Thursday, February 23, 2012

Brass for a Funeral

In the United States, brass musicians are commonly associated with two types of funerals, the New Orleans jazz funeral and military funerals.

The jazz funeral is an interesting part of New Orleans culture that developed from traditions in Africa.  At a funeral, all of the guests will parade with the coffin to the graveyard.  On the way to the gravesite, a brass band will play somber music or a spiritual.  Following the funeral, the brass band leads the parade in celebration of life.  As part of the jazz funeral, brass musicians use music to mourn the dead, celebrate life, accompany the procession and parade, and guide the deceased to their eternal rest.

Here is a video from from a jazz funeral as the coffin is being transported from the church to the gravesite. The band is playing "Just a Closer Walk with Thee."

This next video is of a funeral procession that is more solemn.  The video is supposedly the Tongan Brass Band who I assume are from Tonga. Thus, they obviously don't represent a New Orleans tradition. Still, the video can give us insight into cultural practices around the world and interesting uses of brass instruments.

The link below will connect you to a video of the group the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Formed in New Orleans in 1977, this band has helped define and celebrate New Orleans culture for over 30 years.  In this video, the group is leading the joyful parade after a funeral.

Military funerals are very solemn ceremonies.  Most often, a solo trumpet or bugle will play Taps.  For funerals at the national cemeteries, an entire band will often play.  The music mostly consists of hymns or sacred tunes and patriotic music. The music at a military funeral can accompany a procession or march to the gravesite but mostly serves to honor the deceased as they are being interred. Here are two videos which demonstrate the type of brass music played for military funerals.

Here is a version of Taps with two trumpets echoing each other.

Here is a full band playing for a military funeral.

On a personal note....
A few weeks ago, I played for a funeral for the first time and it was an incredibly emotional experience for me, even though I did not personally know the deceased or any of the guests. It got me thinking about how music can affect people.  Funerals require music that will bring comfort and sympathy.  The musician can either remain distant and disconnected or they can be emotionally involved. I personally strive for emotional connection because musicians are then capable of significantly impacting people. It is a great opportunity to go beyond bringing art and talent to the listener but to bring comfort, peace, or even just a momentary distraction from grief. Perhaps the music even serves as an outlet for the pain. Playing for a funeral really changed my perspective on how I can use music and what I want my goals to be.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Circus Brass

In America, the circus dates back to the late 18th century.  Still touring today, the circus has had an interesting and important role in our history.  Before modern recording technology, musicians would travel with circuses to provide live music. Bands, and especially brass instruments, were suited for this type of show because of the tone and loud volume.

Karl King, notable march composer, played the baritone in a circus band when he was young. Here is a picture of his group. He is the baritone on the left of the tuba.

These musicians were on the go as they traveled around the country. Some groups performed with other circus acts in parades. They would either march or use other means of travel. Here are some pictures of brass players on top of elephants as they traveled.

The history of circus musicians has been neglected. It would be a great topic for further research.  Here is a video of a brass group playing the piece most often associated with circuses, the Thunder and Blazes March (aka Entrance of the Gladiators).

The pictures on this post were found on the following websites:

For more information about circuses, please see the following websites:

Drum and Bugle Corps for the Stage

A few weeks ago, I looked at drum and bugle corps. The Blast show and the Crazy Angel Company are two examples of groups based on drum and bugle corps that perform inside on a stage.

Blast is a show that is currently touring the United States. They perform with the same elements as the outdoor drum corps.  They have brass instruments, percussionists, and a color guard with flags, rifles, sabers, and other objects. Together, they use their movement with the music to make an exciting show. Here is a video of Blast.

In Japan, the Crazy Angel Company has a similar type of show.  They combine their brass playing with movement such as dance, color guard, juggling, and sword fighting. Their goal is to "create a new musical culture." This group adds a few other instruments such as saxophone but they are mostly brass. Here is a video of them.

Check out their websites for more information:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Brass Liberation Orchestra

At the beginning of the semester, Professor Manning gave me a link to the group the Brass Liberation Orchestra.  This brass group is on the go in a few different ways. They go to places and move around while they play. The main thing, however, is that the BLO uses their music to support their views on various subjects.  They are using their brass playing to start a movement. The pieces they play are specifically chosen because of the meaning of the lyrics or the context in which they were composed. On their website, you can find recordings and sheet music. You can also read the BLO's views on gentrification and immigrant rights.
Here is a video from an event where they participated

Saturday, February 11, 2012

History of Brass and England's Royalty

Brass instruments have been used by the British Royalty since at least the 16th century. When King Henry VIII was ruling, he organized a tournament in celebration of his new born son. A painting of this event shows six trumpet players on horseback. This photo shows three of the trumpet players.

