Los Angeles Brass Ensemble

Music Director, Justin Freer

March 11, 2010

The Importance of Music In Film

Neve 8068 recording console
Creative Commons License photo credit: rockmixer

It’s been well over one year since the last blog post so I thought a major (and important) topic, and one with tangential relationship to the Los Angeles Brass Ensemble (many of our fine players record in the studios for major motion pictures), would be in order.

I can’t tell you how many people I know both very well and just socially that completely undervalue the importance of music in film. As we are subjected to constant sound bytes almost anywhere we go, from radio to television, iPhones to iPods, bursting movie theater speakers to loud restaurant conversation, our ears become inundated with noise (and desensitized) and thus start to lose a highly evolved perception of sound relative to silence (which is golden). Further, we must give attention to how much more of a role sound design and loud sound effects now play in film.

Often times in a film’s final mix, the score, well crafted or not, is buried behind both a plethora of loud noise and a sound mixer’s ego, making it even more difficult to hear the music.

While well crafted sound design and sound effects are so very necessary in the creation of a film, music touches the emotion, the psyche, the things you cannot see. Sound design and effects don’t do this nearly as efficiently and naturally. Without music it would be much more difficult to follow the emotional ups and downs of a film, much more difficult to experience the fear of the rider as he is chased on his horse riding through the dark.

The importance of music in film for the average film goer (whom films are most often made for) has slowly and steadily dwindled. While the Golden Age of Hollywood brought fantastic scores from such films as Gone With The Wind, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain from Castile and others, the 1970’s gave us such brilliant scores as Jerry Goldsmith’s Patton and Chinatown, John Williams’ Star Wars. And of course there are wonderful scores being written today as well, from Thomas Newman’s score to Wall-E to Michael Giacchino’s elegant romp from Ratatouille. The problem isn’t with the quality of output today but with the perception of importance that the score provides to the film. There are several major factors that are contributing to this trend:

1) The music, simply put, is often buried. How is the audience supposed to feel the music when their ears are trying to navigate through the excruciatingly loud sound design?

2) Music as sound design. Take any number of network television shows or action movies. One of the current musical trends is to compose patches of background sound which is a far cry from the age old practice of using themes and motivic reference to communicate with the audience. Patches of sound desensitizes the ear because it often contains so much of the same frequencies over and over. This desensitization gives the ear an almost white noise sensation as the score competes with the surrounding noise environment.

3) An overall lack of respect for what music can do for a film. If only DVD’s allowed the audience to select ‘play with no music.’ My guess is almost everyone watching (without music) the opening of Star Wars, the hijacking scene from Airforce One or the finale to E.T. would turn the movie off within minutes if not sooner.

Music soothes the soul. If we are, as a society, to hold a higher importance of music in film, we must respect it as both a legitimate and necessary art form while always being aware of the emotional guidance it performs for us.

157 comments so far

December 14, 2008

Classical Christmas Music For Brass That Rocks

Christmas tree with red trumpet
Creative Commons License photo credit: vees

Great classical Christmas music for brass is a dime a dozen - you just have to know the right records to buy.

Unfortunately, there are a slew of Christmas brass records out there that suck. What do you expect? Pretty much any brass band that takes themselves seriously will at some time or another put out one or multiple Christmas records. And no, the Los Angeles Brass Ensemble has yet to put out a record filled with classical Christmas music. Perhaps this means we don’t take ourselves seriously?

Nah…a Christmas record is scheduled for release in 2009. It’s gonna be called “In Your Face, The Most Obnoxious Christmas Record Yet Recorded.” It will consist mainly of traditional Christmas tunes arranged in the style of Pierre Boulez and Arnold Schoenberg.

Now that would make for a seriously deranged holiday album!

Back to being serious…we’re planning the record to be a nice mix of traditional and not so traditional tunes arranged with both classical and jazz styles in mind. However, I have planned well in advance to make the trumpet section bleed the studio floor red with blood pools of passion.

Some of the best classical Christmas music for brass that I’ve yet heard can be found on the album A Festival of Carols, recorded by the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble. It was recorded in 1966, and while it doesn’t have the most exciting of arrangements, the playing is off the charts. Traditional arrangements that are played with amazing execution is something to enjoy. 24 carols fill the record and each one breaths its own life and sound. Check it out.

I like what the Boston Brass did a few years back by recording Stan Kenton’s Christmas carol arrangements, except for brass. Exciting arrangements (of course, it’s Kenton) and some fantastic playing.

One thing I would really like to hear recorded is the complete Nutcracker ballet arranged for large brass ensemble - now THAT would be killin.’ Something to think about!

I think a lot of classical Christmas music for brass gets a bad rap because so many of the arrangements out there are so similar. I recently wrote a post about brass music in the 21st century, and I think some of those same arguments can be made for Christmas music arranged and composed for brass. I love a good Christmas album recorded by great brass players, but it’s the usually the arrangements that fall short for me.

Here’s to great classical Christmas music for brass that rocks!

