Sunday, April 24, 2016

The pinnacle of brass comedy

For my last post of the semester, I wanted to end with a light and comical post.  The Mnozil Brass is often known for comedy and audience interaction in their shows.  This particular performance is extremely avante garde, but focuses heavily on the comedic aspect.  From the shakiness of the opening tuning note to the goofiness of the "soloist," this comes across as a mockery of traditional, symphony orchestra concert performances.  The acting and commitment to the characters is remarkable and hilariously constructed.  The result is one of my favorite of their videos. 

Brass Monkey Interview

One of the more unique brass ensembles I've come across is Brass Monkey, an English Folk Band that were very popular in the 1980's and 1990's, and recently came together for their 30th anniversary.  This group is unique for its predominant use of brass instruments in the folk band style.  Below is a very interesting interview that I came across that discusses the groups history and 30 year reunion. 


Although a majority of Eric Ewazen's music is original, I feel it is still important to discuss and understand his style of composition.  Ewazen has composed a ton of music for brass ensembles, and tends to write very colorfully, creating interest through texture, rhythmic speed, and different voicing of parts.  The example of his music that I've chosen to share for this blog is his Concertino for Bass Trombone and Octet.  This performance features Atlanta Symphony bass trombonist Brian Hecht, and was incredible to hear live last summer at the Southeast Trombone Symposium.

More Canadian Brass

Continuing with the Canadian Brass, I always try to look for videos with the current players, or as many current players as possible.  This particular performance of Amazing Grace is from 2014, and appears to be heavily visually edited, along with the audio as well.  However, it is still a great performance.  I find it very interesting to listen to how the group's sound has changed over the nearly 50 years of the groups existence. 

Canadian Brass with New York and Boston

In 1977, the Canadian Brass teamed up with brass players from the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony for a spectacular concert.  This historic collection of world class brass players has been seldom duplicated.  The Canadian Brass is most known for their stage presence, and the first brass quintet to expand their performance beyond the music to include choreography, staging, dialogue, etc.  This energy in the performance, combined with the incredible playing of the orchestra members make this a must watch for all brass players. 

This particular piece from that concert is one of the most often performed pieces in the classical repertoire, and "stolen" here and arranged for brass ensemble. 

Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble Concert

I thought I would share one of my favorite brass ensemble video performances.  This concert featured the Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble, one of the most widely renowned brass groups.  The quality of the playing in live performance makes this one of my favorites. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Arrangements of James Nova

James Nova is currently the second trombonist in the Pittsburgh Symphony.  Having heard him perform live, his level of performance is incredibly high.  He has recently been runner up or the final candidate standing (but not picked) for some of the top tier orchestras, including the LA Philharmonic. 

He is perhaps most famous on the internet for his "overdubs," in which he arranges popular pieces from movies or famous orchestra compositions and plays every part himself, layering the tracks to form one large trombone ensemble.  A majority of these projects can be heard at his soundcloud page. 

Recently, Nova has taken a number of his overdub arrangements and taken them to the performance hall.  I had the opportunity to attend the Southeast Trombone Symposium last summer, which featured James Nova as a member of the faculty.  He brought a number of his arrangements with him for the professors choir.  Here is one of those pieces, a medley from Superman movies.

Because he originally arranged these for himself, where only one part had to be recorded at a time, the difficulty of the individual parts is remarkably high. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Enrique Crespo

A number of my posts in this blog have featured arrangements by Enrique Crespo, so I have decided to dedicate a whole blog posts to him.  Crespo was born in 1941, in Uruguay.  His professional career took him to Germany, where he was a founding member of the German Brass in the 1970's.  In addition to his role as a trombonist in the group, Crespo has perhaps made the most contribution in the area of arranging for brass ensembles.  Most of these arrangements were for the German Brass, and are remarkable for their challenging nature and virtuosity.  His writing never "waters" down the technical passages that may not be the most suitable for brass instruments.  The result is a style that stays true to the style and sound of the originals. 

The first example of Crespo's remarkable arranging skill is the famous Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.  A video of this arrangement may be found at the link below.

A second excellent arrangement of Bach's music is the also famous Arioso.  I find this arrangement remarkable for Crespo's ability to space the voices in a way that creates the best blend on a piece that is seemingly simple.  

My last example is the Overture to Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi.  I love the imitation of the tremellos and trills in the horns that sound nearly identical to the original string writing. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

From New Orleans to...

