Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New Work for Brass Quintet and Wind Ensemble

Triton Brass Quintet
The Triton Brass Quintet and the Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble recently premiered "What We Do Is Secret" by Lansing McLoskey. Check out a recording of this amazing performance here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Copper Street Brass Quintet

The Copper Street Brass Quintet was founded in 2008 and is founded in Minneapolis, MN. Their newest member, Ed Hong, just graduated from the University of Iowa with a Masters degree in trumpet. The group is very active, and is certainly worth our attention. Their website is organized, informative and modern. I especially liked their Multimedia page, with links to purchase their recordings and videos of their recent projects, like "The Evolution of the Brass Quintet". From 2009 to 2011, Ed was the second trumpet player in the Iowa Brass Quintet, and a student of Dr. Amy Schendel's.

A History of the Wind Band by Dr. Stephen Rhodes

The Lochgelly Band, a coal miners' band in Scotland, 1890
Dr. Stephen Rhodes, Director of Bands at Lipscomb University, has published an online version of his very informative paper, A History of the Wind Band. Of particular interest to this course, is chapter 7; The British Brass Band. Rhodes presents a possible explaination for the popularity of brass instruments in this excerpt: 

The growing popularity of brass instruments was aided by the endorsements of influential musicians such as the Distin family. This group of traveling musicians provided Adolph Sax with a ringing endorsement for his family of saxhorns. Prior to their 1844 encounter with Sax, the Distins made their reputation playing on slide trumpets, French Horns, keyed bugles and trombones. The Distins--John and his four sons--helped foster a new market for manufactured brass instruments and published music, primarily among the new and more affluent working class communities. In 1846 they became the British agent for Saxhorns--a short-term venture, as they began manufacturing their own instruments in 1850 after John's son Henry took over the family firm in 1849. 

There is speculation as to why the brass band became popular so quickly, to the neglect of military bands or orchestras. Several reasons are possible. One is that valved instruments were suitable for mass production at a relatively cheap price--something not possible on woodwinds and keyed brasses that relied on the traditional craft skills. Also, a three-valved instrument tends to be somewhat more "user friendly" as opposed to the initial intimidation that a keyed instrument can evoke. Plus, the ease with which it fits into one's hands makes it initially easier to hold, as opposed to a violin or flute for example.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Final Presentations - Professional Brass Ensembles

Today, for our final class, we heard presentations on professional brass ensembles, and I must say I was very impressed with the quality of the groups. Both the Eastern Kentucky University Brass Quintet and the Fine Arts Brass Quintet impressed me in their depth and dedication. As I mentioned in class, not in a "knock-you-over-the-head-with-our-fancy-press-material-and-viral videos" way, but in a quietly substantial way.

Eastern Kentucky University Brass Quintet

One of the dilemmas of a faculty brass quintet is that very few institutions have two trumpet faculty, so many assign the other trumpet part to a graduate student. This provides the student with an outstanding learning opportunity and affords them some valuable performing experience. As at the University of Iowa, if this position is attached to an assistantship, it serves as a great way to attract talented graduate students and is probably the ultimate "work study" program for students.

The fact that EKU happens to have two faculty trumpet positions is an incredible stroke of luck, and serves to bolster the quality of the group, while avoiding the "rotating chair" effect Evan mentioned. Even more impressive, is that the other trumpet player is on the theory faculty and an active and talented composer is a musical coup.

To learn more about the group, visit their website or watch their videos on their YouTube channel.

Fine Arts Brass Quintet

I had heard of the Fine Arts Brass Quintet but had no idea of their rich history and longevity. Formed in 1980, they have a long history of premiering works and despite their longevity, they have had relatively little personnel turnover. Kate also pointed out some of the hidden gems in their less-than-flashy website; like their FAB Tooters Tips and their extensive list of programs and program notes.

