Friday, December 28, 2012

A New Year's Guide to my CD, "Watercolor Menagerie"

"Watercolor Menagerie," my first compact disc of original music for brass quintet, is comprised of several popular single titles and three well-loved multi-movement suites. You can read about this CD at my Website. You can also purchase it there and at iTunes and CD Baby.

The CD opens – appropriately, for a recording of music for brass instruments – with a fanfare, "Toot," one of my most popular works. Then comes my most popular suite, "Italian Postcards," with its musical snapshots of Rome, Venice, and Milan.

More stand-alone works and suites follow, all of which audiences find entertaining and enjoyable. They have also all sold well in print, except for the last two tunes, which are contrasting arrangements ("Fanfarish" and "Lyrical") of the New Year's favorite, "Auld Lang Syne." Everyone seems to celebrate New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, but there is little demand for this song, except at midnight as each new year rolls around. This is the story of how these arrangements came to be.


I used to play in Disneyland's Fanfare Trumpeters during the Christmas season, which at Disneyland lasted from Thanksgiving through the Sunday after New Year's Day. Our job was to play for the Candlelight Ceremony, lead the Christmas parades, and play sets of Christmas carols from Cinderella's Castle and the Main Street Train Station.With six or seven sets to play per day for about twenty-two days, we had to memorize a lot of music.

Many fine trumpeters have been members of the Disneyland Fanfare Trumpeters at one time or another, and some of them have gone on to earn nationwide and international fame. But, that's another story. One of the members was my good friend, Kevin Brown, who has directed the Tournament of Roses Herald Trumpeters for many years. He asked me to write a fanfare based on Auld Lang Syne for his Rose Parade group, and the following year, the Disneyland trumpeters took it up, as well. As the Disneyland Christmas season wears on, day after day after Christmas Day, New Year's Day takes on more and more significance, and my Auld Lang Syne fanfare appealed to both the ensemble and our audiences.

The season after my fanfare became part of the repertoire of the Disneyland Fanfare Trumpeters, I became a member of the group, when Bob Malone (yes, THE Bob Malone) left the ensemble. That year, I think, I offered another arrangement to the ensemble, one that ran counter to the group's typical fare of flashy fanfares culminating in paint-peeling high notes. My tender and harmonically-haunting version of The First Noel quickly became a favorite of the group and our audiences, especially after dark, as couples stopped to listen on the drawbridge, with lights twinkling in the trees of the Main Street hub. A few years later, leader David Washburn asked me to write a second version of Auld Lang Syne in chorale style using jazz harmonies. It, too, became a favorite with audiences, and during my five years in the Disneyland Fanfare Trumpeters, I wrote many arrangements for the group. Every so often, we'd play my arrangements for an entire set, which was very satisfying. A few of these are available in print: click HERE for trumpet quartets and HERE for trumpet nonets.

This was before I joined the group, but you get the idea.

So, when I was planning the Watercolor Menagerie CD, I decided to make brass quintet versions of those two arrangements of Auld Lang Syne. They give the recording a nice finish. The CD also includes "Sophie's Waltz," a miniature Viennese waltz named for my dog; the sometimes stentorian "Oration," which features trombone; the ever-popular "The Y2K Bug Blues"; the tender "Lullaby" and "Wedding March"; and three sacred works, "Come Unto Me," "Psalm 23," and "Easter Fanfare on Llanfair." The suite, "Love Letters," is always an audience-pleaser, with its three commentaries on relationships, "First Love," "Missing You," and "Dear John." The four-movement suite, "Watercolor Menagerie," – named for pairs of animals – is the most serious concert work on the CD and features some very interesting parts for piccolo trumpet.

The review in the Journal of the International Trumpet Guild says of my CD: "The music is well crafted, programmatic, and contemporary and has a flavor of Hollywood. Of note is Burkhart's fine work on the piccolo trumpet." I think you'll like it, too!

Check out these links (iTunes and CD Baby) to hear clips. It's easy and inexpensive to buy single titles or the entire CD. Why not give it as a Christmas gift for that person you forgot to buy for this year? If you have a brass quintet, you can even purchase the sheet music.

As the old year winds down and the new year approaches, it's the perfect time to listen to the last two selections on my CD, my arrangements of Auld Lang Syne. There's also a version for SATB of the lyrical version. For that sheet music, see http://www.raymondburkhart.com/choral.php.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Firsts": College of the Canyons' Symphonic Band Inaugural Concert

On December 3, 2012, I had the pleasure of conducting the inaugural concert of the new Symphonic Band at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California. The program, entitled "Firsts," included a wide array of musical styles. Several members of the band performed solos. The goodly-sized audience received the music enthusiastically, and most remained to enjoy the tasty reception that followed.

A collage of images from the COC Symphonic Band's first concert. [Photos by Cathy Tautkus]

Membership in the band has grown wonderfully from an enrollment of but one at the first class meeting to a mid-sized ensemble of woodwinds and brass. Some of our members live locally, and some travel (Los Angeles, Burbank, Sierra Madre, Beverly Hills, Granada Hills, and Tarzana) to join in the music-making. Our members include high school students, COC music majors, other regular COC students, COC employees, SCV area residents, music educators, and professional musicians.

