Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Traveling Brass Musician

A few days ago, I came across this article on  The author offers some advice for brass musicians preparing for a tour.  Unlike rock/pop musicians, we probably won't spend our lives touring the world performing several shows a week.  Still, we will most likely travel somewhere to play a gig.  For me, most of my travel has been for auditions and conferences.  Traveling has the same effects regardless of what type of music we are playing.  Here are some things to consider:

 - Consider your clothing. Make sure you have layers for cold weather or breathable clothing for warm weather.
 - Will you be in the sun? Make sure to have sunscreen and sunglasses.
 - Will you be outside in the wind? Invest in a few clothespins.  You can also have someone cut a small sheet of clear plastic or plexiglass that can cover your music on your stand so it doesn't blow away.

Location and Climate
 - Consider the altitude. In a higher altitude, you may have difficulty breathing if you are not used to it.
 - What type of climate does the location of your gig have? Desert climates are very dry so make sure to have extra water on hand.

 - Your location may affect your pitch.  Being inside or outside or in hot or cold air can affect your pitch so be ready to adjust.
 - If you are playing with a group (especially in another country), ask if they have any specific tuning.  For example, some groups tune to 442 to match the percussion instruments.

Gig Location/Venue
 - Consider the size of the hall/room.  How do you need to adjust your articulation and volume for the venue?
 - Will there be a place to practice or warm-up at the gig? Try to warm-up before you get there, just in case.

Musicians at the Gig
 - Consider their volume and dynamics.  You may have to play louder or softer than normal to match the other musicians.
 - Listen to their style and interpretation of the music and adjust. Be flexible with performance tempo, dynamic, and style.

 - Where are you staying? Make sure you plan enough time to travel from your hotel/lodging to the gig.
 - Can you practice there? Make sure to bring a practice mute or have a plan how you will practice and warm-up.  Hotel guests do not want to be awoken by a brass instrument in the next room.

 - What will you eat? Don't use the meal before your performance as an opportunity to try something new.  Don't jeopardize your playing with a unsettled stomach.
 - No time to eat.  See if you can bring a snack and drink with you to have just in case.

 - Plan the time zone change. Make sure to plan time to adjust to the time change, especially if it is large.
 - Make sure you have enough time to sleep and feel rested.  You may have to sleep on the plane or catch a few winks backstage.

 - How will you get there? Have your tickets organized and ready to go. Carry extra cash for cabs. Research places to park if you are driving.

 - Bring it all with you, just in case.  Instrument, mouthpiece(s), mute(s), valve oil, slide grease, screwdriver, cork, music (extra copies are good), pencil(s), a stand. If there is any chance you'll need it, bring it.

Utilizing Your Travel Time
 - On a plane, train, or bus. Listen to your music. Look it over. Read about the music.
 - In a car. Here you can do more. Buzz on your mouthpiece. Listen to your music. Sing along.
 - Waiting at the airport, bus station, or even at an audition. Have something with you that will keep you calm (book, ipod, phone). Focus on your task and think positive!

All of the above ideas are things that I have noticed during my own traveling. What other tips do you have?

Music and Sports

Brass instruments have had a connection with sports since the ancient times.  For example, the Roman cornu was sounded at gladiator fights.
Today, it is very common in America for schools to have marching bands which perform at football games.  Although marching bands include a lot of brass instruments, this post is going to focus on the connection between sports and brass instruments.  There are many existing examples of brass instruments connected to sports.

In 2010, the FIFA World Cup was held in South Africa.  An instrument called the vuvuzela became the talk of the world.  People either loved it or hated it.  Although these instruments are not made of brass, they require lip buzzing to produce a sound.

Here is a video where you can hear the sound of the vuvuzela.

Brass instruments can also be used for sports like horse races.  Churchill Downs employs a bugler who plays for each race. Here is a link to an article about the bugler.  The bugler plays alone unless there is a special occassion with more players such as the race in this video:

In England, the band called the England Supporters plays for every football (soccer) game.  This brass band has traveled with the team around the world.  Here, they have a music video in support of the team. (It starts after about 30 seconds of silliness.)

Besides music played at sporting events, there are other connections between music and sports.  Musicians can create their own sporting events and groups.  For example, when I was working on my masters degree, I was on the horn studio hockey team, Tuckwell Attack. It was part of the school intramural sports program. When I was searching online for information about this topic, I came across this post about the International World Brass Band Ski Championship. 

Musicians can also use sports as an educational tool.  Here is a link to a programming guide developed by the Peachtree Brass Quintet. This is just one of their several programs developed to take into schools. This program includes pieces like "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and the "Olympic Fanfare" to teach kids about music. 

