketches and Elgar Variations (brass band transcription.)  His fellow countrymen Philip Sparke and Adam Gorb have both received more attention in the States than he has when it comes to concert band music.  I feel, it may have to do with accessibility of performance by our academic ensembles.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

Special Post on Elliot Carter and Dmitri Tymoczko

Special Post (New or Newer Music)

In our Brass Literature class this morning, 3-27-17, we listened to Elliott Carter's Brass Quintet, and Dmitri Tymoczko's Rube Goldberg Variations.  Carter's work dates from 1974 and it was written for the American Brass Quintet.  The instrumentation is two trumpets, horn, tenor and bass trombone.  Tymoczko's work from 2014 was written for Proemium Metals a brass quintet from Granada, Spain. The instrumentation for this work is two trumpets, horn, tenor trombone, tuba, and prepared piano.

Our professor, John Manning, has asked us to explore the following questions with these two works.
  1.  What is the overall affect of the piece? How does it make you feel? How does the composer achieve that?
  2. List three remarkable or noteable aspects of the piece. Include measure numbers or rehearsal numbers or letters and explain your answer.
  3. Comment on the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic language used. What are some of the challenges presented in the performances of this work created by these languages?
  4. Finally, compare and contrast both works. What are their similarities? What are their differences?
I will begin with the Carter:

The Carter composition's effect strikes me as conversation between the full ensemble and duo's, trio's, and one solo (the horn about 3/5's of the way through the piece.)  Each small ensemble section explores a particular interval or color combination, while the quodlibet sections for the whole ensemble focus on an emotion.  In my rudimentary examination there are ten small ensembles, one solo, six quodlibets, and a Coda in his formal plan.  Each quodlibet is followed by two small ensemble sections except for the sixth.  The sixth is followed by a duo before the Coda.  The formal structure and the motivic development of the work enable the composition to maintain cohesion despite the atonality nature. 

This composition makes me feel unsettled and uncomfortable.  This is difficult, dense, and cerebral music.  The process of the composition is more interesting to me, than the sound.  I find this is the case with most difficult music for me.  I imagine if I listen to the piece a dozen or so times, and analyze the motives, the metric modulations, the pitch rows, and the organization of timbre it will become easier to process and less uncomfortable to listen to.  If I had to perform this work, I would be extremely intimidated and unlikely to have success.  

The three characteristics of the work that I feel are notable were the solo horn at measure 236, the final duo at 388-395, and the ending tremolo.  The tritone is developed in the solo horn.  The writing is expressive, and since it is the only monophonic section of the piece the listener is able to identify with the line more easily.  The minor seventh is developed by the final duo.  The use of this interval in half diminished chords and as a melodic device in many works always captures my interest.  The final tremolo shimmers between a two fully diminished seventh chords, but there is a major ninth added to the first chord in the bass trombone.  This added color provides ambiguity.  Are we done?  Or is there more to this conversation then meets the eye?  I'm not sure yet.  Check back with me in a year or two.

The performance challenges of the Carter start at measure one and end at measure 400.  There is so much detail to consider.  The metric markings are exact.  One section is marked at 53.3 beats per minute.  The dotted eighth is used as a metric pulse rather than the eighth note.  He has nearly a dozen different time signatures.  The vertical alignment will require a conductor in early rehearsals, or at least a metronome.  The individual lines are all difficult to play.  The interval development is sometimes compounded by cold attacks in extreme registers or by extending the interval an extra octave.  Once you add polyphonic rhythms to equation, how does the performer maintain a sense of line or concept of the whole?  I feel as if I am trying to have a conversation on the nuance string theory with physicist, while looking at the score.

The Tymoczko is a different piece altogether.  You may find a link to the recording here:  The four movements are To a Leaf, Stravinsky Fountain, Homage, and Father Makes the World.  

The goal of this work appears to be a musical rendition of a machine that can do something simple in the most complex way imaginable.  Rube Goldberg was an inventor and cartoonist who created complex machines for simple tasks.  The piece seems full of tongue in cheek humor, but delivered in a very serious context. That is the impression the composition leaves with me.  Tymoczko creates this effect through the change of metrical rhythm and timbre.  The piano is key to holding the composition together.  The brass are the little tools in the chain, while the piano is the machine itself propelling everything.

The three sections that I feel are notable are the tempo marking of the second movement (Whole Note=80,)  the lack of cadence for the entire work (very machine like,)  and the use of polyrhythm to portray the different aspects of the machine's movement.  I think of these devices as part of a musical sculpture.  

Rhythm and timbre are very important driving forces behind the work.  Melody and harmony are not present.  Musical motives derived from pitch and rhythm represent different functions of the machine.  The piano provides multiple sound effects, or moving parts generating the energy for the brass quintet to add to the landscape.  It is an unique sound experience.  Performance challenges include, the preparation of the piano, and alignment of rhythm.  The parts by themselves (beyond the piano) are quite playable technically.  The placement of the rhythm is the most challenging.  The prepared piano will make it difficult to feel a rhythm, so one must be cognizant of the meter at all times.

