by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
edited by David Werden
When I first started studying the baritone horn in 1928, I was completely unaware of, nor was I interested in, radio broadcasts of the big U.S. service bands. In fact none of these bands broadcast any regular programs on radio until 1930 when the U.S. Marine Band instituted the first "dream hour for the shut‑ins" series of radio broadcasts. I didn't know it, but it those broadcast were immensely popular with the radio audiences of the very early 1930's. I did find all about this in a couple of years, however.
One fine day I was sick with some long forgotten malady, confined to bed upstairs in my bedroom, which was right at the head of the stairs. My mother was busying herself with household chores and she had the radio on, at the base of the stairs, to keep her company. I wasn't much help upstairs and abed. We had this RCA "Radiola" floor model radio and it was new. It had a fine permanent magnet 12" speaker which gave that set a great sound. And coming upstairs right into my room was some fine sounding band music. I was all ears. It sounded like some wonderful band. I really liked that music.
In no time at all, I called down to my mom, "could you turn up the volume, please?" (i hope that I said "please"!) At any rate my mom did turn up the volume and I again called down to her soon, "what is the name of that band?" by then I was sure that it was a band. But what kind? Where was it located? What was it doing on radio? What? What? What? You know how kids are.
At that time these radio broadcast concerts were a full hour long so my mother did eventually learn from the announcer just what the band was and where it was located. It was the U.S. Marine Band located at the marine barracks in Washington, D.C. and it was playing the concert in the band auditorium there at the barracks. The program was one of a series entitled, "Dream Hour for the Shut‑Ins." all of this got me very interested in hearing more of this band. And in time I learned that there were other fine bands on radio and these, too, were located in the Washington area.
Now, let's skip a few years. As you see, I was aware of the fine U.S. service bands at an early age and I fell in love with their music. I got to know all of the leaders names, of the soloists' names, etc. Even learned the names of players who didn't play solos but who were mentioned in passing by the radio announcers. In those days the announcers had no scripts. All they had was a gift of gab, a few bits of information provided by the bands themselves, a musical program, and some notes concerning facts they had researched concerning some of the music being played.
When the program was underway, the announcer spoke very confidentially and informally into the microphone. He chatted to the radio audience in a familiar and friendly way, not in any modern professional style at all. It was quite personal and not formal. However, these announcers tried to make it interesting for the people hearing the broadcasts.
For the most part they did do this. Often, they made it a very interesting, even humorous, event. As time went on, I was becoming familiar with the various soloists and, naturally, the euphonium soloists were my favorites. Next to these came the cornet soloists. These far outnumbered the euphonium soloists. Whereas I probably heard less than four euphonium soloists with any degree of regularity, I heard many more cornet soloists. I got to know lots about their repertoire. Then, I realized that most of the euphonium soloists were playing cornet solos. That was okay by me. As long as they continued playing them well ‑ and they really did ‑ I liked it.
Now, we shall move to the late 1930's. In addition to the usual few euphonium soloists, I started to hear a new one who sounded pretty good to me. It was a young man by the name of Harold Brasch and he hadn't been in the Navy Band long at that time. He seemed to have replaced the former euphonium soloist, Jean Manganaro, whom I always liked to hear both in band work and in solos. The thing which I noticed about this new soloist, Brasch, was his outstanding tone and, especially, his very attractive vibrato. Best I'd ever heard.
When I first started hearing Jean Manganaro play solos on U.S. Navy Band broadcast concerts, I was in love with his playing. That was no mystery. Manganaro was a very brilliant soloist with great style, volume, verve, energy, and accuracy. Who wouldn't enjoy his solos? Well, as time went on, I learned that Manganaro had a fault. He had an ugly vibrato. A "nanny goat" vibrato, is what it is commonly called. I was fortunate that I never tried to emulate it because I would, eventually, have been forced to un‑emulate it. Actually, that bad vibrato which Manganuro used was a shame, for in every other aspect of his solo work, he was a real artist. (he wasn't born in Italy, either. That's where that type of vibrato would have been accepted, perhaps.)
But, with Manganaro's departure from the Navy Band and Brasch's arrival, what we had was the start of a noteworthy career of one of the most gifted soloists of any age on any instrument, in my opinion. That fellow Brasch was a phenomenal musician. His band work was splendid and his solo work was even better. In the U.S. Navy Band he reigned supreme for years. Finally, he retired in 1956. The Navy Band missed him. That's for sure. However, back in 1945 when I was in an Army Camp ‑ during WWII ‑ and a member of a small Army band ‑ I would occasionally hear Harold Brasch play a solo on a radio broadcast. That was a real treat for me. And the more I heard of his playing, the better I liked his fine vibrato. I made my mind up right then that as soon as the war was over I was going to do my best to take some lessons from that fellow.
In time the war did end. I was separated from the military service and sent back to my civilian job in an aircraft factory. By then, the factory was making parts for automobile bodies, sheet metal parts for clothes washers and driers, and other civilian parts. No more military work. The factory work force dwindled down from 6,000 to 600. In time I was, along with thousands of others, let go. It was both a tragedy and a blessing. My income ceased but I was not working at a job I hated.
By then I had started a correspondence with Harold Brasch and learned that he was a record collector. I even purchased some old brass solo discs from him. Such soloists as Herbert L. Clarke and Bohumir Kryl. Both were fine artists on cornet. Euphonium solos on disc were so rare that you could never find one, although you sometimes could purchase acetate disc copies. Soon I had written to Harold and asked if I could come down to his home for a lesson or two. He agreed to this. After all, he taught anyone. He didn't care how bad one was. Maybe I wasn't bad, but I was no pro.
I did go down and take lessons from Harold, once a month, during the summer of 1946. Great experience. I think that I learned more in those three lessons with Brasch than I had learned for many years before. That was because of the way he taught and the material he taught. Both were exactly what I needed and yearned for. What a blessing it was to take those lessons. I was so pleased. I still am!
And that's my euphonium playing story until 1947. Nothing very great. I did play solos with my high school band as well as with the college band. And I played with countless town bands, factory bands, this type of band, that type of band, etc. Where there was a band within a reasonable distance, there I was attending rehearsals and playing band jobs. I guess that the best bands I was playing with were
The Penn state varsity band (the Blue Band) and the Philco Band of Philadelphia. Outside of those two, most of the other bands were pretty punk.
Written by Arthur Lehman, March 3, 2007
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