Most of my posts have been music that brass players have "stolen" from the classical music hall.  However, I thought I would share some different music that still follows this "stolen" theme.  Since, the early days of jazz, New Orleans style brass bands have existed and thrived in New Orleans and surrounding areas, while branching out with the innovations in recording and distribution technology.  Some groups outside of New Orleans have adopted this same instrumentation while playing music that would not be considered jazz.  One of these groups is Slavic Soul Party, a group I've enjoyed listening to for a number of years.  This group hails from Brooklyn, NY.  They label themselves as a Balkan Brass Band, with influences from "gypsy wizzadry," funk, and jazz.

My personal favorite track is "Taketron" the title track from their album of the same name.  The use of the same instruments as a New Orleans style group with a complete different sound and style is incredible to listen to.  

Bach's Brandenburg

While digging around on youtube today, I discovered that there are a number of beautiful arrangements of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos for brass ensembles.  These concertos are known for their complexity of the individual parts, thus an all brass arrangement is certainly a challenge to the players. 

The first example of one such arrangements is of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 - Mvt. 1.  This live recording was performed by the Resonance Brass Choir in 2013.

Probably my favorite recording of this piece in a brass ensemble is from the Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble, on their album Music of the Courts of Europe.

The German Brass also have an excellent arrangement by Enrique Crespo, which is perhaps the truest to the original orchestral sound.  Their recording of this arrangement is featured on their 2010 album, Bach on Brass

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

More Stealing from the Orchestra

Brass choirs seem to love arranging and transcribing music of full symphony orchestra scores.  This makes sense when one considers that a brass choir covers the ranges of all of the instruments of the orchestra, and can still use the original percussion instruments.  Like any transcription that alters the instruments used, the level of success of these transcriptions varies between composers and time periods.  Music that already uses brass instruments can transfer rather seamlessly, while music that does not can be more "hit or miss."  However, some of my absolute favorite orchestra transcriptions for brass ensembles originally contain no brass instruments.  Below are a few transcriptions or arrangements of familiar orchestral repertoire.

Gustav Holst: "Jupiter" from The Planets.  Performed by the Chicago Brass Choir

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 5, Mvt. I - Arranged by Brad Howland.  Performed by Panamá Oeste Brass Ensemble.

 Richard Wagner: Introduction to Act III, from Lohengrin.  Performed by the Georg Solti Brass Ensemble.  


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Haydn - Creation

One of the most often "stolen" pieces in the trombone quartet repertoire is "Achieved if the Glorious Work" from the famed Haydn oratorio The Creation.  The arrangement was first made famous on the album Four of a Kind (1995), which featured Joseph Alessi, Mark Lawrence, Scott Hartman, and Blair Bollinger.  Since then, it has become a staple of the trombone quartet repertoire and an excellent first piece for young quartets. 

Below is the recording from the Four of a Kind album, and a live performance by the Coppenhagan Trombone Quartet. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Presentation 2

My second presentation of the semester occurred last week on Wednesday.  The following is some more information on the pieces chosen for this presentation.

Flight - David Glänneskog, performed by the North Carolina Brass band, from the 2014 album of the same title.

Music for Brass Instruments: Mvts. II and III - Ingolf Dahl.  Performed by the Center City Brass Quintet on their 2002 album "Works for Brass Ensemble"

New Trombone Collective - “21 trombones in the 21st Century” Project.  A Tribute to Urbie Green.  Recorded live in 2010. 


New Trombone Collective - Astor Piazzolla: Maria de Buenos Aires.  Recorded on 28 Dec. 2013 in the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Amsterdam.

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Brass - “Don’t doubt him now” - Leonard Ballantine (arr Verhelst).  Live in 2012.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

New Trombone Collective

The most active and significant trombone ensemble in the world today has to be the New Trombone Collective.  The Dutch based trombone ensemble began as a collection of students and teachers at the Rotterdam Conservatory in 2001, and his since grown into a world renowned group.  They have released numerous CD's and have pushed the boundaries of the capabilities of the large trombone ensemble.  Although their CD's have proven very successful, perhaps more significant is their appearances on DVD's and in live performances.  Even in the past 2-4 years, they have exponentially expanded their presence on youtube and through DVD releases, giving visual access to their audiences.

In addition to their incredible abilities musically, I admire their ability to push into the 21st century of classical music in terms of their style of live performance.  The days of a simple walk on to the stage and take a bow at the end are nowhere to be found with this group.  They possess a very refreshing balance of musical satisfaction and audience engagement through visual and/or dramatic means. 

Below are a few recent videos that I have just discovered recently.  Because the group is so active, it's tough to keep up with the material they put out!