We expect to continue to grow and present great programs, so if you are interested in joining us, please email me. [ray at raymondburkhart dot com] We meet on Monday nights from 6pm to 10pm. The next semester begins on February 4, 2013.

Our December concert opened with three fanfares originally published in 1921 in the British arts magazine, Fanfare. They were adapted to suit the instrumentation of the new COC Band. Also on the program was a set of two pieces from a collection of Civil War music that I'm researching and reconstructing: an untitled galop and the well-known and sentimental "When the Swallows Homeward Fly." The Civil War set was followed by a later 19th-century work, the Helicon Schottische, which featured Peter Mockary on tuba.



The COC Symphonic Band devotes most of its rehearsal time to band works, but we are also cultivating smaller ensembles that focus on music for brass and music for "harmony" ensembles, which usually involves pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns. On the December concert, the brass ensemble performed two works: a transcription of Hassler's late-Renaissance choral work, "Verbum caro factum est," and an arrangement of Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me," which featured trumpeters John Klinedinst and Justen Finch.

Other works in a jazzy vein included my arrangement of "The First Noel" and my original composition, "The Y2K Bug Blues," which featured hornists Caitlin Kimmick and Nathan Campbell. I played the trumpet solo.

We also played two important works of the mid 20th-century avant-garde: Terry Riley's ground-breaking "In C" and John Cage's famous "4'33"."

It was a genuinely fun and interesting evening of good music. The venue, the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center lobby, with its tall, lovely Christmas tree, was perfect. I look forward to more concerts there of great music for great people. We in the band hope you will attend, whether you are in the category of performer or audience member. Either way, you'll be glad you did!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Premiered: "Serenity" for solo horn or horn duo

I thank Dr. Steven Gross and Julie Callahan Gross for premiering my composition, Serenity, on August 9, 2012 at the opening concert of the South African French Horn Society's Fifth National Horn Workshop in Kimberly, South Africa.


At about four minutes in length, Serenity is well-suited for recitals, wedding preludes, and church services. The nature of the music is indicated by its title. To order, see the Premiere Press website.

Serenity was commissioned by Dr. Steven Gross, Professor of Horn at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He and Julie are old friends of mine, and as I considered the commission in light of other works for solo instruments, I decided to write a piece for solo horn that could stand alone, but also be performed with an optional second part. Steve performs at horn gatherings around the world, and he and Julie often travel together. I felt this optional second part would allow greater performing possibilities, while still providing a quality new work for the solo horn literature.

Please visit the Premiere Press website to find many more of my compositions and also Watercolor Menagerie, my CD of  original music for brass quintet.

For more on Julie's "GigBag," a carrying case designed especially for horn players' needs, go HERE.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

New Symphonic Band at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, CA

[Updates and new information may be added to this blog from time to time. Please scroll down for the latest!]

A new Symphonic Band begins this Fall semester at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, CA. I'll be the conductor, and I'm really looking forward to building a fine, college-level band in this vibrant and growing community which lies just a short distance north of the Los Angeles basin.


The new CoC Symphonic Band (Music 185) will meet Monday evenings from 6pm to 10pm in room PCOH 202. That's a great rehearsal space in Pico Canyon Hall (PCOH), which is adjacent and attached to the beautiful new Performing Arts Center. We're on a 16-week semester that begins Monday, August 27, 2012 and extends into mid December. All persons who have college-level ability on a wind, brass, or percussion instrument and are otherwise eligible to take classes at a California Community College should be eligible to join the CoC Symphonic Band. Auditions are required. I will audition new students at or just prior to class meetings. Be prepared to play a chromatic scale across the entire normal range of your instrument and to play all major scales from memory. There might be room for one double (string) bass. Musicians interested in extra-musical options (publicity, music library, equipment management) should also inquire. CoC has a useful collection of percussion instruments, but otherwise, musicians will need to provide their own instruments.

Wind ensembles have a long and rich history. I expect to explore interesting and entertaining music from a wide variety of eras and styles in band history. Student soloists may be featured. Building the band through sectional work in Harmonie ensembles and British-style brass band music is likely. My personal research into a little-known collection of Civil War band music might result in performances. The Symphonic Band will also be a resource to CoC composers. I hope to present world premieres.

The College of the Canyons Website: http://www.canyons.edu/

Please share the blog's URL and its news with your friends, and feel free to email me for more information: ray@raymondburkhart.com.

And as always, to read more about my musical activities, recordings, and publications, visit RaymondBurkhart.com.

Dr. Ray

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Published: Mass for Brass Quintet, by Steven Williams

Every once in awhile, you meet a lifelong friend. One such friend of mine is trombonist/composer, Steven Williams.

Steven James Williams

We played in the same brass quintet at the University of Southern California while we pursued our Masters' degrees in performance. When we toured the US playing the show "Bugs Bunny on Broadway," he instigated discussions on the philosophy and meaning of Chuck Jones' 1955 Warner Brothers' cartoon, "One Froggy Evening," including the central question of whether Michigan J. Frog was consciously evil or merely had bad timing. And his exacting work as tonmeister for my CD of original music for brass quintet, Watercolor Menagerie, was essential to its success. Good times. Good guy.

