Chamber Music Corner
Mike Forbes, Associate Editor
Market Street Brass
Faculty Brass Quintet at The University of North Carolina-Greensboro
Readers to this column may have recognized that I have featured a number of chamber music groups made up of military bandsman to freelancers, full-timer touring ensembles to part-timers, and from the mainstream to the eclectic. However, one common type of chamber music group in the United States has been neglected in this column over the years: the faculty brass quintet. In 2007, I will dedicate each of the four Chamber Music Corner columns to some of the more extraordinarily active faculty brass quintets in America.
The first faculty ensemble that I would like to recognize involves ITEA president Dennis AsKew in the Market Street Brass: the faculty brass quintet from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. This group initially came to mind, because in this author’s opinion, they are by far one of the most active faculty quintets that I know. Moreover, they have recently completed two recordings and returned from their second tour to China. Finally, I wanted to feature this ensemble because it has a somewhat different take on what a faculty brass quintet could be compared to fellow quintets at other universities.
I had the opportunity to speak with Dennis about the Market Street Brass and what sets them apart from other faculty quintets. “Well, the biggest thing we do is to go out to the community to perform,” he explains.
“We rarely perform on campus, as we feel that if we only perform here we will likely wind up with the same, smallish audience each time. By going out to perform on community arts series, performing in churches, performing in schools, we are reaching a much wider and more diverse audience. As a result of this focus, we typically do not do what might be considered “academic” concerts. It’s not that there is a disdain for new or modern works, as we do program those, but just not on a regular basis; we have performed on quite a few new music recitals over the years and at new music conferences, as well; so truly, it’s not an avoidance of new music. I think, too, just the sheer volume of performances that we present is not a normal faculty quintet kind of focus.”
Like so many groups that I have featured in this column, the MSB also has its strong opinions on what works best aesthetically for what they are trying to accomplish with their faculty ensemble. “The faculty quintet should be able to both be an advocate for new works and to reach out to the community,” Dennis explains. “As you well know, sometimes these two parts are not coincidental. Our focus is to reach out—to be inviting to the audience and meet them on their ‘turf.’ Then, by way of that introduction to us and what we do, we can work on developing larger audiences for concerts at our school and other places.”
According to the bio on their website, “The Market Street Brass was founded in 1974 as the resident faculty brass quintet at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The quintet performs music in all styles from Renaissance to jazz in a variety of settings. Some 50 or more engagements per year include concerts, services, and music for special events. Particularly noteworthy are the many Christmas Concerts and performances in church services during the months of November and December.” Dennis adds, “the group has obviously had personnel changes through the years, but our current hornist, Jack Masarie, has been with the group since its inception. There have only been two tuba players—David Lewis and myself.” Other members of the quintet include trumpeters Edward Bach (professor) and Virginia Keast (graduate student) and trombonist Randy Kohlenberg. Dennis also tells me that the current brass faculty has been together as a group for 15 years. For his first ten years in the group, the second trumpet was also a faculty member, but since his retirement they like many other faculty quintets have used graduate students to fill that second trumpet slot.
It has been this author’s experience that members of faculty brass quintets have very different views on the quintet’s priority in their academic/musical life. For the Market Street Brass, Dennis tells me that their number one priority is teaching the students at UNC-Greensboro with the faculty quintet coming in a close second. “The quintet is our primary artistic venue,” explains Dennis. “We all have, at one time or another, been in the local symphony, or some other regional performing group—we have all stopped doing that type of performing in order to focus on the quintet.”
As we all know there is also great variety in activity for faculty quintets, and I had a chance to ask Dennis what their highly active and very busy quintet has been up to in recent history. “For a number of years MSB toured and performed locally and regionally, but in the past few years we have really ramped up what and where we play. We have recorded two CDs, a Christmas one and a jazz one, and are finishing up the final editing of a live DVD from a tour last year. We have just completed our second tour of China (the first being in August of 2005) and are in negotiation for a two-week residency in Singapore sometime in the next year, as well as return trips to China.” Dennis also tells me that they normally perform locally about 50–60 times a year, with a heavy emphasis of those being in December (about 30 or so)! “We have played services at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church and do quite a bit of liturgical settings and arrangements of our own,” adds Dennis. In terms of long term goals for the group, Dennis tells me that the group is interested in “maintaining the status quo—we have set a high standard in terms of reach and busyness, and the expectation of keeping it there is certainly an ongoing goal.” He also tells me that there will likely be another CD or two coming out in the next few years .
Finally, as I conclude each of these columns, I asked Dennis as the tuba player in a faculty quintet, what advice he might give younger tubists who are interested in a career in chamber music or academia. Dennis replied,
“Do as much as you possibly can. Do as many different things as you can, and do them all as well as you can. Quantity does not substitute for quality, but in the worlds of academia and chamber music, there is a requirement to be able to wear as many hats as possible. The more one can develop the ability to play in different styles, to write well, to speak in public, etc. the better the chances of succeeding in music as a career.”
If you would like to learn more about the Market Street Brass or the School of Music at UNC-Greensboro, please visit their webpage at www.marketstreetbrass.com.