Sunday, April 23, 2017

Re-thinking Brass Ensemble: Brass Music from other culture?

In our last ABEL class, Prof. Manning presented brass music from other cultures and asked all of us to post a blog of brass music from other cultures to share with others. Well, I was thinking of doing a post about 'Brass' ensemble anyway.

In my very first blog post, I defined 'horn' and 'ensemble' but never did define brass. Here it is.

According to Meriam-Webster, Brass means

1. an alloy consisting essentially of copper and zinc in variable proportions
2. a :  the brass instruments of an orchestra or band —often used in plural
    b :  a usually brass memorial tablet
    c :  bright metal fittings, utensils, or ornaments
    d :  empty cartridge shells
3. brazen self-assurance
4. singular or plural in construction
  1. a :  high-ranking members of the militaryb :  persons in high positions (as in a business or the government)
As a musician, our mutual understanding of 'brass' is the 2nd definition that the instrument in brass family are made of brass. What about saxophone then? Well, it is a woodwind instrument because it uses wooden read to produce sound. Sure, clarinet, oboe, and bassoon use the same thing. What about flute? One can argue that flute used to be made of wood so it counts as a woodwind instrument. 

Let's go back further in time. The origins of most instrument came from natures such as animal horns or seas shells.

I know this is not brass instrument but if we consider how today's instrument built, shouldn't flute or saxophone be part of the brass instrument? or even vibraphone?

Now my 'Brass' ensemble is a little broader which allow us to enjoy more type of music from brass such as music from South East Asian traditions. Here the example of Gamelan music

Here is the introduction to Gamelan music.

And here are some Gamelan music.

Of course, there are other instruments in South East Asian tradition that are made of brass as well. 
Such as Kong Wong - an instrument consists of tuned gongs. It can be divided into two types - Kong Wong Yai which consists of 16 tuned gongs in a lower pitch (Yai means big), and Kong Wong Lek which consists of 18 tuned gongs in a higher pitch (Lek means small). 

Kong Wong Yai

It would be interesting to see a mixture of western brass instrument playing with other traditions brass instrument. What I can find so far is the Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Javanese Gamelan Ensemble by Lou Harrison. Very interesting piece!

Sometime we are afraid of loosing our identity which blocks our creativity. Of course, we all need to know and to have basic understanding of things we want to explore first. Once we know where the boundaries are, we can then start to find a way to reshape it or even to melt it down so that we can create something new. 

In today's music world, classical music has arrived the point that it starts to get stuck. Once we get stuck, human's instinct yearn for something new hence new creation, new types of music. Keeping tradition is good and it should be kept and supported but, as we all know that things that can't evolved to the new setting extincts, classical music needs to be evolved too. That is why we can now see many new ways of presenting music which is a good thing.

For this last 'official' post for Advanced Brass Ensemble Literature class, I would like to end with a quote by Charles Darwin:

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”   

Extra: This is how western brass musical instruments have been evolved and used in Thai traditional ceremony.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very interesting take on "Brass" music. It's very true that the actual idea of the word allows you to expand upon its meaning. I appreciated the alternative brass music especially the Gamelan music. It's really calming to listen to.