Steve ponders things deeply, not that he makes it obvious. He's an easygoing Southern gentleman, of a refined Tennessee variety, and he goes through life with a light touch, a helping hand, and a cheerful smile. He has a terrific sense of humor. We've had many a good chin wag over the years.

He's also a composer of considerable depth and quality.

This blog announces the publication of Steve's "Mass for Brass Quintet." I find it to be profoundly intellectual, yet immediately appealing – highly satisfying to both player and listener. It is carefully based on centuries-old contrapuntal techniques, yet it is always fresh and interesting. It makes you think (or at least, it makes me think), which is an admirable achievement – one not universally attained by composers of concert music.

The work is in five movements: I. Compassio; II. Bellitat; III. Fides; IV. Sacer; and V. Ephemer. Its duration is about 25 minutes total. The work calls for two trumpets in B-flat, horn, trombone, and tuba (the tuba part may be performed on bass trombone). It is well scored and eminently playable by advanced players. He calls for mutes more often than many composers do – even requiring "practice" mutes, which are traditionally not intended for use in concert – and the sound world he achieves ranges from bold to ethereal. I have loved the work since I first heard and played it, and it is the first original composition other than my own works that I have published.

You can hear excerpts of the five movements of Steve's Mass for Brass Quintet on YouTube.

Please visit this page at the Premiere Press site for more information and to place an order.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Published: Isle of Colours

Isle of Colours, my new composition for brass quintet, is now published. You can read my previous blog about its March 2012 premiere HERE.

Logo by Emilie Pallos Graphic Design

Britain has a long history of great artists. In this regard, it's truly an island of colors. I have recently been inspired by the art of David Hockney, and as I worked on this composition, the theme of British art kept coming to my thought. It seemed perfect to draw upon great British artists as muses for my three movements.

The first movement of Isle of Colours, named for J.M.W. Turner, employs strong themes and harmonic colors. The second movement, which honors John Constable, is a meditative and expansive theme and variations. The third movement is a bossa nova, inspired by the energy and modern appeal of David Hockney's art. There's just something about the subtle hipness of the bossa nova style – its unhurried creativity and freshness – that strikes me as a good musical match for Hockney's work.

To go to the Premiere Press website, go HERE. Isle of Colours is at the bottom of the page. It's easy to order through Paypal.

HBS Makes HIstory in NYC

The Historic Brass Society -- "an international organization of amateur and professional brass musicians and scholars concerned with the entire range of early brass music, from Antiquity to 20th-century jazz" – held its Second International Historic Brass Symposium this month in New York City. The attendance at the symposium far outpaced expectations, and by giving a paper there, I am proud to have been part of the history-making.

New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art


I gave my paper, "American Women's Brass Quartets before 1900: 'Clever, versatile, and fair to look upon'," at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in an afternoon session devoted to the 19th-century. The early history of American women's brass quartets is essentially unknown, and the audience seemed to take a keen interest in the research I have done on Georgie Dean Spaulding's "Ladies Cornet Quartette," the Park Sisters Cornet Quartet, and the "Ladies' Brass Quartette" of the Boston Fadettes. I was pleased to share the session with Don Larry, whose presentation on brass bands in Arizona was exhaustive (but not at all exhausting), and with the highly esteemed British scholar, Trevor Herbert, who spoke on "British Military Culture and Music in the Long Nineteenth Century."

The Park Sisters (courtesy of Special Collections,
University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa)


I enjoyed the symposium tremendously. There were too many great performances and scholarly papers to list here. My faves included papers by Trevor Herbert, Herbert Heyde, and the inimitable Don Smithers, the interview of Gunther Schuller, and the sessions on cornetto and African trumpets; also the concerts by trumpeter Crispian Steele-Perkins, cornettist Michael Collver, the sackbut ensemble Sacabuche, the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis Trumpet Ensemble, the Caecilia-Concert, His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts, and Les Sacqueboutiers. Jaroslav Roucek's performance of the Hummel concerto on keyed trumpet was a gem among gems, and Gil Cline's Trumpet Consort von Humboldt (from Humboldt State University in Arcata, California) set a new standard for creativity in the world of early music.

The full title of the symposium – in true bipartite scholarly fashion – was, "The Second International Historic Brass Symposium: Brass Instruments, Repertoire, Performance, and Culture." The majority of the symposium was held at the Greenwich Village campus of The New School. There was also a full day of papers and concerts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, followed by a concert held at The Church of St. Luke in the Fields. Most days offered informal playing sessions for groups of cornettists, natural trumpeters, natural hornists, and perhaps even some unnatural brass instruments, the existence of which is known only to brass literati. Makers of period reproductions – including Egger, Seraphinoff, Munkwitz, and others – were present and showed their wares. Rainer Egger received the HBS Christopher Monk Award in the closing session.