The Carter is a piece of abstract absolute music.  The process of attaching the eleven intervals through development are key to the design.  The piece is conceptual, through process.  It is hard to process the individual events as music, without understanding the conceptual framework.  The more homework you do studying the music the more understandable it becomes as a soundscape.  The Tymoczko is a musical sculpture.  The sounds and form are a Rube Goldberg machine.  You are hearing an interpretation of the machine in the design and placement of notes from the composer.  Both works must be listened to from the distance to capture the nature and scope of the artistry.  Both works are process pieces that require more than a superficial listening to grasp the work.  I am still working on the Carter, and I probably will be for a long time.  

As I conclude this installment I want to provide an analogy.  In Millennium Park in Chicago there is a sculpture that we call "The Bean" in Illinois.  The proper name is Cloud Gate. This reflective sculpture captures the skyline of Chicago, but when you first examine it, it is easy to laugh at your distorted reflection.  You as the viewer are looking too closely at the minute detail that you are unable see the broader picture or purpose of the sculpture.  When you look at "The Bean" from afar you are then able to appreciate the artistry before you.  The image is never the same as the sky is always changing.  Both of these musical pieces are very much like "The Bean."  When I listen to them as a performer, I get bogged down and lost in the minute detail.  When I start to listen from afar the image or sculpture becomes clearer.  Here is where the artistry of these two contemporary works lie.  I am not sure how far I need to be from the Carter in order to truly appreciate it, but I know that one day I will feel more comfortable with the piece.  Go for a walk and then look back.  I hope you begin to hear or see what I am perceiving.  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Austria Loves their Brass music

Mnozil Brass

In 1993 the professional brass septet Mnozil Brass began there travels across Austria and Europe.  I first became aware of them in around 2011 when their you tube video of Lonely Boy went viral.  They are performing in the States this year.  Late this month they will be in Wisconsin visiting Lawrence University, U-W Madison, and U-W Lacrosse.  Ticket prices run between $25 and $50.  Unfortunately these are school nights.  

I have enjoyed their videos on the net, but the brass band tradition in Austria is pretty strong as well.  I found a list of seven active bands in Austria.  The first one I have selected to share with you is the Austrian Brass Band.  This band is a championship band according to this website.

I chose this group for this unique video from the perspective of the set drummer.  This is a fun arrangement of the Toccata in D minor by Bach.

If you ever wondered what life was like in the back of the band, well now you know.  This group appears to have been around since 2001.  They do have an active website, and I wish I could read German.  The group has only appeared in the championship section of competition since 2013, so this group is still developing.  

Last but least we have Brass Band Oberösterreich.   This band won the championship in 2016.  This performance is Call of the Cossacks as arranged by Peter Graham.  

Three unique ensembles in the heart of Europe providing great music to their patrons in a most entertaining way.  I hope you found this musical trip enjoyable.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Golden Hymn Brass Band
Many years ago I used to travel all around the Midwest to attend Drum Corps International marching competitions.  In 2000 I attended the Drum Corps International Finals at the University of Maryland. I recently remembered that experience.  It was also the first time that I experienced world politics while attending a music event.  Taiwan is not officially recognized as a country by the United States.  Taipei Yuehfu from Taipei, Taiwan participated in the DCI Championships that year.  They earned the international championship trophy and this earned them the right to perform their show in exhibition before the Division one (now World Class) finals.  Unfortunately, they had to perform before the official start of the event, since the "Commandant's Own" Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps was playing the Canadian and American national anthem.  If Taipei Yuehfu were to perform after the playing of the national anthems it would be a foreign relations faux pas, as this would signify that Taiwan was a recognized nation on American soil.

This memory made me curious.  If Taiwan had a drum and bugle corps, could they have a brass band?  The answer is yes!  The Golden Hymn Brass Band from Taipei is featured above playing Music of Spheres by Philip Sparke.  Music of Spheres was written in 2004 and it is a professional level work.  Sparke also arranged this score for concert band.  You kind find out more about the work here:

The Golden Hymn Brass Band does have a Facebook page and they are active.  I do not read Hokkien, so all I am able to derive from the page is their performance schedule.  The performance of the work is not bad considering the difficulty.  The solo passages are played well.  I do wonder.  Are there any members in this group that marched with Taipei Yeuhfu back in 2000?  I hope so, music is a lifelong activity.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Federal City Brass Band

Federal City Brass Band (Civil War Ensemble)
I recently wrote a brief paper on the history of brass bands in the United States.  I spent a considerable amount of time researching the Civil War musical practice of brass bands.  I found a group in Kentucky that has spent a considerable amount of time researching period performance practice, but that was the extent of my digging, until recently.

The Federal City Brass Band is an ensemble devoted to re-enacting the authentic performance practice of the 19th century.  The musicians play on 19th century instruments, arrangements, and wear period uniforms.  They have even appeared on the television show House of Cards.

The group is located in Maryland.  They are available for hire here:  If you desire pictures of events visit their Facebook page here:

I have never been a believer in the authentic "period performance" movement.  We are unable to recreate the time, the smells, the tastes, etc.  The variables are too vast to control.  Now "historically informed" performance is entirely different.  The FCBB are doing a fine job.  I doubt the brass players were as skilled as these professionals and amateurs.  Brass pedagogy has come a long way since the 1860's.   Their appearance and marching are excellent.  The music has a rich sound.  These individuals are dedicated, and I imagine the social time they share together is full of laughter and good natured sarcasm.  This ensemble, unlike the 1860's version, has women in it!  

