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?

Brass for a Dancing Audience - 2

Another group that I found which plays in clubs and other venues where people are dancing is Slavic Soul Party! This brass band from New York describes their style as "BalkanSoul GypsyFunk." On the Slavic Soul Party! website, a quote from the New York Times describes them:

"Fiery Balkan brass, throbbing funk grooves, Gypsy accordion wizardry, and virtuoso jazz chops: Slavic Soul Party! is just what it says. These nine musicians have created an acoustic mash-up of Balkan and Gypsy sounds with North American music, weaving the gospel, funk, dub, jazz, and Latin influences of New York's neighborhoods seamlessly into a Balkan brass setting and always "delivering a great time.""

Slavic Soul Party! has given exciting performances around the world at festivals, clubs, and even a pool at the Russian Baths. Every Tuesday, the band performs at Barbes in Brooklyn. In addition, they have made 5 cds.

Here is a video of a live performance complete with a dancing audience.

WNYC, the public radio station in New York City, interviewed the group and listened to a live performance. Here is a link to the interview: 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

William Westney Presentations on Music and Movement

This past Saturday, I attended a day long workshop by Ida Beam guest professor, William Westney.  He is a teacher and pianist with interesting ideas about music, teaching, and practicing.  He is the author of a book entitled The Perfect Wrong Note - Learning to Trust Your Musical Self.  During his visit, Westney gave three different sessions and each was interesting and valuable.  The first event was a philosophical discussion about music, meaning, and the body in motion. During this lecture, Westney discussed the connection of music and the body.  He explained how music is more than organized sound in that it has meaning; in addition, we often determine the music most meaningful to us by its effect on our body and feelings.  He also discussed how our mood can be seen in the way we carry our bodies and how we move; thus, mood can affect how we make music.  We ended this morning session with a preview of the afternoon session.  We paired up and mirrored each other's movements in reaction to the music being played.  Westney suggested that we move/dance to the music we are working on so we can actually feel where the tempo and dynamic changes should be.

In the afternoon, Westney gave his "un-masterclass." This was different than a masterclass where a professional musician listens to a student and then tells them what to do better. In the "un-masterclass," everyone participates. First, Westney's focus was on the relationship between music and movement. Everyone stood in a large circle. As music played, we had to move to the beat, style, and emotion of the piece.  Westney explained how he had the music specifically composed for this presentation so we wouldn't know it. The movement was simple at first; we passed a little ball around the circle, handing it off only on a beat or cadence.  Then, Westney stood in the middle of the circle and moved/danced to the music. We had to mirror his movements. Next, we each took a turn in the middle of the circle. Our movement didn't need to be spectacular, it just needed to reflect what we were hearing. Waltz-like music tended to inspire sweeping fluid movement and atonal computer music inspired jerky motions.  This part of the session continued for about an hour.  Not only was it fun to move to the music but it was interesting to see how other people moved to the same music.  Everyone had a different interpretation and meaning for their movement.
The second part of the session included five performances by students.  The audience was asked to tell what they got out of the performance; what message/meaning did they receive from the performer?  Meaning and musicality were the focus rather than technical issues.  Here are few ideas that were discussed which I found particularly helpful:
 - Think about your audience and what you can communicate and give to them rather than how the performance benefits you individually or how the audience might be judging you.
 - Pretend you are at a competition/audition and play your piece as if you were all the various contestants. Try every style and interpretation...even ones you consider "wrong."
 - Memorizing your music can help make a stronger connection to the audience because you do not have the barrier of the music stand.  Although the stand is not large, not having it can make a big difference.
 - If you are singing, decide whether you are singing the text from your heart or that of a character you will portray.  The same goes for instrumentalists. Give every line meaning and purpose just as if it had text.
 - Play for people. Have them stand or sit right in front of you as you perform and communicate just as if you were in a conversation. The audience comes for this interaction so don't close them off.