If you have an interest in historical things of a brassy nature, I highly recommend joining the Historic Brass Society and attending their events, which include festivals and conferences and – every 25 years or so – historic symposiums like this one.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Mammoth Job

Do you like doing a big job? A really big job? How about a Mammoth-sized job? I do one every year, and I love it!

Mammoth Lakes, to be exact...

Just a tiny bit of the breathtaking scenery that awaits you in Mammoth Lakes

In winter, the town of Mammoth Lakes is a ski resort, and in summer, the whole area is a sportsman's paradise. And it's in the Eastern Sierra area of California, not far from Yosemite National Park, all year.

My Mammoth job, then, is to play principal trumpet in the Sierra Summer Festival Orchestra, which performs a set of concerts in Mammoth Lakes every summer. Classical music at 9,000 feet above sea level is breathtaking in every sense of the word! I've held that position since 2003, and this year, my Mammoth job will get a little bigger. I've been appointed Brass Coach for the orchestra, as well.

Maestro Bogidar Avramov has led the orchestra since its inception in 1978. This year – its 35th season – will be his final season as the orchestra's well-loved conductor. The farewell program includes Suite No. 3 for Orchestra by JS Bach, Symphony No. 7 by Beethoven, and Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn. There is also a chamber music concert.

I very much enjoyed playing for Bogidar in the Beverly Hills Symphony, back when there was still a taste for classical music in the 90210. The Beverly Hills Symphony was a professional affair, but the Sierra Summer Festival Orchestra is a blend of former and non-professional players with professional musicians who act as principal players and section coaches, and when I first started with the Sierra group, I was eager to see how Bogidar's deep musical insights and high performance expectations – which in Beverly Hills occasionally brought to the fore his respectful, but fiery, Bulgarian temperament – would play out over a week-long festival rehearsal schedule. My discovery? That Bogidar loves the Sierra orchestra and its players, and he nurtures, cajoles, and – yes – demands the best possible performance from this orchestra which convenes but once per year and whose members come from far and wide. It has been both a joy and an education to see him prepare the enthusiastic ensemble for its annual pair of classical concerts.

For all the news that's fit to print on the Sierra Summer Festival, please visit their Website. This summer's concerts will be held on August 9 (chamber music only), 10, and 11. If you want to spend a some warm days blending outdoor activities in one of the world's most scenic places with evenings of delightful, cultured, classical music, the Sierra Summer Festival is for you. Mammoth Lakes has lots of condo rentals and a nearby airport. It's a bit off the beaten path, but that keeps away the hordes of tourists, and getting to a place of such amazing geologic beauty is half the fun anyway.

If you go, ask for Dr. Ray. I'd love to see you there!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Premiered: "Isle of Colours," A New Composition for Brass Quintet

Isle of Colours, my new composition for brass quintet, was premiered on May 19, 2012 in Stanford, California, practically in the very shadow of Stanford University. It was a wonderful event, and I thank the many people who contributed to the success of its first performance.


Isle of Colours is a three-movement suite for two trumpets, horn, trombone, and tuba. The title is a reference to the great art of Great Britain. Each of the movements is titled for one of my favorite British artists: JMW Turner, John Constable, and David Hockney. I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the work of these wonderful artists, and if they're already familiar to you, then you know what fun it will be to renew old acquaintances. Many of their finest paintings can be viewed online, if you can't get to the right museums right away!

The first movement of Isle of Colours ("Turner") is vigorous and heroic music. None of my movements were composed in response to specific paintings, but I feel that many of Turner's works embody the bold qualities I present in my first movement. See his "Sunset," "The Slave Ship," and "The Burning of the Houses of Parliament," for instance. The second movement ("Constable") is a set of variations on an original chorale tune. Its peaceful, warm nature comes the closest of the three movements to evoking a specific painting. I hope its grand and timeless feel brings Constable's scale to mind, and while Constable is not known particularly for his religious scenes, this music seems to fit well his "Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds." The third movement ("Hockney") is a bossa nova that features solos for trombone, horn, and trumpet. David Hockney is a living artist who has divided his life largely between England and Los Angeles, and the cool, hip feel of the bossa nova seemed a perfect fit for his highly popular style.

(L-R) Kevin Brown, Loren Marsteller, Sam Gubins, Raymond Burkhart,
Beth Zare, Richard Zare, and David Holben






















Isle of Colours was commissioned by the non-profit scientific publisher, Annual Reviews. I thank Sam Gubins, Annual Reviews' President and Editor-in-Chief, and Richard Zare, Chairperson of Annual Reviews' Board of Directors, for their generous support of this commission. Richard and Susan Zare were most gracious hosts for the event. And I'm deeply grateful to my friend, hornist Beth Zare, for offering the idea of the commission!

The Premiere Brass Quintet premiered Isle of Colours on a concert devoted entirely to my compositions. Naturally, I hope it was but the first of many such concerts! The Premiere Brass Quintet has performed in California since its founding in 1984. The members for the premiere of Isle of Colours were trumpeters Ray Burkhart and Kevin Brown (co-founders of the quintet), hornist Beth Zare, trombonist Loren Marsteller, and tubist David Holben.

