Canadian Brass | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Canadian Brass

Canadian Brass. Quintet formed in 1970 as the Canadian Brass Ensemble. Hon D MUS (Hartwick College) 1993, hon D MUS (New England Conservatory of Music) 1993, hon D LITT (McMaster) 2000.

Canadian Brass

Canadian Brass. Quintet formed in 1970 as the Canadian Brass Ensemble. Hon D MUS (Hartwick College) 1993, hon D MUS (New England Conservatory of Music) 1993, hon D LITT (McMaster) 2000.

The original members of the Canadian Brass Ensemble were Stuart Laughton (b St Catharines 19 Aug 1951) and William Phillips, trumpets; Graeme Page, french horn (b Toronto 8 Sep 1947), Eugene Watts, trombone (b Warrensburg, Mo, 22 Feb 1936, former principal trombone with the Toronto Symphony), and Charles Daellenbach, tuba (b Rhinelander, Wisc, 12 Jul 1945; PH D Eastman School of Music, Rochester 1970, former teacher at the University of Toronto). The ensemble's name was abbreviated to Canadian Brass in 1971.

Personnel Changes
Ronald Romm (b New York 4 Dec 1946, Juilliard School of Music graduate and former member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic) took over from Laughton at trumpet 1971-2000. In 1972 Fredric Mills (b Guelph 15 Mar 1935, Juilliard graduate and former member of the Houston and American Symphony Orchestras under Leopold Stokowski and of the National Arts Centre Orchestra) replaced Phillips, remaining until 1996. In 1983 Martin Hackleman (former member of the Calgary Philharmonic and the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, and former principal french horn with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra) replaced Graeme Page. In 1986 David Ohanian (former member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra) replaced Hackleman, remaining until 1998.

Personnel changes continued in the trumpet and french horn positions. Later first trumpets were Ryan Anthony (2000-3) and Stuart Laughton (founding member, returned in 2003); second trumpets were Jens Lindeman (1996-2001), Joe Burgstaller (2001-4) and Charles Lazarus (joined 2005). Beginning in 2006, several individuals shared the trumpet positions, including Manon Lafrance, the first female member. Later french hornists were Chris Cooper (1998-2000), Jeff Nelsen (2000-4) and Bernhard Scully (joined 2005).


Canadian Brass toured Ontario for Prologue to the Performing Arts in 1970 and became artists-in-residence with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra in 1971. Though the players moved to Toronto in 1976 they continued to be members of the Hamilton orchestra until 1977. They were artists-in-residence in 1975 and 1976 at the Banff School of Fine Arts and participated in many summer programs there. The quintet performed in 1972 with the Festival Singers at the Harrogate Festival in Britain and at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland on its first tour of Europe. It first toured Canada in 1975 and the USA in 1976. It also performed under the auspices of the Department of External Affairs at the 1974 Festival estival in Paris, at the Kennedy Center in Washington in 1976, and on tour in China (the first Western ensemble so honoured), where in 1977 it gave 10 concerts before a total of 15,000 people and played in six broadcasts over Radio Peking. Later that year it performed in England, France, Germany, Italy, and (with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir) the USSR. It performed on CBC TV in the children's show 'Canadian Brass' (29 Mar 1976), the special 'Brass-A-Ma-Tazz' (28 Nov 1976), and the popular children's program 'Sesame Street' (1979), and it also appeared on 'The Muppet Show,' 'The Tonight Show,' and in other TV specials of its own. In the summer of 1976 it opened the Jeunesses Musicales of Canada Orford Art Centre festival.


For its Toronto Symphony debut in 1978, Canadian Brass performed Gary Kulesha's transcription of Handel's Organ Concerto in F, Opus 4, no. 4. For its New York debut, 6 Feb 1979 at the Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, it premiered Flashbacks by Michael Colgrass. On other occasions it premiered works written for it by Peter Schickele (Hornsmoke, 1976; Five of a Kind, 1979). In 1976 it gave a performance before the Governor General at Rideau Hall, Ottawa. In the summer of 1980 it made its first appearances at the Edinburgh Festival. In the course of the 1980s Canadian Brass toured Japan (1980, 1982) and Europe (1985), toured throughout North America (including Alaska) and in Australia, and became the first Canadian ensemble to perform in Saudi Arabia. In 1982 it began to perform in Christmas concerts with the New Swingle Singers at Roy Thomson Hall. In 1985 it performed at tricentennial Bach festivals in Toronto and Edmonton and presented some 75 concerts in the USA, including four appearances at Carnegie Hall. Also in 1985 it performed in the film All That Bach (Rhombus Media). In 1986 it appeared at Expo '86 in Vancouver and toured Canada and the Far East, including performances in Singapore, Australia, Indonesia, and Hong Kong.

