The Canadian Brass has been entertaining audiences – and each other – for more than half a century. They return to NEC’s Jordan Hall in Boston on Saturday, November 18, presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston.
Two of their founding members, Eugene Watts and Chuck Daellenback, took time from their current tour of the United States and, of course, Canada, to reflect on what makes the Canadian Brass unique, successful, and still fun to be a part of, after all these years.
Michael: I saw The Canadian Brass perform at Avery Fisher hall around 1977 or so, and you guys were having the time of your life up there.
Eugene: I think that was our secret.
Michael: How do you keep it fresh for all that time?
Eugene: We’ve just been very lucky that the audience has been a constant companion. Our audience has kind of become our friends. They’re really the ones that have sustained our career. We have a very close connection with them and consequently it’s been a happy union. Also, we have short memories.
Michael: You’ve had a huge influence on generations of performers as well.
Chuck: We had a wonderful moment with the conductor Gustavo Dudamel in Toronto, a couple years back. We were on a panel, and Dudamel leaned over to us and said, “When I was growing up, I spent all of my time behind the stage with the brass players, listening to your tapes!”
So you start to realize the impact you have.
Michael: How important is it that you are the Canadian Brass and not the American brass or the European brass. What does the Canadian identity mean to you?
Chuck: I’m making a very big generalization, but Canada was really trying to figure out how to start concert series back in the mid-1970s and get communities involved with their artists and audiences. So we and the country were kind of starting out together. The Canada Council had been formed just a couple years before we started, so we were able to commission something like over 70 major works in Canada, between us and the Canada Council.
Michael: How would you describe the Canadian Brass sound?
Chuck: There’s a patina to Canadian Brass. The fact is that there’s a very definite style. People have pointed this out to us over the years. Very often, listening to young players, they can say it’s obvious they were influenced by Canadian Brass, the sound and the style. So I think that is now something that’s quite identifiable. I think Canada takes pride in it. There’s not a concert that goes by, whether we’re in Europe or Asia, that we don’t have kids having us sign their Canadian Brass music. We like to say that we either created this boom in brass music or we were just fortunate to be there just at the moment when it was starting. But either way, we take total credit for it.
Michael: And rightfully so.
Eugene: I find exciting that the new people who join the Canadian Brass know our music; they know our style. They can fit in. Sometimes they can do it better than we did because they know it. We just sort of “happened” it, if that makes any sense. It’s something we did unconsciously. But they have an image and a knowledge of what we developed sometimes better than what we do and I find that really, really interesting.
Eugene: When you hear them perform and hear the excellence and that new energy, that’s fantastic.
Michael: Tell me more about the Canadian Brass sound.
Chuck: I’d say that we play on the intimate side of the brass instruments. We came at it with more of a vocal approach where we’re very sensitive. I think that is the message we pass along in workshops and so forth. It’s really a chamber music approach. Approaching the music like a string quartet might or like a fine choir would. And even though we’re all classically trained, we could bring experiences from dance bands, jazz bands, marching bands, all these sort of things came together, and we could kind of create an amalgam of a sound that really carried. We’ve often said that it’s a sound that carries in this electronic era. Brass is strong enough and vibrant enough to really affect you emotionally without even needing amplification. Subscribe to The Morning Email.Wake up to the day’s most important news.
We always point to Arnold Jacobs as our mentor in Chicago. One thing that he brought to the music world was a very upfront kind of performance, comparable to the Philadelphia Orchestra, where you’ll see the conductor almost half a beat ahead of the orchestra. We’re very much on top of the beat of the sound and that’s what gave us that difference.
Michael: When people come and hear you for the first time, what should they expect?
Chuck: I think they’re going to have a pretty wide-ranging experience in the expanse of one evening. They’ll remember the ten minutes where we actually had a lot of fun with the music. We play a lot of Bach and Handel and so forth, really bringing masterpieces to an audience that is often ignored in today’s world. We fit an interesting niche where we can play the masterpieces from the romantic era and the small pieces from the Renaissance and so forth.
Also, brass comes right out of the jazz tradition so we can jazz with total authority because it’s in our tradition. An audience can leave their ears on a swivel. We take them everywhere.
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