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 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

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