1990s - Present

In 1990 Canadian Brass teamed up with the comedy troupe Royal Canadian Air Farce for a successful Canadian tour.

As of 1991 the ensemble was based in the US (its home base later reverted to Canada.) Its US and European engagements greatly outnumbered those at home. In the mid-1990s, it was performing typically 90 concerts annually in the US and 35 in Europe.

Canadian Brass continue to devote time to educating young musicians. It has been resident ensemble at the University of Toronto (1998-2003) and the Music Academy of the West (California) 2001-5. In the 1990s it began publishing method books and brass quintet repertoire through the Hal Leonard Corporation.

The matched gold-plated instruments on which Canadian Brass plays were made by Renold Schilke.

Repertoire and Recordings

Combining disciplined performance and informal deportment with a lively and engaging sense of humour, and a repertoire encompassing several centuries and styles as disparate as renaissance and ragtime, Canadian Brass quickly established itself as one of Canada's (and indeed the world's) most popular touring groups. Its trademark stage footwear is running shoes; the members often appear in wigs and costumes for comedic effect, to aid in their stated aim: to demystify the concert experience.

Over the years, Canadian Brass has pioneered the expansion of repertoire for brass quintet by creating its own arrangements of orchestral music, music for solo instruments, jazz and pop standards, and many arrangements of a surprising or experimental nature. Although the members remain first-class classical instrumentalists, they toss aside assumptions about musical boundaries, and are equally at home playing Dixieland jazz and Lennon-McCartney pop tunes. Arrangers whose work the ensemble has performed include Gary Kulesha, Howard Cable, Chris Dedrick, Luther Henderson and Don Sebesky. The cross-genre appeal of Canadian Brass has led to the establishment of many other brass ensembles.

Commissioned Compositions for Brass Quintet

Canadian Brass has commissioned dozens of classical and jazz works. Some of the composers it has recently commissioned works from include Malcolm Forsyth, Bramwell Tovey, William Bolcom, and Michael Kamen.

The following list shows the titles it commissioned from Canadian composers (all covered in EMC) between 1971-8 alone. The year shown indicates the year the work was premiered.

Beckwith Taking a Stand 1972

Beecroft 11 and 7 for 5 plus 1975

Buczynski Olympics C2 1976

Colgrass Flashbacks 1979

Crosley Variations on a French Canadian Theme 1975

Forsyth, M. Sagittarius 1975, Quinquefid 1977

Freedman Five Rings 1977

Glick Deborah 1972

Hayes Convolutions 1975

McCauley Miniature Overture 1973, Concerto Grosso 1973

Morawetz Improvisations 1977

Rathburn Nomadic V 1974, Three Ironies 1975

Symonds A Diversion 1971

Weinzweig Pieces of Five 1976


Canadian Brass has recorded prolifically since 1977. That year, as the Pucker and Valve Society Band, it extended its range with an LP of novelty compositions and arrangements by Ben McPeek. After making recordings for Boot and the CBC, it signed in 1980 with RCA, in 1982 with the CBS Masterworks label, and in 1989 with Philips. It has also recorded with Sony Classical and other labels. By 2004, Canadian Brass had released over 50 recordings (see Discography). That year, it began working with Opening Day Recordings.

Canadian Brass received a Juno award in 1985 as instrumental artists of the year. Its video Home Movies was nominated for a Grammy award, as was the recording Take the "A" Train. Its recordings have been listed on Canadian pop radio charts ("Very Merry Christmas") and jazz charts (Swingtime) in addition to classical and crossover charts.

Recognition and Tributes

The quintet was selected in 1981 as the ensemble of the year by the Canadian Music Council; a year earlier it received an achievement award from the Broadcast Executives Society. It delivered the SOCAN MacMillan Lecture at the University of Toronto in 1996. Canadian Brass has been recognized with awards from the US Music Educators National Conference, Switzerland's Golden Rose Festival, the Global Classical Music Poll, and other bodies eg in the US and Germany.

Further Reading

External Links