“FIVE!” tm, The Chamber Music Interview Series, Hosts The Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintetimages-4

A microcosm of one of the few finest orchestras in all of the world, The Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet is as good as it gets in all of chamber music-period. The fact that the long-lived group has done so as a woodwind group, rather than as a piano trio, string quartet or even a brass quintet, is astonishing; that they have done so for decades is inspiring. If you have yet to listen to them, you are in for a treat. For those familiar with the group, Fergus McWilliam, Horn and Marion Reinhard, Bassoon (now of La Scala Opera in Milan,Italy-but still with the group), will take you deep inside the thinking and feeling that has inspired one of chamber music’s greatest treasures-the incomparable Berlin Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet is the next leap for “FIVE” tm-Enjoy!

1. As masters of orchestral music and chamber music, can you discuss the
adjustments you make with regard to note shape, dynamics and musical
awareness when switching from orchestral music to chamber music.

FM As a member of the Berlin Philharmonic, an orchestra notorious for its chamber music approach to symphonic repertoire, I would say that I make very little change between both ensembles. I have to be able to play equally quietly in both, but we have some quintet works in which I also have to play as loud as in a Mahler symphony.

2. What do you consider to be among the finest repertoire for woodwind

FM Carl Nielsen, Paul Hindemith, Kalevi Aho

berlinphilwwq3. How important is the “love at first sight” or immediate musical
chemistry of chamber music, as opposed to the familiarity that comes with
playing together?

FM In our case we sensed the positive chemistry immediately – and I believe the best chamber music ensembles share that experience.

MR I find it extremely important to feel a certain connection right in the beginning of a chamber music rehearsal.

It is almost a prerequisite to form an ensemble that wants to stay together long term. Even though I was not there, my colleagues tell me that this instant connection was part of the requirements when the “Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet” was formed.

I think if this special feeling is missing at the start, it would be difficult to grow accustomed to one another later on. To sum i up, it basically has to be “love at first sight” if you want to form a group for the “long term”.

4. Which other musical ensembles and recordings inspire you? Non musicians?

MR Things that we all have in common: good food and good wine.

5. The blend in the group is extraordinary! The flute and the oboe in
unison (or octaves), create a completely new and consistent tone color. What
is your secret?

FM Intonation must be flawless, but more importantly we try to play “into” each other’s sounds. The Berlin Philharmonic strives for blend at all times and so do we; it’s our default setting. Choice of instruments also plays a role in the ability to blend. And listening to each other. We imagine playing “flut-inet”, “bass-orn”, “fl-oboe”, “fl-ob-inet” or “fl-oboe-horn” for example. 😉

MR The secret is that we purposely look for these new sounds and sound-mixtures.

It is both a challenge for us and an irresistible temptation, (perhaps even the biggest difficulty), to discover new sounds.

6. For those more accustomed to pop music which is judged by its
consistency, or jazz which is judged by its improvisation, how would you
explain the expressive contributions made to their music by classical

FM Emotion? Passion?

7. Within the context of orchestral repertoire, woodwinds are more often
called upon as soloists than are brass players. How do you think that this
influences the basic approaches of brass quintets as opposed to woodwind

FM The brass instruments are a homogeneous family, like the strings. The woodwinds are not – they are a collection of individualists. It is the woodwind section of an orchestra that is responsible for the “narration” in an orchestral performance. If we can say crassly that a brass quintet is basically a pair of trumpets accompanied by three lower instruments, then a wind quintet is a quartet of soloists held together by a horn.

8. Music of German speaking peoples is one of, if not the most important
components in all of classical music. How does that tradition inform your
performances, and what distinguishes a Germanic style of approach, as
opposed to say an Italian approach?

FM Tricky question: the Italians seem to prefer to emphasis melodic line and Germanic music is much more vertical, or at least there is more interest in bass lines, inner voices and harmony.

MR After playing for three years at La Scala, I can clearly state that there is certainly a different approach! If you have listened to a Brahms Symphony played by an Italian Orchestra and a German orchestra, you know what I mean. The same goes for Verdi or Rossini Operas!

I think that it is important that each musician continues his or her musical style tradition. At the same time, we (as professional musicians), must have the courage to take on music that is foreign to us and does not come from our own tradition.It is very important to be open to this!

images-3It is true that German culture has a rich tradition of classical music. Perhaps we do have an advantage over other musicians from different cultures when approaching this music. Younger students from another culture, say China, might face a greater challenge to become familiar with Brahms and Bruckner than does someone who has been immersed in Germany’s rich musical culture.

To return to the question of style: the Italian style is definitely lighter, more transparent and more singing.

In contrast, the German style is heavier and more intense. The phrases are performed with greater intensity.

Perhaps another point is that the score is followed with exact precision in Germany, where as in Italy music is played more instinctively.

Most importantly, regardless of the tradition a musician brings with them, one needs to perform the music in a manner which is stylistically correct.

We are pleased to offer the following questions posed in German to and answered in German by Marion Reinhard, Bassoonist of the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet.

3. Wie wichtig ist es gleich zu Beginn einer Probe mit neuen Kollegen eine gewisse sofortige Verbundenheit zu spueren ?
Nach ein paar Wochen oder Monatren ist man ja schon aufeinander eingespielt und weiss was die anderen Kollegen erwarten und wie man miteinander probt.

Ich finde es extrem wichtig in der Kammermusik, gleich zu Anfang der Proben eine gewisse Verbundenheit zu spüren!! Gerade für die Gründung eines festen Ensembles, das nicht nur für ein Konzert zusammenspielt, sondern längerfristig zusammenarbeiten möchte, würde ich sagen ist das sogar eine unabdingbare Voraussetzung. Ich war zwar damals nicht dabei, aber wenn ich meine Kollegen richtig verstanden habe, war dieses sofortige Verständnis auch einer der Gründe, die zur Gründung des Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet geführt haben.

Ich denke, wenn dieses sofortige gute Gefühl in der ersten Probe fehlt, kann man sich auch nur bedingt aneinander gewöhnen und aufeinander einstellen.
Aber zu einer längerfristigen “musikalischen Beziehung” gehört meiner Meinung nach die “Liebe auf den ersten Blick” auf jeden Fall dazu.

4. Gibt es Kammermusikgruppen oder Aufnahmen die sie begeistern und inspirieren ? Oder auch Dinge die nichts mit Musik zu tun haben ?

Dinge, die uns 5 verbinden und nichts mit Musik zu tun haben:
– gutes Essen, guter Wein :-)

5. Der Ton Ihrer Gruppe als eine Einheit ist ganz einfach spektakulaer. Besonders wenn Floete und Oboe in Oktaven spielen, ergibt es einen ganz neuen Farbklang. Was ist Ihr Geheimniss
Das Geheimnis ist, dass wir ganz bewusst nach diesen neuen Klängen/Mischklängen suchen! Für uns ist es gerade einer der besonderen Reize (gleichzeitig vielleicht auch die größte Schwierigkeit?) am Quintettspielen, diese neuen Klänge zu entdecken und zu erzeugen.

8. Die Musik von deutschsprachigen Menschen ist wohl die wichtigste Komponente von klassischer Musik.
Wie schlaegt sich diese Tradition in Auffuehrungen aus? Was ist der stylistische Unterschied beim Spielen von deutscher zu Italienischer Musik, nur zum Bespiel.

Nachdem ich nun seit 3 Jahren im Orchester der Mailänder Scala spiele, kann ich ganz klar bestätigen, dass die italienische Tradition und die stilistische Herangehensweise an die Musik sich sehr stark von der deutschen unterscheidet!!
Wenn Sie eine Aufnahme einer Sinfonie von Brahms mit einem italienischen Orchester mit der von einem deutschen Orchester vergleichen, wissen Sie, was ich meine. Genauso wäre es mit 2 Vergleichsaufnahmen einer Oper von Verdi oder Rossini.
Ich glaube, es ist ganz normal und auch sehr wichtig, dass jeder Mensch und jeder Musiker seine Traditionen kennt, mit sich trägt, und pflegt.
Gleichzeitig müssen wir als professionelle Musiker versuchen, uns auch an Musik zu wagen, die uns “fremd” ist, die nicht aus unserer eigenen Tradition kommt. Diese Offenheit gegenüber weniger Bekanntem oder Vertrauten ist für uns Musiker sehr wichtig!

Richtig ist natürlich, dass der deutsche Kulturkreis eine sehr reiche Tradition auf dem Gebiet der klassischen Musik hat. Vielleicht haben wir tatsächlich dahingehend einen gewissen Vorteil gegenüber Musikern aus anderen Kulturkreisen.
Für junge Studenten z.B. aus dem asiatischen Raum ist es vermutlich nicht einfach, sich mit Brahms und Bruckner vertraut zu machen.

