The Canadian Brass
The Canadian Brass
Since their appearance on the music scene in the 1970s, the Toronto-based Canadian Brass have established themselves as the first self-supporting professional brass quintet. With a popular blend of virtuosity, spontaneity, and humor the Canadian Brass has played to sold-out crowds worldwide. They have appeared on many popular television shows and are recording favorites. According to Arnold Jacobs, a founding member of one of the world’s first brass quintets, the Canadian Brass has revolutionized brass music. “They are both splendid performers and a musically aggressive group,” Jacobs declared to Ed Haag of the Canadian. “If it wasn’t for them, brass music would not have the major audience appeal it enjoys today.”
While the members of the quintet have varied over the years, its founders, Eugene Watts and Charles Daellenbach, remain. Although they both held respected positions with various organizations, they were dissatisfied with the performance opportunities available to them. To create the opportunities they wanted, Watts
Members of quintet include Charles Daellenbach (tuba); Education: graduated (at 25) from the Eastman School of Music, Ph.D. in music education; Fred Mills (trumpet); Education: Juilliard School of Music; David Ohanian (French horn); Education: New England Conservatory of Music; Ronald Romm (trumpet); Education: Juilliard School of Music; Eugene Watts (trombone), born and raised in Sedalia, Mo.; Education: University of Missouri.
Before joining the Canadian Brass: Daellenbach was head of the brass division at the University of Toronto; dean of apprenticeship program called the Hamilton Philharmonic Institute, 1974. Mills was principal trumpet in the American and Houston symphony orchestras; performed at the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico, and the Marlboro Music Festival; principal trumpet of New York City Opera Orchestra, six years; principal trumpet of National Arts Center Orchestra, Ottawa, Ontario. Ohanian’s career began in Fountainbleu, France, where at sixteen he was awarded a scholarship to study with Nadia Boulanger; performed more than ten years with the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops; founding member of Empire Brass Quintet. Romm became a trumpet soloist at age ten; member of the Romm-Antics at twelve (his family’s band); by age eighteen he performed regularly with the Los Angeles Philharmonic; freelance trumpeter while in college with the New York Philharmonic and the Radio City Music Hall Symphony Orchestra; joined the Canadian Brass in 1971. Watts played trombone in various taverns and nightclubs; formed a Dixieland band while at college called the “Missouri Mudcats”; held positions with the North Carolina, the San Antonio, and the Milwaukee symphonies; principal trombone of the Toronto Symphony.
Addresses: Office —Canadian Brass Management Office, 40 Alexander St., PH 1, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M4Y 1B5. Manager —Gurtman and Murtha Associates, Inc., 162 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019. Publicist —Avril Helbig, Canadian Brass Music Producing, 6 Wychwood Park, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M6G 2V5. Other —Columbia Artists Festivals, 165 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
and Daellenbach founded a brass quintet with French-horn player Graeme Page (who was replaced by David Ohanian in 1983) and several temporary trumpeters before current trumpeters Fred Mills and Ronald Romm joined the ensemble. In order to draw financial support during the developmental period, the group rehearsed with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Hamilton, Ontario, once a week, and spent the rest of the time performing in local schools. In one year they gave as many as 300 concerts. The exposure was important and helped them develop their distinctive style. When children in their audiences would become distracted, one of the group would crack a joke to attract the children’s attention.
Since then a desire to show the audience that classical music can be fun has become a central goal of the Canadian Brass. The comical onstage antics that have led to their being called “The Marx Brothers of Brass” and “The Court Jesters of Chamber Music” are their trademark—that and sterling musicianship. “Rather than approaching music with the idea of simply faithfully reproducing something Beethoven wrote,” Watts told Ovation’s Jeanne Quill, “we present ourselves as people who talk, think, have feelings and relate to our audiences as people. Just as ballet is a combination of music and dance, and opera is a combination of music, theater and art, what we are doing is combining everything that we can do. It’s not just a concert or a recital—it’s really a very special presentation of our talents.” Sometimes that presentation includes dancing across the stage as they play music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake or strolling into the concert hall as if in a New Orleans jazz funeral procession. Tubist Daellenbach often prefaces pieces with a humorous, but informative, introduction. The group’s repertoire includes music that spans four centuries, from Bach and Mozart to Gershwin and Dixieland. They have also commissioned numerous arrangements and works, such as Hornesmoke, “the first horse opera written for brass quintet,” by musical satirist Peter Schickele (also known as P.D.Q. Bach), and avant-garde works by Lukas Foss and Michael Colgrass.