The program opened with my palindromic fanfare, TOOT, followed by Sophie's Waltz, The Y2K Bug Blues, Italian Postcards (another three-movement suite), and Isle of Colours. Isle of Colours will be available soon in print for purchase. The other compositions are already published. See my website, www.RaymondBurkhart.com, and navigate to my Online Store to find my brass quintets and other music publications.

The online store also features Watercolor Menagerie, a CD of the Premiere Brass Quintet playing many of my compositions, including those above (except Isle of Colours).

You can see some photos from the event at my Facebook page. Some videos might become available soon on Youtube, also!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Roper Remembers

The Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius, once said, "Musicians talk of nothing but money and jobs. Give me businessmen every time. They really are interested in music and art." My experience has been different.

Sibelius was not entirely wrong; he just made a statement that's more absolute than I have found the truth to be. Every so often in the music world, one runs into a deep-thinking artist. I think of my friend, William Roper, as one of those.

William Roper

Roper (he much prefers 'Roper' over William or Bill) is a composer and tubist in the Los Angeles area. At least, those are two sides of the man. He's also a chef and a painter. Visit his website HERE.

I have worked with Roper many times. Currently, he's a regular member of my brass quintet, and his participation is always valued, both for his musicianship and for his various perspectives on things, including music and life. He has the wry and dry sense of humor often found in deep thinkers. This comes out in his compositions, of course. His musical aesthetic and mine differ a good bit, but I enjoy his music very much and find it interesting and thought-provoking. I think the latter point might please him most. He'll let me know. When there's time, we'll talk about it. In fact, I always enjoy talking to Roper, because he's just so interesting. He says he likes my music, too, which – coming from an artist and thinker like him – means a lot.

I blog about Roper because he's the latest subject in a series of short documentaries by Los Angeles filmmaker Joe Santarromana. You can find some of Santarromana's work HERE at Vimeo. The video about Roper is the fourth in a series entitled, "The Rememberers." It runs about 17 minutes, and I think it's very well done. He shares important observations on his life, cooking, composing, and racism. It interests me, of course, since it reveals much about a colleague. I think you'll be interested, too, because Roper is a fascinating person.

My favorite element of the video is his paintings. Roper doesn't talk about painting much, but I think his paintings are terrific. I think he should paint more. For me, his visual art has that blend of ideas and craftsmanship that signifies greatness and enduring value. Or maybe I just like the colors.

If you get the opportunity to talk with Roper – really talk, not just meet-and-greet or chat – do it. He's definitely interested deeply in music and art. I'm pretty sure Sibelius would have changed his tune (at least one of them), had he met Roper.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Premiered: A New Hymn of Mine

On Monday, June 4, 2012, a new hymn of mine was performed during the Annual Meeting of The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, Massachusetts. I am very pleased and honored that my music was selected to be part of this important event. 
The new hymn is an original setting of the poem, “Feed My Sheep,” by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the worldwide Christian Science church. The music was performed as a vocal solo with piano accompaniment by Seattle (WA) jazz musicians Jay and Tessa Frost. A live stream of the recording of the meeting can be replayed HERE. My music begins about 72:30 in the video. Replays of Annual Meeting and related events will be available online until June 2013.
In recent years I have devoted more time to composing sacred music, including solos, hymns, and Christmas music. See www.raymondburkhart.com for more about my work and to access the sheet music and recordings in my online store. Click HERE for my three sacred solos: "Psalm 23," "Whither Shall I Go?," and "Come Unto Me." "Come Unto Me" is also available for SATB and solo trumpet (or other solo instrument). Click HERE for links to my Christmas music, which includes my Christmas cantata, "The Little Child," and other choral and brass works. 
My compact disc, Watercolor Menagerie, includes my "Easter Fanfare on Llanfair" (for brass quintet) and instrumental versions of "Psalm 23" and "Come Unto Me." The CD is available for purchase on my site and at CD Baby and iTunes. Other compositions, "Fanfare Processional" and "Rejoice!" (both for three trumpets and organ), are suitable for church (sheet music HERE – recordings at CD Baby and iTunes).

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Young Musical Talent Commences

I have much to blog about. My new suite for brass quintet, Isle of Colours, was recently premiered and will soon be published. My publishing company, Premiere Press, will also soon publish Mass for Brass Quintet, a masterfully crafted, stunningly intellectual, and deeply musical five-movement composition by my longtime friend and colleague, Steven J. Williams. And in July I'll be giving a paper entitled, "American Ladies' Brass Quartets Before 1900: 'Clever, versatile, and fair to look upon'," at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as part of the Second International Historic Brass Symposium. Blogs on these items will appear soon.

But first, at this season when the brass music of college commencements sounds thick in the air, I must write about this year's delightful Pomona College Brass Quintet and – somewhat evocatively of nineteenth-century music criticism – introduce an important young composer.

The Pomona College Brass Quintet performs at the California Club, January 2012.

The brass chamber music program at Pomona College is a phoenix that arises whenever a group of like-minded musicians agrees to form an ensemble. Before this year, I've coached brass quartets and various trumpet ensembles, but this past year we had an honest-to-goodness brass quintet, and a fine one, too. The enthusiasm and talent of these five college musicians was a thing to behold, and – in a somewhat rare and wonderful case – their temperaments and ability levels matched beautifully.

