Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rare Brass Band Videos

This is a link one of the brass band members sent out with a bunch of rare video footage of brass bands, like the Black Dyke Mills Band and Grimethorpe from the UK. It's called Brass Band Tube, and is supposed to be like youtube. Go ahead, snoop around! I know I'm going to!

Worst Wednesday!

I won the Worst Wednesday competition! Woo Whoo!!
I was browsing on youtube a while back, and searched for "worst brass music" or something along those lines, and ended up finding this cartoon and really bad recording of "Space Odessy 2001" with brass and percussion represented in the cartoon ensemble. I was laughing when I saw it, and thought that even though it sounds as if there could be flutes or violins in the recording at the end, I was going to show it anyway. It turned out to be a hit! The whole class was busting a gut the entire time. We even passed around the tissues! The recording was so horrible, and the cartoon was so funny that people loved it.
I did have some good competition though. Dan brought in this recording of a young brass sextet that performed in a festival or something, and sounded terrible. It was LONG too, so it was bad and lasted a long time.

Weirdest Wednesday

For Weirdest Wednesday, all I had prepared to play for the class was a J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding duet with rhythm section called "Going, Going, Gong." I had forgotten to sync my ipod the night before, so I didn't have what I wanted to play on it. Even if I had brought what I wanted to bring, it probably would've gotten disqualified due to the fact that it was not a brass ensemble. It was a recording of trombone and electronics, and this piece called "Hydra" which represents the Ancient Greek water monster with 3 heads. It is very unmusical (in my opinion), and displays a lot of strange methods of distorting sounds of water, and of the trombone. At one point, I believe the trombone is playing with his bell just sitting on the surface of the water, so it causes bubbles in his playing. I am trying to figure out how to get my itunes music transferred over to my blog, but so far I have been unsuccessful. Once I figure it out, I will come back and edit all of the posts that are supposed to have music links.

Loudest Wednesday

For the loudest brass ensemble music competition, I decided to submit a performance of the March from "The Pines of Rome" played by the Black Dyke Mills band and massed bands. It starts out very quiet, to the point where I couldn't even hear it on my laptop speakers at full volume. As the piece goes on, it keeps growing and growing until the very end, where there is a HUGE finale that gave me goosebumps and that natural high or rush feeling when I heard it.

I was going to also submit a movement of the "Mass for Mass Trombones," which is an ensemble of 77 trombones performing in a cathedral with approximately 11 different choirs spread out around the cathedral in different directions with a soloist in the center. I didn't think it was as loud as the "Pines of Rome," but it has its moments. I tried loading it onto the blog from my itunes, but I can't figure out how to get it onto here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Loudest Competition

Well, I didn't win the loudest brass ensemble competition, but I did come in 3rd. I gotta say... the 24 sousaphones in a boomy gym were definitely loud. Congrats to Pat.

My listening was the Black Dyke Mills Band along with massed bands playing the March from "Pines of Rome." It was very impressive, and even though it didn't reach as many decibels as I would have liked, it would have been EXTREMELY impressive to see it live.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