Um nochmal konkret auf die Frage zurückzukommen:
Der italienische Stile ist sicherlich, leichter, durchsichtiger, sehr gesanglich.
Der deutsche Stil hat mehr Schwere mehr Intensität. Die Phrasen werden viel intensiver, nachdrücklicher ausgespielt. Ein weiteres Merkmal deutscher Musiker ist vielleicht auch die Genauigkeit in der Ausführung aller Spielanweisungen einer Partitur.
In Italien wird sehr viel mehr instinktiv musiziert.

Aus welcher Tradition auch immer wir kommen, wichtig ist doch immer, dass wir uns fragen welchen Stil das jeweilige Werk, das wir gerade spielen, verlangt!

The Quintet appears courtesy of David Rowe Artists and his team, many thanks!

c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com

Interested in more “FIVE!” tm Interviews? Check out these:

Canadian Brass, Windsync, Boston Brass, Mnozil Brass, Spanish Brass, Dallas Brass, Seraph, Atlantic Brass Quintet Axiom Brass

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An Extraordinary Opportunity! Brand New, Never-Mounted Earl Williams Model 8/9 Bell For Salewidth="203"

An extraordinary opportunity has surfaced to purchase what is believed to be one of only 7 to 9 existing TN Earl Williams Model 8 bells, designated a model 9 if connected to an f-attachment. One of the same stock model 10 bells was recently sold by Noah Gladstone at The Brass Ark, and I was later contacted by someone who had missed the sale. They were offering several times times the asking price of the bell, but none of the model 10 bells are now available. This 8/9 is the same type of bell I have played in the Miami City Ballet Orchestra for the past 5 years and continue to play, but this one has never been mounted. (Of the 7-9 surviving bells, at least four have already been mounted.)

This bell is in the trombone section at Noah Gladstone’s Brass Ark.

Earl William’s company and original tooling was purchased by Jay Armstrong, former principal trombonist in the Nashville Symphony, as the company was re-launched for a brief period of time during the 70’s. Jay himself played on an Earl Williams Model 9-an eight with a trigger. Read Jay’s entire interview here… I have excerpted the most relevant portion below. Enjoy!

The Earl Williams trombone bells are special. Can you comment on any aspects that make them unique? Is the thickness a factor?
We always manufactured the bells to the same ‘thickness’ as Earl did, and we never experimented with “heavier” or “lighter” bells, or bells made of different materials or alloys. Whether ‘thickness’ of bell material is a MAJOR determining factor, I don’t know.

I think the most ‘unique’ factor of the Williams bells are the tapers of the bells, which allow the ‘throat’ to be relatively enlarged. For example, if an EIGHT bell is placed next to a Conn 8 bell, or a Bach 42, the difference of ‘throat size’ (the ‘enlarged’ taper) can easily be seen. Same for all the Williams bells. Each respective model seems ‘larger’ (in the bell)bach42withwilliams8bell3 than a competitors instrument. We used a small family-owned company in Elkhart, IN for our bell manufacturing and specified the thickness of the brass to be used. They cut the ‘neck’ patterns using our patterns and their stock. Our bells were difficult for them to ‘work’ because of the thickness. But, we were following the specifications that Earl had made.

The bell spinners were true craftsmen. They had a thriving business supplying bells from MANY manufacturers. From the bell spinners, I would return to Nashville with a small quantity of flat ‘neck patterns’, then manually stamp the ‘information’ on the neck, and UPS them back to Elkhart where they were brazed and shaped into rough cones. Several months later I would return to Elkhart with our flare mandrels and ‘final spin’ mandrels, and, within a couple days, I would leave with a couple dozen new bells. Our bell manufacturing process was labor intensive and inefficient. We were a long way from the efficiency one experiences when visiting, for example, Steve Shires’ shop.

I think another important factor in the construction of Williams bells is the use of a ‘bead wire’ and having that wire soldered in place. A soldered wire seems to add a solidity to the overall sound of the bell . . . and from the bell. We built all the Donelson bells with a ‘soldered bead wire’. The ‘bead options’ are (1) no wire, or (2) wire with no solder (risky because one might experience a ‘bell rattle’ on certain notes / harmonics), and (3) bead wire with solder. Option 3 is best (I think); however it takes more ‘labor time’ and adds more ‘complication’ to the finished bell.Our bells always had a nice ‘ring’ to them, and I think part of the reason was because of the soldered bead wire.

Were any bells spun in Tennessee?

All the bells we used in completed instruments were spun by the ‘bell spinner’ in Elkhart. We did spin some bells in TN, but none were of the quality to satisfy us. They were never used and ended up in the trash bin.

Miami City Ballet

What is it about them that makes them so desirable?
For me, the beautiful sound. Big, warm sound from what would seemingly be a ‘small’ horn. A Model Six (.500″ bore) sounds like a much ‘larger’ horn. The Model Four, for example, doesn’t have the ‘brittleness’ that one normally associates with a .490″ horn. The Eight/Nine models sound like .542″ bore horns, though they have a .520″ bore. The Ten has an incredibly large, dark, refined sound.

Did you have knowledge of any special alloy used by Earl?

Earl, to our knowledge, had no ‘special alloys’. He just used “cartridge brass”. A ‘special alloy’ would only be possible in a ‘large’ order of product. Quantity of product was beyond the scope of the relatively small operation of Williams Trombones. (Both for Earl and for us.)

c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com

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Mr. Smoooth, Martin Cochran, Evens Out “The Fourth Valve” tm

At the eleventh hour of the International Euphonium and Tuba Conference one of her stars, Dr. Brian Bowman, became ill and was unable to perform. With every good wish for the return of Dr. Bowman’s health, the call went out to Martin Cochran to anchor an evenings’ recital in his stead. This emerging euphonium star and artist for Adams performed with ease, grace, and aplomb and all from memory. Drawing inspiration from the great euphonium performances that inspired him, Cochran inspired those in attendance. Instructor at UA Birmingham and Columbus State University, Cochran is also the nimble euphonic explorer of chamber music. “The Fourth Valve” tm and Martin Cochran are happy to share the hospitality of the South, Enjoy!

1. Do you find it ironic that the perhaps the most successful brass soloists in the world play tuba or euphonium?
I’m not surprised because of the beautiful sound that these instruments produce. However, we are still fighting an uphill battle for serious musical respectability in the eyes of the average concertgoer/consumer. For many, I think the sight and sound of a large brass instrument in a solo setting is still at bit of a novelty. This is especially true of the tuba, which will probably always have to fight the “Oom Pah Pah” stereotype. I think that to some degree this is even true for experienced listeners. Even for me, it’s still a bit surprising on some level to hear someone make the tuba sound like a voice or a violin. Musicians like Oystein Baadsvik, Pat Sheridan, and Carol Jantsch are really helping to defeat this stereotype.

The euphonium has the same image problem in that we’re still a bit of a novelty. However, since we’re mostly unknown to the average listener, I think we have a an advantage in that they don’t have any expectations of how we should sound. To some extent, I feel like an ambassador for the euphonium every time I perform. I’m constantly reminded of a wonderful quote from Brian Bowman: “Always play at least one piece that will make the listener want to come to another euphonium recital.”

2. Which instruments/voices do you most often find yourself borrowing from?
I use any sound that makes my performance more compelling. I’ve heard a colleague of mine describe the different types of articulations, tone colors, vibratos, etc. as different knobs on a mixing board. The more knobs you have, the more you can color the music to your liking. I think about borrowing more from specific performers and composers rather than instruments. For instance, I love depth and power of Jessye Norman and Pavarotti, the agility and playfulness of the great violin, bassoon, and flute soloists, the raw emotion and soulful playing of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and the pointed articulations of Stravinsky. There’s so much to choose from. (And there’s so much more listening that I need to do!)

images-13. Where do you envision the euphonium in chamber music, and is it important?
It’s extremely important. Chamber music has been a huge part of my musical growth and continues to be a major part of my performing career. Since large ensemble gigs are few and far between for euphonium players we tend to put a lot of emphasis on solos. Playing as a soloist is a lot of fun, but nothing will train your ears quicker than chamber music. I had the opportunity about 8 years ago to go on tour with the Sotto Voce Quartet on 2nd euphonium. I already knew that they were incredible individual musicians. However, I was blown away by the quickness with which they could blend and adjust to one another. It was a great wake up call for my ears. One of the unique opportunities that I’ve had while teaching at UAB is to be a member of a very active faculty brass quintet playing the horn part. It’s forced me to learn how to transpose and worked wonders for my facility and confidence in the high range. I also feel that I owe a great deal of my sight reading ability to my chamber experiences. Chamber music forces you to deal with conflicts (both musical and non-musical) in a constructive way. This is great training for future teachers and performers. You’re not going to survive very long in any gig if you can’t play well with others.

