Chamber Music Corner
Michael Forbes, Associate Editor
Gaudete Brass Quintet
In this installment of the Chamber Music Corner, I wanted to feature a relative “new comer” on the serious brass quintet scene: the Guadete Brass Quintet from Chicago. I had the delight of encountering this fabulous ensemble as they toured the Midwest en route to a featured performance with the St. John’s (Minnesota) University Wind Ensemble. They were so kind to swing by the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, where I got the chance to hear them live and hang with them over some pies. I found their take on the current serious quintet scene not only refreshing but also innovative. I also found that their dogged enthusiasm to make their quintet work quite exhilarating. Our discussions prompted me to learn more for a feature since much of their ideology would be especially enlightening to the younger readers of the ITEA Journal. I encourage you to visit their webpage www.gaudetebrass.com and also check out this outstanding quintet if they are ever in your area.
Gaudet Brass Quintet
How did the Gaudete Brass Quintet form? What were some early indications that this group had something special that would transcend the regular gigging or school oriented chamber music groups?
The GBQ was formed when one of our initial trumpet players, Justin Olson, got a call in October 2004 from a retirement community to fill a last minuet vacancy on their small concert series with a brass quintet. Justin took the gig and then decided that it might be a good time to try and put a quintet together. At the time Justin was frequently commuting from his hometown of Milwaukee to Chicago for trumpet lessons. Justin had a friend who played trumpet and a friend of a friend who played horn who lived in Milwaukee and had met our trombone and tuba player while in Chicago. The group originally rehearsed in Milwaukee making quite a commute for rehearsals for the low brass. This perhaps set the tone of needing to have very productive rehearsals. At our first rehearsal we began recording sections of music and listening back to what we had played, a practice that we would continue to find valuable. After that first rehearsal we played the concert and got together again to see if we could make a small demo to try and play some more of the small concert series in the Milwaukee area. A small but enthusiastic marketing effort was launched and expanded to include Chicago as well. By the summer we had been able to have quite a few performances and was asked to perform a concert and give an introduction to brass instruments and brass music as part of summer holiday festivities at a large family camp in Northern Wisconsin. At this point we were five master degree students about to play this concert of just brass quintet for over 2000 people. This focused our already intense rehearsals. After getting a taste of that kind of detailed preparation, and really liking it, the quintet decided to keep going and see what we could make of this. We formalized the business, divided up responsibilities, and started to talk more seriously about the directions that the GBQ could take.
Who are the members of GBQ and where did they go to school?
As a quintet we have never been in school together. Our tuba player Scott Tegge studied at Eastman, The University of Miami, and Roosevelt University. Trombonist Paul Von Hoff studied at Northwestern and Roosevelt University. Hornist Jean McCullough studied at Lawrence University and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Trumpeter Ryan Berndt studied at St. John’s University, Notre Dame, and Roosevelt University. Our newest member, trumpeter Bill Baxtresser, studied at Western Michigan University . Since we were never all in school together and have never had a weekly coaching we have always had the advantages and the challenges of making all the musical decisions ourselves. In order to make sure that we are communicating those decisions effectively to our audience we have sought out individual coaching. We have had many coaching sessions with Lawrence Borden, principal trombonist of the Nashville Symphony, who has helped us work through many of the basic technical challenges that can stand in the way of brass players being effective communicators of musical intent. We have also sought out coaching on early music from one of Chicago’s early music masters, David Schrader. He has helped us develop more historically informed and more effective performances of the Renaissance music that is so much a part of just about any brass quintet’s repertoire.
Please give some anecdotes and/or reviews of the various competitions you may have competed in, and what kinds of repertoire you felt worked best. What did GBQ gain (musically or otherwise) from competing?
We have participated in the Plowman and Fischoff competitions. Both experiences were enjoyable although we found the skills needed to play competitions to be very different than those we were using to perform concerts. The repertoire that we really wanted to perform in concert seemed not to fit a competition well. Our group has always been passionate about Michael Tilson Thomas’s Street Song and while we love it for concerts it is not a good piece to play for a competition. The most beneficial thing we got out of these competitions was going through the process of making the entrance recordings. The ability to sit down and have five people all play something that we can be really proud of without any editing is something that did not come easy for us and that practice has proven invaluable for our development.