US Open Brass Band Championship Winners

When it comes to brass band competitions in the United States, one of the most entertaining and well-attended events is the US Open held in St. Charles, IL each year. One of the reasons this competition draws a crowd is because of its entertainment value, and the fact that a large part of the competition scores are subject to each band’s amusement and entertainment.
There are different awards given to bands in different areas, such as:
Most Entertaining: Fountain City Brass BandBest Cornet of the Day: Kim Dekay, Ohio Brass BandBest Featured Soloist: Theo Musick (xylophone), Fountain City Brass BandBest March: Brass Band of Central Florida, The Padstow LifeboatBest New Arrangement of Composition: Foggy Day/Lee Harrelson, Fountain City Brass BandBest Percussion Section: Brass Band of Central FloridaBest Busker: Motor City Brass Band, DEEP 6 with a medley from the musical Chicago[1]
Awards for each area vary. The award for Best Cornet of the Day is a brand new silver cornet. Casey Thomas was the winner of the Best New Arrangement of Composition in 2008 with his arrangement of “Esprit de Corps.” He received $250, and a plaque. I believe the grand champion of the competition takes home a large trophy, and probably some money…not to mention an inflated ego.
After looking at previous results, talking to band members about competitions over the years, and seeing the competitions for myself the past two years, I have concluded that even though entertainment is a large aspect of the competition, you are also judged on how you execute such entertainment. For example, Fountain City Brass Band from Kansas City, MO were grand champions this past year, as well as Most Entertaining. Even though the Eastern Iowa Brass Band did more moving around and staging than Fountain City, they had specifically choreographed every step of every move. It reminded me of watching “Blast,” only not quite as professional and entertaining. They also played exceedingly well and looked very sharp. The Ohio Brass Band usually comes to the competition with the most extravagant and over-the-top entertainment ideas of everyone. They are so over-the-top that many times they are more annoying than entertaining. This past year, they had a huge Muppet theme, where people were dressed in wigs, had fluffy boas and different colored t-shirts for each section. They did a piece called “Ma-na-ma-na,“ that I thought was very funny. It’s a fairly well-recognized piece, and is fun to play (or sing). They had one of their trombone players come out wearing a suit, an orange fuzzy wig, a boa, and HUGE plastic sunglasses. The tenor horns came up to the front to play the melody of the piece and dance. The trombone player only had four notes, and if he tried to break into a solo and dance, the tenor horns would scold him, and he’d go back to playing the four notes he was assigned, that were representative of the “Ma-na-ma-na.”
The Ohio Brass Band also did a drum set solo piece, where one of the percussion members dressed up as Animal from The Muppets, and was running amuck around the stage. Towards the middle of the piece, he was given a pair of drumsticks, and sat down at the drum set and started playing. Sadly, his drum skills were not all that great, and we were not very impressed.
Another part to the US Open competition is doing a Buskers group. These are all small ensembles that usually play very entertaining and creative pieces, and have shtick comedy. They are performed in between each large group off to the side of the stage, while the stage crew sets up for the next group. As you can see from above, they have a separate competition for the Buskers, and a separate award. This past year, the Easter Iowa Brass Band did two pieces with a Tuba and Euphonium ensemble. I believe there were only four in the group. Their first piece was a piece about a locomotive. I don’t remember what the name of it was, but they had a train whistle, and percussion. It was supposed to sound like a train leaving the station and chugging down the tracks. It was pretty cool. Their other piece was a rock tune, where Todd, our first Euphonium player was going to do a solo with a Silent Brass practice mutes paired with an amplifier. He put it on the electric guitar setting, but unfortunately didn’t turn the amp on before he had his solo. You couldn’t really hear him, and it didn’t sound anything like a guitar.
All in all, the bottom line of finding a winner in these competitions is how each band sounds and plays together as a group. You can have the most entertaining band in the world up there, but if they don’t have great sound and technique, they aren’t going to win. There are competitions where all the judges go by is how a group plays. I have never been to NABBA (North American Brass Band Association), but I am told that their competitions are blind. There is no entertainment score at all. There are also different divisions to compete in, which is different from the US Open, where everyone is lumped into one group. Some may think that the lack of divisions in the US Open puts bands at a disadvantage. I honestly have to agree for the most part. There are a few bands that come to the US Open who constantly get low scores. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad bands. It just means that they are small fish in a big pond. They are up against the bigger, more experienced bands of the US. This is where I think having size and ability level divisions would come in handy. It would make competitions fairer.
One more subject I’d like to discuss is how the US Open handles competition from the UK. Three years ago, a British brass band called Wingates Brass Band entered the US Open competition. The rumor was that they wanted to boost their winning ratings by coming over and winning the US Open. I was not at this competition, but I’m told that they played very well, and were rated much lower than they should have been. I did, however, hear that they did nothing for the entertainment aspect of the competition, which might have lowered their score a bit. Some people think that the reason they got lower scores is because they thought they could simply come over to the US and clean up. I have no answers to these possible reasons for their scores, but it is interesting to observe.
All in all, the final judging comes down to the best musicians. If a band is able to play technically and beautifully with cleanliness and energy beneath all the choreography and humor, they have a better chance of taking home the trophy.

The rest of the story...

Recently, I have learned that entertainment is not always an important aspect in brass band competitions in the United States. I have never been to NABBA, the North American Brass Band Association competition, but I was told recently that each band has a blind audition, rather than being judged on entertainment value. I mentioned in my previous post about brass bands that entertainment was included in all concerts and competitions.
When it comes to playing in a brass band, there isn't too much of a difference from playing in any ensemble. You have to listen, balance, pay attention to what the principal players are doing and follow, blend, and know your part. The Eastern Iowa Brass Band currently has 8 trombone players, and 3 euphonium players, which is unusual for traditional instrumentation. Usually there are 3 trombones, and 2 euphoniums, but the EIBB holds a strong sense of community with its members, and feels that not including certain members could take away from that. There are certain times, such as before the US Open, where we will use a reduced instrumentation for competitions, but the members are eagerly welcomed back as soon as it's over.
The lead solo cornet player acts as a sort of "concertmaster" in the group. Next to the conductor, they have the most say in the band, and will sometimes make comments and suggestions. At least in the EIBB, every one's suggestions and opinions are taken into account, and are usually discussed, and/or fixed.
I have very much enjoyed having the privilege of being a part of this organization, and look forward to many years of playing with these wonderful people. They are my second family, and we look out for one another through the ups and downs.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bonnie Varga
ABEL Historical Perspectives Paper
February 15, 2010