The euphonium is still finding its way in the chamber music world. There are some musicians doing great
things with the euphonium outside of the standard tuba quartet. Thomas Ruedi and Brian Meixner are both doing great things with euphonium and percussion. Matt Murchison released a recording that features the euphonium in an Irish band setting. The euphonium quartet is also starting to take off as a chamber ensemble. I also think that we need to get past the idea that euphonium is just a good substitute for the horn, trombone, or tuba. The euphonium is a great 3rd voice in the standard brass quintet and quartet. The key is to get composers on board with the idea. My quintet has had a few pieces written for us. In each case, we specifically told the composer that we wanted the piece to be conceived with euphonium in mind as the 3rd voice instead of the horn. This has led to some interesting conversations. A lot of composers are mostly unaware of the technical capabilities of the euphonium. Many see us as an extension of the tuba voice and are pleasantly surprised when they hear what we can do.

4. For the uninitiated, could you identify and contrast the two or three major approaches to euphonium pedagogy?
I’m not sure if we really have established pedagogical approaches yet in the euphonium world like there are in the trumpet and trombone worlds. The name that pops up most often for tuba and euphonium players is Arnold Jacobs. His approach is often summarized as “Song and Wind.” However, I work closely with two former Jacobs students on a weekly basis and it sounds like there is a lot more to it than can be summed up with a few words. I really wish that I could have had the chance to study with him at least once. In my own observations, teachers seem to emphasize either technique or musicality. Finding the right balance between the two is something that I continue to learn. Also, my approach varies with each student. I have had students who are very mechanically minded and respond best to very specific technical instructions. I’ve had other students that respond more to analogies and emotional terms.


5. Where is the line between a daily routine and a warm up? What works for you?
It depends on the individual and how they are feeling that day. Ideally, the warm up should be rather short. However, you have to be attentive to how your chops respond. If I’ve taken some time off or if I’ve done a lot of heavy playing the night before then I take more time. Some days I need to do more breathing or stretching. I used to push myself through a standard routine every day regardless of how I was feeling. I think I was mostly just wearing myself out physically and mentally. Lately I’ve started playing simple, lyrical tunes very early on to get in a musical mindset. I will often do this at the beginning of each practice session to reset and focus my brain. In terms of the remainder of my routine I vary it quite a bit depending on the demands of the repertoire that I’m working on. I use a variety of exercises that cover scales, slow and fast slurs, articulation, range, and control. For example, if I’m getting ready to solo with a band I’ll spend more time on projection and clarity. I’ve also learned the importance of warming down after a day of playing.

6. What are your biggest inspirations? Musical and non-musical?
Musically, there are so many. First and foremost, I have to mention my primary teachers, Mike Dunn, Alan Baer, Larry Campbell, and Ross Walter. These men inspired and molded me in many ways, and I cannot thank them enough. In the euphonium world, my biggest heroes are Thomas Ruedi and Brian Bowman. If I could copy one musician’s playing and make it my own I would choose Thomas. He has the purest, most naturally beautiful approach to playing. I have tremendous respect for Dr. Bowman. He is a true master teacher. Though I have never formally studied with him, I have had the opportunity to play for him and observe his teaching on several occasions over the past 15 years. Each time, I have been amazed by the level and depth of his knowledge. He has an incredible sense of sincerity when he performs. I once heard him perform the opening of Boccalari’s Fantasia di Concerto in a masterclass. That 20-second performance stands out in my mind as the most beautiful thing I have ever heard performed on an instrument.

Oustide of the euphonium world I’m a huge fan of Baroque and Classical music. I love the energy of Bach and Mozart. Outside of that there are a few individual recordings that really stand out for me: Jessye Norman singing the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s cover of Little Wing, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Brahms’ Four Serious Songs. There are many more.

Non-musically, I find inspiration in many places. I love teaching. I never feel more fired up than after a great lesson or class. I’m a huge fan of the works of Eckhart Tolle and Wayne Dyer.

7. What two or three things occupy your mind most when performing?
I try to keep the technical thoughts to a minimum: “Breathe, play beautifully.” I’ve found that anything beyond that gets in the way. The performance is not the time to be figuring things out. One thing that I focus on in my preparation and with my students is always visualizing myself on stage during practice. Ideally, the only thing that changes when I play in front of an audience is the fact that they are there. We have to remember that we are entertainers and that we are meant to play for audiences. When I have problems during performance it’s usually due to a lack of concentration. The best performances for me have been when I’ve been completely focused on the music I am making at that exact moment. Building focus is something that I have had to actively work on. Recording my practice has been a very useful tool for this. I find that the microphone puts as almost much pressure on me as a live audience. Recently, I’ve started to perform more from memory. This has worked wonders for my concentration and I feel gives me more freedom to make music. I also feel that memorization brings me closer to the audience.

8. How would you compare and contrast the tone and strengths of the euphonium to the tenor trombone and bass trombone?
I love the sound of both the tenor and bass trombone (and I wish that I could play them better!). I have no problem admitting that the euphonium is easier to play. It seems that every aspect of the euphonium has been designed to make it sound pleasing and beautiful. I think it’s very difficult to make the trombone sing. I have great admiration for those that can do it. Stefan Schultz is probably my favorite example. The way that he makes the bass trombone sing in all registers is amazing. Ian Bousfield and Karsten Svanberg are two tenor trombone sounds that I really admire. The area that the trombone has a clear advantage is power and projection. It’s difficult for the euphonium to portray the same sense of clarity and command as the trombone.

9. What is your view on the use of vibrato in solo/ensemble euphonium playing as compared to classical saxophone?
I’m going to go ahead and admit that I haven’t listened to a lot of classical saxophonists. However, I did have a chance to attend a masterclass with Eugene Rousseau several years ago and was stunned at the beauty of his playing. There really isn’t a standard vibrato in the euphonium world. Even just among American players there are a lot of differences. I love the sound and shimmer of the fast British brass band vibrato, but it’s something that I can’t pull off well. In general, I would say that for ensemble playing I tend to use much less vibrato. In solo playing it all depends on the repertoire. One of my pet peeves is that I hear a lot of euphonium players treat vibrato as an “on/off” switch. I think that euphonium players sometimes hide behind vibrato. Occasionally I’ll ask a student play without vibrato to see if they can make music without it. Many times this is very difficult for them. Making a beautiful sound is not enough. We need various intensities and styles of vibrato, just as we need various styles of articulation.

c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved www.davidbrubeck.com

Images credits: iplayeuphonium.com & favecar.com

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The Meridian Arts Ensemble Takes “FIVE!” tm Back to the Future!

6_heads_photoThe Meridian Arts Ensemble has embraced the revolutionary and quintessentially American line of musical thought which stretches from before Duke Ellington, to Mingus and Zappa. They are intense and flavorful-a connoisseurs choice for the ear. Establishing themselves as a classical brass quintet in the wake of the early successes of the Empire Brass Quintet, MAE has embraced both the tradition of classical music and their authentic reflective experiences of time and place. Having added percussion, at times, and the new ideal of beauty that is the electric guitar, they remain an authentic and varietal ensemble of great passion and determination. Come along as “FIVE!” tm gets lost in the haze of purple that is the Meridian Arts Ensemble..Enjoy!

1. Some brass quintets flirt with Rock, your groups commitment seems more like a marriage. What has the relationship yielded and what are the rewards of more than a superficial look at rock?
We have always felt a strong push to bring our recreational listening into the music we perform. The result has been a hugely productive relationship with the world of rock. It started with playing Frank Zappa’s music, moved from there to Captain Beefheart and Jimi Hendrix, and onward from there.

What it gave us was, first of all, a new world of styles to figure out. It gave us a new sound world, including use of electronics and use of chaos and mess (as opposed to clean blend). And it gave us access to new audiences. So, it was a stimulating relationship for the members of the ensemble, for the ensemble as a whole, and for our listeners.

2. How much do you keep your audience in mind when selecting literature? Are there some pieces which are only for recording?
We have evolved over time. I would say that, in the beginning, we would perform any piece if we thought it merited performance.

As we gained experience, we started understanding the limits of the elasticity of any given audience. We have always enjoyed pushing audiences past what they might have thought were their limits, but we learned that it is possible to push too far.

Some pieces are better for particular audiences. There are some pieces which we have recorded but not performed very much, but most of what we record is our active repertoire. At times, we performed pieces a million times but only recorded them belatedly.

I would say that the group always wants to provide a meaningful experience to its listeners, and in concert, that means creating a meaningful experience for that PARTICULAR group of listeners.

3. The group seems to have an incredibly relaxed, unforced, and fluid approach. Is it technique, or attitude?
It is both.

When we started, in the late 80s, we rehearsed like crazy, hours and hours every week. The result: we got to know each other as players (and people) extremely well. When we are playing as a group, there is a comfortable feeling that we can rely on each other. Much of our music is very hard, both the individual parts and keeping the band together. So we depend on that sense of reliance.

At the same time, we have always made sure to have fun together. At times where it has gotten less fun, we have made changes so that we didn’t feel like victims of circumstance. So, technique and attitude both.

4. How do you address note shape (the front AND the back of the note), when playing more rhythmic works?casual_photo
The MAE has a better group sense of rhythm than any ensemble I’ve ever played with. We listen closely to each other and imitate attacks and releases.

