Formed: 1970, Toronto
Members: Ryan Anthony, trumpet (born Santiago, California, 17 May 1969); Josef Burgstaller, (born Chicago, Illinois, 27 April 1971); Charles Daellenbach, tuba (born Rhinelander, Wisconsin, 12 July 1945); Jeffrey Nelsen, French horn (born Edmonton, Alberta, 11 December 1969); Eugene Watts, trombone (born Sedalia, Missouri, 22 February 1936). Former members: Chris Cooper, French horn; Martin Hackleman, French horn; Stuart Laughton; Jens Lindemann, trumpet; Fred Mills, trumpet; David Ohanian, French horn; Graeme Page, French horn; Bill Philips, trumpet; Ron Romm, trumpet.
Genre: Classical, Pop
When trumpeter Fred Mills and tuba player and trombonist Gene Watts came up with the idea for the Canadian Brass in 1968, there were no working professional brass quintets. The group was formed two years later with tuba player Chuck Daellenbach, trumpeters Bill Phillips and Stuart Laughton, and horn player Graeme Page (Mills had other commitments and joined the group two years later).
With a limited number of works for brass ensemble available, the players had to invent both a viable sound and repertoire. With its quirky personality, sense of play, and virtuosic musicianship, the group quickly won a wide following. A measure of the group's success is the mob of brass quintets that sprang up after the Canadian Brass were formed, establishing the brass quintet as a standard ensemble.
In the beginning the group helped support itself by serving as the brass section of the Hamilton (Ontario) Philharmonic Orchestra. The players also developed an ambitious educational program for Ontario schoolchildren; the need to appeal to younger audiences helped develop the group's humorous presentations. The players spoke to audiences between pieces, engaged in good-natured kidding, and performed musical skits. The shows were hugely entertaining, and the players found that the routines that worked best with kids also worked on adults.
If comedy was all the Brass were offering, the group's musical career would not have lasted long. But along with humor, the Brass served up brilliant ensemble work, a tight sound, and formidable technical ability and musicianship. The group created its own repertoire, transcribing, arranging, and commissioning more than 200 works. Music ranged from Baroque (particularly Bach) to the Beatles, jazz, ragtime, and pop songs. In the 1990s the Brass even performed a Western "Brass Opera" called "Hornsmoke" by composer Peter Schickele, a melodrama in which the players dress up in costumes, move about the stage, and "sing" their parts on their instruments.
In the 1990s, despite personnel changes, the Brass embarked on ambitious projects, performing and recording arrangements of two of Bach's most musically challenging works: the Goldberg Variations and Art of the Fugue.
Many of the Canadian Brass arrangements—both serious classical works and lighter popular fare—have become staples of the repertoire for brass groups all over North America and Europe. The members work with young chamber groups, and they have served as quintet-in-residence at several summer festivals, including the Banff Festival and the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara.
The Brass have recorded more than fifty albums and perform more than a hundred shows a year, both solo and with symphony orchestras. They have appeared frequently on television shows such as The Tonight Show, Today, and Entertainment Tonight, along with numerous PBS, CBC, and Christmas specials. They have also produced eight videos.
Bach: The Art of the Fugue (Sony, 2001); The Essential Canadian Brass (Polygram, 1992); The Canadian Brass Greatest Hits (RCA, 1990).
R. Walters, The Canadian Brass Book: The Story of the World's Favorite Brass Ensemble (Milwaukee, 1992).
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