I am pleased that I stumbled across their videos in search of more community music.  I hope you enjoy their performances as well.  I may just have to visit Gettysburg sometime to see them perform.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Kuwait Brass "United"

Kuwait Brass Quintet "United"

I was not expecting to find a brass ensemble in Kuwait, but imagine my joy when I saw they cover popular music from the Mid-East

This particular quintet has participated in the Kuwait battle of the bands, and they have several performances on you tube.  I have not found anything else regarding this group, but I wish them much success.  Here is a roster of the performers:

Trumpet - Edward Timershin
Trumpet - Ahmad Mohammad Amin MarawanTrombone - Saydiburhon GapparovFrench corn - Ravshanboy AlievTuba - Abd Almegeed Abd Rabbon

The song the Kuwait Brass are covering is Helwa Ya Baladi.  I believe this translates to My Beautiful HomelandMy Beautiful Country, or O Country of Mine pending the source you use.  The original song was performed by Yolanda Cristina Gigliotti.  Gigliotti went by the stage name Dalida.  She is of Egyptian and Italian descent.  She sold over 170 million recordings, spoke several languages, and even acted in films before her death in 1987.  

This is a video of Dalida in performance, and below you will find a cover of the same song by Lina Sleibi from 2015.

I am surprised my favorite salon band from Portland, Oregon (Pink Martini) has not covered this song.  I also hope that the Kuwait Brass "United" continue to play.  I enjoyed their music.  Hope you do as well.  

Until next...

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Elementary Japanese Brass Band

Year of the Dragon-Philip Sparke
Prior to arriving at Iowa in 2015, I worked as K-12 music teacher for 20 years.  I have another 7 calendar years of experience as adjunct faculty in community colleges, and I start my 11th year as a municipal band director in Dixon, IL this summer.  I have taught elementary children how to play band instruments for much of my career.  

As I look and listen to this video.  I am impressed with the concept of sound, technique, musicality, and fluency of their performance.  I am just blown away.  These kids are marvelous.  Then I think about it.  Is this performance developmentally or educationally appropriate?

Philosophically, I struggle with this as a music educator.  I am not sure this is music education, but more along the lines of technical musicianship.  Do the students really know the musical goal or are they playing a part that was learned by rote?  Where does critical thinking begin or artistry begin?  I have loved watching my students grow as musicians, but none of them were capable of playing this well at age 16 let alone age 10 or 11.  

Let's examine culture for a moment.  Japan's culture is completely different than the United States.  Order, respect, and honor are key to the society.  Imagine cramming the entire population of the US into California.  These are the population conditions in Japan.  Respect and order are needed for society to function.  I remember watching a television show and the train ride the host took was completely silent.  Three generations sometimes live in an apartment together.  Children, parents, and grandparents all sharing a living space.  Honoring one's elders is key to culture.  Tradition and hard work are also expected in all walks of life.  

It comes as no great surprise that this ensemble is as good as it is.  I imagine rehearsals are completely silent.  The students drilled and practiced for hours each day.  I imagine the Suzuki method is applied here as well.  To question any of the teachers involved would be dishonorable.  Could you imagine a US elementary band functioning in that manner?  I don't think so.  Is this music education?  I am unsure.  I would have to do some sort of ethnographic study to determine just how meaningful the educational delivery is.

Despite my philosophical difference (due to a Western bias) I still marvel at this performance.  The Japanese culture loves their bands. These children get to experience music differently thanks to the opportunity provided.  I can only dream of my children having a brass band to play in at their elementary school or even after school.  Moral of the story:  I am content to enjoy the music and the work.  I hope these children enjoy it as well for as long as they can.  Meanwhile, Enjoy Philip Sparke's Year of the Dragon.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Cyprus Brass Band

The First Brass Band in Cyprus 
Out in the Mediterranean Ocean is the island of Cyprus.  In 2015 this brass band appeared on Facebook.  They appear to be from Episkopi, Limassol in the South portion of the island.  I believe this section of the island is still part of the British Overseas Territory.

Cyprus has had an interesting history as the Turkish, Greeks, and British have all claimed the island.  Currently the island is split between Turkey and the independent Cyprus.  The beaches and the wine country are hot spots of tourists in the Mediterranean.

This is the only video of the band.  The concert was given nearly a year ago in May of 2016.  The eleven minute video features Hymn to the Fallen, When the Saints Go Marching In, and many other works.  This is a true community performance where the audience is right next to the band.  You can see some head bobbing in the audience and they are paying close attention.  For only being in their second year of performing, if the dates are correct, the band is progressing well.  I really enjoyed this video.  My son, also enjoyed the performance.  He particularly enjoyed When the Saints go Marching In.  

I just can't believe I found this group while wandering the web.  What a pleasure it was to find them.  I hope they make some more videos, so we can all see how the group continues to evolve musically!  Thank you Cyprus Brass Band for your gift of music!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Special Guest at My Advanced Brass Lit. Class

Arfon Owen

The Advanced Brass Literature Class enjoyed a visit with Mr. Arfon Owen on Wednesday, March 3, 2017.  Mr. Owen is a guest lecturer, performer, and educator from Great Britain.  He is known for his work as a tenor horn soloist with the Black Dyke Brass Band.  He now plays with the Stavenger Band in Norway.  While he visited our class he shared music, history, and the traditions of the British Brass Band.  

