ITEA Profile: Charley Brighton (United Kingdom)
by Jason Roland Smith
Charley began playing the euphonium at the age of 11. He studied music to A level standard and passed graded exams at the Trinity College of Music in London with Honors 2 years running. On leaving school he played solo euphonium with many championship brass bands, including the famous Sun-Life Stanshawe Band in Bristol under their recently appointed musical director, Derek Bourgeois.
In 1996 he was awarded the trophy for “The Most Outstanding Euphonium Player” in the Championship section of the London rounds of the National Brass Band Championships.
Looking for new sounds, he embarked on a wind band career as soloist and conductor with the BBC Elstree Concert Band based at London’s Maida Vale Studios and with the Buckinghamshire Symphonic Winds. In April of 2000, he visited France with the Burnham Concert Band as soloist and conductor, as guests of the l’orchestra d’Harmonie de Lezay. He was also appointed conductor & soloist of the innovative New River Wind Ensemble in London and the Vale Symphonic Winds in South Berkshire.
It was with the New River Wind Ensemble that he performed an early manuscript version (with the composer’s permission) of the Horovitz Euphonium Concerto at a BASBWE (British Association of Symphonic Bands & Wind Ensembles) conference in Canterbury. This was to lead to the publication of the official wind band arrangement.
In May of 2001, he joined the music team at St. Mary’s Parish Church in Slough, Berkshire, and undertook an extensive solo recital program that now boasts 22 concerts, playing 118 pieces of music by 87 different composers from 13 different countries, 49 of which have been premiers. These recitals are also performed on vintage euphoniums from his large collection, dating back to 1891. He is also the founder/leader and arranger for the Celebration Brass Ensemble and the Capriccioso Low Brass Quartet who regularly perform there.
BBC (Elstree Studios) Band rehearsing in Studio 1 Maida Vale
In November of 2004 he signed a contract with Willson Band Instruments of Switzerland, as a performing artist on the 2900 model euphonium, a model which he has endorsed for over 10 years.
In June of 2005 he was guest soloist with the Nonesuch String Orchestra in the Proms at St. Jude’s series of summer concerts in London. In August of that year he accepted the position of Principal Euphonium with the newly formed City of London Symphonic Winds based in Covent Garden and in May of this year, premiered the Willson Concertante with them in the presence of American composer, Joe Miserendino.
He performed the Horovitz Concerto once more in July as a guest of the Hounslow Symphony Orchestra, based near Heathrow.
You can visit his website at www.euph9.freeserve.co.uk.
JS: Can you talk a bit about your background, the early influences, studies, experiences, etc. that influenced your path in becoming a professional musician?
CB: First of all, thank you for giving me this opportunity to contribute to your informative magazine, I hope readers find this article of interest.
This is a special year for me, my 40th in my playing career. We had a wonderful start to brass playing back in school. I played baritone for a few months then was put on euphonium, which I knew, was THE instrument for me. We had first class tuition in the school brass band from our musical director who demanded discipline, not only in playing, but as a musician in a band. We also had a peripatetic brass teacher who was wonderful and although not a real piano player, he could “busk” or “vamp” behind you as you played scales and exercises over and over again. It made it great fun. In later years, I always asked him to accompany me in solo competitions, despite the availability of really first class pianists, as we worked so well together. We also had some fine reconditioned instruments, Boosey & Hawkes Imperials, Solbrons, Bessons, all 4-valve compensators.
The Capriccioso Low Brass Quartet: David Elliot-Smith (tuba), Charley Brighton, Kate Thulborn (baritone) and Andy Barret (euphonium)
I was given a hymn tune book to play through; “…at least several pages each time you practice…” was the instruction “…for good tone!”
I still do that today, in all octaves, at all dynamic levels. Many players today seem to be obsessed with technique first. They build up a tremendous range and ability then wonder how to get a real euphonium sound and start experimenting with mouthpieces to find the answer.