A lot of our matching each other comes from that listening, and much of the rest comes from our body language, which has developed over the course of our 25+ years. I would say that the listening and the body language account for 90% of how we evolve the shape of notes. The other 10% comes from talking, arguing, singing to each other. Sometimes it’s not really chamber music until you are arguing passionately.

I have learned over the years that my colleagues are always right. I may disagree with them, but their ideas are always good and true.

5. If the typical classical music ensemble embraces the voice, violin and perhaps the piano as an ideal of beauty, what do you think of? (Did the guitar sneak on your list, and how do you achieve distortion on brass?)
Always the voice for us.

The line of the voice, the precision of the drums.

The electric guitar is such an amazing instrument because it imitates the voice, in all its variety, so well. As for distortion, that’s an excellent question. In its early days, the MAE worked so hard at achieving perfect blend, intonation, and color that we had troubles (at the beginning), playing rock music; our approach was too clean, too organized, and too blended! We had to figure out how to make that music sound dirty and authentic.

Sometimes we used electronic effects, and sometimes we just figured out how to make the kind of sounds we needed. I couldn’t tell you exactly how to achieve distortion on brass.

You need a concept of the sound you want, and then it’s practice practice!

formal6. The trombone tuba blend is exceptional and complimentary without sacrificing individual fulness. How do you conceive of that particular blend?
Those two guys are so talented, I couldn’t even begin to say how they do it. There is no conception – it’s just playing. Probably comes from playing Bach chorales together for 25 years.

7. What are your musical influences?
I’ll answer for myself: first the great composers-let’s start with Bach, Mozart, Strauss, Mahler; next, great horn players; then, performers in non-classical worlds such as Clifford Brown, Zappa-of course, Pink Floyd, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Salif Keita. (70s classic rock, broadly defined.)

And finally, my students, who teach me everything I need to know.


The sky’s the limit. I read a lot, as do most of the people in the group, so authors galore. Beyond that? Once you’re over 50, you are such a mish-mash that it’s hard to tease apart the pieces.

8. Where do you see the brass quintet genre in ten years?

Very hard to know. I see three strands from the past: let’s call them the early Empire strand, the Canadian strand, and the Ewazen strand. The first is the one we came out of: the hard hitting repertoire that the Empire BQ played in its early days, which itself comes from the groundwork laid by the NY Brass Quintet and the American Brass Quintet. The Canadian strand: music as entertainment or show, as performed by the Canadian Brass. That introduced the concept of brass chamber music to huge numbers of people. And finally, Ewazen (as a representation of a particular style), music that appeals to general audiences while maintaining its links to the classical world.

How these three strands will mix, match, combine, or evolve is anybody’s guess. I’m not going to pass judgment on what is good or bad, and I think all three strands have fed the development and recognition of the brass quintet as a performing entity.

9. What are your favorite MAE projects?
Rather than single out particular projects, I would say that my favorite thing about the MAE is:
1. That we always conceived of our work as projects.
2. That we always poured ourselves completely into every project.

So, a project could be huge, like increasing the repertoire, or contained, like recording a particular CD. In either case, it would get our full attention, concentration, devotion, and care.

Coming soon to “FIVE!” tm…..The Berlin Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet!

c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com

Interested in more “FIVE!” tm interviews?

Canadian Brass, Windsync, Boston Brass, Mnozil Brass, Spanish Brass, Dallas Brass, Seraph, Atlantic Brass Quintet Axiom Brass

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Scotsman James Gourlay, Solo Tuba Virtuoso & Conductor of the River City Brass Band Inspires “The Fourth Valve”jim_gourlay_

It is rare to meet a man of such character as James Gourlay: humorous, talented, giving and all-heart. A Scotsman whose family of French origins have only been on the isle some 800 years, recalls fondly his father’s secret box-which none were allowed to touch. Family imaginations soared when speculating what family treasure might be hidden inside. After the death of his father, the box was opened to reveal the Gourlay family treasure- all of young James’ medals and awards from years of solo competitions. When faced with paralyzing mandated cuts (as head of the Royal Northern College of Music) which would have resulted in termination and salary reductions to his faculty, Gourlay gave some of his faculty additional responsibilities (his), and raises. He then cut his own position and became a painter, until music called again. And music always seems to call for him. Whether as an accomplished soloist traversing the UK every Saturday, performing with the legendary Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble, or as principal tubist of the BBC Symphony or the Opera House in Zurich. Now, he is a Pirates fan, an accomplished tuba soloist and artist for Besson traversing the globe, and an award winning conductor who now leads of what may be the only professional brass band in the United States-The River City Brass Band. With seventy services a year and a host of talented members such as trombonist Scott Hartman and euphoniumist Koichiro Suzuki, the RCBB is blazing new trails for the development of American audiences and repertoire. “The Fourth Valve” tm is pleased to present our favorite kilty pleasure and the treasure of the Gourlays. Enjoy!

1. How long have you taken away from the tuba, and what sort of things do you do to get ready to play again? (Solos, in particular.)
The longest time I have spent without playing the tuba would be around one year. It was during my first year (1998-99) when I was Head of School of Wind, Brass and Percussion at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM). I had a very fulfilling, but challenging, job, which was largely in administration. As I had directly come from a the Orchestra of the Opera House in Zurich, Switzerland, and had no training as an administrator, I felt I just had to concentrate on the task in hand, and as I wasn’t actually earning a living playing the tuba, that instrument went on the back burner. As a hobby, I took up the alto saxophone and was soon practicing quite diligently. It suddenly dawned on me, that I could do the same on my first instrument, so started to develop routines that didn’t take up much time, but got me into tuba playing again, and kept me in shape quite quickly.

Nowadays I earn a living as a conductor, and so I sometimes go for long periods without playing tuba. When I do have a tuba gig. I get into shape by playing scales and techniques for about one hour per day. I do this at 6.00 am using a practice mute. I don’t play repertoire until shortly before the first rehearsal, as I’ve learned to separate practice from performance.

2. Which are your favorites to use and in which circumstances? Eb Tuba, F Tuba, C Tuba, Sousaphone, Bb Tuba

I mostly play Eb tuba, but my favorite is the Bb tuba. I spent many years as an orchestral player though, so I also play the F tuba, C and cimbasso. I also have two sousaphones. I choose the horn to fit the repertoire and the ensemble really. In the orchestra, I played most things on the C, apart from Russian music and Wagner, which is better, I think, on the Bb. The Eb is great for solo and brass group playing.

56939_photo3. Your phrasing an legato are exquisite. How do you conceive of them, and how did you foster their development?

Thanks! I have been a singer since I was a treble many years ago, and I still sing the phrases I have to play, then play them. That seems to me to be very natural.

4. What attracted you to conducting? What does it allow you to express? How does your conducting inform your playing,and conducting inform inform your conducting?

I never wanted to be a conductor, but I’m very much a man who believes in ‘following a star’. Someone asked me to step in at a rehearsal nearly 40 years ago. I did. Then, …. the band asked my back.

I always say to young players that the music industry decides what you are. If you get 3 jazz gigs in a row: Hey presto, you’re a jazzer! So it was with conducting for me. Conducting has helped me better understand the structure of music, which has in turn informed my performance as a player. Conversely, having played in orchestras a long time, gives me an understanding of how musicians ‘tick’, which helps me encourage them to raise their game.

5. Air is vital on any brass instrument. How do you conceive of moving air in a large ensemble and as a soloist?
I never give this a second thought!

My focus is on the sound I make and how it relates to the sounds around me.

So, in performance, as opposed to practice, I just think of the music.

Having done a great deal of technical practice (including breathing) liberates the musician in performance.

6. What perspectives have you come to appreciate as an administrator of music? How do you handle star players such as those in River City Brass Band?
I’m very much a team player; supporting colleagues and encouraging them to go the extra mile. It’s a style of leadership my musicians seem to like. I trust them to do their best and they do. That goes for the whole team, which includes non-musicians too.

7. How do you choose music to perform as a soloist? As a conductor?
Soloists and conductors need to play music which inspires them.

Only then do they stand a chance of inspiring others.

These are my criteria.

8. When did you begin competing as a soloist? What has your experience taught you that would surprise brass players that are not soloists?
I started competing in solo competitions at the age of 10. I had been playing six months an was pumped to win the under 12 division of my county band district solo contest. In those days I played almost every weekend in such a competition, which was a great training. My Dad kept all the medals and trophies as he often had to go with me to some far-flung corners of the UK. To win, one had to play a cornet solo like the Carnival of Venice, just because the cornet players were also playing it. This developed a really useful finger and tongue technique, which made the orchestral repertoire seem easy. In fact, I left my county Youth Orchestra after one rehearsal, because the parts were too easy, and boring I thought. The parts in question were the Meistersingers and Finlandia. ‘Nothing to play’ I said…

9. What could the American brass tradition learn from the European and vice-versa?

Identify your style and stick to it.