Touring widely, the Canadian Brass gives more than 150 concerts annually, with 100 of those in the United States alone. It was the first musical ensemble to tour the People’s Republic of China in 1977 as part of a cultural exchange program arranged by the Canadian government. Since then the group has performed to packed houses in Europe, the Middle East, the Soviet Union, Australia, and Japan. The Canadian Brass has also been seen often on commercial television in such shows as “Entertainment Tonight,” “The Today Show,” “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, and “Sesame Street.” The Canadian Brass has been the subject of a one-hour special on Public Broadcasting Service, “Canadian Brass Live,” and appeared as guest artists with the Boston Pops and in “Music around the World,” hosted by the celebrated soprano Beverly Sills.
With more than twenty albums to their credit, the Canadian Brass’s discography reflects the group members’ far-ranging musical tastes. Brass in Berlin features music of sixteenth- through eighteenth-century Europe, Basin Street is a Dixieland jazz recording with actor George Segal singing and playing the banjo, and A Canadian Brass Christmas presents holiday favorites. The classical release The Art of the Fugue, which marks the first complete recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s fugues by a brass quintet, was on the Billboard Classical Music Chart for fourteen weeks, peaking at the Number 9 spot. The Basin Street recording was even more successful: it was on the Billboard Crossover Chart for forty-two weeks, peaking at the Number 4 spot. The group’s success in the record stores has given its members greater freedom to pursue projects that most record producers would not consider lucrative.
The players’ interest in education is also reflected in many activities: brass workshops, video tapes, and music publishing under the corporate names of Brass Works Music and Dr. Brass. Despite a hectic performance schedule, the group has conducted many workshops and master classes with students of varying ages, encouraging excellence in ensemble playing throughout North America. An hour-long educational program on video, A Canadian Brass Master Class, shows the group working with students on specific topics of performing: posture and breathing, tonguing and embouchure, and playing with an ensemble. Because their music has become so popular, the Canadian Brass has published as sheet music many of the works from their recordings in The Canadian Brass Ensemble Series as well as pieces for early and intermediate performers in The Canadian Brass Educational Series and for more advanced soloists in The Canadian Brass Solo Performing Editions. With the sheet music in these educational series are recordings of the works which include insightful introductions and comments by the players.
The Canadian Brass performs exclusively on Yamaha instruments, a perfectly matched set of horns plated with 24-carat gold.
Canadian Brass, Vanguard Records.
Canadian Brass Encore, CBC.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ (music of Fats Waller), RCA Red Seal.
Pachelbel Canon and Other Great Baroque Hits, RCA Red Seal.
The Village Band, RCA Red Seal.
Christmas with the Canadian Brass, RCA Red Seal.
High Bright, Light and Clear, RCA Red Seal.
Canadian Brass —Greatest Hits (from The Village Band and Strike Up the Band), RCA Red Seal.
Strike up the Band, RCA Red Seal.
Canadian Brass —More Greatest Hits, RCA Red Seal.
Champions, CBS Masterworks.
Brass in Berlin, CBS Masterworks.
Canadian Brass Live, CBS Masterworks.
A Canadian Brass Christmas, CBS Masterworks.
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, CBS Masterworks.
Basin Street (featuring George Segal), CBS Masterworks.
Bach: The Art of the Fugue, CBS Masterworks.
The Mozart Album, CBS Masterworks.
Gabrieli Monteverdi: Antiphonal Music, CBS Masterworks.
Elizabethan Renaissance Album, CBS Masterworks.
Beethoven Album, Philips Classics.
Selected video tapes (distributed by Hal Leonard Publishing)
The Canadian Brass Master Class, Recording Special Video Productions, Fairfield, Iowa.
The Canadian Brass SPECTACULAR.
Canadian Brass Live, Gurtman and Murtha Associates, New York.
Canadian, April 1988.
Fairfield Ledger (Iowa), February 16, 1989.
Maclean’s, August 21, 1989.
Ovation, July 1987.
Toronto Star, June 10, 1989.
—Jeanne M. Lesinski
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