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Music Education Through Brass Banding


Music Education Through Brass Banding

by Joshua

Brass bands have been an incredibly prominent ensemble in the UK for hundreds of years.  Today there are thousands of bands throughout Great Britain, Wales, and Europe.  The movement was brought to the United States with the formation of the North American Brass Band Association in 1983.

One of the most influential figures with the brass band movement in the United States was Dr. Paul E. Droste, director emeritus and former director of the marching band at The Ohio State University.  He founded the Brass Band of Columbus, one of the first to exist in North America, in 1984.  Ever since, hundreds of bands have been established throughout the United States and Canada.

The brass band is too often mistakenly treated like a brass ensemble or even a wind band.  These are a few concepts which set the brass band apart from other ensembles:

Instrumentation – Being an ensemble comprised entirely of brass and percussion instruments, each section has different responsibilities than they normally would.  The instrumentation of a British style brass band is as follows:

    • Eb Soprano Cornet (1 player)

    • Solo Bb Cornet (4 players)

    • Repiano Bb Cornet (1 player)

    • 2nd Bb Cornet (2 players)

    • 3rd Bb Cornet (2 players)

    • Flugelhorn (1 player)

    • Eb Alto Horn (3 players)

    • Bb Baritone (2 players)

    • Bb Trombone (2 players)

    • Bass Trombone (1 player)

    • Bb Euphonium (2 players)

    • Eb Tuba (2 players)

    • Bb Tuba (2 players)

    • Percussion (3-4 players)

The best way to think of the brass band is in choirs:  Cornets (flugelhorn on bottom), Horns (flugelhorn on top), Baritones/Euphoniums, Trombones, and Tubas.  Each choir has a specific spot in the stage setup – the cornets on the conductor’s left in two rows, horns and flugelhorn in a row in front of the conductor with the tubas behind, and the rest of the low brass to the conductor’s right, trombones behind the baritones and euphoniums.  This configuration allows the soloist instruments (soprano cornet, solo cornet, solo euphonium, and solo trombone) to be on the “corner” closest to the audience.

Brass Band Specific Instruments and Roles

  • Eb Soprano Cornet – This instrument should have a HUGE variety of sounds within the texture of the brass band: ranging from a soft sweet tone to piercing and dominating like a big band lead trumpet.  If one was to think of the brass band like an orchestra, the soprano cornet should be approached as a part of the "brass section”.

  • Repiano Bb Cornet – Sitting beside the Eb soprano cornet, the repiano is also regarded as a part of the “brass section”.  This player serves as the utility man of the cornet choir; doubling parts from other instruments to add support to prominent parts.

  • Baritones AND Euphoniums – both instruments play in the same register and look very similar.  The main differences between the two are the tone and role they play within the band.  The role of the baritone section is to add a different timbre to specific sections or choirs within the tutti sound, while the euphonium (primarily the solo player) is regarded as a soloist instrument.

  • Bass Trombone – different from the orchestral bass trombone, the role of this instrument in the brass band is to add the much needed edge to the bass (tuba) sound.  If you think about the overall bass sound as an ax, the bass trombone is the sharp cutting edge, while the tubas are the weighted end.

  • Eb and Bb Tubas – other than the fundamental pitch difference between the two instruments, each should also be approached differently.  The Eb tuba is regarded as the soloist tuba, while the Bb tubas are the warm, dark, almost engulfing sound of the band, providing the bottom most frequency of the ensemble.

Playing Responsibilities - Because of the chamber-like style of the ensemble (many parts with only 1 player) there are often parts that may be doubled in other instruments.  Because of this, it IS acceptable to leave a note or two out simply because of the fact that it will most likely be played in another voice.  Depending on the dynamic markings on the music being played, parts which have more than one player can be cut back to one on a part to better achieve the softest dynamics (piano, pianissimo, etc.) 

Breathing responsibilities are also different in this ensemble; breathing spots should always be planned out, rather than using the “wait for your neighbor to breathe” concept we are all so accustomed to.  This way of approaching playing and breathing responsibilities allows the ensemble to play with extreme dynamics for extended periods of time. 

Specific seats within the ensemble also have playing responsibilities that help determine the overall sound.  For instance, the four “corner players” are the biggest contributors to the brass band’s sound.  The principal solo cornet should be the leader of the left side of the band, and should model the sound for the rest of the cornet choir.  The solo euphonium should model the sound for the baritone and euphonium choir, and arguably has the biggest role in the formation of the overall sound of the band.  The solo trombone, and the trombone section as a whole, is the “oddball” section of the band, and must be very conscious of their specific melodic, textural, and harmonic roles.  The trombones are the driving force behind the edge of the band’s sound.

Since the foundation of the Brass Band of Columbus, brass banding has become a popular ensemble in Columbus Ohio, with seven current bands around Central Ohio, which include professional level, intermediate, as well as student level.  With the brass band movement thriving as it is, it is extremely important to instill proper technique from the earliest age.  The best way to do this is through private lessons!  In our Columbus area stores, we have teachers and employees who are heavily involved in multiple brass bands in Central Ohio.  Specifically in our store (Hilliard, OH), we have:

  • David Mazon (Trumpet) – plays principal solo cornet with the Dublin Silver Band

  • Nathan Haley (Low Brass/Piano/Voice) – plays Bb Tuba in the Central Ohio Brass Band

  • Joshua Jameson (Senior Sales Associate) – plays bass trombone with the Dublin Silver Band

There are also playing opportunities for beginner and intermediate level players around Central Ohio.  This is the best way for students interested in brass banding to become involved in the activity!

  • Dublin Youth Brass Band – With the Dublin Silver Band.  Guest soloists and conductors will coach young musicians in proper brass band technique.  A joint concert with DSB and guest soloists will be given at the end of an exciting weekend.   To register, please visit www.dublinbands.com.
    • Friday, May 13 Rehearsal 4pm-7pm

    • Saturday, May 14 Rehearsal 9am-12pm

    • Sunday, May 15th 12pm report time, 2pm performance

  • All-Star Brass Band – Under the direction of Dr. Eric Aho, the All-Star Brass Band has been the premier youth brass ensemble in Central Ohio since 1986.  With two bands (Grade level 7-10, grade level 10-12), this ensemble will allow young brass musicians the opportunity to further understand brass banding style!  Auditions are held every November.  Please visit www.allstarbrass.org for more details!