Joining a championship section brass band straight from school (Hanwell, West London) was a marvelous experience. In those days of course, we were regularly on the radio (the B.B.C. had some 4 or 5 programs a week with brass and military bands) and broadcast live on “Friday Night is Music Night” on many occasions. There were also the summer bandstand engagements, almost every weekend and with at least 4 performances in the Royal Parks in London. It made you a very good sight-reader and you got to know the repertoire. You were not allowed to repeat programs in those days.
Joining the Sun Life Stanshawe Band in Bristol as Solo Euphonium will always be a special moment in my career. The newly appointed musical director, Derek Bourgeois, was a brilliant musician, and I remember we gave the first broadcast performance of his Concerto Grosso for B.B.C. Radio 3 in manuscript (no Sibelius then). In the two very happy years I was there (1980–82), we were never out of the top 5 in all the major brass band contests, the British Open, the Nationals, and the (then) Granada Television Band of the Year. It was also a very young band, full of drive and ambition, it seemed like no effort to drive the 200 mile round trip to rehearsals in those days!
JS: How has your professional career evolved in terms of your early years, to mid-, to current?
CB: It’s really only been the last 10 years or so. Before then I had a regular day job, working as a manager for a retail jeweler, first in Marble Arch in London’s West End and later in Kensington, which I enjoyed very much. It was really my teaching that decided my course in later years, something I really enjoy, teaching all ages and all brass instruments as well. It constantly reminds you of the basics. You teach someone and then think, hey, it’s been a while since I did those exercises myself!
When the solo position became vacant at the B.B.C. Winds, I gratefully accepted. (I had helped them out a few times prior). We are sponsored by the B.B.C. Elstree Television & Film Studios outside London at Borehamwood, Essex, but have use of the recording studios in central London at Maida Vale (home of the B.B.C. Symphony Orchestra and Chorus) for rehearsals.
Charley Brighton, Neil Benson (clarinet) and the late John Burrows (Piano) at St. Mary’s
Malcolm Stowell (piano), pupil Stephen Lock (tenor horn), and Charley Brighton at St. Mary’s
Then came the Willson sponsorship in November 2004, which is marvelous and a great opportunity to work with a top class instrument and manufacturer. I had been playing the Willson 2900 for many years before (the U.K. Willson Euphoniums have always had the large mouthpiece receiver as standard, it really opens up the sound!), so was very pleased to accept.
JS: I noticed that you also played tuba and even competed in some competitions on the instrument. Were both instruments an equal devotion, or did this change at one time?
CB: Having been in brass bands since school, I was looking for something different to do at that time. The brass band scene (1990s) was very stale and there seemed nothing particularly new on the horizon. I had always wanted to at least experiment on tuba, but having taken the decisicion to move, I decided it had to be all or nothing. So I dropped my beloved euphonium (I have never been one for doubling) for four years or so and threw everything into mastering E-flat & BB-flat tuba.
It turned out to be a great learning experience, particularly on the larger BB-flat bass, providing (and sustaining, lol ) the fundamental for the whole band. However, compared to euphonium parts, the bass parts were (again in those days) quite boring, so I decided to continue playing my stand-up euphonium solos on BB-flat tuba.
I won the Southern Counties Solo Championships (and numerous other competitions) on the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria and Hartmann’s Rule Britannia and played Napoli , Beautiful Colorado , and Varied Mood with Philip Sparke when he was conducting the band.
But, once again, the euphonium was calling and I longed for it badly, so having been pleased with what I achieved on tuba, I returned some 4 years on.
JS: For many of us not familiar with having a brass band background, can you discuss the advantages you find with having such opportunities at an early age? What types of skills or experiences are created for young brass players in the U.K. and other countries with a brass band culture?
