Friday, May 9, 2014

Elliot Carter Brass Quintet

Earlier this semester, our ABEL class listened to and discussed the Elliot Carter Brass Quintet.  Written in 1974 for the American Brass Quintet, the piece presents a challenging yet entertaining musicality, one that demands a high level of technicality for the players.  We were asked to share our answers to a few questions asked in class, you will find them below:

1. What is the overall affect of the piece? How does it make you feel? How does it achieve this affect?

The first word that comes to mind when describing this piece is insanity.  Although the piece is highly organized in composition, it gives off both a 'sporadic' and 'chaotic' sense.  However, the technical demands of the players make it a very impressive piece to listen to.

2. List three remarkable or notable characteristics of the piece.  Include measure/rehearsal numbers and explain your answer.

In terms of notable parts of the work, the horn solo at rehearsal 236 to 249 jumps out.  Also, the timbre of the piece at measure 327 onward is definitely a remarkable moment.  Finally, the change in character from 342 to the end is a representation of Carter's ability to revisit the beginning material but also provide a nice conclusion for the piece.

3. Comment on the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic language used.  What are some of the challenges presented in the performance of this work created by these rhythms.

I would say the majority of the challenges lie in the piece's rhythmic complexity.  There are many moments where the rhythm is nearly impossible to decipher and would require hours of group practice.  Another challenging aspect of the piece are the wide arrays of intervalic material between instruments.


Today we travel across the pond to France.  "Glisssssssssendo," written with 9 s's to represent each of the 9 members, is a very unique group that one of our ABEL classmates presented to us on "Obscure Brass Day."  The group appears to defy the laws of gravity by gliding around on what one can only imagine to be Segways.  Although not exclusively a brass ensemble, Glisssssssssendo represents a group that is developing new ideas in terms of musical performance.  Check out their recording of Philip Glass' Lightning below!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Today we travel north of the border to visit Canada, America's hat.  The Canadian Brass has recorded over 100 albums/DVDs, and it is one of the most prominent brass ensembles in the world.  Pretty good, eh?

Juilliard Trumpet Ensemble

This video is from the 2009 National Trumpet Competition Finals featuring the Juilliard Trumpet Ensemble playing Festive Overture.  Enjoy!

(Not only do the soloists exhibit an excellent high range, the lower parts really fill out the sound of the ensemble.)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Composer Spotlight: Michael Giacchino

Happy Easter! This week's Composer Spotlight is on Michael Giacchino, an American film composer.  Before writing for film, Mr. Giacchino got his start by composing music for popular video games such as "Call of Duty" and "Medal of Honor."  Eventually, Giacchino would write the music for the critically acclaimed 'LOST' series as well as movies like 'Up' and 'The Incredibles.'

Much like John Williams, Michael Giacchino utilizes the brass section in most of his thematic material.  The video below is from one of his first video game soundtracks.  You'll notice the use of the full horn section, as well as trumpet and low brass interjections.  Enjoy!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Civil War Brass Bands

To follow up on my previous post about the Marine Drum & Bugle Corps, I want to look back at the beginning of brass ensembles in the United States.

 Band of the 10th Veteran Reserve Corps, Washington, D.C., April, 1865.

By the 1850's, brass band music was becoming increasingly popular in the United States.  The advancement of brass instruments opened up the window to more playing opportunities.  When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, the popular brass bands would end up serving a vital role in the armed forces.

(Federal City Brass Band)
(Federal City Brass Band, Civil War Era Brass Band)

These brass bands would play at parades, recruitment stations, and even on the battlefield.  They would play before the battle to inspire the troops as well as afterwards for comfort.  One of the most unique stories I found about civil war bands happened on the front lines between two Union and Confederate groups. Within earshot of each other, the two groups exchanged their side's patriotic tunes until an artillery barrage ended the 'music battle.'

"The Commandant's Own"

Today's group will feature The United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, otherwise known as, 'The Commandant's Own.'  Out of all of the American brass ensembles featured on this blog so far, I can think of none more patriotic than this one! Dressed in their traditional red and white uniforms, The Commandant's Own has been performing for 80 years.  Their goal is to motivate, inspire, and entertain not only fellow Marines, but also civilians.  One particular aspect I enjoy about this group is their military tradition and precision on and off the field.  They bring a special passion to what they do that you might not find in other Drum & Bugle Corps.