Never let tradition get in the way of high standards.

c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com

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Pat Sheridan Takes “The Fourth Valve” tm to The Breathing Gym, and Shares Workouts for Music and Business Too!images-3

Pat Sheridan is a beautiful, insightful and inspired musician, and he likes to share! A born showman from Minneapolis-St. Paul who auditioned into Northwestern University as a freshman to study with Arnold Jacobs, Sheridan became the youngest tubist in “The President’s Own” Marine Band at 20. He is co-author, with Sam Pilafian, of the best selling Breathing Gym and an accomplished businessman with an MBA. Now in demand as a tuba soloist, clinician and conductor throughout the globe, Sheridan shares his perspectives on life, music and the big bell. Enjoy!

images-21. When you look back at “Bill Bell and his Tuba” and hear the strains of ’Yuba’, do you feel a kinship? What did he mean to the tuba as a musical force?

Interesting question. I started to play the tuba in 1977, and Harvey Philips had already replaced Bill Bell (after his death), at IU a few years prior. When I was young – I thought ‘When Yuba Plays the Tuba’ was super cool. Bill Bell inspired the generation that inspired me. It was the playing and stage personas of Sam Pilafian and Chuck Daellenbach that captured my imagination early as a young tuba player.

Empire and Canadian Brass traveled through Minnesota’s Twin Cities regularly during my formative years as a musician. I couldn’t get over Sam’s range and bass playing on jazz tunes. Chuck’s humor and Canadian Brass’ antics made it OK for me to be ME onstage.

My tonal heroes were Harvey Phillips and Floyd Cooley. My musical style hero was Sam. My stage hero was Chuck. My teaching hero was Mr. Jacobs.

2. BBb, CC, Eb, F, Sousaphone…
For the non-tubist, there are more different tubas than forks at a 12 course meal. Which “fork” do you use
when? (Best all around?). What does flying do to the equation?

Let me start by saying that I have heard fantastic performances from fantastic artists on every key of tuba. Let me start there…

I’ve played Eb tuba as my chamber and solo instrument since I was in 7th grade. While in college, I gave F tuba the old collegeimages-4 try. But – the sound in my imagination will not come out of a F tuba, so Eb has always been preferable to F for me. And – the intonation battle that is F tuba…what the hell for? When someone makes an F tuba with piston valves that plays WELL in tune with a great low register…that would be fun to have in the arsenal of tonal possibilities! In the meantime, I’ll use a smaller mouthpiece and play in tune on an Eb to imitate F tuba rather than go to war with an actual F tuba. I remain completely baffled why the tuba community continues to mess with F tuba with its bad low register and horrible intonation when Eb tubas don’t present these problems. Tradition is a bitch, I guess.

CC tuba – I use this axe in large ensembles. For me – this is the instrument that I play the least in my current mix of playing. When I was a member of “The President’s Own” United State Marine Band, I used CC tuba. Same, in Brass Band of Battle Creek.

BBb Sousaphone – When I was a member of the Marine Band, I HATED sousaphone. (Ask Tom Holtz how much I hated the sousaphone.) I hated the sousaphone so much that I refused to play one for more than 10 years after leaving the Marines. THEN – I helped Jupiter Band Instruments with their sousaphone designs and a funny thing happened. I fell in love with the sousaphone. I love it so much that now I own TWO sousaphones. For playing bass lines, there isn’t a better axe to create the ‘pull’ and the ‘weight’ of a Ray Brown quarter note. Funk, Swing, Latin, Rock – sousaphone is now my instrument of choice when my job is bass function in commercial music.

Last year – when the community band I lead, The Salt River Brass, made a CD with Harry Watters, I did all the rhythm section playing and soloing on sousaphone. Pilafian pointed out that my jazz thinking head was definitely BBb sousaphone even though I play Eb tuba 95% of the time as an improviser.

Never say never…right?

3. What are the most outrageous costumes you have worn? What does it add? Kilt?
Most outrageous on stage?

Or in life? : )

I think I’ll pass on the latter. On stage – I do the bee suit. Occasionally – I’ll appear as Carmen Miranda. Pineapple pumps and all. My skirt is hot! (My mom made it for me.)

Last fall – I did a half-time show for a Montana State University football game. The marching band show was The Wizard of Oz. They dressed me up as a wizard and then clipped a ‘Z’ to my sousaphone bell (spelling ‘OZ’). Crowd went ape shit. (or was it flying monkey?)

Not sure I’ve met a costume I wouldn’t try.

What does it add, you ask? Answer this….

How would a Broadway show be without costumes??

4. What is the biggest musical nightmare you have experienced?

I conducted an honor band once for a district of private wealthy schools. I entered the gig thinking, “Wow! This is going to be awesome. Everyone will be a great player. Everyone will be super disciplined. We’re going to have the best time. Can’t wait…YES!!!”

It remains, hands down, the most miserable gig of my career. I’ve never run across a group (this band was 75 strong) of students more entitled and checked out of life than this. I figured myself to be fairly creative in classroom management and motivation. On that gig – I failed spectacularly. After a very long two days of trying to inspire and motivate this crew, their “trust fund” attitudes beat me.

I asked the teachers, “How can you stand working with these types of spoiled, entitled, rude humans?”

Teacher’s response, “The money is so good, it doesn’t matter how they treat us.”

Enough said.

_MG_66615. Walter Mitty: you take the tuba to any three musical scenarios and replace one player. Which ones?

Number 1: Prior to the invention of the bass ‘pickup’, the sousaphone was the instrument of choice in the bottom of a big band. I would like to see what would have happened to the last 100+ years of sousaphone playing had it remained a viable choice for bass function in commercial settings. Tuba as the bass for Benny Goodman. For Count Basie. For Art Blakey. For Frank Sinatra. For Tower of Power. For Michael Jackson. For Pat Metheny. For Bruno Mars.

I’d like to hear Nat McIntosh play with T.O.P
I’d like to hear Sam Pilafian play with Count Basie.
I’d like to have heard Rich Matteson play sousaphone for Benny Goodman and Clifford Brown.
I’d like to sit in with Led Zeppelin and Prince.

Where would the tuba have gone if the bass pickup hadn’t been invented? OR – if when the bass pick up was invented…a viable tuba microphone was invented at the same time.

It is the WHAT IF that I ponder the most as a “bass-cleffer”. WHAT IF the tuba had remained the instrument of choice for bass line playing?

Number 2: What if Jascha Heifetz played the tuba the way he played the violin? What if Glenn Gould played the tuba the way he played the piano?

Number 3: What if Mozart played and wrote for the tuba? Same of JS Bach?

6. Who are your bass clef musical inspirations?
Bass Clef or otherwise:
Arnold Jacobs
Harvey Philips
Sam Pilafian
Chuck Daellenbach
Chester Schmitz

Ray Brown
Charles Mingus
Paul Chambers
Jaco Pastorius

Ray Brown
Ray Brown
and Ray Brown

Barbara Conable – author of ‘Structures and Movement of Breathing’ and ‘What Every Musician Should Know about the Body’ (www.BodyMap.org) I’ve never met her, but her books have helped me as much as the teachings of Arnold Jacobs. Application of her techniques have helped me to help hundreds players through difficult issues.

Bikram Yoga – What I’ve learned from this exercise/meditation about teaching, practicing and my own patience has informed my musical performance and teaching in many ways. (subject of another interview…)

7. What was so special about Jacobs and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) brass from the vantage point as their student, and the vantage point of today?

As a teenager, going to the Chicago Symphony was akin to going to see Muhammed Ali box, or Babe Ruth play baseball or Michael Jordan play basketball. AND – I got to go hear this every week for 2 years.

The names of the members of the brass section were more familiar to me than any political figure, historical or modern day. And – because there weren’t social media channels for people to display their personal lives…or even websites to view, MUCH of what I learned about these players was accompanied by great imaginative scenarios in which these players were imbued with super human qualities.

While I studied with them, they began to treat me as at least one of their own, albeit, maybe as the annoying little sibling. I can still remember sitting in Civic Orchestra sectionals with some of these giants and when they would recognize you and use your name…whew, that was acknowledgment that had momentum!

Today – it is watching my friends at the top of their game fortunate to be in a situation that allows them to focus almost entirely on artistic expression as their job. That is a beautiful thing.

8. Who are the greatest instrumentalists of all time?

I don’t know. Material is too subjective to provide an objective list.

My favorites?
Besides the ones already mentioned:

Glenn Gould, Jascha Heifetz, Michael Rabin, Roby Lakatos, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Anna Moffo, Oscar Peterson, Frank Sinatra, imagesNat King Cole, Shirley Horn, Ella Fitzgerald, Pat Metheny, Al Jarreau, Thelonious Monk, Carl Fontana, Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Chet Baker, Bobby McFerrin, Clark Terry, Frank Zappa, Astor Piazolla, Edgar Meyer, Bill Evans…

(…that’s the short list…)

Z. How do you select repertoire?
Audience, audience, audience.

Does the literature evoke strong, visceral emotional reactions? If yes – then program.

If not – then avoid.

Repertoire usage varies based on audience profile and, secondarily, based on acoustics of the performance venue.