According to Mr. Owen, the British Brass Band tradition originated in the Industrial Revolution.  Many of the factory and colliery bands were created to prevent the employees from unionizing and abusing alcohol following a long day at work.  Eventually competition became a tradition within the brass band community as a way to market the companies who sponsored them.  The best players would be pilfered from other bands by the companies who wished to reign supreme.  The Black Dyke Band, Mr. Owens former ensemble,  traces their origins to the Black Dyke Mills textile plant owned by John Foster in the 19th century.  The Grimethorpe Colliery Band originates from the coal industry that once thrived in Grimethrope, South Yorkshire.   

These two bands are the best known here in the states.  You may remember the Ewan McGregor film Brassed Off.  The Grimethorpe Colliery Band provided the music for the film.  The Black Dyke Band appeared on a Paul McCartney and Wings record as well as recorded on the Beatles, Apple Records Label.

Competition in the late 19th and early 20th century raised the quality of the music written for brass band.  Test pieces are a key component of the competition process.  These pieces are designed to test the technical and musical skill of each section of the band.  An example of a modern test piece comes from the pen of Johann de Meij.  Extreme Makeover is a metamorphosis on themes from Peter Tchaikovsky.  This is one of the most difficult pieces ever written for brass band.  It was later scored for Concert Band by the composer.   Philip Sparke, Jacob de Haan, James Curnow, Malcolm Arnold and many more composers have written works for the brass band either as test pieces or as art pieces.  

Moorside Suite by Gustav Holst was a test piece written in 1928.  The Black Dyke Band won that competition.  The march from this suite was arranged for concert band by Gordon Jacob.  I have had the privilege of conducting that arrangement with municipal bands.  Denis Wright arranged the whole suite for Concert Band in 1983, but the published version did not appear until 1989.  The Brass Band has influenced the Concert Band repertoire.  Malcolm Arnold's Four Scottish Dances, English Dances Sets I and II, Little Suite for Band (Prelude, Siciliano, and Rondo,) and Padstow Lifeboat have all been arranged from brass band to concert band instrumentation.  Even the idea of competition from the brass band world appears to have influenced scholastic band competition.  Some of my research in the history of the Illinois School Band Association from the 1920's and 1930's show bands being required to play a certain selection.  It was not called a test piece, but it may be an inferred practice from brass band tradition.  Some states still have a required piece or a piece that is on a list that must be played as part of the scholastic band competition process.  

Mr. Owen will be appearing with the Eastern Iowa Brass Band this weekend, and he will be attending the North American Brass Band Association in Fort Wayne, Indiana on March 10 and 11.  Information for the Eastern Iowa Brass Band concert may be found here.

It was a pleasure to listen to Mr. Owen's presentation.  The history of the brass band and the links to community music participation are an important part of our culture as musicians, and as a global populace.  

Monday, February 27, 2017

Uganda School Band

Mbale School Band of Uganda
I finish this African safari of brass band with a school band instead of community band.  Technically a school band is of the community.  It appears this school group actually performs out in the community to raise money for the school.  Fundraising is part of the Brass Band tradition, especially in 19th century America.

Uganda is one of the most corrupt countries on the planet, so I am not sure of the legitimacy of the school's website.  

If everything is true, then this band has been around for 8-10 years, and since the country was a British colony up until the 1960's it is interesting to see that the British culture is still embraced.

The music in the video is F.E. Bigelow's Our Director March.  I have a soft spot for this march, considering it is one of three compositions to have been written by Bigelow.  Our Director March is the fight song Sparta and Dixon, IL High Schools.  Sparta was the first school that I worked at, while Dixon is where I currently work as the municipal band director in my spare time.  I have between 10-20 students in my band from the Dixon High School.  We also join the high school playing this march for the annual Petunia Festival Parade in Dixon, IL.

I find it compelling that American music from an obscure composer has travelled half way around the world into the hands of children from one of the poorest countries on the planet in the form of a brass band arrangement.  The children perform it pretty well too.  Enjoy!

Friday, February 24, 2017

When the professor is away the students will have a listening party?

Atlantic Brass Quintet (
While Professor John Manning was in College Station, TX for the 2017 Texas A & M Chamber Music Symposium with the Atlantic Brass Quintet the students of his Advanced Brass Literature Class had a listening party per his suggestion.  Professor Manning is in the center of the picture above.  I hope the quintet had a wonderful time with host Dr. Timothy Rhea and composer Dr. David Maslanka.  

The first selection we listened to was from the pen of David Sampson.  Breakaway is written for two trumpets and electronics.
Prior to taking this class my total exposure to Sampson's music was limited to two pieces.  Outburst for band recorded by Rutgers Wind Symphony under the direction of Dr. William Berz  and Echoes and Other Ghosts for Brass Quintet.  I heard the latter in a live performance years ago.  I find his music to be reflective and thoughtful. 

Our second selection was the Ingolf Dahl's Music for Brass Instruments.  This is written for brass quintet/sextet of two trumpets, horn, trombone, bass trombone, and optional tuba.  
Dahl's music is carefully crafted, difficult to perform, contrapuntal, and rhythmically challenging.  I have had the pleasure and pain of preparing and performing in concert bands on Dahl's Sinfonietta and the Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Wind Ensemble.  Both works are underperformed due to difficulty and Dahl's desire to continue editing his music.  The Concerto is a fine work and one of the most aesthetically pleasing experiences I have had as a performer in a concert band.  

