10 Things I’ve Learned on Tour with Brass Quintets

A couple weeks ago (April 1st – April 4th), I was on tour playing second trumpet with the Iowa Brass Quintet, the faculty brass quintet at the University of Iowa. We traveled to high schools and universities in Eastern Iowa and Illinois, playing concerts and giving master classes and clinics. In the past, I had done similar work with the Sandia Brass Quintet, although not for as many days at a time. I really enjoy being on the road and playing. I am a musician because I love to play my trumpet with and for other people, so going out and touring with a brass quintet just seems like the natural thing do to. Anyhow, from my touring experiences, I would just like to mention a few of the things I have learned.

Some of these aren’t as deep and meaningful as they probably should be. Also, far too many are about food.

1. Make sure that all of the logistics are set in advance

    This means knowing the exact address and location of the places that you will be giving clinics and performances and staying the night, having printed directions and maps from each location to the next (in case of catastrophic smart phone failure), figuring out the parking situation, and having a contact person who can be reached at each location.

2. Pack as light as you reasonably can

    You don’t want to be the person with the most luggage (yes, that’s me). 🙂

3. Be ready to play… A LOT!

    One time I spent a day at a New Mexico high school with the Sandia Brass Quintet. The plan was to play for 20-25 minutes in two music classes before lunch (we were also doing a lot of question and answer and just getting to know the students) and then hang out and talk with students in another music class after lunch, maybe playing one song. Then we were going to have a break and play a full recital for the school later in the afternoon. Instead, we ended up playing at least a half hour in four music classes without a very long break before playing the recital. Everything went well, and we got through the recital still sounding good, but it was one of the most strenuous playing experiences that I have ever been through. Fortunately, it was also an incredibly rewarding and memorable experience.

4. Keep your music organized

    You may have played a recital the night before, and now you are about to play another. While you are warming up, check to make sure that every page of your music is in order (at the end of a recital, it usually isn’t).

5. Touring is a great way to network and get to know other musicians

    If possible, try to allow time in your schedule to hang out with the other musicians where you are playing, whether that be the high school band director or members of the brass faculty. If, however, you are invited out for a drink by the bassoon professor, or that creepy guy you saw skulking around the organ practice room, make up some excuse about needing to go back to your hotel or the long drive you have ahead of you…

6. Stay in a hotel with a pool or gym when possible

    Or at least bring a pair of sneakers and go for a walk. When you’re on the road for several hours a day and sitting around waiting for the next event, you can getting pretty tired and groggy. Getting some exercise is a great antidote to this.

7. Keep a toothbrush handy

    You might not have the time or the facilities to do much freshening up before an evening performance, but it’s good to keep an extra toothbrush in your case so you can feel a bit fresher before you play.

8. Thai Iced Tea probably shouldn’t be legal  

    Yea right Huffington Post. If a video about Thai iced tea is making you thirsty, imagine how bad it’s going to be after you drink it.

9. Always get restaurant recommendations from locals. You can probably trust other musicians.

    You’re going to be out on the road for many days. You don’t want to eat junk. This is especially important if you find yourself in a small town without a lot of options. If you ever find yourself in Charleston, IL, check out this place.

10. If you want to show your appreciation for someone (especially someone who is on the road touring), buy them lunch. And dinner.

    Come on people – this one is simple. There is no greater gift than a free meal. I’m sure that Jnaigus guy who posted on my “Trumpet Music of Terry Everson” post can attest to this…

For tips on touring from a serious touring musician, please check out drummer Rich Redmond’s post “13 Tips for the Touring Musician”. As the drummer for country star Jason Aldean’s band, Rich has recorded ten #1 singles and spends a great deal of time touring, so he knows what he’s talking about. Also, it sounds like he’s a pretty smart guy. For a drummer. 😉


Dallas Brass Grooves – Music to Get Started!

In case you weren’t aware, the guys of the Dallas Brass are some pretty bad dudes – and I don’t mean unsavory characters, although that might also be true (they are five brass players under the influence of a drummer, so the chances are good…). Founded in 1983 by trombonist Michael Levine, the group is particularly unique for having a drummer as a permanent member of the group. I love the idea of brass ensembles regularly working with a drummer because it adds so much energy and flavor to the group and I have always enjoyed working with percussion in the quintets that I have played in. Also, it’s a good way to have free entertainment on those long van rides from one gig to the next.

The Dallas Brass also have a fantastic educational project that I am very excited about, called “Music in the Schools”. Please check it out! Another educational resource by the Dallas Brass are the Brass Groove books, which is what I really want to talk about.

Anytime a new brass quintet forms, one of the first concerns is finding music to play (naturally). Fifty years ago, finding a large variety of repertoire may have been difficult, but these days the possibilities are endless. For a group (especially a young group) that really wants to dive in and start playing good music right away without having to search, I recommend checking out the Dallas Brass’ Brass Grooves series, for brass quintet and drums. All of the charts are nice with drums but can also be played without. Currently there are two volumes, written by former DB tubist John Wasson and John Schuberg. The first book (grade 3-4) contains twelve charts, and the second, intermediate book (grade 2-3) has ten. Styles range from swing and reggae to rock and funk.