Origins of Traditional British Brass Bands

During the early 19th Century in England, the Industrial Era brought forth a movement of brass band assembly within the work force of mills and factories. The invention of valves in 1815 allowed for more agility and accuracy of the instruments. Adolphe Sax, who was the designer of the modern day saxophones played a part in designing the valved instruments which make it possible to play faster and more in tune today.
Second in importance was the invention of the saxhorn family by the renowned instrument maker, Adolphe Sax, in the 1840's. The saxhorn family gave the brass a complete set of instruments from the highest treble to the deepest bass. An instrument that satisfyingly supplied the bass to the ensemble was always a problem, the ophicleide was too weak and hadn't the deep lower notes needed. The primitive tubas used in orchestras at the time were still to weak to support an ensemble. The answer came with the lowest member of the saxhorn family, the BB flat bass, which is now so closely related to the tuba that had become synonymous with it. So with these two developments, the brass had a choir which was homogenous in tone, and so the wind gradually fell out of use in the band.[1]
It is strange to think of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone was affiliated with the development of the traditional brass bands. After the developments of the instruments settled, people began organizing brass bands consisting of cornets, flugelhorns, tenor and baritone horns, euphoniums, trombones, E flat and B flat basses (tubas), and percussion.
Most believe that brass bands were strictly constructed within work forces of large cities, but there is record of brass bands being formed within small villages outside of the large cities.[2] Within work forces, brass bands were used as a way to boost employees’ morale and have them do something constructive and fun during their leisure time, much like having certain sports for office mates of a business. It helped employees forget about hard times and life stresses for a short while. Employers frequently supplied the instruments, as well as practice rooms for employees to practice on their down time. It also helped instill a sense of unity within a company. Playing in any sort of ensemble requires teamwork, and teamwork is a large part of any successful business.
Once brass bands gained more popularity in the factories and mills, they began spreading to small communities as well. Within villages, an entire community could put together a brass band with either private sponsors or an internal income from community members. Many of these community-centered ensembles were run by one or two families of the village. They would act as managers for the bands, and some were conductors. Children who were descendants of brass band members would often be started on either cornet or tenor horn as soon as they were old enough to hold the instrument.[3] They would take lower positions, such as 3rd or 4th cornet, or 2nd horn and work their way up the chain as they matured and became better players. This was very common, because if the principal cornet player was to retire, the next best player would take his place, ultimately boosting everyone below him to a higher seat. The one thing I was disappointed to read about from this particular site is that if a person was unsuccessful at learning the cornet or tenor horn, they were usually put on “lower member instruments.” For example, “If a player failed on these two instruments, then they were usually introduced to the lower members of the band until their ideal instrument was found.”[4] I’m not saying that trombones or basses are supposed to be the best in the band, but that statement makes it seem like unless you were a cornet or tenor horn player, you weren’t as much of a value to the group.
Traditionally brass bands were comprised mostly of men. This may have been another motivation for become a member of a band, whether in the factories or the villages. Family life can be taxing at times, and the chance to get away for a few hours to hang out with friends and make music was probably very appealing to most men. Some bands held rehearsals in reserved rooms or basements of pubs around town. Members would frequently visit the pub after rehearsal while talking with one another and bonding. The Eastern Iowa Brass Band is a fine example of this behavior. Every week after rehearsal, people go to the bar, have some drinks, talk, joke around, and just relax. Many of these people have families at home, and the night away is a way for them to unwind. The bar is also a place where you can talk to friends about things that are troubling you in life. Someone could be in dyer straights, and 99% of the time will receive assistance from other band members. I moved three times since I’ve moved to Iowa City, and every time I have had brass band members come and help me out of the goodness of their hearts (and free beer).
Now for a complete 180, another way that popularity of brass bands grew was the use of them as a substitute for organs in churches. According to the “Brass Band Oberschwaben-allgau” website, which is a band formed in Germany, substituting brass bands for organs in churches sparked popularity in other European countries, and eventually around the world.[5] The reason for why the change in instrumentation was used was not mentioned.
Being in a brass band may have initially been intended for workers to have something pleasant to do on their time off instead of worrying about difficult times, but in the grand scheme of things I believe it was more of a community builder.
[1] Hurrogate Band website: About—History “The History of Brass Bands,”
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Brass Band Oberschwaben-allgau, “What is a Brass Band?,”

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Listening Presentation

Listening Presentation
By Bonnie Varga

Mr. Sandman
- Brighouse and Rastrick Band
- British brass band, amateur musicians, and financially independent
- Regarded throughout the UK as an “elite” group, and are considered one of the most entertaining bands in the brass band world
- EIBB is doing this same piece on our next concert, complete with choreography!