Our third selection of the party was John Rutter's Gloria.  We only listened to the third movement of the work for time, but I have included the whole recording here.  The work comes in two arrangements one for orchestra and one for brass ensemble.  The brass scoring calls for four trumpets, three trombones, tuba, two percussion, organ, and SATB choir.  

If you have sufficient choral forces this piece is accessible for a good church choir, but it is challenging to sing (I'm a tenor and I have sang this work.)  It is easy to overwhelm a 40 piece choir with the brass instrumentation as I have also played tuba for a performance twice.  Rutter's music is very accessible to the general public and it is a nice addition to any church service.  Modern enough for hard core contemporary classical listeners and popular enough for the laymen.  I am thankful to have the privilege of experiencing this piece of music with my fellow community members in performance.

Our fourth selection of the morning was Richard Bissill's Corpendium I for Horn Sextet.  Visit this link to hear a portion of the work.
Bissill was the principal horn of the London Symphony and according to his website he is Section Principal of the Royal Garden Opera House.
If you are a fan of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy you have heard him play.  He has composed primarily for Horn, Brass, and a couple of orchestral pieces.  

The final selection of the morning, was my own choice.  I could not decide if I wanted to share the Divertimento for Brass Quintet/Ensemble by the late Karel Husa, To Saint Cecilia for Brass Ensemble and SATB choir by Norman Dello or the least played of Paul Hindemith's Konzertmusik for Brass Ensemble.  I finally chose the Konzertmusik for Brass, Two Harps, and Piano op. 49.  For time I only played the final movement.  I have included the full performance.  The piece calls for an orchestral brass section: four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, and tuba.
The final movement uses the time signature 3 over dotted half note.  I guess he did not want to write it out in 9/8 time.  Too many sixteenth notes to write.  If you can find two harpists in your neck of the woods, this is an excellent piece to showcase your brass ensemble.  Hindemith took great care in crafting the work for balance.  The writing is reminiscent of his Kammermusik series.  Hindemith wrote this in his mid 30's and it was the next to last work he assigned an opus number to.  Hindemith stopped applying opus numbers to his works following Konzertmusik for Strings and Brass op. 50.  I have a weakness for good 20th century counterpoint and I do appreciate how well Hindemith wrote for the brass section.  I hope you enjoy the music from our party.   

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Perez Prado in Namibia?

Hope Brass Band of Namibia

Much to my surprise through the world wide web, I come across this jam session on the street by the Hope Brass Band.  The video starts out with about 25 seconds of random jamming, nothing coherent until the trumpet player on the left side of the screen plays the opening notes to Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White made famous by Perez Prado in 1955.

According to their Facebook page  The Hope Brass Academy was established in 2008 by by founding mother Meriam Uiras.   The goal was to use music to transform the children into responsible adults.

Here is a recording of the original song.  I think these young men and women do a nice job covering the song and making it their own.  The students segue into another song at the end of the clip, but I am not able to come up with the title.  

Fun note, I used to listen to this song regularly growing up.  My parents owned Al Hirt's They're Playing Our Song album.  Here is a third version for you.  He was absolutely awesome in concert back in the late 70's.  I think I was 11 or 12 when I saw him perform.  That makes me old now!

Good music just does not know a boundary.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Special Post on Victor Ewald

A Reflection on Andre M. Smith's:  The History of the Four Quintets for Brass by Victor Ewald