It seems to me that there is a lot of talk about how music is being cut from schools but sports are thriving like always.  Maybe we can use the connections between the two to promote music and show its value.  Almost every sporting event from little league to professional plays the national anthem.  Why don't we play it and promote live music instead of recordings? This is a very short and easy gig that we can all do. Music at sporting events seems to be an untapped area to perform and promote music. 

Mario Parade

Here is a video that Professor Manning sent to me earlier in the semester.  It is a Super Mario-themed bloco (a marching band) during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. They are playing the theme music, wearing costumes, and acting out the game (look for the star-man running through the crowd).  Video game music is both recognizable and popular.  How could we utilize it? Maybe we could play at the store on the night when a game is released or play at competitions or conventions (Comic-Con or something).  Or, we could always just put on our own parades! :)

Sunday, March 25, 2012


At the beginning of the twentieth century in the United States, one of the most popular events was going to Chautauqua.  Founded in 1874, Chautauqua would develop into a circuit of touring shows that provided education, culture, and uplifting and moral entertainment.  The shows would include music, lectures, skits, speeches, readings, and novelty acts.  The University of Iowa library has a large collection of items from the Redpath Chautauqua (1890-1944).  Here is a general overview of Chautauqua provided by the library.

Before I took the class "American Musical Entertainments" last fall, I had never heard of Chautauqua.  It is a shame that its history has faded because it made a huge impact.  As the article linked above explains, "At its peak in the mid-1920s, circuit Chautauqua performers and lecturers appeared in more than 10,000 communities in 45 states to audiences totaling 45 million people."

One group that performed was the University of Iowa band, then called the State University of Iowa Military Band.  The band's tour is a great example of what it was like to perform on the Chautauqua circuit.  From June 17, 1918 through August 30, 1918, the band performed in 75 each night.  These cities and towns were in Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa.  Back then, the performers would often tour by train.  Also, the performers were in charge of their own setup.  Whatever instruments/set/props/costumes/personal belongings they had, they had to carry them from the train station to the performance site by themselves.  The performances would often be outside or in large tents because small towns did not have concert halls or other venues.  Just think how our performance opportunities are different today.

Several brass musicians performed on the Chautauqua circuits as members of brass chamber groups.  Below, I'm going to list a few groups that I found while researching.  Each name is a link to a picture or program in the University of Iowa digital library.  The photos are copyrighted so they will not be included on this page. Please check out the links.

Edna White Quartette (a female group with 2 trumpets, trombone, euphonium)
Herbert Petrie and his White Hussars (2 trumpets and 2 trombones)
Lieurance Brass Choir (2 trumpets and 2 trombones)
The Orpheans (trumpet, valve trombone, horn, saxophone)
The Rondoliers (2 trumpets, trombone, saxophone)
The Parland Newhall Company Brass Quartet (trumpet, 2 trombones, horn)
The Brass Sextette of Quintano's Royal Italian Band of New York City (2 trumpets, 2 valve trombones, 2 euphoniums)
Alberta and Lorene Davis (trumpet and horn)

If you would like to learn more about brass in Chautauqua, check out "Brass Chamber Music in Lyceum and Chautauqua" by Raymond Burkhart.  This is his Ph.D. Dissertation from The Claremont Graduate University in 2010.  It is available in the Special Collections part of the library.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Ewald Brass Quintets

For ABEL class, we were asked to read André Smith's article "The History of the Four Quintets for Brass by Victor Ewald." We were then asked to answer a few questions, which I am including here:

What did you know about Ewald and his brass quintet before reading this article? 
Before I read this article (and Smith's other article specifically about Ewald), I knew little to no information about Ewald or his works. This semester, my brass quintet worked on Quintet No. 2 and it was my first experience playing or listening to one of his works. Perhaps the only idea I had of Ewald in my mind was that his brass quintet pieces are considered "the standards."

What did this article teach you about proper research?
This article does remind us to use as many primary sources as possible when we are doing research. Also, it implies the benefits of communicating with others about your research. It is important to seek out others with knowledge of your topic. This article makes me also think that since it is so difficult to obtain primary resources if you can't travel outside the country, why don't we do more research on American music?

What questions did this article raise? 
For me, I question Smith over-the-top concern for his research before releasing/publishing anything.  I appreciate his scholarly efforts to authenticate his findings and the music manuscripts. He states, "This quintet has been in hand for the past ten years but, considering the importance of the discovery, any move to release it before the present time seemed premature. Not only was it necessary to authenticate it, if possible, but its appearance yielded a thrust to speculation: If there was, indeed, a flourishing and growing brass field, was it likely that less than a handful of compositions for brass would have resulted?" I'm not suggesting that he should have released his finding immediately. I just think that if I was suddenly aware of a great piece of music, no matter who/what/when/where it came, I would share it with everyone so it could be played and enjoyed as soon as possible.

