A crucial component of a musical education is participation in chamber music. Whether this be a brass or woodwind quintet, a jazz combo, a trumpet trio, a tuba ensemble, or something else, there is so much that can be learned from playing in a small group.
This article is targeted toward teachers with a good high school quintet, but most recommendations will work for college players, or even pros looking for a few things that can be worked up quickly.
Why Brass Quintet?
When students are playing in a large school concert band, there are often at least two other people playing the same part as them, embedded in a section of as many as 8 other players. Flubbed notes, imprecise rhythms, and poor intonation can often be masked by the sheer size of the group. In a brass quintet, there is one person per part, and due to the small size of the ensemble, each part is quite exposed. Each player must take full responsibility for their part — excellent playing will be immediately noticeable, as will any slacking off.
The brass quintet is also much more portable than a full concert band. The ease of travel associated with a small ensemble gives students the opportunity to perform more often, at a wider variety of locations. Retirement homes, churches, rotary clubs, and public parks are all great places for a student quintet to gain performance experience.
You really don’t need much to start a student brass quintet at your school or studio: some music, a place to rehearse, and five students willing to put in some extra work. That last one is the hardest to find. Luckily, brass quintet music, particularly beginning music, often includes alternate parts for non-traditional instrumentation. If you don’t have the players for the typical 2 trumpet/horn/trombone/tuba set-up, there’s some flexibility built in. There are often trumpet or trombone parts that substitute for horn. If needed, you can use a euphonium instead of the trombone or tuba.
Music is easier to find. In fact, the hard part is narrowing down your selections. For an ensemble that has only been around for fifty years or so, the list of available repertoire for brass quintet is astounding. To recommend a complete brass quintet library is too large a project for a single article (though a great topic for the forum!), so in the second installment of this article I’ll list my recommendations for starting a student brass quintet library. Stay tuned!