A Mass for Mass Trombones: Kyrie (77 trombones) 1993-94

- Composed by Wendy Mae Chambers
- A requiem In memory of her father
- At the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City
77-Trombone Requiem
“In honor of Father's Day, Wendy Mae Chambers's "Mass for Mass Trombones: A Requiem for 77 Trombones" is to be performed tomorrow at 9 P. M. at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street, Morningside Heights. The nine-movement work, dedicated to the composer's father, is constructed from the 13th-century Mass for the Dead. The audience will be surrounded by 11 choirs of seven trombones each, conducted by David Gilbert. Thomas Hutchinson is to perform a solo from the pulpit.” -NY Times

Mnozil Brass- Kill Bill-Theme to Green Hornet
- Originated in 1992 in Josef Mnozil’s tavern located in Vienna as an entertainment group
- Currently hold about 120 concerts around the world each year
- Notice how easy the trumpet player makes it look and sound!
- is their website. Make sure to hit the British flag in the upper right-hand corner… unless you’re fluent in German!

Mnozil Brass- Bohemian Rhapsody (excerpts)

Bugler's Holiday (with Cornet Trio) - By Leroy Anderson / arr. Michael Edwards
- Performed by the Eastern Iowa Brass Band

Concerto for Bass Trombone and Trombone Choir by Eric Ewazen
- Performed by the New Trombone Collective ensemble
- Comes from the “Trombone” CD from the set of 3
- For this CD, the musicians had to choose which piece they wanted to record in order to display their own strengths and tastes in music

Going, Going, Gong! for 2 trombones, piano, string bass, and percussion by J. J. Johnson
- Going, Going, Gong! - Bill Evans (piano), J.J. Johnson (trombone), Art Taylor (percussion), Tommy Williams (bass), Kai Winding (trombone)
- From “The Great Kai and J. J.” album

Montage, Mvt III Rondo by Peter Graham for brass band
- Black Dyke & International Staff Band
- Conductors: Dr Nicholas Childs & Dr Stephen Cobb
- Going to be performed by the EIBB on their next concert
- NABBA test piece in 2003 (North American Brass Band Association)

Serkan Çağrı & Fanfare Ciocarlia
- Fanfare Ciocarlia with guest clarinet soloist, Serkan Çağrı from Turkey

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mr. Sandman

This link SHOULD lead you to a youtube site with Mr. Sandman being performed by Brighouse and Rastrick Band in 2007. This will illustrate the point of entertainment value that is put on brass bands in competition. The Eastern Iowa Brass Band is working on this piece as of now, and will be performing it on our next concert, complete with soloists and solo parts in front of the band.

already obtained knowledge: Part I

I would first like to skim over what I have learned during the past few years in the ensemble, as well as construct a sort of time line for how I became exposed to different aspects of the band.
My first experience with the band was the fall of 2007, when Casey Thomas (the group's director) invited me to see one of their regular Subscription concerts in Mount Vernon. I was hesitant to come, because I didn't know what to expect, and thought it was going to be the equivalent of an ameteur community band concert. MAN was I wrong! The ensemble was very talented, played great repertoire, and had a great sense of humor. One piece in particular that was played that night was a Frank Sinatra romantic song... or something (I can't remember right now, sorry) that was sung by one of the members, while one of the cornet players-- a man, I might add-- came out from back stage dressed as an old woman with a walker! That was one of the first lessons I learned that night about brass bands, at least the ones in the US. Entertainment value is ALWAYS imcorporated into concerts and competitions!
I believe it was in the Spring of 2008 when I was asked to sub for one of the members for a rehearsal. I was very nervous, because I really didn't know anyone, and they were doing a clinic with a director of a Chicago brass band in preparation for their US Open Brass Band Championships coming up.
I did fairly well, and was slowly learning what tenor horns were, and the fact that baritones and euphoniums are 2 different instruments, rather than the same, like they tend to become in a symphony band. I learned that trombones were the only cylindrical instruments in the whole ensemble, due to the fact that they use cornets instead of trumpets, and tenor horns instead of F. horns and such. Tubas are actually called "basses" and are pitched in either E flat or B flat. Soprano cornets are used as the highest voices of the ensemble, and often take much of what the cornets have and play it an octave above. More research is to come of the role of soprano cornet, as well as the rest of the instruments.

To be continued in Part II...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

First post

So, this blog thing is fairly new to me. I've only done one other blog, and I've only had it for a few months.
I enjoyed the listening session on Monday. They were all pieces I have not heard before, except for the last piece. A friend of mine burned a copy of that CD for me a few years ago, "Fanfare Ciocarlia," but I never knew who it was until now. I'm a little bummed, because I was hoping to do that CD on my listening presentation without people knowing what it was. Oh well. It's great music, and very unique.