On Monday, February 13, 2017 in my Advanced Brass Literature course with Professor John Manning, my class listened to Victor Ewald's Brass Quintet #3.  We were also asked to read an article concerning the four Ewald Quintets by Andre M. Smith a noted bass trombonist/musicologist from the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Here are some questions Professor Manning has asked us to answer below, but I figured I would share my experiences with Ewald first.  I played Brass Quintet #3 in the late 90's and early 2000's with two different local quintets.  More recently, last decade, I played the Quintet's #1 and #2 with the Sterling Brass and MA Brass from Northwest Illinois.  We did the occasional concert, but we specialized in weddings and church services.  One of these days I may have the opportunity to play the 4th.
  • What did you know about Ewald and his brass quintet before reading this article? 
    • My primary knowledge of the 3rd quintet was from the Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians.  When MA Brass played the 2nd Quintet about four years ago for the Clinton Symphony Chamber Concert of Clinton, IA the writer of program notes had dug a few more pieces of information out of the woodshed, but it was more biographical rather than musical
  • What did this article teach you about proper research?
    • This article taught me two things about research.  First, be patient.  Don't publish anything until you have all of the facts straight.  Second, be persistent in your searches.  You never know what you will find hidden in the library somewhere.  I must say, Andre M. Smith was incredibly patient with this line of research.  
  • What questions did this article raise?
    • My questions for this article are rather personal in regards to the research.  
      • Mr. Smith, how close were you to giving up finding any information on the quintets?
      • How many miles did you travel over the three decades or so to acquire all of this research?
      • Why did this line of research keep you so engaged for such a long time?
    • I primarily want to understand the personal motivation, the drive, and the desire.  We always talk about process and writing with musicological research.  I just want to understand the individual motivation.  The human desire to know.  How can you apprentice a young scholar if you only know your personal motives for research.  Knowing another's motivation can inspire the scholar in a different way.  Research can be so, impersonal.  
  • What are your thoughts on rotary vs. piston valve preferences mentioned in the article?
    • This was a very interesting musicological question.  I never examined this as a performer or as a teacher from the historical angle.  I have personally always preferred pistons to paddles.  While reading the article I imagined myself as an instrument maker with 18th or 19th century forging tools.  The rotary valve appears to require less forging, but more assembly, so theoretically it would cost less money for a player at that time than would a piston valve.  Having played on horns with paddles and pistons, I never noticed a sound difference from that alone.  The solder joints, bore size, finish, density, and bell size have all provided greater differences in sound quality through the number of overtones I can hear.  I wonder what the rationale was for thinking rotary paddles are the preference for a homogenous brass sound? Was it the availability of the time?  Ease of manufacturing?  Resist to change?  All of them?  I just know a brass quintet sounds good either with paddles or with pistons.  It is a personal preference. 
  • Do you agree with Forsyth who wrote, "There is in general no true legato on the trombone"
    • I do not agree with Forsyth at all.  I would say there are variations of legato on trombone pending the performer, equipment, and technique.  Christian Lindberg and Joseph Alessi both have technique that defy Forsyth.
  • What are your thoughts about Smith's ideas on instrumentation mentioned on page 13.
    • I found the comments about performers laboring over articulations of early music while performing that music on modern instruments very amusing.  I actually laughed out loud while reading that.  When this article was written, the attempt to recreate historic performances was still happening around various campuses and festivals, but the use of modern instruments in these recreations struck me as being a little hypocritical.  Early music did not use the well-tempered tuning, yet performers were playing in well-temper tuning.  Metal strings were used instead of gut strings, but the music was being performed.  Historically informed performance does not need to be a recreation or a re-enactment.  It only needs to be respectful and true to the musical intent of the composer of the time.  I support Smith's assertion that we should play this music on modern instruments.  Why leave the music silent?
  • In regards to the modern revival of Ewald's brass quintets, what roles did the following people play? Froides Werke, the American Brass Quintet, the Empire Brass Quintet?
    • Froides Werke was a horn virtuoso and he had a handwritten copy of Victor Ewald's second and third quintets for brass.  He traded these copies to members of the Empire Brass Quintet for a medley of Gershwin tunes in the 1970's.  How Werke came to acquire the Ewald copies is not reported in the article.  The Empire Brass' discovery changed the musicological research bubble.  Instead of waiting to determine their authenticity it forced the Smith to report what he had learned so far about the quintets within the program notes of the American Brass Quintet performances of Ewald in 1974 and 1975.  The American Brass Quintet was the first group to perform the Ewald quintets 1,2, and 3 at Carnegie Hall, if I read my copy correctly of the programs.
  • What has been your experience both playing and listening to the Ewald quintets? 
    • I have played 75% of Ewald's quintets.  I assumed until just this week that the 4th was not an original.  I always thought it was a transcription.  Now I have to go back and play it.  My first experience with Ewald Quintet #3 was in the late 90's with a group called Quintessence.  It was an amateur group that rehearsed in musician's union building in Davenport, IA.  We must of rehearsed this and the Empire Brass arrangement of Buckaroo Holiday for years, before playing them.  It was a frustrating time for me as a tuba player and music teacher working with four amateurs of decent skill, but not a lot of experience sculpting an ensemble.  I played it again for a chamber concert around 2008 with some fellow symphony musicians.  We rehearsed three times and performed the piece, again it was lackluster.  We played it well technically, we were not unified expressively, and our concept of a quintet sound was haphazard at best.  A few years later some friends and I developed the Sterling and M A Brass.  The Sterling Brass played Ewald's Quintet #1 many times.  I love this quintet.  It was the first time I heard a unified version of Ewald's music in person, not on a recording.  We considered going to festival to play at Western Illinois University around 2010 or 11.  I still love this quintet.  In 2014 the M A Brass played Quintet #2.  The second quintet is not as strong as the first or third musically.  However, this was the strongest quintet that I had ever played with from a musical standpoint.  The five of us all held music education degrees, and two of us had Master's degrees in music education, and we delivered some excellent performances of the second quintet.  The M A Brass had the best concept of quintet sound, musical goals, and desire to  succeed professionally.  I encourage all brass players to play some Ewald.  it is great music and accessible to the public for performance.  20 years or so, I have been around this music.  I'm still finding joy with it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Chemistry in Ghana!

Chemistry Brass Band
This is the Chemistry Brass Band from Accra, Ghana.  The selection that they are playing is entitled Agbadza from their album African Folks.  The group plays Ewe (pronounced A-vae approximately) traditional and contemporary music with African and Western instruments.   Yes this selection is over 22 minutes in length.

