Trios for Horn, Trombone, and Tuba

k32067000000000-00-500x500A colleague from another university contacted me recently to ask for some recommendations about low brass trios (horn, trombone, tuba). Having just performed a program featuring music for this ensemble at the International Trombone Festival and the International Horn Symposium, I was interested to see what other repertoire might be out there. Based on a cursory search of my favorite online music retailers (and a few other places), here’s what turned up. It’s a more limited selection than the high brass trio, but more than I thought would be readily available. *This list only includes original works, not arrangements or transcriptions. I haven’t performed very many of these, although several of them look promising based on what I know of the composers’ other works. As I mentioned in my presentation at IHS 50, low and high brass trios are ripe for scholarship and creative activity in the form of recordings, commissions, arrangements, etc. If you have an interest in brass chamber music beyond the standard quintet, give the brass trio a serious look.

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What’s in a Name?

For many years, the faculty brass ensemble at the University of Louisiana at Monroe was known as the Chamber Arts Brass.  While this was a good name, the current members of the ensemble (me included) thought we should consider a name change.  After much discussion, we arrived at Black Bayou Brass.  Rather than bash the old name, I’ll explain why we like the new one, and some of our reasons for choosing it.  First, the alliteration makes it catchy, and easy to remember (we hope!)  Second, we really wanted a name that incorporated some kind of a local element – in other words, something from Northeast Louisiana.  In thinking about this region and some of the features which make it unique, we all agreed that Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge was near the top of the list.  It’s a beautiful place, and is located only a few minutes from campus (follow this Google image search for some additional photos).  I’ve only been out there a few times, but as we finally get some cooler fall weather I plan to make more trips to the refuge.

Though something as simple as a name might not seem like much, consider how much money is spent in the advertising industry just coming up with the perfect name or slogan for a new product.  Or better yet, talk to someone in advertising or public relations about name recognition and “branding.”  For a chamber ensemble, I think the group’s name is very important, and should be something that everyone in the ensemble can feel good about. For better or worse, your group’s name is often the first thing a potential audience will hear, long before they hear you play or even see a picture. In short, it’s worth some serious thought!

Speaking of pictures, to go along with our new name we decided to get some professional pictures taken as well.  While a snapshot will do in a pinch, it’s well worth the money to pay a professional to take several different kinds of photographs of your group.  These can be used for websites, Facebook pages, and print brochures.  One of our “casual” shots, for lack of a better word, is pictured at the beginning of this post, and a more formal one with white tie and tails is seen at left.  Ensemble members are, from left to right, Alex Noppe, James Boldin, and Micah Everett. Brad Arender of Arender Photography Studio took these, and we think he did a fantastic job! We have a number of off-campus performances coming up this year – more on those in future posts – and we needed some promotional materials to send to our hosts. Along with the name, good photographs are another big component of marketing a chamber music group.  While they certainly won’t cover up any musical shortcomings, these elements can really help get your foot in the door when it comes to booking performances.  From there it’s up to the group to take care of putting together a fine musical performance.

“New” Music for Brass Trio

As mentioned previously in this post, the Chamber Arts Brass recently performed at the Big 12 Trombone Conference in Lubbock, TX.  We just received the recording from the concert, and overall I’m very pleased with it.  The hall had a nice resonant sound, but you can still hear articulations very clearly.  You can check out recordings of two of the pieces we performed at the end of this post.  The first one is Daniel Schnyder’s Trio for Trumpet, French horn, and Trombone, a relatively new work composed in 1996.  The other piece is one I’m fairly sure most people aren’t familiar with, Diversions for Brass Trio by Roger Jones.  Dr. Jones taught theory, composition, and tuba at The University of Louisiana at Monroe, and retired a few years before I joined the faculty.  I came across this piece while looking over some old Chamber Arts Brass programs from the late 1980s and early 1990s.  I contacted Roger and asked him if he would be willing to send us the piece, and he graciously provided our trio with a full set of parts.  As an introduction to the piece I’ve included some program notes that Roger wrote.

Diversions for Brass Trio was sketched in the spring of 1980 as a compositional exercise to explore the medium made standard by Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Horn, Trumpet and Trombone. Like that milestone piece, Diversions is neoclassical and at times whimsical. The completed sketch was set aside until 1989, when a few revisions were made, and the work was premiered at The University of Louisiana at Monroe (then Northeast Louisiana University) in April of that year.

Diversions consists of five movements. The first, “Statement”, presents a bold motive that is then developed imitatively. Though starting somewhat brashly, the music leads to a soft conclusion. “Invention” follows with a new motive based on a rising line. Its six sections explore that material contrapuntally and include modified quotes of the “Statement” motive. “March” is the most whimsical of the movements and is set in an ABABA structure The primary melody in “Song” is derived directly from the “Statement” motive. It contrasts with the rising-line motive that has now become a melody itself. “Finale”, also on the whimsical side, is a rondo with most of the episodes containing developmental material. However a new idea is inserted late in the movement for contrast. The “statement” motive again returns several times, and with an abrupt slowing of tempo allows the rising-note theme to appear one final time. It is followed by a last hearing of the “Statement” motive just before the short and brisk conclusion.

