Brandon University low brass ensemble building ‘bass’ of community support

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Brandon University’s Aaron Wilson.

From Oom-pah to O Canada, the Brandon University low brass band is putting a tuba twist on both classics and old favourites with a series of performances in the community this fall.

“We’re going to be playing some fun polkas at an Oktoberfest celebration, and we’re bringing a new twist to TubaChristmas this year, but what I’m really excited about is the chance to perform the national anthem at both a Brandon Wheat Kings and a BU Bobcats game,” said BU low brass professor Aaron Wilson. “I’m transcribing an existing arrangement, and we’ll perform it on tuba, trombone and euphonium for a very deep and resonant sound. Hockey fans are in for a treat: It’s going to sound great in such a large space.”

The low brass band will also perform a studio concert at Brandon University in the late fall.

While brass instruments include trumpets and French horns, low brass are exclusively larger, deeper instruments like the classic tuba and trombone, as well as the less-familiar euphonium, which is shaped like a smaller tuba but pitched like a trombone.

“You don’t often get to play melody, as a low brass player,” Wilson said. “Bringing tuba, trombone and euphonium players together gives us performers a chance to stretch our chops, so to speak, and it’s always a blast for the audience, too. It’s something you definitely don’t hear every day.”

Along with being a treat for the audiences, the public performances are great learning experiences for students as well.

“Playing in a low brass ensemble is unlike any experience I’ve had before,” said Logan Enns, a second-year music performance major and trombone player. “Being in a university-level group can be intense, but very rewarding. Practicing your part is expected of every person in the ensemble and it’s amazing how much we can grow from one rehearsal to the next.

“Our hard work really shines in our concerts because the Low Brass ensemble truly cares about the music we perform. Getting to play such a wide variety of musical styles and genres helps us grow as musicians and keeps it interesting for the audience. The music can be slow, lyrical and smooth, but it can also be Fast-paced and keep you on the edge of your seat. Everyone in this group has a common goal, and that’s to create beautiful music!”

The autumn of low brass kicked off on Friday, Sept. 20 at the home opener of the Brandon Wheat Kings, as Wilson took to the ice with a trombone to perform O Canada in front of nearly 5,000 Western Hockey League fans at Westoba Place in the Keystone Centre.

Next will be an Oktoberfest celebration at Chez Angela, in Brandon’s downtown. Starting at 6:30 p.m. on evening of Friday, Oct. 4, the performance is likely to be outside, weather permitting. The low brass band will playing polkas and other fun, energetic pieces while the crowd enjoys authentic German street food, including currywurst, pretzel bites and beer and cheddar soup. All food selections will be available in sample-sized servings for just $4 per portion and there will also be a selection of local craft beers and other German-inspired beverages.

On Friday, Oct. 18, they’ll bring the brass to the BU Healthy Living Centre, where they’ll perform ‘O Canada’ in front of the BU Bobcats home opener. It’s expected to be a sellout, as the Bobcats take on the Trinity Western Spartans in a rematch of last season’s men’s championship in front of a Homecoming weekend crowd.

In late November, low brass fans will have the chance to hear two performances back to back. On Sunday, Nov. 24, just a month before the stockings are hung, Wilson will help lead students and community members in Brandon’s sixth annual TubaChristmas. Tuba and euphonium players of all abilities are welcome to join in the performances of classic carols and holiday songs. New this year will be the expanded location — TubaChristmas will be performed in the spacious lobby of the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium just ahead of a performance by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Participants will also receive a complimentary ticket to the orchestra concert.

The next day, on Monday, Nov. 25, the full BU Low Brass Studio will perform an evening concert at the Lorne Watson Recital Hall at BU. This concert will consist of student soloists and smaller ensembles composed of students from the low brass studio, specifically a trombone ensemble and a tuba/euphonium ensemble.

“Learning to identify and communicate with an audience is one of the special opportunities provided through the study of music,” said Greg Gatien, Dean of Music at Brandon University.  “I love how our faculty and students keep finding new audiences and new spaces for their work.  They are continually showing us that people make time and room for great music.”

Public performances of low brass have been a priority for Wilson since he arrived at Brandon University about six years ago.

“I’m really lucky that the community has embraced us like they have, and we have a great group of keen and talented students as well,” Wilson said. “This year, low notes are really going to be a high note for our music program at BU.”


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