CB: The euphonium is at its most prominent in the brass band, perhaps second only to the principal cornet. No other medium will give you the “workout” you get at the top level of banding. Even at school band level, there is a chance to really build you technique in the brass band repertoire, and, as you know, there are plenty of chances to play cadenzas, solos etc. I remember even in the contest marches we used to play, my part would often run up to high C (treble clef) in a solo or counter melody, whilst over parts (save the solo cornets) would always stay well in the stave. One of the most rewarding things was to play in brass quartet competitions, sadly a thing of the past these days, with 2 cornets, E-flat Tenor Horn and euphonium. We did so many of these and we really bonded as a group.
Charley Brighton, Malcolm Stowell (piano) & guest Louise Wright (euphonium)
It also provided the band with experienced corner-men back in the days of traditional brass band scoring. That was part of the reason why I formed my low brass quartet (baritone, 2 euphoniums & tuba), which is great fun. Now of course, we have the National Youth Brass Bands and also recently, the National Children’s Brass Band that provide the highest levels of tuition (under some of the very best conductors) at an early age.
JS: It’s obvious you have a strong interest in instigating new works for the euphonium. What drives this highly active aspect of your career? Roughly, how many works have you commissioned, solicited, or been written for you?
CB: For me, there is no other feeling like receiving, and playing for the first time, a brand new work written especially for you. After some 50 premieres, that effect has never worn off, it’s really something very special. I love arranging but have never really been able to compose, so in a way, it’s been my way of creating new music for the instrument, by getting other people to do it. I have been pretty successful in adapting a lot of music for the euphonium. Anything from violin to recorder, and the composer has often been pleasantly surprised with the result, once again, often leading to a new piece for the instrument.
Of course it helps to have a platform to be able to perform all these pieces on and discovering Malcolm Stowell and the St. Mary’s Recitals in Slough (now in their 19 th . Year) was just amazing. I have also encouraged my pupils and friends to give their first recitals as well, including Alex Seedhouse and Louise Wright (Euphoniums), Stephen Lock and Ben Tubb (Tenor Horns) and Donna Tubb (Cornet & Trumpet).
There are also various pieces in my repertoire that suit older, smaller bore/bell euphoniums that I have in my collection. Thanks to the Doug Elliott screw combination mouthpiece set up I have, I can now demonstrate these vintage instruments with appropriate pieces, rather than attempting modern day works on them. One of the most successful was the beautiful Japanese children’s song “Aka Tombo” which I played on the 1891 Highams 5-valve euphonium. I just didn’t sound right on anything else!
These old euphoniums are a great learning curve to develop your playing styles. You have to adapt to variations in pitch, tuning, and, sometimes, leaky valves. We are really spoilt with today’s instruments. I just heard from Matthew van Emmerick in Australia that he has purchased an old Besson “Enharmonic” euphonium to include in his performances.
You asked for some figures, so at the last count it was 22 works commissioned/written for me (with 6 on the horizon) and 35 adaptations (of works for other specified instruments by the composers), with dozens more of those yet to be performed.
JS: What type of role do you play (nature of communication) with the composer in instigating a new work?
CB: It varies quite a bit really. My initial work with Joe Miserendino from Pennsylvania was wonderfully constructive; we were both learning each other’s ways. Now, he very much knows what I like, but he does surprise me now and again ( lol ). I remember in the early days he sent me a two-movement piece (slow-fast) with a working title of Random Dialogues . It was wonderful (and is still one of my favorites), however, to me, the title did not fit the description of the music. I wrote to Joe saying how I thought it conjured up perhaps a “Night Song” and “Morning Dance” or something. A few days later it came back as “Winter Song” and “Spring Dance” with a main title of Music of the Seasons , the other 2 movements (“Autumn Dreams” and “Summer Celebration”) quickly followed.
When the Willson Concertante was originally sketched, it had 4 movements, and Joe very kindly took the suggestion that the opening “Scherzo Allegro” was one movement too many. It has since been published as a separate solo work.
Terry Treherne from the U.K. is always open to my ideas for solos (and scoring) and writes wonderful lyrical melody lines ideally suited to the instrument. With other composers, I have very much accepted the written work in its completed form. The brilliant new Euphonium Concerto by Ken Friedrich from Texas was just what I wanted (though we did recently discuss at length the new wind band accompaniment to his Daydreams solo I premiered with piano), and I hopefully inspired young Seth Jervis from Ohio to complete (and add too) the wonderful Dances with Europe suite for euphonium & piano.
