Friday, January 10, 2014

"Watercolor Menagerie" – Its First Decade, Part One: Gratitude

I remember it like it was yesterday. Ten years ago – almost to the day – I awoke one morning and my first thought was, "I need to make a CD." Five months later, boxes of "Watercolor Menagerie" CDs arrived on my doorstep.

Now – ten years after the release of "Watercolor Menagerie" – it is still widely enjoyed, still sells, and the compositions on the recording are still played by brass quintets in the US and internationally. Increasingly so. I have seen this music  move audiences to laughter and other audiences to tears. Douglas Wilson wrote of "Watercolor Menagerie" in the Journal of the International Trumpet Guild, "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." It's time to celebrate the CD's ten-year record of success: first, with gratitude.

But, before I go further, yes, you too can get "Watercolor Menagerie" at my website and from iTunes and CD Baby. I'm sure you'll like it!

First, I thank all of you who purchased the music on CD and online, especially the many of you who have sent notes telling me what the music means to you. The compositions and the CD were labors of love, and your kind notes always touch me deeply. You can easily reach me at

Second, many thanks to the many brass quintets that continue to program the pieces on this CD (and my many newer compositions and arrangements for brass quintet that are not yet recorded). I now have enough new works for a second CD, and the commissions continue to come. The business world has its "angels," and the modern music world would greatly benefit from a similar practice. In the arts, it's actually an ancient tradition called patronage. If you're a fan-"angel," or want to be, don't remain a stranger!

Third, I offer my deep gratitude to the marvelous musicians who played on the recording: trumpeter Kevin Brown, hornist Steve Durnin, trombonist Loren Marsteller, and tubists Norm Pearson and Fred Greene. (More about the two tubists later.) Your talents enhanced "Watercolor Menagerie" greatly.

Many who play music or sports, or participate in group projects, know how fulfilling it is to work (or play) with great masters. When those great masters are dear friends, it's even more special. My colleagues on this recording are indeed both musical masters and dear friends. All have for many years been highly sought-after musicians in the competitive and world-class freelance market that defines Southern California concert halls and the "Hollywood" recording studios. You don't need to know about that to enjoy the CD – the music speaks for itself – but, the more you know about brass playing, the more you will appreciate what these wonderful musicians achieved on this recording.

The Premiere Brass Quintet, recording "Watercolor Menagerie": (L-R)
Raymond Burkhart, Loren Marsteller, Norm Pearson, Steve Durnin, Kevin Brown.

If you have the chance to make music with a great musician for most of your life, do it. I have. I first met Kevin Brown at Claude Gordon's first summer music camp. I was still in high school, and Kevin had just graduated. After college, we met again and started working together in Los Angeles. His playing and good nature are as easygoing as it gets, and nearly every major professional ensemble in the Los Angeles area has been blessed by his great musicianship and good cheer, from the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra right on down the list. We have collaborated countless times. Lots of music, lots of laughs.

Steve Durnin has a significant career in the recording studios and orchestras of Los Angeles and Hollywood. In my early days freelancing, some players just stood out as wonderful people, in addition to being wonderful players. That's Steve. He plays the horn effortlessly, with a sharpshooter's accuracy, and he shifts into a variety of non-classical styles on a dime. He can also move a refrigerator with aplomb. (That's not on any audition lists, but it does quickly cement a friendship.) He is also extraordinarily knowledgeable on seemingly endless topics (I think he has a photographic memory), and I learned to fly-fish under his patient tutelage.

I also first met Loren Marsteller long ago, when he was preparing to be a guest soloist with the Caltech Concert band, conducted by my teacher, the great trumpeter and pedagogue, William Bing. As we were introduced, Bill said in almost hushed tones, "Loren was euphonium soloist with the President's Own Marine Band." I was in awe of that then, and I still am! But, Loren's really a jolly, cherub-like, fun-loving Santa lookalike, with a sincere humility rarely found in someone with a world-class reputation. I've learned a lot about music from working with him.

Norm Pearson, of course, has been the tubist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for decades! In fact, Norm and I were housemates when he won that job, and I recall listening to him practice his excerpts for hours and hours. And hours. Day and night. He, too, is just as nice a guy as you'll ever find. We freelanced together many times in brass quintets and brass ensembles in those early days, when we were students together at the University of Southern California.

But, as long as I've known all those guys, it's Fred Greene that I've known the longest. I first met Fred when we both attended Lincoln Street Elementary School in Red Bluff, California. Fred was one year ahead of me, and he played trumpet. I recall knowing even then that he was a good musician. Later, we played in the Bidwell Middle School band as he transitioned to baritone, and by the time I got to Red Bluff Union High School, Fred was playing sousaphone, because the band had no tuba. After he earned a spot in California's All State Honor Band in only his sophomore year, the school quickly found the funds for a real tuba, and the investment was one of the best they ever made. Fred has always played with an unusually high musical authority and sensibility. He would have been a great master on any instrument, such is his innate musicianship.

You may ask, Why are there two tubists on my CD? Simple. Our recording location was only available for a few days, and we couldn't accommodate everyone's schedule. Norm had conflicts with the LA Phil, and Fred had conflicts with recording dates. So, I used them both. What an embarrassment of riches!

You can read my "New Year's Guide to Watercolor Menagerie" and A Brief History of the Premiere Brass Quintet elsewhere in this blog. I expect soon to write Part Two of this "Watercolor Menagerie" retrospective: "The Music." In the meantime, give "Watercolor Menagerie" a fresh hearing or a first hearing. You'll be glad you did.