This first video is an incredible mixture of pieces and styles that ends in an incredible jazz finale with legendary trombonist Jiggs Whigham as the soloist.  This was part of a historic concert in 2010 that featured over 20 trombonists.  The quality of this live performance is extremely impressive.

This second piece, Alice in Trombone Wonderland, written by Evert Josemanders, is an excellent example of the boundaries the New Trombone Collective pushes and breaks through.

And finally, an Astor Piazolla piece, Maria de Buenos Aires, performed here live in 2013 in Amsterdam.  Again, a complete different genre of music, that is performed to an incredibly high standard.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Mahler's "stolen" piece

One of the composers we admire the most as brass players is Gustav Mahler.  While his symphonic music is most popular and significant to the brass repertoire, players and arrangers have found great value in much of his other compositions, particularly his vocal music.  One of the most commonly arranged vocal songs is the "Urlicht"(Primordial Light) from collection of songs, Des Knaben WunderhonMahler also used this piece as part of his Symphony No. 2, sung by the alto with full orchestra accompaniment.  Below our two examples of arrangements of this piece, one by the Concentus Brass Ensemble, and the other by the Vienna Philharmonic Horns.

 Trumpets - Jason Lewis and Shane Brennan
Horn - Mark Bennett
Trombone - Rupert Whitehead
Tuba - Ray Hearne

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Homogenous Ensemble Thoughts

A few weeks ago, we discussed in class the importance of homogeneous ensembles (i.e. trombone choir, horn choir, etc.).  I've been thinking recently about the importance of these ensembles in the the academic world vs. the "real-world" of the music business.  While there is an incredibly rich repertoire for homogeneous brass ensembles and no doubt will be a satisfying performance experience for the musicians, I believe the benefit of such ensembles lies in their ability to isolate the aspects of playing unique to that particular instrument. 

Having played in trombone ensembles of all kinds for many years and taught/conducted trombone ensembles as well, I prefer to think of such ensembles as extensions of the lessons and seminars that are taught weekly in the studio.  These ensembles present a unique opportunity to discuss and implement concepts that might not be addressed in other ensembles, but may (or may not) be vital to a well rounded musician.  These issues may be discussed individually in lessons or lectured through seminars and studio classes, but an ensemble of just one instrument allows students a sort of "lab" experience, where concepts on the instrument are discussed and immediately applied.  I think that this is a critical step in the process for most student musicians. 

All of this of course fails to mention the other benefits of a homogeneous ensemble, such as attention to intonation, uniformity in articulation, extremes in range, chamber music skills, etc.  Although the repertoire is likely not as musically satisfying or significant, by continued isolation of these skills and application to just that particular instrument, students retain much more information than in any larger ensemble. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


A couple of weeks ago, I gave my listening presentation in our ABEL class.  The following is a more detailed list of the pieces I selected for my presentation

1)  Carolina Brass - Brass Quintet No. 2, Mvt. 1; by Arthur Frackenpohl.  From their 2004 album Art Collection.

2)  New Trombone Collective - Limbo Lounge, part 1; by Florian Magnus Maier.  2008. 

3)  German Brass - Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 BWV 1048, Mvt. 1; arranged by Enrique Crespo.  From their 2010 album Bach on Brass.

4)  Pittsburgh Symphony Low Brass - Etre Ou ne pas, by Henri Tomasi.  From the 2008 album, From the Back Row. 

 5) James Markey - Theme and Variations on Camptown Races for Trombone and Brass Quintet.  From Markey's 2003 album Offroad.  

Sunday, February 28, 2016


Arguably the most significant composer in the advancement of the brass' importance in the orchestra and the sophistication of the writing was Richard Wagner.  His operas (Ring Cycle) and other symphonic works made significant and frequent use of brass instruments.  Much of his work remains prominent in the brass world for the excerpts and historical application. 

One of my favorite albums of Wagner's compositions comes from the German Brass, in their 2013 album Celebrating Wagner.  

A favorite of so many brass groups for arranging is Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral from Lohengrin (and NOT, as questioned by anyone born this century, from the movie Frozen :-) )  I had the privilege of performing this trombone choir arrangement while at Florida State University in 2013, arranged by Wesley Hanson. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Operatic Brass

One of my favorite musical settings from which to "borrow" repertoire has to be the opera house.  Brass ensembles of all shapes and sizes have long admired the overtures, instrumental interludes,  arias, and choruses of the most famous (and often less familiar) operas.  The most popular composers of operas that brass ensembles form transcriptions/arrangements include Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi, W.A. Mozart, and Gioachino Rossini.  The beautiful, singing quality of opera music can be imitated on brass instruments.  Also, audiences will undoubtedly be familiar with some opera music, if not the names of the operas themselves at least. 