For example – triple tonguing variation type pieces don’t portray well with non-musical audiences. They hear the repeated technique of triple tonguing as uneven tone and therefore not impressive. The SAME piece of repertoire performed for a musically educated audience will evoke a very enthusiastic response as they can appreciate the difficulty of the technical display. So – there are certain pieces I only perform at instrumental or music educator conferences.

Same for acoustics. If the hall is boomy, Arban stays home. If the hall is dry, ballads be gone.

images-19. What are the three things you learn in an MBA program that would help musicians most?
Music is a product that needs the correct pricing, placement and promotion. (Music is not an art if you want to work.)

Finance is not a theory.

Hire an accountant. (unless tax code is your hobby)

c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com

Images courtesy patsheridan.com youtube.com

The Fourth Valve tm is an up-close, shoot-from-the-hip interview series dedicated to musicians who play the tuba or euphonium. We at davidbrubeck.com are delighted and grateful to share the musical, professional and personal insights of some of the world’s great musicians and masters of low brass. The interview series was launched with an interview of Deanna Swoboda as a tribute to our first published article-an interview with Connie Weldon. For now, let’s just focus on tuba, and leave the fantastic euphoniums for another post. You wouldn’t believe how many terrific tuba interviews we have, so we’ll tell you: Craig Knox, Mike Roylance, Sergio Carolina, Beth Wiese, R. Winston Morris, Aaron Tindall, Aaron McCalla, Chitate Kagawa, Marty Erickson, Oystein Baadsvik, Don Harry, John Stevens, Jim Self, Beth Mitchell, John van Houten and Deanna Swoboda!Enjoy!

Canadian Brass, Windsync, Boston Brass, Mnozil Brass, Spanish Brass, Dallas Brass, Seraph, Atlantic Brass Quintet

Interested in “Seven Positions” tm Interviews?
Charlie VernonJames MarkeyChris BrubeckDoug Yeo Jeremy MorrowTom EverettGerry Pagano Ben van DijkRandall HawesDenson Paul PollardThomas MattaFred Sturm Bill ReichenbachMassimo Pirone Erik Van Lier Jennifer WhartonMatyas VeerStefan Schulz

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Scott Hartman Slaloms Through “FIVE!” With 9 Years of Empire Brass and Rolf Smedvigimages

Scott Hartman is a trombonists trombonist, and musical to the core. In the debate between valves and slide that is often the brass quintet, Hartman has proven to be one of the slide’s most articulate and eloquent spokesmen. An impressive soloist in his own right, Hartman served for nine years as the trombone counterweight to the stratospheric solos of trumpeter Rolf Smedvig in the Empire Brass. He is in a unique position to address “FIVE!”, and does so….

1. You are one of the masters of matching trumpet AND horn articulation. How do you change your approach to the front side of the note to match trumpets? Horn?
I think about articulation – and most technical – in mechanical/acoustic terms. So an articulation is the dynamic shape which begins a note and I picture it in my mind like this example:

"Articulation" S. Hartman davidbrubeck.com

“Articulation” S. Hartman

Each instrument/player has a palette of articulations that they use and the more they have available, the more variety and nuance you bring to the music. Once I identify the sound I want I use the mechanical processes that bear on articulation, i.e., air, tongue, slide, using the partials/overtones in transition to achieve the result. If it sounds right – it is right!

2. You can play really clean, or let it rip! How do you think of “hiding the slide”-(or its smears) when matching trumpets as opposed to your vibrant yet very rhythmic approach to glisses, scoops and falls?
Related to the previous comment on articulation, I have to imagine a sound first, then figure out how you make this sound on the trombone. Oftentimes, I find that people don’t feel that it is correct or appropriate to do something – mechanically or musically – so they restrict their musical palette in the process. I leave the door open to try to make any sound that comes to mind and use any technique that achieves it.

Technique is whatever I do in the process of making a sound. Again, if it sounds right – it is right!

So, a more succinct answer to your question. I think about the air, embouchure, tongue, slide, overtones, valve and how they interact as I make a sound.

3. What are your fondest memories of Rolf?

There are so many Rolf stories! My favorites are the ones that capture his uniqueness as a person. Here are several!

A. We toured the Soviet Union in 1987 as Glasnost was implemented as a policy to open up and soften the Cold War. While in Leningrad (now returned to its previous name of St Petersburg) we toured some of the amazing buildings and institutions left behind by Peter the Great. We saw l’Hermitage, the palaces and his chapel. After several hours of sight seeing these marvels, Rolf showed his true colors by asking the tour guide “How do you get to BE Czar?” Rolf thought big!

B. We did a lot of skiing together on many tours and finished each day with a concert. Rolf was an excellent skier and loved being outdoors. We shared some fun times this way.

C. My good friend, Don Robinson, came out to serve as our Road Manager/Driver for a couple of

Smedvig & Hartman davidbrubeck.com

Smedvig & Hartman

tours. Rolf liked to sit in the back of the van and was always quick to offer criticism of peoples driving. Don made a couple of abrupt turns and stops the first day out and Rolf made the comment that Don drove like the bass trombone player that he is…whatever that means… “Phrase it, Don!” was a common call from the rear of the van. So Don tried ‘Phrasing’ his stops by taking ¼ mile to come to a stop at a light – Rolf didn’t like that, “Use your brakes, Don!” – so the next time, Don pumped the brakes ABS style. Rolf almost lurched out of his seat this time and launched into Don, who replied that he’s just following instructions! That was it, Rolf gave up. That was the quickest and most obvious concession I ever saw Rolf give!

D. Also in the Soviet Union, we had several Soviet handlers and a lot of contact with the US Embassy images-1since this was one of the first cultural trip to the Soviet Union under glasnost. Rolf started dating a Soviet woman that he met at the hotel which was espressly forbidden by the Embassy. The Embassador became concerned and gave Rolf and the group a lecture about our being cultural and national representatives and that the Soviets may try to use us to create a scandal of some sort. Therefore, no socializing with unauthorized women, no dealing with contraband of any sort. We were all asked if we’d had anyone approach us offering us contraband…Rolf was adamant that he’d certainly not! Afterwards, on the bus, Rolf asks… ‘What’s contraband?’

E. ON and on…

4. How did your approach to music change as a result of your time in EB?
I learned how to listen much better and to be more aware of everything. I remember realizing that I need to have an opinion of rhythm/tempo/momentum at all times. Playing with others, this is necessary. I didn’t understand that before my time with the EBQ! We also taught chamber music at Tanglewood and Boston University, as well as numerous masterclasses. I learned from listening to the others teach/talk and also by having to formulate answers to questions that would achieve the proper result.

Marc Reese with Empire5. Were there moments in EB when you fully absorbed the music making at its best and thought to yourself, “this is as good as it gets!”?
During excellent concerts and hearing recordings, we’d hit a home run sometimes and congratulation ourselves. And after concerts, the audience made us feel appreciated, of course! Now, watching and hearing recordings of live performances reinforces what a great group the EBQ was!

6. What were the best and worst parts of life on the road with EB?
Everything-except rehearsal (and sometimes recording), was great! (Rehearsals could get rather tense.)

7. What selections do you feel are among the best literature for brass quintet?
That’s tough. There is a lot of great rep now. Lots of good transcriptions, of course, but there is so much original rep that is excellent.

8. What do you think of the trend towards smaller tubas (namely F tuba) in brass quintets as opposed to the ‘C’ or ‘Bb’ Tuba?
I have to admit that I always enjoyed playing quintet with a tubist playing a large horn. I miss the solid low notes on an Eb or F.

But, that being said, a lot of rep works better on the smaller instrument.

So, ideally, the tubist will have both horns. Not likely though, on tour…

9. What are your favorite EB recorded tracks and why?

My favorite aspect of the EB is the level of chamber music that we enjoyed. When we knew the music, we could reinvent it on each performance; explore musical possibilities on the fly and let the music come to life each time we played. We would transcend our own voice and truly make music. This was amazing to be joined together through music this way, probably much like the bond that is created within a sports team or military unit…

I believe that our first Class Brass recording captured this ability – primarily because the acoustics at the recording were great and you can hear us using the hall the way we would in concert – most other recordings didn’t quite capture the hall acoustics.

c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. davidbrubeck.com

Interested in more “FIVE” tm interviews?unnamed
Dallas Brass
Wind Sync
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Spanish Brass
Mnozil Brass
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Empire Brass Member Jeffrey Curnow Illustrates to “FIVE!” His Remembrances of The Empire Brass Quintet & Rolf Smedvigunnamed-1

Jeffrey Curnow has served as assistant principal trumpet with the Philadelphia Orchestra since the turn of the century, and preced that with six years as principal trumpet with the Dallas Symphony, and soloist. It is, perhaps, his 15 recordings and years spent with the Empire Brass Quintet (EBQ), that have etched him most deeply on the world of brass. As “FIVE!”tm & the music world mourn the loss of the brass quintet’s most ardent champion, Rolf Smedvig, Jeffrey Curnow remembers his time with Rolf and the ground-breaking Empire Brass.

