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.