Here are the players of Chemistry:

Elikplim Amewode: Leader, Trombone 
Saka Prince: Lead trumpet 
Ahlijah Benjamin Collins: Trumpet 
Atigo Emmanuel: Trumpet 
Deffoe Desmond: Trumpet 
August Mark-Ishamel: Flugelhorn 
Doh-Okyere Berlington: Trombone 
Amegbor Ransford: Euphonium 
Divine Sepenu Gbormittah: Tuba 
Lartey Joseph: Side Drum 
Anku Courage: Bass Drum 
Dangbui Gershon: Bass Drum 
Dosco Christian: Sogo drum  (

Agbadza is a traditional Ewe rhythm and dance.

I stumbled upon this group in a series of searches of various countries.  Here is an actual brass band playing traditional music from the culture.  You do not have to listen to all 22+ minutes as it is very repetitive, and the intonation is hard to deal with too.  Despite these items, watch the players.  Listen to some of the solo sections.  Look at the communication or at times lack of communication.  There is a spirit here.  Obviously this group plays a very important part in the Ewe culture in Ghana, for them to have recorded an album and to be hired out.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Little Band that Could (Angola)

Angola National Band

The Angolan National Band was started in 1979 by seven Salvation Army workers.  I would like you to read this story first from the Boundless 2015 Web Magazine of the Salvation Army.

I hope you read the story.  Pretty amazing that through a 16 year civil war that this band not only survived but became the National Band of Angola, and in 2015 they took a trip to the UK to perform for Boundless 2015.  Music does not end when political turmoil and upheaval are taking place.  The role of music just changes to fit the need of the individual or group at the time of the performance.   

The march that the Angola National Band is playing for Boundless 2015 is the Emblem of the Army.   

I want to do a little comparison of that performance with this performance of the same march but by the Melbourne Veterans' Band.  This is also a Salvation Army Band.
Here is what I would like you to do.  Please, disregard the video and sound quality as one video is of professional quality and one is an amateur video, but compare the performances.

Now that you have listened to the two different performances and you have assessed the performances on their merit of intonation, rhythm, dynamic, tone quality, balance, etc.  I have one question.  Which band captures the humanist spirit of the march better?  Feel free to include your assessment and reason why in the comments.

My opinion:  Though the Melbourne band performs the march far cleaner and more musically from a technical standpoint it sounds dry and academic.  Where as the Angola group shares their energy of music making with the audience.  The performance has life, a spirit of its own.  I also perceive an engagement between the band and their audience.  I had to listen multiple times to each performance to hear this dimension of music making.  It seems to be missing in the other performance.  I wonder, do we inadvertently lose spirit when we focus continually on the mechanics and techniques of music making, philosophically speaking?  This is why I continue to return to community music making as a teacher.  It rejuvenates my spirit.  

I look forward to reading your comments, thoughts, or philosophical meanderings.  Have a good weekend!

Monday, February 6, 2017

North and a Little East to Zimbabwe (a lesson in humility)

The Salvation Army-Zimbabwe Territorial Band (ZTB)

Founded in 2004 according to their Facebook page this ensemble consists of players with high standards musically and spiritually.  The Facebook page contains some videos of low to midrange quality.  Excellent pictures of the band. There is a developmental band, and they appear to operate a music contest of sorts.  The most recent activity was preparation for the 125th anniversary of the Salvation Army performing work in the country.

 Zimbabwe has suffered many a political and health malady over the years.  25% of the population were diagnosed with HIV in the late 90's according to and the country lost membership in the Commonwealth of Nations for election fraud according to the Human Rights First Organization.  This is a country in a state of transition.

The band is located in the capital city of Harare in the province of Mashanoland.  Zimbabwe was a former colony of the British Empire known as Rhodesia for those interested in how a the Salvation Army or a Brass Band would pop up in Southeast Africa.  

Here are some videos of their work.  These are not the greatest quality, but it will give you an idea of what they do.
2015 "Where Duty Calls"
"Amazing Race"

I must confess that the music is not played in tune, with good tone, balance, or dynamic but the performers and audience are engaged, the rhythms are good, and you can recognize melody, harmony, and bass lines.  The country is developing after years of strife and civil discord.  To have any musical ensemble of amateur let alone professional quality at this time is pretty amazing.  It shows that even in the most difficult areas of our world human perseverance and artistic creativity will not be silenced.  According to the video comment it is a National Tourism Policy Document Signing Ceremony.

I wish everyone in this ensemble good luck as they work to provide inspiration through their music.  It takes great dedication and courage to make music in a time where basic services for the population are still being developed following years of civil discord.  Keep it up!  The arts define us a human beings.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

West to South Africa

Eastern Cape Brass Band Festival
Sponsored by the Moravian Brass Band Union of South Africa

All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name is the selection you will hear in the video above.  The Moravian Church has been quite active in developing church brass bands for worship purposes.  The Moravian Brass Band Union has an active website, but activity seems to have ceased around 2014 or 2015.  Check out this website to see the organization and participating bands.

As I searched through dozens of pages and videos of brass bands in South Africa, I found numerous bands that march, entertain, and dance.  Some of these bands used saxophones, accordions, or other wind instruments for the religious and civic festivals.  I saw some incredibly large Besson tubas being  carried around in these street events.  No easy task even with a harness as they weigh between 15 and 20 pounds.  I would encourage you to watch some of these videos.  Since I play tuba and I despise the sound of a sousaphone, I was very impressed with the quality of sound the performers were making while marching with full size concert instruments.