Like other musical groups at the Claremont Colleges, the members of this brass quintet were drawn from various Claremont Colleges. Trumpeter Alex Groth and hornist Will Savage attended Pomona College. I use the past tense, since they both just graduated to new things – surely great things – and I hope they continue to find time to be part of the honorable (or at least, mostly honorable) lineage of chamber brass players. Trombonist William Chen and trumpeter Carling Sugarman represented Harvey Mudd College handsomely, and trombonist Rachel Fidler attends Scripps College. All five musicians were members of the Pomona College Orchestra last year. William Chen has also graduated, which leaves Carling and Rachel to carry on a fine new tradition next year with the addition of new players. Their fine musicianship and good humor should be the backbone of another great group in the Fall.

This ensemble got from zero to 60 in a very short time. At first when I coached them, the silence between my comments was such that I had occasionally to check their pulse. (Note to colleagues who coach string and woodwind chamber ensembles: A quiet brass quintet is not a normal thing.) I appreciated the respect, but formality in a brass quintet can only be endured for a brief time, and it wasn't long before their collective good upbringings relented enough to let their keen and incisive wit and humor shine through. They took my coaching to heart and practiced seriously. I have rarely enjoyed a brass quintet more than these five young musicians.

In what seems like a very short musical year, they performed for several Student Recitals, one or two informal concerts around campus, provided entertainment for a very refined ARCS (Achievement Rewards for Young Scientists) Foundation luncheon at Los Angeles' very private California Club (see photo above), and gave the world premiere of a new composition for brass quintet by now-Pomona-College-graduate, Scott Jesperson.

I first met Scott when I conducted the Pomona College Orchestra in 2009. He sat among the first fiddles, and we had little direct personal interaction. Even now, I've only had one meeting with him of any length, when he attended a rehearsal of the Pomona College Brass Quintet that focused on preparing his new brass quintet work, Overture to Middle Earth, for his senior recital. I became a fan of his music immediately.

Scott has composed for full orchestra, string quartet, solo piano, and surely other ensembles, but it is his brass quintet with which I am most familiar. It is boldly thematic, refreshingly harmonic, and richly rhythmic. It will appeal to many players and audiences alike. One of his orchestral works was performed this year by the Pomona College Orchestra, so the faculty there clearly has confidence in his work.

Scott Jesperson, recently of Pomona College, is a highly talented young composer whose art music already evidences a level of refinement and maturity rarely found among fresh college graduates. His works deserve repeated hearings by a growing audience. I hope he publishes his new work for brass quintet and, as his catalog grows in the future, that he revisits the chamber brass genre frequently.

To hear a live recording of Scott's Overture to Middle Earth, as played by the Pomona College Brass Quintet, click HERE. Dr. Ray reminds you that, as a live recording of a student ensemble with not a single music major among them, some performance imperfections will be apparent, but so, too, will be much successful ensemble playing and, more importantly, the spirited and uplifting ideas of a noteworthy young talent.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop

The Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop is a wonderful experience for current or wannabe brass chamber music players. The Workshop attracts brass players from all walks of life, including students, retirees, and all sorts of other folks. Some have played for many years, others not so much. Some are aspiring young professional players or music teachers, while most are dedicated amateur players drawn from the ranks of community orchestras, concert bands, and jazz bands. We even attract a few "fogies" of unreported age that keep the rest of us on our toes.

A brass octet performs informally for other participants at the
Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop.

The trappings of our lives at home are forgotten to a great extent during the Workshop, as participants join together in a week of making brass chamber music. Two one-week sessions are offered each summer, and participants may apply to attend either or both sessions. The Workshop is typically held late in July. Please see http://www.humboldt.edu/brass/ for all the details. Applications and deposits received before May 15 receive a reduction in tuition.

Workshop participants and staff typically reside in HSU dorms and dine at the (no kidding) highly regarded college cafeteria. Check-in is on Sunday, with check-out the following Saturday morning.  Workshop participants are assigned by the staff to a new group each day (Monday thru Friday). Participants enjoy playing in mixed brass trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, septets, octets, and occasionally nonets and tentets. Trios, quartets, and quintets of "like" instruments (trumpets only, horns only, trombones only, and euphs/tubas only) are also sometimes formed.

Each day, every group reads a variety of music for their ensemble and receives coaching by the coaching staff, which consists of highly experienced professional brass players/chamber musicians. A concert is held each evening (in the afternoon on short-day Wednesday), during which each group performs a brief selection. The Workshop focus is on learning the skills required for playing chamber music and on gaining familiarity with a variety of brass chamber music. There is no emphasis on competitiveness, and everyone's contributions and talents are valued.