Both of these groups have made significant contributions to their field, and have been quietly successful for many years and deserve our attention. Here's to substance over superficiality!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Listening Session - 5/2/11

For our final listening session in Advanced Brass Ensemble Literature, I presented a collection of recordings I recently purchased featuring underrepresented styles: the brass trio, Mexican Banda music, and a brass "Shout Band."

We began with Antoine et Cleopatra, composed by Florent Schmitt (1870-1958). from the French recording "Musique Française - Grandes Fanfares Du XX Siècle by the Grand Ensemble de Cuivres et Percussion des Hauts de France (Rhapsody link) . This recording also includes an excellent performance of Tomasi's Fanfare Liturgiques.

From the University of Maryland Brass Trio recording (Amazon link), we heard David Sampson's "Duncan Trio". Movements were: I. Reflection, II. Solemn Hymn, and III. Crooked Dance in its entirety. We also heard about a minute each of the rest of the tracks, which included brass trios by Nelhybell, Plog, Hovanhess, Ewazen, and Bernofsky. This is a fantastic recording, with a great selection of repertoire and virtuoso playing by Chris Gekker, Greg Miller, and Matt Guilford.

For something completely different, we then heard La Arrolladora Banda el Limón  playing "Mi Gusto Es", and watched a bit of the YouTube video of Banda El Recodo - Te Presumo. It is very encouraging to see that Mexican pop/regional music still embraces a strong brass tradition.

Finally, in the tradition of Pentacostal Brass Shout Bands, we heard Kenny Carr and the Tigers play Fix Me and watched a short video of one of their performances. Truly inspiring.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rehearsal Techniques

Today we discussed some interesting scenarios regarding brass ensemble challenges. That led to the creation of a "Top Ten" list of rehearsal techniques. Here is what we came up with:

1. Group warm up (scales, chords, chorales)
2. Recording and immediate playback
3. Simply and clarify the music (slower tempos, staccato version, remove melody)
4. Rehearse with an amplified metronome
5. Conceptualize a uniform group tone
6. Score study (everyone gets a copy, study individually, write in cues)
7. Sing and conduct (great when fatigued)
8. Group listening (to recordings of group and to reference recordings)
9. Research (historical background, composer information)
10. Comparitive playing (motifs, fugue themes, articulation and phrase checking)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Listening Session - 4/20/11

Wednesday morning, we had a group listening presentation, and Kate played for us a recording of Leonard Bernstein's Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs. Check out the video below of Bernstein himself conducting (from memory):

I played two selections from Meridian Arts Ensemble's recording called "Ear Mind I". They were Tom Pierson's Brass Quintet, which was commissioned by MAE, and their arrangement of Franz Zappa's Lumpy Gravy.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ten Blogging Tips

Ten Blogging Tips:

1. I like to use an add-on called Scribefire for blogging because it splits the screen, allowing you to view a website and write simultaneously. You can also save posts, change settings, write using HTML, insert youtube videos and images easily, and publish right to your blog.

2. Sign up for a Google News Alert on some aspect of your blog subject and you will receive periodic updates on the latest information.

3. Read other blogs related to your subject and comment on that blog as well as on your own.

4. Do a Google Image Search for interesting pictures related to your theme.

5. Do a "Ten Things..." list.

6. Make your opinion known. Write 200 words on what you have learned about your theme.

7. Blog about the group you will feature for your final project.

8. Blog about your listening presentations; include artist, composer, performers, label, where to find the recording etc.

9. Make comments on each others' blogs.

10. Blog about class-related topics, such as the pieces and composers of the Landmark Works lecture discussions, or current trends in brass ensemble literature.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Alvin Etler Pictures

Alvin Etler's grandson commented on this blog last year and was kind enough to share with me some pictures of Alvin Etler. We both noticed that there is not much information, especially photos of him, on the internet. Here are the photos:

Alvin Etler

Today, we studied the Brass Quintet by Alvin Etler, so I have re-posted this from last year:.

