Los Angeles Brass Ensemble

Music Director, Justin Freer
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Brass Music in the 21st Century

1930-tal Stockholms VII Kårs Musikkår
Creative Commons License photo credit: YlvaS

What’s with the guy in the bottom right of the photo? Maybe there’s a dancing midget off to the side?

With the rising number of brass quintets and other variations of brass ensembles in the USA it’s surprising that relatively few works are being commissioned from either young or established composers. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a coordinated effort to increase brass literature but it sure seems like most groups are playing the same old 15th-18th century standards coupled with arrangements of already established classical literature written originally for the orchestra and/or standard jazz tunes. Of course these types of music certainly have their merit within brass music performance, but it’s surprising that so few groups are playing even just one new work during their concerts or record dates.

I love a great brass band arrangement of a standard jazz tune or an iconic classical work just as much as the next guy, but as a musician in the 21st century it’s imperative that we are able to play several styles of music very well in order to survive - so why hasn’t programming of brass literature kept up? Admittedly, brass bands generally perform a much more potpourri-driven program than most orchestras do. But these same potpourri-style programs are generally a mix of much of what’s described above.

New music, new music, new music.

It’s important not just to commission a new work for a brass record or for a premiere during a live concert but to continue to play these new works while on tour or playing locally. Regardless of the medium that new works are written for they do not pick up steam unless they are performed regularly for the public to experience. If Gustav Mahler’s music (who?) wasn’t able to achieve well-deserved worldwide fame until Leonard Bernstein made an effort to regularly play it with the New York Philharmonic, how is new brass music written by lesser mortals supposed to gain attention? And it’s safe to say that most major music critics don’t give new brass music the time of day, making it even more challenging for the brass community to add to the standard literature.

The solution is very simple.

Commission new music (or blackmail composers with compromising pictures to write new brass works).

Perform the hell out of this new music.

Of course, if the new work is a dud, do the right thing and PLEASE do not perform it! Bad music is like an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend; fun at the beginning and easily disposable after figuring it out.

Brass music in the 21st century should not be a mix of everything written during previous centuries. We must foster new, fresh, kick ass arrangements right alongside new, original works.

And perform them…often.

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9 Replies

  1. looking good buddy.

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