Westney's evening session was titled "The Value of Juicy Mistakes in Music, Learning, and Life."  The lecture was full of amusing stories.  Westney explained how musicians can get into a rut by focusing on the concept of perfection.  The phrases like "Practice makes perfect" and "Practice makes permanent" are poorly worded statements that instill a sense of dread in our playing. Mistakes become an opportunity for self degradation rather than learning and growth. Westney proposed revisiting the excitement and vitality of our youth. As babies we moved our bodies freely to the music we heard without concern of looking silly. When learning to walk, we didn't say all sorts of negative things to ourselves when we fell down.  Just like learning to walk or ride a bike, music requires a learning process were the only way to grow is to accept the possibility of falling/crashing/mistakes.  Mistakes should be observed without emotional attachment.  They are something that happens which, contrary to what we might tell ourselves, reflects nothing about us.  Westney suggested being like a detective and try to find out the cause for the mistakes that are happening outside yourself in your playing. His main points for the session included the following:
Remember how fun and enjoyable music can be.
Music can be an oasis for learning and self acceptance.
People who reach virtuosity are those who embrace and take risks.
Observe your mistakes rather than try to manage them.
Don't worry about playing musical at all times. There is a time to focus on technique.
One of the main questions to yourself should be, "How can I make everything I am playing feel great?"

I enjoyed the William Westney's workshop and I highly recommend you attend one if you have the chance. Here are links to his website and his book.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Brass for a Dancing Audience - 1

In the next few posts, I would like to share a type of connection between brass and movement which I haven't discussed yet.  We have already looked at brass musicians who dance and brass musicians who play for professional dancers.  Today we are going to look at brass musicians who play for social dancing.  This post one of three that will feature a specific group.

 The first group is the Molotow Brass Orkestar.  This group from Berne, Switzerland, describes their music as "Balkan Brass meets Swiss Folk music with a little bit of klezmer and ska on the side."  This group has performed in a variety of settings. In addition to their recordings, they make music for public and private shows and parties.  They have also participated at festivals such as the Emergenza Festival, the Buskers Festival, and the Brass Durham International Festival.

The Molotow Brass Orkestar gives lively performances which almost demand dancing. In this video, you can see people dancing in a club/bar setting.


One interesting thing, as you will see, is the instrumentation.  The group includes two rotary valve trumpets, baritone, helicon, tuba, and drums. In this particular video, someone plays the alphorn as well.    I personally haven't been to very many clubs/bars but it seems that here in the US, most places with dancing seem to use recorded music or a live rock band.  I wish more groups like this played in the United States.

Websites to Check Out:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Indian Wedding Barat

In the Indian culture, wedding ceremonies include a procession called the barat which includes music and dance.  Outside of Indian, bands have been developed to perform at this specific ceremony.

In Europe, there are two groups that I found available for hire for Indian weddings. The Bollywood Brass Band is "the UK's pioneering Indian-style wedding band."  They have played for the wedding barat in hundreds of ceremonies around the world. They also perform other gigs. Here is a video of them playing for a parade with costumed dancers.

The Bombay Baja Brass Band is another Indian Brass Band in Europe.  They have performed for high profile weddings, processions for dignitaries, movies, and tv.  The following video link includes clips of people dancing to the band's music, the band playing for the Queen, and the band playing for a barat (0:53).

The first barat band in North America was the Band Bajha Brass.  Their website includes audio samples of the music the music they play for the barat.  Once you are on their site, you will have to click on where it says "Band Bajha Brass" to access the audio recordings.

Jericho - Trumpets on the Go

In the Bible, the story of the battle at Jericho is an example of musicians on the go. Whether or not the Bible is part of your beliefs, this passage gives us historical information about how ancient instruments were used. Here is the verse that explains the role of the instruments.

Joshua 6:3-5, 20

New International Version (NIV)
3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.
20 When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city.

The trumpet/ram's horn that the priests were playing while marching around Jericho is also known as a shofar. This instrument is similar to our brass instruments because sound is created by buzzing the lips. The shofar, however, can only play a few notes of the harmonic series.  Here is a video that shows calls on the shofar. 

Since the traditions of the shofar have been preserved by the Jewish people, we can assume that the sounds in this video are very much like those made at the battle of Jericho.