Friday, March 31, 2017

Brass Bands in Kalamazoo

Branching off of the post I did earlier in the month about Brass Bands, I wanted to write a little bit about the history of Brass Bands in my hometown in Kalamazoo!

I originally stumbled upon the article while looking for photos of brass bands and found the one below. I noticed it had a drum with "Kalamazoo" printed on it which spurred my curiosity. The article I'm referencing was compiled by Keith Howard, a staff member for the Kalamazoo Public Library originally in 2010.

Here are some highlights from the article...

Kalamazoo's earliest brass band dated back to 1837 and was called the Village Brass Band. The founder of the band, John Everard, moved from New Jersey and soon put together the band which performed for celebratory occasions such as weddings and holidays.

For the remainder of the 1800's the band tradition grew and by the 1860's there were civilian bands in over 23 counties throughout southwest Michigan, Kalamazoo being one of the more popular.

The Bronson Family, who is highly regarded as one of the founding families of Kalamazoo, were very invested in the brass band tradition with a couple of the family members playing instruments and acting as bandleaders. C.Z. Bronson was a clarinetist, who know Patrick Gilmore and studied clarinet with a member of Gilmore's band. Today the Bronson family is mostly known because the city hospital, Bronson Hospital was funded by them.

Today the most notable Brass Band in the area is the Brass Band of Battle Creek.  This group was established about 25 years ago and has produced over 10 CD's since it's creation. The members currently include members Jens Lindeman, Chris Jaudes, Rich Kelly, Amy McCabe, Scott Thornburg, John Daniel, Lenny Foy, Steve Jones, Ken Bauman, Ed Zentera, Rex Richardson, Mark Armstrong, Phil Randell, Lisa Bontrager, Gail Robertson, Demondrae Thurman, Scott Hartman, Mark Frost, Steven Mead, Ben Pierce, Marty Erickson, Les Neish, Phil Sinder, David Zerkel, David Coash, John Beck, David Hardman, and Alison Shaw.

Here's a video of a crowd favorite, Carnival of Venice.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Vigilante Brass

The Vigilante Brass are a more pop/edm centered brass band featuring 3 trumpet players, horn, trombone, bass trombone, tuba, and drum kit. Many of the members are currently studying and gigging in the United Kingdom.

Their remix titled "Doin' it Wrong" is a neat blend of three pop tunes including
"Doin' It Right" by Daft Punk
"If I Were A Boy" by Beyonce
"Snow" by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The History and Repertoire of the Brass Band

A couple weeks ago, we had the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Arfon Owen. As a tenor horn player, he is well versed in brass band tradition and gave a interesting lecture on the history and repertoire of British brass bands.

Before sampling some of the major repertoire, here is brief overview of British Brass Band history...
Brass bands developed as a part of the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom starting in the 1800's. The United Kingdom saw a large increase in the working class and companies used brass bands as a way to keep workers busy and stop them from unionizing.

Many workers wanted to be a part of these brass bands because instead of working in the mines or in factories, the musicians got paid to practice and perform. The instruments themselves also became cheaper and easier to manufacture so many more working class people were able to afford instruments.

The brass band tradition grew and was very competitive in nature. Different companies would want the top players for their band, so the best players would often move form band to band depending on who would pay more. This tradition has continued into the modern day and brass bands are now a staple in British Tradition.


The literature for brass bands has greatly expanded throughout the years and because this ensemble isn't rooted in classical tradition, composers often try to move away from traditional and classical compositions. Here's a list of some of the more prominent pieces written for the ensemble...

Labour and Love (1913) by Percy Fletcher
Fletcher was a conductor and composer. He wanted to make an inspiring piece for the working class.

Moorside Suite (1928) by Gustav Holst
Holst was one of the first major conductors to write for brass band. His Moorside Suite is written in a classical style with three movements.

Fireworks (1971) by Elgar Howarth
This piece was written as a competition piece and should be performed with a narrator.

Extreme Makeover (2005) by Johan de Meij
This is also a competition piece that is very technically advanced. He does hint and reference other composers within his work including Tchaikovsky.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Caleb Lambert's Listening Presentation

Today in class we had another listening presentation by Caleb. He focused on presenting pieces with a larger instrumentation ranging from a sextet to a full brass ensemble. Here are some of the pieces from his presentation that I wanted to highlight...

Fanfare for Brass Sextet by Morten Lauridsen

This fanfare is quick, only lasting about two minutes, but is an enjoyable piece. I would consider it to be a modern take on a traditional fanfare. Lauridsen uses some traditional techniques along with adding interesting rhythms and chordal structures. One of the unique qualities of the work is that the ensemble often sounds offset when beginning a phrase because most players do not start on the downbeat.

Divertimento by Raymond Premru

This is a work containing five movements for an ensemble consisting of four trumpets, horn, three tenor trombones, bass trombone, tuba. Each of the movements have a lighter quality, and although this is a larger ensemble, the texture never sounds too dense. Many of the movements feature some nice lyrical melodies and a more traditional style. The movement I enjoyed the most was movement two, "A Tale from Long Ago."

While listening to this, I knew I had heard that melody in some form before. I then recalled hearing this as a main theme in the Shrek soundtrack. Given that Divertimento was composed in 1976 and Shrek came out in 2001, I wouldn't be surprised if the composer was inspired by this song when writing the soundtrack. Below is one of the tracks from the Shrek soundtrack that pretty clearly uses the theme.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Kenken Gorder's Listening Presentation

Yesterday one of the students in our Brass Literature class had a listening presentation featuring a variety of pieces composed for ensembles ranging from brass ensemble to tuba and euphonium quartet. Here are some of the pieces I enjoyed most from the presentation...

Written for brass ensemble and percussion. This piece has a heroic sound with some beautiful melodic writing.

This is a quote from the composer detailing more about his intentions...
"The Messiah College Brass Choir commissioned me to compose a work for the grand opening of The Calvin and Janet High Center for Worship and the Performing Arts.  The music is meant to be vibrant and energetic as it mimics a distant Pulsar emitting bursts of light and energy. The star can illuminate the most wondrous display of beauty and color showing off its magnificent power and nobility."

Poopy Pants Blues by Adam Rapa

A very unique piece, Rapa claims to have written this in a couple hours after being inspired by his two year old niece. In the original recording he used a multitrack set up to record the various parts and employs a variety of extended techniques to depict the conversation between him and his niece. The video below shows a live performance with Adam Rapa and Frank Sullivan.

This is technical powerhouse of piece written for brass band. This composition seems to have everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. It employs a number of themes stemming from various sources such as Russian folk songs and Tchaikovsky.