I had the pleasure of performing this arrangement of Mozart's Overture from The Magic Flute in the Seminole Trombone Quartet in my time at Florida State University.  These operatic arrangements offer tremendous technical challenges to brass players because of the imitation of the string parts.  Here, the Budapest Trombone Quartet gives a stunning live performance of this overture.

Another great example of an overture arranged for brass comes from Verdi.  This performance of his Overture to "Nabucco" is performed by the Gomolan Brass Quintet. 

Finally, on a more comical note, the Mnozil Brass with their own opera medley.  The Mnozil brass, a European brass ensemble that transcends the boundary between musicians and actors, is most known for their incredible brass playing and comical wit. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

J.S. Bach

The most often "stolen" music that is arranged and performed for brass ensembles of any size has to be the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.  The enormous volume of repertoire composed by Bach (due mostly to his job requirements during his time in Leipzig) has allowed brass players and composers of brass music the ability to access the music of arguably the most influential composer of western classical music. 

Very few of Bach's compositions used brass instruments.  Yet, Bach's use of imitation, motivic development, harmonic organization, and varied textures allow for a seamless transition to brass ensembles.  Additionally most of the repertoire used by brass ensembles comes from the organ music of Bach.  Brass instruments have been used throughout Western history to simulate an organ in many religious traditions and classical settings (i.e. the Moravian tradition).  Thus, the transition or organ music to brass instruments is very logical and frequently visited by brass ensembles.

My personal favorite example of music of Bach arranged for brass is the Passacalia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582.  In the video below, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass perform an arrangement by Eric Crees.    The recording is from their album "Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Live" on the CSO Resound label. 

Another popular trend in the use of Bach's music is the use of homogeneous ensembles of the same instrument.  This can create very unique opportunities and challenges for these types of ensembles.  Dealing with the same BWV 582 piece discussed above, this performance is an arrangement for trombone octet by Donald Hunsberger, the famed conductor and arranger for the Eastman Wind Ensemble for many years. 

A final example in the link below is a performance of Bach's most famous organ composition, the Toccata and Fugue in d minor, BWV 565, performed here by the German Brass at the Bach Festival in Leipzig.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Brass History

This past week, we familiarized ourselves with some distinctive styles of early brass ensemble music, from the hunting horn tradition, to Renaissance ensembles, to early brass quintets of the Romantic era.  Although these styles and works are still performed today by both contemporary brass ensembles, and ensembles that specialize in "period performance" practices, the ways in which these styles are performed today are undoubtedly different than the sounds of hundreds of years ago. 

One such example is the music of Giovanni Gabrieli and the "canzona" style of which he was most famous.  The specific listening example was from the new National Brass Ensemble CD (2015) that featured music from the Sacrae symphoniae (1597)  (A stunning recording by the way!!).  The original instrumentation was likely much different as intended by Gabrieli, yet has been rearranged here by Tim Higgins for a orchestral brass ensemble (trumpets, horns, trombones, and tubas).  Just the mere presence of the modern tuba gives the music its distinction from the sound of Renaissance brass music. The other instruments in the ensembles have all undergone varying degrees of evolution since the Renaissance, with larger bores and more rounded bell flares giving each instrument a larger, darker sound. 

Apart from the modern instrumentation, the topic of volume was brought up in our discussions.  The nature of brass instruments of the Renaissance prevented the type of volume we might be accustomed to with modern brass instruments.  While no one can say for sure what Gabrieli might think of hearing his music with the volume and power of today's instruments, we would like to think he would be impressed!

Below is a similar performance video and discussion of the same music of Gabrieli, given by the Chicago Symphony brass in 2001.  Also, a performance on period instruments from Gabrieli's Sacrae symphoniae, featuring cornets and sacbuts.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016



This blog will accompany my semester in the graduate Brass Ensemble Literature course at U. of Iowa.  I hope to reflect on certain literature discussions in class, but to also expand on those discussions with my own interests.  The primary theme of this blog will be the literature of non-brass ensembles that have been "stolen" and re-purposed for use in a brass ensemble.  This will range from the arrangement of Renaissance and Baroque music, to the transcription of current pop-culture favorites and everything in between.  By doing this I hope to highlight some of my own interests and experiences and to discover new literature for academic and practical use in my own future artistic endeavors.