Canadian Brass Celebrates Forty Years

Few chamber groups can boast the accomplishments of the Canadian Brass. Even after forty years, the group isn't showing any signs of stopping.

Forty Years and Counting

Few chamber groups can boast the accomplishments of Canadian Brass. They have released over 90 CDs. Some 80 compositions have been written for them. What’s more, they’ve been performing all over the world for nearly half a century. Now, as three young musicians join the two original members, the group shows no sign of stopping.

Canadian Brass’ nationwide tour brought the group to Bloomington, where they stopped by the WFIU studios to talk, share some laughs, and play some music. Chuck Daellenbach, tuba player for the group, sits with his colleagues: Brandon Ridenour, trumpet; Chris Coletti, trumpet; Jeff Nelsen, horn; and Gene Watts, trombone. “Your performance is one thing. Getting people to come a second time? That’s what really really matters,” Daellenbach says.

The Young Join The Old

Daellenbach and Watts were two of the founding members back in 1970. They see the group moving forward from here. Daellenbach says they have passed a critical point. “With the legendary status of the group and the youth of our new members, we have an opportunity now to really make significant contributions to the future of live performance and the musical world in general.”

The group has seen eight to ten members come and go over the years. It’s not easy to find the right musicians, Watts comments, for in a potential band mate they’re looking for more than just a talented musician. It takes a certain kind of person, someone who is willing to dedicate himself to everything that comes with being in the Canadian Brass. “You can look at it on one side, that you give up a lot. But you also gain a lot, and it’s well worth it.”

A Dream Come True

The two newest members also happen to be the two trumpet players, Ridenour and Coletti. Both young men met Canadian Brass at the Music Academy of the West, a summer music festival in Santa Barbara, California. Coletti is still full of awe at playing in this legendary group: “I never thought I’d meet them in person, let alone play with them.” The group shares a chuckle at Coletti’s admission.

Ridenour, 24, is the youngest member of the group. He has taken on the task of playing piccolo trumpet on the Beatles song Penny Lane, arranged here for brass quintet by Chris Dedrick. The solo wasn’t easy to learn. “It took many nights without sleep, and only taking about two or three breaths per hour,” Ridenour jokes.

Expanding The Repertoire

Over time, the group has not only commissioned a number of new works, but also arranged many existing pieces. To expand brass quintet repertoire has been a mission of the group’s from day one. “We get to be the groundbreakers,” Nelsen says. The musicians take care to ensure that only the highest quality arrangements make it into their performances and onto their CDs. “One of the great things about a forty-year history of a group is the way we select that repertoire and how many filters it goes through before it gets to a stage.”

Daellenbach agrees, citing the relatively short history of the brass quintet as an ensemble. “Wouldn’t it be great it we had Beethoven?” he asks. It’s a rhetorical question; at the time Beethoven was writing, there hadn’t yet been any music written for brass quintet. But it’s coming. “Yes, and it will happen,” Dallenbach asserts. “But it takes time and energy.”

We look forward to hearing Beethoven in brass. But in the meantime, Canadian Brass will continue to put smiles on the faces of music lovers the world over.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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