1. What are your first recollections of The Empire Brass?
My earliest recollections of the EBQ were from the late 70s, when I was a student at Temple University. That’s the first time I heard the group’s Ewald LP. I thought that recording was terrific but at that point in time, I have to admit, the Canadian Brass was sort of stealing the show with their innovative programming and arrangements.

Nobody was thinking this at the time but it really was the birth of a new era in brass chamber music. A younger generation of players was taking the brass quintet to a new level, pushing the limits of the ensemble, and the two groups on the forefront were the Canadians and Empire.

2. Could you discuss Rolf’s approach to the trumpet, and the types of trumpets (‘C’, ‘G’), he liked to play in different circumstances?

The Empire Brass Quintet www.davidbrubeck.com

The Empire Brass Quintet

Rolf was the guy who made the Schilke ‘G’ piccolo trumpet famous. Before joining the band, I’d never played one (and I never played one while in the group), but the combination of his ‘G’ “picc.” and my ‘C’ trumpet created an interesting, distinctive hierarchy of sound that separated us from any other quintet.

This worked particularly well with Baroque and Renaissance lit. The set up he used on the G was different than usual. Schilke sent 2 bells with the trumpet, a small and a large, and he always used the large bell-which made the sound of the horn much bigger. That bigger “picc.” sound on top of the sound of a ‘C’ trumpet was a nice blend.

Outside of the Schilke ‘G’, Rolf used Bach/Selmer horns exclusively, and was feverishly adamant about it, in a way that only Rolf could be. Fortunately, I agreed with him completely on this issue.

Unlike most brass quintets, Rolf and I played C trumpet 80% of the time, using the Bb horns and flugels mostly for the crossover tunes on the second half. I think Rolf always felt more comfortable on a ‘C’ trumpet, as did I, and the sound of the ‘C’ trumpets gave the group a distinctive sound, separating us from other groups who exclusively used ‘Bb’ horns.

3. What was it like playing back and forth with Rolf with imitative passages as opposed to supporting him in harmony underneath; how did you match so well?

What was it like playing back and forth with Rolf? Intimidating is the word that comes to mind. When I joined the group, they were weeks from a U.S.S.R. tour so I had to hit the ground running. The blend wasn’t immediate but it had to happen quickly and I really worked at it. I wore 2 hats while playing 2nd, I had to be a bridge between Eric or Scott and Rolf and I had to fill Rolf’s shoes when he had the horn off his face. I found it really fun, honestly, and I wanted to be great at it. Rolf wasn’t much help so I was pretty much on my own when it came to figuring it out.

imagesI always joked that I thought that one of Rolf’s big regrets was that he couldn’t find a way to make a quintet work with just one trumpet. I had to change my sound and articulation a bit so I would start incorporating some of what Rolf was doing in his morning warm up routine into my routine and, eventually, I started to sound more and more like he did. It was his approach to the trumpet that I had to adopt to really make the group sound cohesive. I still use parts of his routine today.

images-14. What are your favorite Empire Brass recordings?

My favorite Empire recordings are the two Class Brass CDs we put together. The group was really pushing the envelope on those discs.

5. Which players in EBQ stand out to you over the years?
All the various members of the band I worked with are stand outs. Really. All incredible soloists. I learned something from everyone. Although, I will say that it was Rolf who would light the fire under the group. He’d walk into a rehearsal with an impossible project and find a way to get it done. I’ve met very few people in my career that were as driven as Rolf. He could be insistent to an aggravating degree (a very nice way to put it) but he got results.

6. What approaches to brass quintet do you feel that Empire pioneered? Where do you see that influence most in today’s groups?
The concept behind the EBQ: a brass quintet that plays like the brass section of a symphony orchestra. That’s why our bells always faced the audience, unlike the traditional quintet set up. The Canadians would move about the stage and set up in different positions, depending on the piece, sometimes sitting on stools, but we would stay in a fixed position, standing in the center of the stage for most of the show.

It was all about the sound and the music. I think that ‘bells front’ concept has had a big influence on today’s brass quintets. We wanted a commanding onstage presence.


7. Do you have any favorite memories of the road or special concerts or collaborative artists with EBQ which spring to mind?
The memorable moments a far too many to mention here but I do have a few that stand out. We’d often play organ shows with Doug Major, who was the organist at the National Cathedral in D.C.. Lots of fun. Not only was Doug a great hang but he was an outstanding player who perfectly fit into the group’s concept. One show we did with Doug in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall went over 2.5 hours. There was so much sound coming off the stage, I was afraid we’d get sued!

I remember a concert in the middle-of-nowhere USA, just the five of us, where Rolf decided we’d change up the program and start the second half with the Karlheinz Stockhausen Brass Quintet.

I’d never played it and I was frantically looking through my folder and couldn’t find it. I told Rolf I didn’t have it and he said, “I don’t have it either.

“You know why I don’t have it?”, he asked, “Because Stockhausen never wrote it.” We preceded to open the second half with a completely improvised piece. The audience ate it up. They loved it. Even our road manager, who was at the back of the hall selling CDs, thought it was a “really cool piece”.

I remember a concert at the Tonhalle in Zurich where the audience ovation was so loud it sounded like a soccer match. I played concerts on Soviet television, Japan television, British television and did Christmas tunes on both the Today Show and Good Morning America. We had Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Michael Torke composing for us. We stood in front of the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Japan Philharmonic, BBC radio orchestra and many others.

The thrill of meeting artists like Timofei Dokschitzer and Philip Jones while traveling the world, I’ll never forget.

unnamed-4One of the greatest benefits of being in the EBQ was meeting Armando Ghitalla. He was a hero to me and like a father to Rolf. “Mundi” was the only guy to ever coach the group and I learned a great deal from the time he’d spend with us. He was also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

8. What was your background prior to the group, and how did your experiences with the group change your outlook on music?

I was basically a freelancer in NY and CT before joining the group. I was Principal Trumpet of the New Haven Symphony, did some teaching at “U.-Conn.”, and lived in Branford, CT. I’d take a train into NY for an occasional gig or rehearsals and concerts with the NY Trumpet Ensemble. I saw Rolf split a recital with the EBQ at the 92nd Street YMCA in the early 80s but never thought I’d ever be a part of that world. My goal was an orchestra job.

When I was hired by Empire, I took to it very quickly and found that I liked being one of only five on stage. One benefit of being in a group like Empire is the fact that you have to keep doing crazier stunts with every new CD release. This means you’re constantly growing and developing as a player. Every year I got better, in every way, as a player, musician and performer. I got to know the ins and outs of recording and did some producing for other brass groups. I learned how to arrange for the brass quintet. I did a great deal of coaching and teaching and was a member of the faculty at Boston University and the Royal Academy of Music in London. I spent summers at Tanglewood coaching quintets at the Empire Brass Seminar.

I was part of an ensemble that had to create in order to survive. We had to come up with the arrangements, CDs, management, teaching, and concerts in order to stay alive in the market. This is very different from the orchestra job I hold now, where I have little freedom to create as a performer. I can’t decide on the programs we play or the CDs this orchestra makes and at times I miss that creative freedom that I had with the EBQ. That creative freedom, however, comes at a price. A lot of hard work, stress and, at times, conflict.


8. What are your other favorite projects?

These days, my latest passion outside of playing the trumpet is cartooning. My goal is to get a cartoon published in the New Yorker. With a 99.99%
rejection rate, that makes it almost as bad as the music business, but the cartoons give me something to think about while I’m counting all those measures rest.

Canadian Brass, Windsync, Boston Brass, Mnozil Brass, Spanish Brass, Dallas Brass, Seraph, Atlantic Brass Quintet

c. 2015 David William Brubeck. All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com

Images Courtesy of Jeffrey Curnow.

Cartoons c. Jeffrey Curnow. All Rights Reserved.

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Beat Boxing Bass Trombone! “Stereogram No. 6” By David William Brubeck DUO BRUBECK Featuring Mitch Farber

DUO BRUBECK  featuring Mitch Farber www.davidbrubeck.com

featuring Mitch Farber

Here is DUO BRUBECK with our version of “Stereogram No. 6” by David William Brubeck.

I added some chords, and Mitch added some riffs and a great solo. Enjoy!


c. 1999/2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com

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“FIVE!” Ken Amis AND Ron Barron (!) Musical Bookends of The Empire Brass QuintetMarc Reese with Empire

As the musical world continues to mourn the loss of one of its brass treasures, Rolf Smedvig, two book ends of his professional life have agreed to share some of their thoughts. An International soloist, principal trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and recipient of the International Trombone Association Lifetime Achievement Award, Ronald Barron is a towering oak of brass expertise. His experience with Rolf at Tangledwood and with the BSO predates the Empire Brass. To capture the final years of Rolf’s tenure with Empire, we have sought out his longest serving sideman-Ken Amis. The rock solid anchor of Empire Brass for the past 22 years, Amis is still with the group and is contributing towards its continued efforts. “FIVE!” is proud to present the thoughts of this outstanding tubist/composer and legendary trombonist as they more fully color the musical personality of Rolf Smedvig. Enjoy!