What are your thoughts on rotary vs. piston valve preferences mentioned in the article?
I think that unless someone is trying to do an exact reproduction of the premiere of a piece, or construct a performance based on the exact wishes of the composer, it is completely fine to play the piece with whatever instruments are available. The brass instruments which are more foreign to me, (rotary trumpet, valve trombone, tenor horn, etc.), seem so cool. I would not be opposed to trying other instruments any day. In Ewald's case, it may not be clear which type of valve he had in mind. Does the valve significantly affect the artistry of the music though? I doubt it.

Do you agree with Forsyth who wrote, "There is in general no true legato on the trombone."?
No. Legato is produced by your air and the buzz of the lips, not the instrument. If anything, it seems to me that a trombone is more capable of legato than valve instruments. The slide can actually aid in connecting two notes as opposed to the valve where there is potentially the smallest microtone of a pitch which is skipped between two notes.

What are your thoughts about Smith's ideas on instrumentation mentioned on page 13? 
This relates to my thoughts for the earlier question about valves. Smith states, "It is only since the so-called early music movement gained a widespread influence beginning in the mid-1950s that a self-conscious inhibition has prevented many otherwise adventurous musicians from adapting any music of their choice to their needs." I think this relates to the concept that has developed of the composer being the artist rather than the performer. Of course the composer was an artist but so is the performer. Reproducing the composer's wishes is great but it also lacks creativity, originality, and a unique experience. I don't think that we as musicians should limit ourselves or others with ideas of what we can't or are not supposed to play.

In regards to the modern revival of Ewald's brass quintets, what roles did the following people play? Froydis Werke, the American Brass Quintet, the Empire Brass Quintet? 
Froydis Werke received copies of the Ewald quintets while she was studying horn in Russia. The Empire Brass then received this music from her when they were in Norway.  Smith's article shares this information as if it were scandalous that they were not aware of that he was secretly in possession of the music for a decade. Smith also shares how he was the one who sent the music back to Russia where it was distributed to Froydis. Again, I don't find an issue with sharing great music so I don't blame Vitaly Buyanovsky for distributing it immediately. The American Brass Quintet was the first group to premiere the pieces in the west.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Brass Unbound

When I was searching for books in the library, I came across the book Brass Unbound: Secret Children of the Colonial Brass Band by Rob Boonzajer Flaes.  I haven't had a chance to read the whole book just yet but it seems really interesting. In the prologue, there is a paragraph that gives an overview of what the book is about:

"Beyond Europe too, legions of young men without a penny to their names used the music of army and church as a springboard to a career in the entertainment business. I have gone in search of these people and their bands and, to my joy, they really did exist. I travelled the world, mapping everything I came across; it has proved to be a rich, immensely varied spectrum of popular brass bands, locally famous but totally unknown anywhere else."

Perhaps the coolest part of the book is the accompanying CD. I had an opportunity to sample each track and it was beyond what I expected. The CD includes tracks from Nepal, India, Moluccas, Sumatra, Minahasa, Philippines, Thailand, Ghana, Germany, Malawi, Madagascar, Surinam, Tonga, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Macedonia, and Serbia. In each of these places, as well as many others around the world, the same brass instruments we play have been assimilated into the native musical style and culture.

If you want to learn more, check this book out! I highly recommend it.

Brass for a Dancing Audience - 3

The third group that I am sharing is the Boban and Marko Markovic Orchestra. This Serbian brass band has performed lively shows around the world for over twenty years.  With thirteen albums and numerous movie credits, the band has made a name for themselves but it is their talent and high level of skill which sets them apart.  Father and son trumpeters, Boban and Marko, have received prestigious awards for their musical prowess.  Perhaps their only competition is the Romanian brass band Fanfare Ciocarlia.  In fact, these two groups have developed a touring show called the Balkan Brass Battle.  The two groups share the stage "to see who blows the hottest and the hardest!" The winner is determined by the enthusiasm of the audience.

Here is a video advertising the show.

The next video is the most recent video from the Boban and Marko Markovic Orchestra.  The inspirations of young Marko Markovic have brought the traditional music of this brass band onto the current music scene.  I was unable to find any type of translation but the video suggests partying and  having a great time. Who couldn't have a good time with this brass playing?