96 comments so far

December 12, 2008

Electric Christmas Party

Tesla Lights
Creative Commons License photo credit: sbisson

My great friend Brady Beaubien hosted his company Christmas party last night, which I attended. He had it a killer club in downtown Los Angeles called The Edison. When you walk in you’re immediately sucked into an environment that is reminiscent of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

The club itself is one of the old Edison Electric plants that was flooded many years ago. The club still has the original boilers and brick walls which add to the vintage feel. Brady hosted the party in the Tesla Room which was complete with some of the coolest leather chairs I’ve ever sat in, old school radios, iron furnace lids attached to the brick walls and two modern day plasma screens running French animation episodes.

The cocktail waitresses were dressed in very classy garb, almost as if they were right out of a Jane Russell classic. The food was spectacular - some of the best fried Calamari I’ve ever had.

The drinks?

Mohitos all night long. Brady found them just as addicting as I did.

I forgot to mention that Brady hooked us up with a limo from his office to the club, complete with all the trimmings. The whiskey and vodka were especially popular. Brandon, who works with Brady, landed a seat right in front of the limousine bar, so naturally he was tasked with pouring.

Stiff is all that need be said about Brandon’s Concoction Especiale.

The jazz quartet playing at the club was pretty good - no idea who they were, but they added to the night’s entertainment. BUT, just like every other club the music was just way too darn loud (at times). I don’t understand how club owners think that extraordinarily loud music makes for a nice social setting. I woke up this morning with a sore throat just from all the yelling I was doing last night!

Or maybe it was from the alcohol. Regardless, it was worth it.

Film producer Ron Yerxa was in attendance, a friend and mentor of Brady, so it was cool to meet him and chat with him a bit. Very nice man.

All in all the party was killin’. Maybe the Los Angeles Brass Ensemble should host a party there!

Hat’s off to Mr. Brady for hosting a rad, rockin’ night.

150 comments so far

December 11, 2008

Traditional Christmas Music That’s Not So Traditional

Santa with a Banjo
Creative Commons License photo credit: Kurt Christensen

I was walking through a Best/Worst Buy store the other day and I heard some crazy version of “Jingle Bells” blasting through the store’s speakers. Whereas once the store used to play traditional Christmas music now it oscillates between the traditional and totally ridiculous. The lyrics were fairly close the original but there was what sounded like a manic depressive singing the words and the guitar player in the background sounded like he had just been released from San Quentin.

The harmony? Oh, the harmony…a mix of I, IV, V progressions and the occasional Burt Bacharach moment. Yeah I know, hard to imagine.

The chart finished out with a very odd coda-like ending that sounded like a mix of psychedelic rock and smooth jazz. All in the name of “Jingle Bells.” Traditional Christmas music? Not so much. But fun to listen to, if not just to laugh at it and raise your eyebrows just high enough to realize that more kick ass brass music needs to be written and added to the lexicon of traditional Christmas music.

Boston Brass put out a great album a couple of years ago…Stan Kenton Christmas Carols, arranged for a large brass group and rhythm section. Extremely well performed album that showcases the genius of Kenton’s arranging chops. The record misses the mark though when it comes to originality, as so many Christmas records do these days. (Well, I guess it was an original idea to record the Kenton’s music with a brass band, but the arrangements weren’t new.)

There are infinite ways to arrange a piece of traditional Christmas music and as such it baffles me that so many brass band Christmas records sound so similar. I know of some composer colleagues that believe the key to codified sound over the course of entire record or film or even an opera comes from the instrumentation of the group.

Incorrect…please try again.

Codified sound comes from harmonic as well as dynamic, rhythmic and orchestrational choices (mostly). Wagner used basically the same orchestral setup for most of his operas. Every opera has its own sound. Jerry Goldsmith often used the same orchestral instrumentation for many of his film scores, yet every single one of them breathes its own life.

Well arranged traditional Christmas music can do the same thing. So here’s to more and more killer Christmas arrangements on subsequent brass records.

(And yes, this is an early plug for the Los Angeles Brass Ensemble’s first Christmas record - to be released 2009).

Oh yeah.

444 comments so far

December 9, 2008

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.

9 comments so far

November 26, 2008

Los Angeles Brass Ensemble’s Website Launched!

It’s an exciting day today - the Los Angeles Brass Ensemble website has finally been launched! It took a bit of time to find the right feel and theme for the site, so we hope all of you enjoy the attempt to bring a classic and vintage feel to our home on the Internet.

The site is loaded with some really cool stuff to start and we’ll be adding loads of content as the site continues to grow. Check out some of the demo tracks we recorded at Citrus College recently.

If you’re interested to learn more about the amazing talent we have in the group, head on over to the biographies section. After reading the bios on some of our players you’ll quickly find out who is normal and who has played one too many brass concerts.

Our great friend and photographer, Hamesh Shahani, is responsible for almost all of the photographic content used to initially build the site. If you pass through the bio section you’ll see some of his work - be sure to check out the beautiful shots he took of our demo recording sessions!

Founder and Music Director Justin Freer will be continually posting in the blog section about all kinds of ridiculous things. He’ll be discussing a few serious musical issues from time to time but mostly keeping all of you updated as to the demented and screwball exploits of the LA Brass Ensemble on a regular basis, so check back often!

Happy trails…

323 comments so far