What role does GBQ play in each of the different members’ musical life? Is it the main thing, or does it take a backseat to other gigs? How do you juggle chamber music commitments with other professional engagements?
The GBQ is the main thing. We all consider it a great privilege to be in an ensemble of five people committed to the quintet. Over the years we have all had to make some pretty extreme sacrifices so the quintet could be successful. Sometimes the only thing that makes these possible is knowing that the other four members would do and have done the same. We also have the privilege of rehearsing a lot. We have three regular rehearsals a week. When someone has something professional or personal come up we have no problem canceling one once in a while.
What type of interesting or unique new rehearsal techniques have you found to be most helpful to your quintet’s pursuit of musical development or technical perfection?
By far the most helpful rehearsal technique has been recording ourselves. Bill has been studying recording techniques so we can get the best sonic representation possible without too much setup time each day. After we finish rehearsing a piece we will record it. Bill will take the recording home and make it into a private podcast. We all listen to it and bring comments the next time we work on the piece. This helps us retain the things we worked on and helps focus our rehearsal time on the things that really need to be improved.
I’ve examined a number of different brass quintets, quartets, and tuba quartets in this column and each of them have strong opinions about what it is that they’re trying to do and how they go about doing it. I can imagine that you all share a different vision for what brass chamber music should/could be. Would you care to expand on your ideas of what GBQ’s brass quintet ethos is?
As we mentioned, when we started this quintet it was somewhat unclear what direction we would take with our repertoire and our concert presentations. We were playing almost exclusively for general audiences that had little or no experience with chamber music. This might seem like it would require a more pops oriented approach. We started out with a somewhat mixed concert presentation but quickly realized that the works that were most effective and engaging were the monumental chamber works written for the brass quintet, and that the better we played them the more people really enjoyed the concerts. We had early success with the Arnold and Bozza quintets. Many of the best works written for the quintet really are quite powerful pieces. You can find mournful, witty, angry, joyful, intense, and fun all effectively communicated to an audience in the standard brass quintet literature.
Composers like David Sampson, Jan Bach, Anthony Plog, Eric Ewazen, and John Cheetham (plus many more) are writing some phenomenal music. Our belief is that this type of serious brass chamber music is the best way to engage an audience, much better than playing arrangements of music that might just be familiar to the audience. (What music might be familiar is also getting harder to determine.) Nostalgia will only make an audience go home and watch the movie or find the recording of the orchestra playing the familiar piece. The GBQ is looking for an audience for brass chamber music, and we believe that the best way to build one is to get people excited about the brass quintet in the way people have been excited about string quartets. There is still a lot of work to be done. We still encounter people who are skeptical about the idea of a brass quintet as a chamber music group, until they hear us play.
What are the future goals (tours, recordings?) for GBQ? Long term and short term.
We have two exciting projects coming up. We are planning to have completed two new recordings by this time next year. The goal of both recordings is to share some of the pieces that we really love with chamber music fans. The first recording will be an organ and brass quintet recording. Organ and brass is a good combination but there does not seem to be as much literature as there could be so we had two pieces commissioned for the recording. The other disc is a brass quintet recording of the works that have been written for the quintet, including works by Jan Bach, John Cheetham, and James Woodward. We also plan to record some of our own editions of Italian madrigals by Giaches de Wert and one of our favorite standards, David Sampson’s Morning Music.
Finally, for the tubists reading this column, what advice do you, Scott, give to the young tubist seeking out a professional performing career in chamber music.
As a young tubist seeking out a career in chamber music, I highly recommend that they become as versatile as possible. I have found myself listening to a lot of jazz music, a wide range of vocal music, and different bass trombonists. I need to be able to play in the different styles that the music demands and also be able to emulate the string bass, the voice and even be able to sound like a bass trombone at times. I feel it is important to find an instrument that allows them to do this whether it is a bass or contrabass tuba. It all depends on what they are comfortable with. Lastly, I would recommend working on technique and range. I find myself having to match the trumpets articulation and be able to match the sound of a trombone in the upper register. I want to make sure that I have every tool in the toolbox.