John Philip Sousa may sit up in his grave and grin Sunday night when the newly formed San Antonio Brass Band performs a joyful rendition of his “Liberty Bell March” during its premiere concert. The performance will take place Sunday, March 26, at 7 p.m. at the University of the Incarnate Word’s concert hall, 4301 Broadway, and is free.
The Brass Band grew from the better-known San Antonio Brass, an ensemble that has been popular year-round but especially at Christmas since 1981. San Antonio Symphony principal trumpeter John Carroll started both, modeling the new group on British competition bands.
The concert will feature other pieces, including “Strike Up the Band,” “Danny Boy,” a piece called “Harrison’s Dream” that Carroll describes as “wicked hard,” and “Brasilia Carnaval,” whose arrangement was specially commissioned by the Brass Band.
Audience members may find themselves on their feet, marching through the hall, at the blasts of “Colonel Bogey March,” written in 1914 as the authorized march of The King’s Own Calgary Regiment of the Canadian Forces. The piece is recognizable as the tune whistled by soldiers in the 1957 movie The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Carroll explained that competition bands – which compete at the North American Brass Band Association (NABBA) Competition in Ft. Wayne, Ind., as well as in Great Britain and Europe – have a set instrumentation with a limit of 30 brass players plus percussion as needed. The San Antonio Brass Band, one of two such bands in the city, is composed of volunteers living in the greater San Antonio area. It has a dozen or more cornets, a flugelhorn, three E-flat tenor horns, two baritones, two euphoniums, three trombones, two E-flat tubas, and two B-flat tubas.
“In that this is our first performance, we wanted to present a wide range of music typically associated with brass bands as well as feature some of our local talent and community,” Carroll said. “[It features] instruments not that commonly heard, namely the euphonium, cornet, and flugelhorn.”
Carroll and the board of San Antonio Brass envision taking the new brass band to compete at the NABBA competition and becoming the “go-to group” for patriotic holidays and special events.
The fact that competition brass bands favor cornets over trumpets is a “knock me down with a feather” moment for Jim Cullum, cornet player and patriarch of all things jazz in San Antonio. He wrote in an e-mail to his audience of 25,000 that cornets, which lost their popularity when trumpeter Louis Armstrong came on the scene 90 years ago, are making a comeback.
“I’m telling you, in England these [brass] bands are everywhere,” Cullum wrote. “And, they are loaded with cornets – real short cornets with old fashioned funnel shaped mouthpieces. There are almost 1,000 British brass bands in England and many hundreds of cornet bands on the European Continent, and well over 100 in the United States.
“We’re talking about a beautiful sound here, folks. It’s the magical, lyrical, misty sounds of brass and cornets of over 100 years past.”
He encouraged his fans, “If you want a kick, I suggest you might check out The San Antonio Brass Band’s upcoming world premiere concert.”