Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Final Class

Today, for our final class meeting of the semester, we enjoyed student presentations on professional brass ensembles. The three groups featured were the Giannini Brass (Chris); Sotto Voce (Blaine); and the TransAtlantic Horn Quartet (Jessica).

Things we learned:
  • If your ensemble spends the time and money to create a promotional DVD, be sure it is compatible with all operating systems.
  • Be sure to proof-read and edit all promotional materials!
  • Some of the most significant and meaningful contributions these ensembles have made were due to being creative and interdisciplinary.
  • Keep publicity materials as up to date as possible
  • Don't expect to make a lot of money as a professional musician - so do it for the love of music.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Listening Session 4/28/09; "Old and New"



Wednesday's listening presentation was based on the theme of "Old and New." Naturally, we started by listening to the classic recording of some of the earliest music know for brass ensembles, the Gabrieli recording made by the combined brass sections of the Philadelphia Cleveland Chicago Symphony Orchestras. If you own one brass ensemble recording, this is a must. The title of this Sony CD "The Antiphonal Music of Gabrieli", and the composition we heard was Canzon septimi toni No. 2.

We then heard a different Telarc recording, made by the Empire Brass in 1985 along with some other Boston brass musicians. Despite being recorded in 1968, the digital remastered CD sounds remarkably clear. One thing we noticed between the two groups, was the the Empire Brass observed different tempo relationships at the meter changes, and had a deeper sound due to the tubas playing in the lower octaves. The Empire Brass has also released a second Gabrieli recording (re-issue?) , "The Glory of Gabrieli" with the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony brass sections.

We then heard both old and new music from the American Brass Quintet. Battle Suite, by Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654) is from the Delos recording "American Brass Quintet plays Renaissance, Elizabethan, and Baroque Music." Everything on that CD was composed prior to 1750.
In contrast, the works on their recording "American Premiers" featured works written between 1989 and 1993, and includes works by Shculler, Sampson, Welcher, and Jan Bach. We heard the Gunther Schuller Brass Quintet No. 2 and David Sampson's Distant Voices. Desite the chronological gap between the compositinal eras and styles of both of these recordings, it is noteable that there are some similarities, such as the use of alternating textures, dynamics through orchestration, and the exploitation of both the ability for brasses to sound loud and majestic, as well as delicate and mysterious or solemn.

[Image above from the new website for the Los Angeles Brass Ensemble. Give them a listen]

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Non-Traditional Brass Ensembles


On Monday, we listened to several groups that fall under the category of "non-traditional" or "crossover" brass ensembles. Among them was Metalofonico, which is comprised of members of the Atlantic Brass Quintet, the Meridian Arts Ensemble, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Mexico City Symphony, and percussion from the University of Buffalo. The piece we heard is an original composition by Jon Nelson, professor of trumpet at the University of Buffalo, and founding member of the MAE, called Insomnio. In it, you may have heard influences of Ives, Tomasi, and Frank Zappa. You can hear Metalofonico on their myspace page here.

From the CD "Brassil plays Brazil", we heard track six, Gonzagueando, by José Ursicino da Silva ("Duda"). Duda combines typical Brasilian folk/pop music, but in a well crafted way, and the Quinteto Brassil plays brilliantly. You can order this CD here.

Ryhthm and Brass, from their recording Sitting in An English Garden." We heard track fifteen, Money/Lollipop Guild/Eclipse, which combines elements of the Pink Floyd and the Wizard of Oz. Rhythm and brass are best known for the fine playing, but also presenting the brass quintet in a new light, with the addition of percussion, keyboards, synthesizers, and elements of jazz and rock. You can read about and listen to Rhythm and Brass at their myspace page here.

One of my favorite Balkan Brass Bands is the Kocani Orkestar, from Macedonia. We heard Solo Tapan from their recording "Kocani Orkestar; Gypsy Brass Band." Kocani Orkestar is non only a Balkan Brass band, but they combine elements of "Western" popular music. I recommend listening to Romani Kaj on their myspace page here.

Finally, representing both "non-traditional" and "crossover", we heard the Bollywood Brass Band. They have combined the Indian Raga style of music used in films from "Bollywood", with elements of funk, jazz, and perhaps a bit of the British Brass Band tradition. We heard Mere Yaara Dildara from their recording "Rahmania; the music of A.R. Rahman" What, or where is "Bollywood"? It is the nickname for the film industry in Mumbai India (the Hollywood of India). The nickname combines the "B" (from Bombay, the former name of Mumbai) with the term "Hollywood".

The most exciting when you combine disparate elements, especially in music, is that you end up with a very interesting and appealing new genre. We have talked a lot about our history and traditions in brass ensemble literature, but never forget that there is a future - one that we all may potentially be part of creating.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New Orleans Brass Bands; An American Original



Blaine's presentation today included selections by the Americus Brass Band, the Eastern Iowa Brass Band, Symphonia and the Rebirth Brass Band. As I mentioned in class, we must be sure to include the tradition of New Orleans style brass bands in our study of Brass Ensemble Literature, despite the fact that it falls under the category of "non-classical" music. Firstly, it is the only brass ensemble tradition that originated in the United States. Secondly, like all brass ensembles, it is interesting to note how they take on the challenge of repertoire with a combination of original compositions, treatments of standard jazz and dixieland tunes, and "covers" of popular music genres such as Motown, R & B, pop, and even latin jazz. This style of brass ensemble was instrumental in the development and spread of American jazz, and the fact that this genre still thrives today (with the likes of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Rebirth, and many others) is a testament to its staying power and helps secure the future of this style. Here are some concepts and links you will find valuable for further research:

