Starting a Student Brass Quintet (For Teachers): Part 2 of 2

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Budgets being what they are, your resources for starting a quintet are likely limited. In order to keep things practical, I’ve come up with five areas that I feel a quintet should work on, and suggested one collection of music for each area. I haven’t included things like technique/scales; that’s more of an individual practice area.

1. Intonation
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from playing chamber music is how (and why) to listen to the rest of the ensemble, and adjust my playing (tone, volume, intonation, style) to match. As a regular warm-up for the quintet, I highly recommend 150 Intonation Exercises for Brass Quintet by Verne Reynolds. These exercises require each player to listen to the others, and practice matching pitch and intonation while basically passing a chord around the ensemble. It works even better if there is a teacher or coach listening, to instruct students on what to listen for.

There are individual parts available, but the price is low enough that I’d recommend just getting everyone copies of the score, which will allow them to see where their part fits into the chord and the ensemble. You buy the entire set from Robert King Music, or individual parts from the publisher, Wimbeldon/Trigram Music.

2. Popular
Popular styles and tunes are a great addition to any repertoire. They’re fun for both the performers and the audience. They also provide a great opportunity to work on things like swinging, jazz rhythms, and different styles and harmonies.

The Brass Grooves collections by the Dallas Brass are a fantastic addition to any library. There are two different books: the intermediate book has 10 tunes at a grade 2-3 difficulty level, and the main book has 12 tunes at a grade 3-4 level. They’re all original compositions for brass quintet (with optional drumset), and cover a wide variety of styles: blues, swing, salsa, reggae, rock, marches, etc. These tunes would also work for an advanced or professional quintet that wants some crowd-pleasing pieces they can work up quickly and keep in reserve.

3. Hymns
Regardless of religious affiliations, churches are a great place for young ensembles to get some playing experience. Therefore it is good idea to have a few hymns in the repertoire, particularly some with which congregations can sing along.  The homophonic texture of most hymns provides another opportunity for students to work on intonation and phrasing as a group. Having students sing their parts in rehearsals will also help with these skills. Check out Fifteen Easy Hymns For Brass by the Canadian Brass.

An additional educational tool would be to have each student try their hand at arranging hymns. This is an easy start for arranging, as hymns are typically already divided into three or four distinct parts.

4. Ceremonial
There are many significant events, large and small, in daily life, and many types of ceremonies to mark the occasions. Your student quintet can gain valuable performance experience by making themselves available to play for these ceremonies. A young quintet could play a fanfare at the beginning of a band concert, or at a local ribbon-cutting ceremony. Your group could perform the National Anthem at a local sporting event. Perhaps a civic group would like a short performance at the beginning of their monthly meeting. A more advanced quintet could perform processional music for a wedding or a high school graduation or awards ceremony.

Ceremonial and Commencement Classics by Kendor Music is a collection of classical and patriotic ceremonial music, arranged for student musicians.

5. Classical
There is no shortage of arrangements of classical music for brass quintet. They provide students an opportunity to play some of the most famous classical music, an opportunity they otherwise might not have. These are typically more well-known works, and audiences are likely to be familiar with some of them. Classical arrangements are easily programmed into concerts (chamber or large ensemble), and make great contest pieces for Solo and Ensemble festivals. I selected two collections for this area. Five Brass Quintets, arranged by Don Schaeffer, is a collection of classical melodies arranged for a very young quintet. Festival Repertoire for Brass Quintet is a collection of fourteen well-known classical tunes, suited to a slightly older quintet.

Of course, you don’t have to go with my choices. There is such a wide array of music available for quintet, you’d have no difficulty finding multiple options for each category. The important thing is to find music that will engage and challenge your students, and to provide performance opportunities so they can experience the glow of success.

Please share your recommendations for student chamber music in the comments, or in the forum!

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