Etler's Wikipedia entry reads:

Alvin Derald Etler (February 19, 1913 - June 13, 1973) was an American composer and oboist. A student of Paul Hindemith, Etler is noted for his highly rhythmic, harmonically and texturally complex compositional style, taking inspiration from the works of Bartók and Copland as well as the dissonant and accented styles of jazz.
Though he played with the Indianapolis Symphony in 1938, he abandoned his orchestral life shortly thereafter to focus on his increasingly successful compositional career (which earned him two Guggenheim Fellowships during this period). In 1942 he joined the faculty at Yale University as conductor of the university band and instructor of wind instruments, where he began his studies with Hindemith. He also taught at Cornell University and University of Illinois before accepting a position at Smith College, which he held until his death. Notable works include his two woodwind quintets (from 1955 and 1957), a bassoon sonata, the 1963 "Quintet for Brass Instruments", and "Fragments" for woodwind quartet.
Etler is also the author of Making Music: An Introduction to Theory, an introductory-level theory text published posthumously in 1974.

Works list at G. Schirmer

Monday, February 07, 2011

Beethoven, Aliabev, and Bellon

Jean Francois Bellon (1795-1867)
Today we listened to Beethoven's Three Equali (1812), a Brass Quintet by Alexander Aliabiev [Aljabjew] (1787-1851), and Brass Quintet No. 1 by Jean Francois Bellon (1795-1867).

For more about each of these works, check out the following links:
  • Beethoven Three Equali entry in Oxford Music Online
  • Hear samples of Bellon's Brass Quintets on Classics Online 
  • More about Aliabiev here from Musicalion.com
  • A bio about Jean Francois Bellon here and a link to listen at GMN here
  • Information regarding the Bellon quintets (from Editions BIM):
These 12 quintets, composed between 1848 and 1850, were all published in Paris during the 1850’s by Richault. The present, virtually complete edition of the entire series - lacking only the final movement of Quintet No. 12 - was realized thanks to the efforts of John Wallace, Anthony George and Anthony Rickard for quintets Nos. 1, 2 and 12, (which, together with No. 3, had been consigned to the British Library, London) and Raymond Lapie, owner of Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11, and editor of this complete edition. Quintet No. 12 is reprinted from a later edition dating to the final years of the 19th century, and which appeared in full score form in the London musical review, “Orpheus Journal”. From a musical standpoint, this new edition (Quintet No. 12 excepted) refers and fundamentally adheres to the original printed instrumental parts, issued without full scores in the 1850’s. A full score for each quintet has been reconstructed to permit better analysis of the music. Only flagrant errors and a few doubtful chords have been indicated as such and corrected. The five instruments originally specified were: 1) a small flugelhorn in Eb (or trumpet, or piston-valve cornet in Bb/A), 2) a piston-valve cornet in Bb/A, 3) a horn, 4) a trombone and 5) an ophicleide (in Bb or C). These works may be performed today on period instruments or with modern ones, as desired; in the latter case however, it being well to adapt the dynamics, especially if trumpets replace the cornets. The Eb flugelhorn part, as specified and provided for by the Richault edition already, can also be played on piston-valve cornet. The ophicleide part is playable on tuba (preferably an F tuba) or, better still, on euphonium or bass saxhorn. A separate brochure, relating all presently known details about these works, is published by Editions Bim (Raymond Lapie, “Jean-François-Victor Bellon, 12 major French brass quintets dating from 1848-1850, ISBN 2-88039-017-6; complete texts in French, English, German, Italian and Spanish). 
Also, from the Wikipedia article on Ewald:
For many years Ewald’s four quintets were considered to be the first original pieces composed specifically for an ensemble which is recognisable today as essentially the modern brass quintet - consisting of two treble, valved instruments, one alto, one tenor and one bass. A recent discovery of 12 four-movement brass quintets, thought to have been written in the 1840s (pre-dating Ewald by some 60 years) by the French composer Jean Francois Bellon (1795–1869; violinist and one-time leader of the Paris Opera Orchestra), show that Ewald was not actually the unwitting pioneer he was long thought to be. However, the popularity of his quintets has in no way diminished because of this.