JS: As an ITEA member (and every member should have a voice), what objectives or priorities do you believe the organization should direct focus?
CB: I very much hope this article will stir more interest in the U.K. With the amount of euphonium players we have, I think ITEA is still not widely known about. Maybe a U.K. distributor is required? I also think it is really important to give as many composers as possible a chance to promote their music, and I don’t mean free advertising. There are many wonderful works out there that may never get to a publisher, is that condition of inclusion for review? If so, I think it should be reviewed.
JS: Do you have any current projects on the horizon that you would like to make special mention?
CB: I shortly (July) will perform the Horovitz Concerto with the Hounslow Symphony Orchestra. I’m really looking forward to that. The Concerto is often looked down upon these days, as it does not contain billions of fast notes, or 6 octave leaps etc. It has some of the most musical writing ever conceived for the instrument (the accompaniment doesn’t get off light either!). I was guest soloist with the Nonesuch String Orchestra in London last year, and that was such a beautiful sound. I also have a major new work with strings by Karen Amrheim from Maryland to perform subject to commission. I am still very much working on getting more appearances with chamber groups. I have a clarinet choir that is interested at the moment.
Major Mark Hill of the U.S.A.F. in Virginia has commissioned Joe Miserendino to write two new works for my 40-year celebrations, an unaccompanied duet with my partner Sue Vel on baritone, Just We Tw, and London Nightscape for Euphonium & Piano (which looks like it may expand to a full scale wind band work).
The ink is still wet on a new (unseen) work from Slough (U.K.) composer and double bassist Tony Osbourne.
Following an article of mine in the U.K. Classical Music Magazine , composer Andy Meyers unearthed a long forgotten project he composed in 2000, titled Pistons , an “Introduction” and “Scherzo” for euphonium & piano, and I’ll premiere that at St. Mary’s in November.
There are plans to hopefully get over to the U.S.A. in 2007 and also to Europe to team up with fellow Willson artist (and tubist extraordinaire) Ryan Peni from New Zealand. I also want to do some more conducting again at some point. It’s difficult to get that balance right. Prior to my series of recitals at St. Mary’s I was conducting 3 wind bands!
JS: In looking back, how has the status of the euphonium changed internationally versus its status in the United Kingdom? Is it similar, different?
CB: Thanks to our globe trotting top players, most of the world now has experienced what the euphonium can do. That is wonderful but at the same time it causes its own problems. We have to be careful that we do not breed a series of “cloned” players. Everyone wants to play/use the solos/instruments our top players feature. That’s fine of course but we have to be careful not to lose our individual style of sound and playing. Back in my early days, all the great players, Trevor Groom, Lyndon Baglin, John Clough etc. all had their own very individual style, as did bands and conductors of the time. Today, it’s almost like players are frightened to be different, to step out and play something “their” way and not as it’s been heard on the latest “super-eupher” CD.
Of course the Internet has been the main tool in spreading the word (guilty!). When I started playing, we had 3 brass band newspapers/magazines, 1 weekly and 2 monthly. Today only the weekly British Bandsman exists from those, but there are wonderful quarterly publications such as the Brass Herald and the Brass Band World . These magazines also encompass the wider world of brass playing (orchestral and chamber groups) from around the world.
JS: For today’s euphonium player looking to play professionally, what advice would you offer?
CB: In the U.K. the ultimate professional training surely comes from the Armed Forces, if the life-style suits you!
Elsewhere, a tremendous amount of self-promotion, funding, doubling options and a back-up job would be foolish to discard!
Jason Roland Smith is currently Associate Professor of Tuba/Euphonium at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where is also serves as tubist with the OhioBrass.
If there is a tuba or euphonium artist you would like to see profiled in the ITEA Journal , please contact Jason, Journal editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.