Monday, March 30, 2009


Francis Poulenc
(1899-1963)

Today we began the "Landmark Works" unit of our class, with a listening/score study of Francis Poulenc's Brass Trio. Here are a few quotes from several sources about this piece and its composer:

From ClassicalNet:
"Poulenc behaved like a sophisticated eccentric (he once chatted up a stupefied Cannes bartender about an ingenious harmonic progression he managed to pull off that morning), and the eccentricity not surprisingly showed up in his music. Many have called attention to his split artistic personality, "part monk, part guttersnipe," but really he has many more sides. Like most French composers of his generation, he fell under the influences of Stravinsky and Satie. Yet he doesn't imitate either. You can identify a Poulenc composition immediately with its bright colors, strong, clear rhythms, and gorgeous and novel diatonic harmonies. He is warmer and less intellectual than Stravinsky, more passionate and musically more refined than Satie."
"Francis Poulenc: Shocking the bourgeoisie" from The Timid Soul's Guide to Classical Music by James Reel:

"All right, it's an exaggeration to say that Francis Poulenc was the Sid Vicious of 1920s French art music. But Poulenc and his circle hit the classical music scene with almost the same biting, nihilistic force with which the punk movement slammed into popular music in the 1970s and early '80s.

Both movements were big on
irony and mockery, including self-mockery. The goal was to shock the bourgeoisie, to burn off the sugar coating that music had been collecting in the previous decades. And both movements were absorbed into the mainstream in barely a decade. Francis Poulenc joined a circle of young composers gathered around the eccentric Erik Satie, the famous scribbler of whimsically titled pieces ("Gymnopédies,'' "Vexations'' and the like) with nonsensical comments running through the scores.

Satie's followers opposed the vagueness of Impressionism, the style typified by Claude Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.'' They advocated simplicity and clarity. They also thought emotions should be more restrained than they had been in late 19th century Romantic music, although the Satie set eagerly made exceptions to the rule of restraint for the purposes of satire.

In 1920, a critic dubbed the half-dozen leading members of this circle - Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Georges Auric, Germaine, Tailleferre and Louis Durey - "Les Six.''

As a composer, Poulenc was largely self-taught, and one method of self-education is imitation. Many of Poulenc's early works, including a sonata for two clarinets and a
brass trio, mimic the ironic Neoclassicism of Igor Stravinsky."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Brazz Brothers



Monday, we all enjoyed viewing this promotional video of the Brazz Brothers. Like good travel writing, this video makes you want to "be there" - to try playing these different styles of music. Not only is it entertaining, but entices the listener and inspires fellow musicians.

I like the fact that a "niche" can be multifaceted. In their case, the Brazz Brothers not only specialize in jazzy selections, but excel at combining and celebrating music of diverse cultures such as African, Japanese, and Norwegian. Additionally, they are very accomplished singers in multiple languages.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Geographical Brass Ensembles















Jessica's presentation on Wednesday included the CDs Dallas Trumpets and The London Horn Sound. Both were outstanding recordings, and both have a geographical connection, signifying the unique qualities of the sound styles of those two places.

Our library has a copy, or you can buy Dallas Trumpets online here. On Arkiv music, they also list another recording called Music for Festive Occassions.

The London Horn Sound
is part of a larger series of "London Sound" recordings available on Cala Records. The series includes The London Trumpet Sound and the London Trombone Sound, in addition to cello, double bass and viola ensembles.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Cor de Chasse and English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble



Today we heard a few selections of Cor de Chasse (hunting horn) ensembles. Here is a unique YouTube video synchronizing the tempo of a horn call with the tempo of the horse's hooves.

Here's another featuring a real ensemble



The recording of Italian Renaissence brass music was by the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble. The name of the album was titled Accendo, on the Deux-Elles label.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Moravian Brass and Trombone Shout Bands

Today, I mentioned two rich brass ensemble traditions; Moravian Brass and Trombone Shout Bands. Here are some links and a great video to whet your appetite.
Click below for an inspirational performance by the Sweet Heaven Kings video of their White House Christmas appearance

Check out the inspirational playing at a funeral by The Madison Clouds Shout Band video on YouTube.

Here's a link that brings that allows you to see recording details, and hear samples from a Folkways Recording called Saints' Paradise

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Arnold and Trombones de Costa Rica











Today we listened to the Symphony for Brass, Op. 123 by Sir Malcom Arnold as performed by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, from their Decca CD with conductor Keith Snell.

We also heard several selections from the CD "Imagenes" by the Trombones de Costa, including "Motives" and "Imagenes", both by the Costa Rican composer Vinicio Meza.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Welcome Spring 2009 Students

Welcome back to school, I think we (all four of us!) are going to have a great semester. You now have the updated syllabus and composer table and a good idea of the assignments. Be sure to peruse older posts on this blog, as well as the student blogs from the past two years listed on the sidebar to the right. You can even get a sneak peak at my Historical Perspectives lecture by checking out this post, or this one. I also wanted to remind you that instead of class Monday, I will meet with each of you individually to discuss your blog and other projects.

To kick off the semester, and in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, check this You Tube video by the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble: