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.