While the Workshop schedule is full of coached rehearsals and daily informal concerts, there is also plenty of time for participants to enjoy a variety of recreation. College sports facilities are typically available, as is the nearby city pool, and the college is situated adjacent to old growth Redwood forest and hiking trails. The dorm has a recreation lounge and a sandy volleyball court. After the daily program, many participants join together to "freelance" informally with others. Just sign out a room, find a few old or new friends, and request some music from what might be the world's most extensive library of brass chamber music. It's a great way to get to know each other and have fun. Wednesday is a short day, with the evening off. Many participants enjoy a meal out at one of the restaurants in nearby Arcata or Eureka or in smaller towns along the scenic Northern California coast.

I recommend the Workshop to friends and strangers each year because I enjoy it so much myself! I was a participant twice during my own college years, and it has been my pleasure to be part of the coaching staff for decades since. I have made lifelong friends at the Workshop, and it is a joy to meet new Workshop participants each year. We have a high rate of returnees, so I always advise people to apply early!

The Workshop's Web site is a good source of information. And you can find out more about me, my published brass chamber music, and my available recordings at www.raymondburkhart.com.

Look for upcoming blogs on two forthcoming publications for brass quintet: Steven J. Williams' great Mass for Brass Quintet and my own new commission, Isle of Colours, an homage to three of my favorite (favourite?) British artists – J.M.W. Turner, John Constable, and David Hockney.

Have a great brass chamber music day, and perhaps we may meet this summer in Arcata!

All the best,
Dr. Ray

Friday, March 23, 2012

Introducing 'Brass Chamber Music'


Brass chamber music is a genre about which many people know little or nothing at all. Omit the word ‘brass’ from the phrase, and many music lovers will respond, “Oh, yes – how I love string quartets,” referring to what is often considered the most sophisticated genre in Western music. 

A brass quintet rehearses at the
Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop.

That chamber music also exists for brass instruments has come as a surprise to many people, including long-time music aficionados and music professors, despite the fact that its history – even according to a narrow definition of the term – can be traced back 200 years to the early 19th century. The history of music for small brass ensembles actually goes back much further – at least to the courtly trumpet ensembles of the 16thcentury – and is an important and interesting record of a phenomenon that is still enjoyed today by performers and concertgoers around the world. Brass quintets, in particular, abound in 21st-century amateur and professional music circles.

Brass chamber music has figured prominently in my life. I have performed brass chamber music since my childhood, taught classes and workshops in brass chamber music for many years, composed and published many chamber brass works (explore www.raymondburkhart.comand its online music store for more about that), and released a CD of my compositions for brass quintet. (To listen or purchase, see my Web site, or search on ‘Raymond David Burkhart’ in CDBaby and iTunes.) Even my PhD dissertation – which weighs in at 486 double-spaced pages – is in the field of brass chamber music. My overview there of brass chamber music and its history runs almost 120 pages. I have also given papers on brass chamber music in the US, France, and Scotland.

So the time has come to blog about brass chamber music. There is a lot to say, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it here. For instance, I’ll be giving a paper entitled “American Ladies’ Brass Quartets Before 1900: “Clever, versatile, and fair to look upon” at this summer’s Third Historic Brass Symposium in New York. My latest commission – to be premiered this coming May in Stanford, California – is for brass quintet. My newest publication – Steven J. Williams’ Mass– is scored for brass quintet. I’ll blog about all this and more, but it seemed a good idea to introduce the concept of ‘brass chamber music’ to the blogosphere before I start writing about it more frequently.

So, welcome! You are now ‘in-the-know’ about brass chamber music. You are among the initiated – the brass intelligentsia. You can refer to the genre knowingly at parties and impress your dates with your erudition. But be sure to ‘follow’ my blog to get the latest scoop.

Musically yours, Dr. Ray

Friday, March 9, 2012

RaymondBurkhart.com Goes Live!

Yesterday was a good day! After months of collaboration with some excellent Web design professionals, my new Web site launched. It's beautifully designed and full of content. It's interactive, too. You can explore it at www.raymondburkhart.com, and I hope you do!

A screen shot from www.RaymondBurkhart.com

You'll find a Biography page and pages that tell of my work as a trumpeter, composer, educator, conductor, and musicologist. There are some fun pictures, and many of the pages have music players that will play three or four excerpts from recordings of my music. Snoop around and have some fun.

You'll find an Online Store, where you can explore my audio recordings and print publications. There are too many sheet music categories to list here (37 and counting), but they include choir, orchestra, band, British Brass Band, many different small brass ensembles, and other categories. In fact, brass chamber music is one of my principal musical activities (I'll blog about that soon), and brass players will find lots of interesting offerings, especially for brass quintet. Many of these brass quintet publications can be heard on my CD, Watercolor Menagerie (2004). Visit my Audio Recordings page to buy a CD directly from me, or use the iTunes or CDBaby links to buy my recordings online. Orders by PayPal (US and international) or check (US only) are always welcome!

You'll also find links to my Facebook and YouTube pages and to this blog. My YouTube page is devoted to my orchestra and band conducting, and my Facebook page has many fun photo albums. As for this blog, why don't you follow it and get notifications of new blog entries?

My deep gratitude goes out to designer Emilie Pallos and her team at Emilie Pallos Graphic Design for their excellent work, designing and building my new site. Their standards are the highest, their product first-rate, and together we functioned as a happy team. Emilie was creative director for the project, Vic assisted in photography, and Tom (Ferguson Photography and Design) executed the intricate web programming. If you are looking for top quality graphic design of any kind – Web, print, whatever – I give them my highest recommendation. 