The man in the middle is most likely John Blanke, a black trumpeter who served as a musician for both Henry VII and Henry VIII. Perhaps before this time, and surely after, brass instruments have been used for many royal celebrations. These include births, weddings, and coronations. We don't know exactly what these trumpeters played, but we know that the royalty like to uphold traditions. The following two videos are examples of trumpet fanfares at recent Royal Weddings.

Start at 0:53.

For this next one, start at 1:00.

To me, it does not seem out of the question to think that the trumpeters depicted in the painting from Henry VIII's time would have played something similar to the fanfares in these videos.

As I was searching for information, I came across the Westminster Abbey website. They explain how during a coronation service a fanfare is sounded just after the crown has been placed on the head of the Sovereign. In addition, every coronation ceremony since that of George II in 1727 has used Handel's "Zadok the Priest." This piece includes 3 trumpets. Isn't is possible that these same trumpets played a fanfare? Also, this is Handel's version of the piece. According to the Westminster Abbey website, the words have been sung at every coronation sing King Edgar in 973. Perhaps Handel wasn't the first to use trumpets along with this text. As for now, I haven't found any other information but it would be interesting to study. Although this is not a brass ensemble piece, we can still listen and imagine how the trumpet was used in the history of British royalty.

Here is a link to a video with the piece. It is not able to embed on this blog. Also, the trumpets at the beginning are not part of the actual piece.

See also:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Brass for Today's Royalty

Today, we can find musicians on the go working for royalty around the world.  Most of these groups serve as pomp and circumstance. Although there is the history of mounted bands from years past, the groups today mostly perform for parades and exhibitions.

In England, the Household Cavalry includes musicians who perform both on horseback and by marching. Here is a picture of them on horseback.

Here are their trumpets playing during a pageant performance.

In Belgium, the Royal Mounted Escort includes a Drum and Trumpet Corps. This groups plays to "herald the arrival of the monarchs."

 In the country of Oman, the Sultan organizes the Royal Equestrian and Camel Festival.  The show in 2006 included 1000 horses, 500 camels, and 1500 musicians. Here is a picture of a group performing.

The following video doesn't have any great footage of a musician on a horse or camel, but it can give us an idea of what the festival is about.

Finally, I saved the best for last. In the past, there was such a thing as a bicycle infantry. Clearly, our military forces no longer use bicycles for travel. In the Netherlands, however, they have maintained the tradition. This includes musicians. Here is a video of the Royal Netherlands Mounted Bicycle Band. :)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Silly Post

Brass groups can even use movement to enhance their hairstyle! Perhaps moving your hair helps with trills? (see 0:56)


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Drum and Bugle Corps

For today's example of brass and movement, I'm looking at the Drum and Bugle Corps. For this post, we will only be discussing the present....we will discuss history at a later time. Here in the US, drum and bugle corps are the summer activity for many high school and college musicians. The groups work on a show and then compete throughout the summer as they travel around the country. These groups differ from marching bands in that they are only brass, percussion, and color guard. What does the movement do for this type of group?

*The musicians march (also run and dance) around the field to create a non-stop visual treat. With all sorts of lines, patterns, and images, the group can make moving-art with people. The uniforms and the color guard add color and variety to the shapes.
*The music that is being played is aiding the color guard and dancers with their movement.
*The movement is so continuous and strenuous that it gives the musicians a "performance rush." This is a side effect that makes the performance more enjoyable for the performers. It is like an adrenaline high.
*All of the aspects of this performance provide entertainment for the audience. Movement is a major component of the entertainment value. You don't go to see a drum corps stand there.

Here is a video of a US drum corps called the Blue Devils.

Drum and bugle corps also exists in other countries. Here is a video that I believe is from Japan.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What can movement add to a performance? - Example 3

One of the best things that movement can add to a performance is audience interaction/participation.

Here is in an example. This is the Main Street Philharmonic from Disney World. They sometimes march while playing the parades at the theme park. However, they also stop for performances as well. In this video, there are in one area. There is a little bit of dancing and grooving with the music but no special choreographed routine. The part that I would like to emphasize is the movement for pictures.  While playing, the members of the group pose for pictures with people.  I think this helps keep the audience engaged and it makes the performance interactive. In concert hall performances, those onstage may come across as cold and indifferent to the audience.  These players are the exact opposite.  Their goal is to entertain and literally reach the people.