This concert performance was one of the first traditional performances that I found.  Street performances have a unique cultural paradigm and they are very exciting to watch, but I wanted to witness the interaction between performer and audience in a concert performance.  I was not disappointed.  The wall that is present between performer and audience in the Western tradition is missing here.  There is direct interaction between the performers and audience.  You can see the energy trading sides during the performance.  The performance is also more intimate and spiritual for this reason.  I imagine the music educator and philosopher Christopher Small would approve, but that is pure speculation on my part.

Church performances are traditionally volunteer affairs in small churches and missions. The musicians tend to be community members giving a musical offering of sorts, and there is an honesty about sharing your faith through music that I admire in this context.  This performance is full of spirit.   The performers vary in age too.  No, this is not a great performance if you use the Western Standard of classical performance, but...  Yes this is a great performance if you consider the energy of the performers as they celebrate their faith through music.  Even if you are an atheist or agnostic, please consider that context as you listen.  Honest performance, honest faith, all being celebrated through music thousands of miles away from the Untied States.  Have a great weekend everyone.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Down Under!

The South Gippsland Shire Brass Band
Leongatha, Victoria Australia

I continue my wandering around the web looking for a community brass band in Australia.  There appears to be a thriving brass band movement on the continent.  That brings a smile to my face.  I stumbled upon this group on you tube.  The South Gippsland Shire Brass Band has been around for over 120 years.  The group rehearses in the courthouse in Leongatha, and their mission is community entertainment.  Leongatha is about 85 miles Southeast of Melbourne or about 9,500 miles from where I am writing this post.  It is also 6:15 a.m. Tuesday, January 31, 2017 too.  

Check these links for more information about this group.

The musical performance in the video above is a medley of selections from the folk pop group "The Seekers."  I will be honest, I had zero idea who "The Seekers" were.  My knowledge of 1960's pop music is limited to the Beatles, Beach Boys, Monkees, Bob Dylan, and a few other artists.  Shame on me, I know, but when I was a growing up I listened to jazz, classical, and the country or pop music my parents enjoyed listening too like Johnny Cash, Herb Alpert, Roger Miller, Roy Clark, The Four Lads, Dave Major and the Minors to name a few.  I learned something new.

This arrangement by Stephen Duro is great music for a concert in the park.  The band plays the arrangement well, and you can see some heads bobbing along in time with the music.  If you visit their Facebook page you can see this group plays just about anywhere sharing their gift of music with their fellow citizens.  They also have a training band for those interested in learning to play music.  All I can say is nice work ladies and gentleman!  Thank you for sharing your music with us on the web.  

Friday, January 27, 2017

Plumbing Factory Brass Band

Plumbing Factory Brass Band of London, Ontario
Dr. Henry Meredith, Conductor

The Plumbing Factory Brass Band is a community group founded by Dr. Henry Meredith in 1995.  Meredith is a professor at Western Ontario University, an instrument collector and builder, and it seems a jack of all trades.  According to the web page: Dr. Meredith has approximately 3300 instruments of all kinds.  In the video above, Dr. Meredith plays a natural trumpet modeled after one from the 17th century that he built.

The PFBB is playing Old Comrades by Carl Teike.  Teike was an army bandsman in Germany and over the course of his career he wrote many marches and other concert works, but like many band composers of the late 19th and early 20th century they are largely forgotten by the general public.  Old Comrades is his most famous march, but several others have seen performance in recent years including:  The Officer Candidate March, Deutsche Art Marsch, and Graf Zeppelin.

The PFBB is a community ensemble with an age range of about 50 years or so.  This is an older video, but there appears to be young college students to community members in their early 80's.  The comments below the video on the actual You Tube page are very supportive of the performers.  The performance is far from perfect, but everyone is working hard and having a good time making music with each other.  I am sure Carl Teike, wherever he may be, is happy that someone is playing his music nearly 100 years after his death.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Across the pond to the United States

The Natural State Brass Band
Little Rock, Arkansas

Tonight, I found this video of the Natural State Brass Band, playing Gareth Woods, Brass Triumphant, at the Ft. Wayne Section 2 North American Brass Band Championship.  

You can find the Natural State Brass Band's homepage by using the link below.

This band was founded in 2003, according to their website.  All of the members are volunteers and they do have 501(c)(3) non-profit status.  They appear to perform between six and seven times per year, and they have traveled overseas.  In 2010 this group did a tour in Northern England, where they rehearsed in the Black Dyke Band's rehearsal room.

The piece they are performing is a four movement work written for the 125th anniversary of the Cory Band.  This was used as a test piece for the first section of the 2013 Regional British Band Championships.  It was also used as a test piece here in the States in 2015.  There are numerous solos, and the band must be able to play independently.  

If you are wondering about the name, the NSBB takes their name from the state of Arkansas' motto:  The Natural State.  The band rehearses in a Lutheran church and their conductor is a tuba player!  

This is a solid performance of the piece.  It is a shame the video has only seen around 700 views.  While listening to the performance, you should hear the personality of the band.  Each section has a character that is their own, particularly the trombones.  The made Woods' music their own.  There is a personal flair to it that makes it spicy and fun.  I really like the approach the conductor used with the work.  He collaborated with his band, allowing them to have room to be themselves.  I enjoy this type of music making as it allows the players to engage personally rather than for the conductor.  Enjoy!