1. What was Rolf’s concept of time like for the group?
Rolf always wanted the time to be dominant property around which all the expression was made. Expressed through an fast articulation, the time always established a groove in every piece we played.

2. Do you feel that the tuba is under utilized in most brass quintet literature? Why do arrangers seem reluctant to allow the trombone to carry the bass function and allow the tuba to sing?
I don’t feel that the tuba is under utilized in most brass quintet literature.

Writing tuba solos that don’t sound pretentious, gimmicky or musically unbalanced is difficult and doesn’t lead itself as readily to many pieces. It’s not that composers are reluctant to allow the trombone to carry the bass. It is often the difficulty of including a tuba solo in the music that limits such a rendition.

3. What were the distinct aspects of the Empire Brass approach which separated them from other groups?

Empire Brass Quintet davidbrubeck.com

Empire Brass Quintet

Empire Brass has a style of playing that produces a big sound and the very front of an articulation that differentiates it from most groups. The groups commitment to establishing a musical, metronomic pulse also makes its sound unmistakable.

4. Which other brass groups have inspired you?
Philip Jones Brass Ensemble

Non brass?
A Ray Charles performance at Tanglewood in the mid-90’s.

5. What are your favorite EB recordings, and why?
Class Brass and Class Brass: Firedance are my favorite recordings due to repertoire and clarity and balance with which the playing was captured by the microphone placement and recording techniques.

6. What are your favorite memories of Rolf?
Playing Sleepers’ Wake and the 3rd movement of the Elizabethan Dance Suite were my favorite moments.

7. How many years were you with EB, did your playing change as a result of your EB experience?
I have been in Empire Brass for 22 years. Hopefully, I have shown some improvement in the way I play for non-musicians.

8. What were some of the most memorable live performances you experienced with EB?
Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Japan is memorable because of the venue. A concert we played in Taiwan is memorable because of the audience. The concert we played in Wilton, CT is memorable because it was Rolf’s last performance with the group.

1. Please describe Rolf early in his career as a symphonic player and the birth of the Empire Brass.
When I heard of Rolf at BUTI in 1971, everyone said he had the sound to be a star soon. This turned out to be true. His warm lyric beautifully resonant quality made him an easy standout at his BSO audition, and he followed Roger Voisin in the assistant position, though not playing first in Pops as Andre Come had taken over that in the year after Roger, and Andre kept that spot during Rolf’s time in the BSO. I always enjoyed blending with Rolf, it was easy. I had more opportunities for that after getting the principal position in 1975. I was not an original member of the quintet when they formed and I was a bit skeptical about the future of such a group. Canadian had begun only the previous few years and trying to do brass chamber music full time was a new concept. However, through extremely devoted hard work, they made it happen. Any road life style is not easy and they needed to do the BU residency and association and the teaching component to be stable. I think the history speaks for itself, they made it happen.

2. What was your involvement with Empire, and your favorite recordings?
My involvement with Empire started in Sept. 1975 and lasted for three weeks. My life was simply too full for the demands of the group, so Norman joined and had a great run with them for six years or so. Afterwards, I was part of some recording projects when they wanted larger ensembles. Many fine recordings: the Ewald quintets were a new and great presentation; after Rolf’s death, I listened to Bernstein’s Simple Song from the Mass featuring Rolf, just marvelous, great touch and feeling, just as I want it to be.

3. Having recorded with both Canadian and Empire, how would you describe the eky48ZbQ2CaYBIGCK9b2wa0JXKUa8GagjRDvHRPkcGT8R5S2v1AgGXwx-vcloOB2KnsINZuQUyXQNmX0HEGv9NNcC6Z6Bu3WFmoE88NC2ZidW04wP1DVsBzbsqW03oYOMZdUlC2v_nm516mWQWa3FFxubdHvovhzWnOS1gdq3xfDEcxIlLKg5ZUrVl2TiVVjkgf2my8ZDJ-J294k0lmKPyO6LhLdifferences in their approach.
I had the unique pleasure to be part of three recordings of similar repertoire with Canadian, Empire and Summit Brass all in the same year, 1988. These recordings are different enough to discuss your question. The repertoire was Venetian, 16th and 17th century, Gabrieli, etc. The Canadian one was grand in a cathedral way, it was 15 players, Boston Symphony, New York Phil. and Canadian brass. Very sonic and grandioso. The Empire one was perhaps the best raw brass playing, very brilliant, polished, driven and exciting. Neither of these were restrained or particularly stylish for the repertoire, but they sounded terrific. The Summit Brass example was more elegant, nimble, not as much in your face as Empire. All were wonderful for what they were, but it was an excellent opportunity to compare feelings and style. I would not suggest which one was best, as each has their merits and appeal. Certainly the Empire one was exciting! As for direct comparisons with Canadian and Empire, the Canadian approach soon became quite commercial and led to their success. Empire tried to keep it more serious and did for a while, but eventually realized the need to be more broadly commercial to remain in business. I think any brass ensemble eventually needs a strong commercial component if they wish to be financially self sustaining. After all, the instruments sound great in commercial music, jazz, etc. We were not intended for the delicate gentile salon; and there is simply not a dearth of great repertoire from the great names of what we call classical music.

4. Can you address your solo experiences as a brass player, and Rolf’s? How do you believe it informed the underpinning philosophy of EB?

I felt the need to pursue a solo career to the extent I could while in the orchestra as a balance to the routine parts of the job. It helped, and kept me sane through many years. Rolf decided that the solo and chamber world was essential for him and he needed to leave the orchestra to fulfill that desire. He made the right choice in that he was successful for a long time. The other members had their own ambitions naturally, but I can not say with any authority how extensive a solo career all of them had or have now. Probably somewhat, one would have to do an analysis. Many have gone on to orchestra positions, many have not. I feel the example set by Rolf and his comrades in starting and maintaining the EBQ for so long made the next generation of brass players have hope for such an ensemble and its future. Things evolve, tastes change, and nothing is static, but it opened a new avenue for an aspiring young person. Between Canadian and Empire the standard was set and so many of today’s brass ensembles own a debt of gratitude to them.

c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com

Images courtesy of Ken Amis

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International Euphonium and Tuba Festival To Feature Distinguished Faculty, And The MDC Kendall Campus Student Brass Quintet

Romero Brass

The Miami Dade College Brass Quintet has accepted an invitation to perform at the 12th annual International Euphonium and Tuba Conference Festival. The student group plans to premiere a brass transcription and arrangement of Bach’s Fugue in C minor by world renown electric bassist and MDC professor, Rafael Valencia. This years version of the quintet features the euphonium in place of the typical use of tuba/bass trombone.

The festival features recitals by internationally recognized low brass soloists and numerous opportunities for further interaction with the faculty through lessons, masterclasses, warm-up gatherings and chamber music coaching sessions. The IET festival takes place on the campus of Emory University at the end of the month.

The 2015 Guest Artists and Teachers include:
Brian Bowman – University of North Texas
David Childs – Royal Welsh College of Music
Lauren Veronie Curran – The US Army Field Band
Adam Frey – Georgia State, Reinhardt & Emory Universities
Brian Meixner – Highpoint University
Dave Brubeck – Miami Dade College, Miami City Ballet Orchestra
Ron Davis – South Carolina Philharmonic, USC
James Gourlay – Artistic Director, River City Brass Band
Jay Hunsberger – Sarasota Orchestra, Univ of South Florida
Igor Krivokapic – Composer and Helicon Specialist
Patrick Sheridan – International Tuba Soloist, The Brass Gym

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WIN A FREE TROMBA-The Ultimate Plastic Trombone at the International Euphonium and Tuba Conference in Atlanta, Georgia

UnknownWednesday morning, 24 June 2015 between 8:30 and 9:00 am, a free TROMBA-the Ultimate Plastic Trombone will be given away via drawing at the International Euphonium and Tuba Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.Blue Tromba 1

Thanks to the great folks at Tromba, the lucky winner in attendance will receive a black Tromba, two mouthpieces, a trombone stand, a padded trombone case, and a cleaning kit. Other prizes to be given away are a free copy of Introductory Stereograms A-M courtesy of Gordon Cherry at Cherry Classics, and a free 30 minute lesson with Dr. David Brubeck courtesy of www.davidbrubeck.comTrombaA-MWinners to be selected by a random drawing of euphonium players present at warm-up. Must be in attendance to win. What euphonium player wouldn’t want to try out the trombone? It gives you more options of musical expression and even access to additional ensembles where euphoniums are sometimes not found. But who wants to shell out major bucks to learn a new double? Tormba-The Ultimate Plastic Trombone to the rescue. With ultra light, ultra colorful and ultra affordable trombones, exploring the slide and maybe even getting your foot in the door with a Soca band are suddenly within reach. Enjoy! c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com

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