Roger Jones 2011

To my knowledge the piece is not published, but it really should be!  It is well-written, accessible to a wide variety of audiences, and very playable.  I do hope that Roger considers publishing the work in the future and making it available to other brass trios.

Chamber Arts Brass, live performance at the Big 12 Trombone Conference, Texas Tech University, January  2011

Alex Noppe, trumpet; James Boldin, horn; Micah Everett, trombone

Daniel Schnyder, Trio for Trumpet, French horn, and Trombone

Movement 1

Movement 2

Movement 3 

Movement 4

Movement 5

Roger Jones, Diversions for Brass Trio

Movement 1

Movement 2 

Movement 3

Movement 4

Movement 5

Handel for Brass Trio

Here’s a short video clip from a recent performance by the Chamber Arts Brass Trio, resident faculty brass ensemble at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Of special note is that this was our first “official” performance with new trumpet faculty member Alex Noppe.   Alex joined the music faculty at ULM this fall, having held a previous position at Indiana State University.  We are delighted to have him on our faculty, and look forward to future performances together.

I did the recording with a Canon Vixia HF R10, a device I like more every time I use it.  I’m still working on tweaking some microphone and other settings, so any issues with the video and/or audio quality are most likely user error.  One way I plan to use the camera is to record an entire series of standard horn etudes – this will be a sizeable project, so it’ll probably have to wait until the summer!

New Brass Trio CD

One long term project I’ve been involved with is a CD recording of brass trio music, featuring the Chamber Arts Brass, the resident faculty brass trio here at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.  The project actually began in the fall of 2008 with a written proposal for funding from the College of Arts and Sciences at ULM.  We were fortunate in that our proposal was funded, and we were able to proceed with recording the CD.  We recorded over four days in April of 2009, averaging about three hours per session.  After the recording sessions, we spent several hours editing and mastering with the recording engineer, and now have a nice final product to show for it.  It should be said up front that this recording is strictly for promotional/educational purposes, and is not for sale. However, if you are interested in hearing the entire CD I’ll include a link to the files at the end of this post.  As many of you probably know, producing a commercial CD is quite expensive, and unfortunately we were not able to afford the mechanical licensing costs for this particular project.  As such we cannot legally sell the recording for a profit, but I do believe that we are within the law by making these recordings available for free to prospective students and other interested parties for educational purposes.

The title of the CD is Metamorphosen, and includes a number of standard as well as newer compositions for brass trio.  One of the strengths of our proposal I believe was that many of these works had to my knowledge never been recorded, although some of them have become quite popular in the repertoire.  Check out the image below for a complete listing of the contents.  The personnel for this recording were as follows:

Marilynn Gibson, trumpet; James Boldin, horn; Micah Everett, trombone; Trenton Dick, recording engineer (recording/editing/mastering); Jason Rinehart, producer

Of the works we recorded, the Beethoven Trio, Op. 87 is definitely the most substantial.  It is one of the more frequently performed brass trio arrangements, but surprisingly I was unable to find very many recordings of it. Originally composed for two oboes and English horn, the Trio works quite well for the trumpet/horn/trombone combination.  Another particularly interesting work is Figaro Metamorphosen, by the Dutch composer Jan Koetsier. Koetsier has a number of very nice works for brass, and a handful of solo horn compositions.  His style is tonal and often lighthearted, but quite challenging at times.  His Figaro Metamorphosen is of course where we got the title for CD, and is an extended (9+ minutes) single movement composition based on themes from Mozart’s comic opera The Marriage of Figaro. To my knowledge this work has not been previously recorded, making ours the debut recording.  Here’s the link to the recording if you’d like to take a listen.

I will most likely post in the future about the recording process, but those who have done some recording know how grueling it can be.  Things must be in effect “perfect,” or as perfect as they can be on a given day under a particular set of conditions.  For this recording we decided to use our recital hall here at ULM as it would help cut down on some of the recording costs and also because the space is really quite good acoustically.  However, for a number of reasons we were unable to have the air handlers turned off in the hall so you can hear a low pitched hum on every track.  In addition, recording in a hall creates more variables acoustically, so at times it was difficult to splice the takes we wanted because of excess reverb from a previous section bleeding over into our splice.  In the controlled environment of a recording studio this would not have been an issue.  But, in general I am very pleased with the final product and I am excited about sharing it.

If you liked the sample included above you can listen to all of the tracks from the CD by visiting the following link. http://www.ulm.edu/~boldin/sound.html

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