I have played most of the charts out of the first book and really enjoy them. Some of the pieces are a little hokey, but most of them are very style-appropriate. Also, while the charts are rather simple, they do not sound overly easy. When I was playing with the Sandia Brass Quintet (the graduate brass quintet at the University of New Mexico), we used many pieces from the book as gig tunes, including before the start of hockey games (I know, ice hockey in New Mexico?!), as pre-graduation entertainment, and even at an awards dinner for the amazing Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. We received many compliments on pieces that we played from these books, so I think that they are totally legitimate for more advanced groups, although not for use on a serious recital. For younger groups, they would still be appropriately difficult for a more formal recital or performance setting. Finally, these charts are a great way for any quintet to experiment with a wide range of styles and particularly to achieve the right vibe and feel of a specific style before moving on to a more difficult chart in the same style. I encourage everyone to check out these books and listen to sample tracks here. The book that I have used is the one with the blue cover, pictured below.

Alliance Brass Quintet

Many of you have probably heard, or at least heard of, the Synergy Brass Quintet. In a few weeks I will be giving a presentation on the group for an in-class presentation/discussion of professional brass ensembles. Former band member Chris O’Hara (trumpeter) was nice enough to agree to an interview and also mentioned his latest endeavor, the Alliance Brass Quintet, based out of the Chicago area. As such, I wanted to direct everyone to their website. You can also check them out on Facebook. One thing that I liked on their website were their downloadable press materials. Here is a video of them playing Monteverdi’s “Deus in Adjutorium” at the 2013 Chicago Brass Festival.

Washington Symphonic Brass

Co-founded and managed by trumpeter Phil Snedecor, the Washington Symphonic Brass is a unique and exciting large brass ensemble. The group performs a lot of transcriptions, show tunes, and have also commissioned numerous pieces. In terms of instrumentation and size, the group resembles a Stan Kenton big band (all brass) and is set-up similarly, sometime performing without a conductor. Members come from the Baltimore-DC area, which is also where they primarily perform. I was fortunate enough to hear their performance at the International Trumpet Guild Conference hosted by my alma mater, Messiah College, in 2009. Check out a review/description here (starting on page 7). Also, if you ever get a chance, go see them.

Or, if this guy scares you, don’t.

The Trumpet Ensemble Music of Terry Everson

From 2008-2010, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to study trumpet with the great Terry Everson at Boston University. Terry is not only a phenomenal trumpeter (I know, the piece is a bit out there – listen to the whole thing.), teacher (who can also play the piano well enough to accompany students in lessons), and one of the best people I know… he also composes and arranges! In fact, some of the best pieces for trumpet ensemble that I have ever played or heard are by him.

While some of Terry’s compositions are completely original material, many are based on music from the classical repertoire or sacred music. According to his website, “Much of his compositional output derives its basis from hymnody and related materials, such as his trumpet ensembles ‘Ponder Anew’ and ‘There’s a Great Day Coming’.”

“Ponder Anew”, for 10 trumpets (1 piccolo and 9 Bbs), was written for the trumpet ensemble of my alma mater, Messiah College, in Grantham, PA, to be performed at the 2009 International Trumpet Guild Conference, which they hosted. The piece is based on the hymn tune Lobe den Herren, probably more commonly known as the hymn “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”. It is very playable for most college trumpet ensembles, with the first part (piccolo trumpet) being rather challenging.

“There’s a Great Day Coming”, for 6 trumpets in Bb, was written for the Philadelphia Bible College Trumpet Ensemble. It is probably one of Terry’s best known trumpet ensemble arrangements, because it has been recorded by Phil Smith and the New York Trumpet Ensemble on his New York Legends CD. Written in a jazz style, it is very showy and challenging, particularly the first and second trumpet parts, which require a great deal of strength in the upper register.

“Idea Number Twenty-Four”, for 5 trumpets, is in a tie with “There’s a Great Day Coming” to be my favorite piece for trumpet ensemble. It was written for the Boston University Trumpet Ensemble, who won second prize playing it at the National Trumpet Competition in 2006. Another trumpet ensemble from BU was a runner-up in the 2009 National Trumpet Competition with this piece. I consider the piece to be so difficult that it is guaranteed to allow a trumpet ensemble to place in the National Trumpet Competition as long as it is played well. Based on Paganini’s 24th Caprice, there are also quotations from works by composers like Bartok, Milhaud, and Lutoslawski, just to name a few. The piece also incorporates many different musical styles, has difficult interlocking parts, and utilizes numerous different trumpets (Bbs in trumpets 3-5 and C, Eb, and piccolo in trumpets 1-2).

You can hear a studio recording of it on Terry’s 2011 CD release In the Style Of…, which also features the music of Rodion Shchedrin, Elena Roussanova Lucas, Daniel Pinkham, Eric Ewazen, and Gregory Pascuzzi. Get it here (go ahead and buy Parable while you’re at it) or through iTunes , or listen to it via YouTube or Spotify . Also, you can watch a live video below.


Welcome to my blog, which is currently being used for a class I am taking as part of the doctoral program at the University of Iowa. The class is Advanced Brass Ensemble Literature and is taught by Professor John Manning (tubist in the Atlantic Brass Quintet). I will be focusing primarily on issues relating to the brass quintet.