Be sure to tell 'em Dr. Ray sent you!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Recollections of Maurice Andre

Maurice Andre

To those who know, there is little to say about him that hasn't been said. You already know his deserved fame and status among the greatest of 20th-century trumpeters. You know his singing tone, his faultless technique, his many brilliant recordings. If you do not know, thanks to the marvel of the Internet and YouTube, you can (and should) take some time to listen to the many recordings and videos you can find there of Maurice Andre playing trumpet. You won't regret it. To my students: this is required! Give yourself plenty of time to listen and learn from the best.

I have no photos with him. I never shook his hand. I heard him play twice in Los Angeles, but I never met him. Actually, I almost met him, but that's another story for another blog...

But he influenced me profoundly, as I think he influenced so many trumpeters in and around my generation. And thanks to him and my parents, I had one of my first amazing music lessons.

Haydn's Trumpet Concerto is one of those pieces that is frequently used as audition pieces for high school trumpeters, so I first encountered it when I was 13 or 14. I practiced and practiced and practiced it, and then I practiced it some more. I lived in Red Bluff, California, a little town in rural northern California, and record stores were few and far between. I know they're basically non-existent now, but in those pre-digital days before CDs and the rest, records were big, if you could get at them, and we didn't get at them easily.

Somehow, for Christmas one year, my parents got me a record of Maurice Andre playing some trumpet concertos, including the Haydn. When I had the chance, I eagerly played it on my little Capehart record player. It was a real ear-opener. I'd never heard such glorious, effortless, gorgeous playing! I listened to the recording again. I recall listening to it only twice, before I had to take out my Bach B-flat trumpet (having no idea yet about E-flat trumpets) and play through the concerto myself.

I was amazed to find that I could instantly play the concerto at least twice as well as I could play it before I heard Andre's recording. No pondering, no period of soaking in, no gradual progress. The improvement was instantaneous. I felt like a completely different player. Literally, one minute I could play it at one level, and after listening to Andre, my quality of performance doubled, or more. I learned a very important lesson that day. Concept is nearly everything. Being able to play the notes, without knowing how they really should sound, is a very small part of making music. Having a high concept of how music should sound is not only helpful, but requisite.

I heard him play 'live' for the first time in 1980 in Los Angeles. Maybe late 1979. I was a freshman at Occidental College, and four of us crammed into a friend's little old Datsun that barely moved in the first place, and whose handling was not improved by a quartet of eager young trumpeters folded into its tight dimensions. If you know the Pasadena Freeway, with its stop and go onramps in the Highland Park area, you can imagine my excitement even before the concert. White knuckles doesn't begin to describe it. I'd never seen the Pasadena freeway, and I'd never been in a car that needed to go from zero to 60 in about a block, as three lanes of traffic bore down on us at full speed. In the dark. And I think it was raining. Anyway, we survived that and got to and from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles in the same number of pieces we started out with. I'd never been there before, either. It was a night of firsts for a kid fresh from the sticks.

As young as I was, I still knew the audience was chock full of trumpeters. They were everywhere, and there were more big names than you could imagine. It was a trumpet and organ recital, and it was terrific. He'd given a master class, too – which I heard was even more amazing – but I wasn't able to attend that. It was a thrilling night.

In 1984 or 1985, I heard him again. He played the Haydn with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at the Embassy Theater in downtown L.A. Fantastic. That was the night I very nearly met him. But, enough for now. That's definitely a story for another blog.

I wish I'd met him. I wish I'd shaken his hand. I wish I had a photo. But no. His blessing to me was to record wonderful music that I and the world rejoiced in. I thank him now for that pivotal day many years ago when he gave me my first lesson on how to play the Haydn. I'll never forget it.

Thank you, Mr. Andre. Merci.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Welcome to my new blog

An enlightening photo of the author at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

When I was in first grade in Pleasant Hills, PA (a suburb of Pittsburgh), there was a bit of doggerel that made the rounds. "It's about time. It's about place. It's about time to slap your face!" What happened next is predictable, but it didn't end badly as often as you might think. This distant memory returned as I write this, my very first blog, and it seemed a fun way to begin.

It is about time. Time to join the blogosphere. Time to share my ideas. Time to respond to some questions, perhaps. 

But it won't be much about place, and all slapping is out of the question (except for bass players).

It will be about music. About my music, since I compose music, and also about the music of others. About my experiences as a musician. About my teaching. About things I have learned and about things I want to learn. 

There are many areas of music that interest me -- too many to write them all -- but the following list will give you an idea of some of the topics I expect to explore:
  • composing
  • playing and teaching trumpet
  • brass chamber music
  • my compositions and publications
  • my musical experiences and memories
I'm new to blogging, so I'll learn how to do it as I go along. Many people share my musical interests, and I hope some of you will join this site, or follow it, or do whatever it is that fans do. We'll have some fun.

My new Web site will launch soon, but that's another blog...

Dr. Ray