Brass Quintet Done Right

February, aka “Chamber Music Month at ULM”, continued this week with a performance and several other events presented by the Mirari Brass Quintet, a relatively new professional ensemble that’s been doing quite a bit of touring recently. The members are Eddie Ludema and Alex Noppe, trumpets, Jessie Thoman, horn, Sarah Paradis, trombone, and Glen Dimick, tuba.  All are active as teachers, soloists, and chamber and orchestral musicians. Alex Noppe is also the newest member of the brass faculty here at ULM, where he has been doing an outstanding job. Mirari spent most of the day Monday on our campus, teaching some private lessons in the morning, working with two student brass quintets that afternoon, and then sitting down for an informal Q&A session with several music students. They finished out their mini-residency with an exciting program on Monday evening. I was very impressed with everything Mirari did, whether it was teaching, performing, coaching, or providing thoughtful answers to questions from various students. Besides the evening recital, the most interesting part of the day for me was the Q&A session, when the group spoke about their beginnings and how they put together this ensemble. The quintet was formed by graduate students at Indiana University a few years ago, and their members have gone on to professional playing and teaching positions around the country. For detailed information on the group and its history, you can check out their website. Something they kept coming back to in their discussion was perseverance, and how crucial it is in the music business to keep going after something, even if the path to get there isn’t always a straight line.  Mirari’s perseverance is certainly starting to pay off, as the group continues to get bookings for tours, residencies, and other performances. Another topic they touched on was promotion and how to get booked for performances.  They stressed how crucial it was to have a website, since the first thing most people do when they’re looking for something is to run a search on Google. Their personal and group websites look fantastic, by the way, and they also have a Facebook page and a blog.

Their recital was full of variety, including a Renassiance transcription,  new works commissioned by the group, and tunes by Chick Corea and Charles Mingus arranged by Noppe especially for this ensemble.  Though everything they did was polished and musically convincing, I was especially impressed by their performance of a new piece written for them by Eric Nathan. Titled “Spires,” the piece was filled with extended techniques and lots of timbral and textural effects. For a brief summary of the work and some sound clips, visit the  composer’s website. Another highlight of the performance were the Corea and Mingus arrangements, not exactly standard fare for the average brass quintet. They pulled off these difficult charts with great style and energy, and I think the group has definitely found a niche with these kinds of works. If you consider the really big names in the brass quintet world – Boston Brass, Canadian Brass, Dallas Brass, Empire Brass, etc. – you’ll find that each group has carved out a place for themselves in an extremely competitive market through creative programming along with brilliant playing.  In my opinion, Mirari Brass is well on their way to making a name for themselves by doing the same thing.  Bravo again for a wonderful performance!

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.

Brass Quintet Excerpts, Part II

Continuing the post from Part I of this series, we should consider some of the other reasons why it is beneficial to study, or least be familiar with, brass quintet excerpts.  Quoting again from the Guide to the Brass Quintet:

Many of these works are performed frequently by student and professional brass quintets.  Being aware of the important horn solos and other prominent passages in these pieces will keep you from being caught off guard at your next reading session or rehearsal.

Because the brass quintet is the most popular medium for those instruments in chamber music, and because it has a tradition extending back to the 19th century (Ewald, etc.), there is now a more or less standard repertory, similar, though not as large, to what we find in symphonic music.  Even if you are not currently active in a brass quintet, it would still be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the major works and passages in the literature.  (Quoting myself again from the Guide to the Brass Quintet)

Although professional brass quintet auditions are not standardized in this country the way orchestral auditions are, players interested in pursuing a career in chamber music for brass should definitely know this repertoire.  Players auditioning for teaching positions at institutions  which have a faculty brass quintet would also need to be familiar with these works, since a reading session with the quintet would be very likely during the audition/interview process.  In addition, some full time and regional orchestras also have a woodwind or brass quintet made up of principal players – I know of at least one audition list that stated “Auditionee for Principal Horn may be asked to participate in a reading session with woodwind and/or brass quintet.” (Cedar Rapids, Principal/3rd horn, 1997)

If you’re looking for a place to start your study of brass quintet music, consult the list below.  These are all pieces – in no particular order – that I think most would agree are more or less standard in the literature, meaning they are performed and recorded quite often.  There are certainly others equal in popularity, but these are as good as any for a point of departure.  Clicking the links will take you to a specific movement from that work located in the Guide to the Brass Quintet website.  Return to the Excerpts homepage to see passages from additional movements.

Malcolm Arnold, Brass Quintet No. 1, Op. 73

Victor Ewald, Brass Quintet No. 1, Op. 5

Andre Previn, Four Outings for Brass Quintet

Morley Calvert, Suite from the Monteregian Hills

Eugene Bozza, Sonatine

John Cheetham, A Brass Menagerie

John Cheetham, Scherzo

Ingolf Dahl, Music for Brass Instruments [Brass Sextet]

Anthony Plog, Four Sketches

Eric Ewazen, Colchester Fantasy

%d bloggers like this: