by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
edited by David Werden
Harold Brasch taught hundreds of euphonium players in his lifetime. He met hundreds more on his Navy Band tours and his own personal tours during which he was a guest soloist, clinician, and guest conductor. He didn't remember all of them. How could he? He rarely remembered a pupil who had studied with him briefly with, say, one or two lessons. Such a pupil made no impression on him. I would know of someone who had taken a lesson or two with Harold, and, perhaps, I was teaching this fellow at that time. I'd mention it to Harold but he never did remember such a short time pupil. He didn't suffer from a bad memory. He simply, in my opinion, wrote off the short time pupil as not being interested in learning, and promptly forgot him. It may have been some sort of defense mechanism. Perhaps, subconsciously, he didn't want his memory all cluttered up with people of whom he had no interest whatever. No discredit to the sometime pupil. It simply was no longer of interest to Harold.
I, myself, do not remember some of my short term pupils but the ones who studied with me for months or years I do remember very well. There was one pupil who really outlasted any of my other pupils - by a lot. He studied with me for 19 years. I thought that I had been a longtime pupil when I had studied with Harold Brasch for 9 years but this 19 year pupil of mine takes the cake. Talk about having great interest and stamina with his goal of improving his playing, that fellow is remarkable. He did take a couple of lessons from Harold but I believe that Harold was away on his little tours so much that my longtime pupil couldn't get any continuity with Harold. That was too bad, for in Harold he would have had the best teacher ever, in my opinion. All he had with me was a normal, fairly good teacher. Yet, he did make a lot of progress. Fortuitous!
In an earlier part of this series of articles I mentioned a former Navy Band euphonium player who was the best expert in playing chords of which i'd ever seen or heard. He was a whiz. Well, when he was a young man, he took some lessons from Harold Brasch. Over the telephone! Can you believe that? Harold was not in favor of that sort of lesson. I guess anyone of us can understand that. No close contact with the pupil. Nothing visible available. A teacher can't look at the pupil and see any possible facial distortions; can't observe the pupil's breathing: can't check upon his mouthpiece placement; etc., etc., etc. Lessons over the telephone must be very, very unsatisfactory. However, this young man couldn't come to Harold for lessons because he lived too far away - in Ohio - so he did the next best thing. He studied with Harold over the telephone.
The upshot of this is that eventually the young man took an audition with the Navy Band, was accepted, and he put twenty years in the Navy Band, retiring in the 1970's. He is the one who told me the story for the first time in which Harold was playing the entire tour matinee program from memory and got on the wrong piece making everything coming out of his horn bell completely wrong, even to being in the worst possible key. That was a really funny story and other Navy Band players remembered the incident. It was a true account which was told to me originally by the "over the telephone" pupil of Harold's
Later this fellow - Corliss Marsha - played euphonium for several years with the National Concert Band and later he was on trombone with that band, when we were short of trombones and long on euphonium players. He was a high school classmate of Eddie de Mattia, the conductor of that band for many years. Corliss died in the mid 1990's of cancer. He was always adding material to the manuscript of his book on playing chords but he never did get the book finished. That was too bad for he certainly was a real expert in chord playing.
Bob usually had some amateur bands make recordings for his heritage series of lp records. Among these bands were a couple made up of educators, professional musicians, both active and retired, etc. And it would be a band assembled just for a few days during which some concerts would be played and a recording would be made for bob. The recording could be made up of all marches or it could be of marches mixed with concert pieces. Harold Brasch was in on one or two of these events. So, when bob died, and there was still such a make-up band scheduled to play and record music for another bob hoe lp disc, marilyn hoe decided to continue the series and the recordings were on. Harold
Back to Harold Brasch. He was friendly with Bob Hoe and Bob really appreciated Harold's fine artistry on the euphonium. That was Bob's instrument, too - euphonium. Bob even took Harold with him up to Allentown, Pennsylvania. To play with the Allentown band occasionally. Harold was playing very well at that time and no apparent "arthritis of the tongue" was noticed then. Then, when Bob Hoe got his lung cancer, was operated upon, lost the lung, came down with brain tumors, and subsequentally died, Harold was pretty upset as were all of Bob's many friends. Decided that he would play a solo in memory of bob. Bob would have just loved that, everyone knew.
Harold did record a solo and in the middle of it he pulled one of his sly tricks, one which he didn't spring on the conductor cold. The conductor was told all about it. Harold informed him that at one point the would play the normal cadenza and then he would "wing it" and play a lot of stuff as it came to his mind. When he was done playing the cadenza, he would turn to the conductor and nod. The conductor would know that Harold was finished with the long cadenza and would start conducting the rest of the solo. The whole thing turned out to be just splendid and Harold did a good job. No, he didn't play a 10-15 minute cadenza. Maybe a two minute one was all he chose to play. It was impressive. Good job, Harold, as usual.
That LP disc was issued and it remains a part of the 65-odd Bob Hoe Heritage series disc collection.
I believe that had Bob been healthy for ten more years, he would not only have issued 65 more Heritage discs, but he would have had Harold record one or more solo discs for him. Wouldn't that have been wonderful? I am sure that in the 1980's the recorded solos would have been greatly improved over that of the 1950's and 1960's when the recordings of Harold's were recorded and of which he was not fond. He didn't like the reproduction of his tone. Much of what Harold didn't like before should have been corrected by the 1980's, I feel.
So, when Bob hoe died, he was far short of his goals as to producing and issuing LP discs of bands and soloists. We were denied the pleasure of a more modern sounding recording of Harold Brasch playing his euphonium with his marvelous tone. What a shame!
Eventually, death came to Harold Brasch but it came too early. He was only 68, I believe, when he died. Too soon. While he may have been slowing down, he still was playing with the National Concert Band. Sometimes he was on first chair. Sometimes I was on first chair. I was on when he wasn't at band rehearsal or didn't attend a concert for some reason. But he was still hanging in there. Played some solos and sounded quite good. He still had the problem with his "arthritis of the tongue" but he had little tricks to conceal it. No one in the audience was any the wiser. To them, Harold was exactly as he always was - perfect. But, the musicians of the band knew that he was slowing down. That's how it is when one becomes older. Harold was physically older, obviously, than his years. And it caught up with him late in 1984 in the form of a massive coronary. A heart attack. A b-a-d one!
For some reason, long forgotten, I called Harold on the telephone one Saturday evening. Perhaps it had something to do with a change in date of some concert or other. I can't remember. At any rate we did have a very pleasant conversation. When we were ready to end the conversation, I said, "see you Monday night at band rehearsal." Harold replied, "See you Monday night." and we said good-bye and that was the last time I spoke with Harold.
On Monday I went to band rehearsal as usual but Harold never did appear. "That's strange," I thought. "Harold said that he would be here tonight." On Tuesday I called the Brasch house but got no answer. No one at home. I tried again and again at various times during the day. I never could contact anyone until the evening when I did get an answer. Then, I got the terrible news. Harold was in the hospital, the sad victim of a massive heart attack - a coronary. He would not survive and he was in horrible pain. I asked about pain medicine. Mrs. Brasch told me that nothing they gave him had any effect at all. What a terrible way to suffer through one's last four days on earth - writhing with pain.
Since those years, within the last five, probably, we have read that physicians had not been doing enough to manage pain, especially in the terminally ill; but now they are doing much more in that area. I suspect that poor Harold was denied the use of more effective pain killers. What a shame.
Harold died in four days of terrible agony. I surely was all broken up about it as were all of the National Concert Band members and his pupils. Harold's family called and asked me what kind of music the National Concert Band could provide at the funeral service. The chapel at the funeral home was much too small for the band. However, Harold's fellow euphonium players from the national concert band could play his favorite hymn. That was acceptable to the Brasch family so we decided to get all prepared for that. We took the hymn music out of a hymnal - "Trusting As the Moments Fly" was his favorite hymn - we got the various lines into the proper clefs and ran through the hymn several times, marking our parts as to where to breathe, where to place holds, etc. At the funeral service we "fielded" a five-player euphonium group - four men and a woman - all former pupils of Harold's save one. We seemed to do a good job on the hymn.
The next day or two Harold was buried at the Arlington National Cemetary. It was a military burial with firing squad and bugler. Very impressive ceremony as all of these are over there. The grave is in a beautiful spot in the cemetery. Harold would like that area, I know.
At the next scheduled national concert band concert at the Prince George's Community College Harold was remembered by some nice announcer's account of his life and his work with the National Concert Band. Mention of the funeral was made and that his fellow euphonium players had played his favorite hymn at his funeral service. We also played that hymn on the concert. It went well. We had five youffers for both events. All were excellent players so the hymn was expertly performed. No clinkers or anything out of place. Fine job was done by all.
Harold may be gone - in fact he was been gone for over 22 years - but his fame remains. He is famous because he was one of the very best of all euphonium players. He was the first to use the four valve compensating English euphonium since the turn of the century (from the late 1800's to the very early 1900's) and he was instrumental in having this type of euphonium become the only euphonium used by the top professionals of the entire world. He started using this instrument in late 1946. Within twenty years the use of this instrument was universal. Even ten years after he reintroduced this horn to the public, most of the world's best euphonium players were using the four-valve compensating instrument which he was so happy to be playing ten years earlier.
Harold was a true pioneer. He will be remembered as long as there are any euphonium players at all. I always have considered him to be my best teacher and I am so happy that I was able to study with him for nine years, to play with him for another nine years in the National Concert Band, and to be his friend for thirty-eight years. Being the same age, just about, he and I grew old together. The problem was that he died too young. I would have preferred that he live until he reached 100 years of age. But fate intervened. Sixty-eight was all he could manage. He did manage that very well, in my opinion.
I am so happy to have known Harold and to have heard him play so many fine solos for so many years. What a pleasure! And to have actually studied with him for nine years was a miracle. How lucky can one person get? I am that lucky one. Thank Heaven!
Written by Arthur Lehman, March 10, 2007
End of Part 10
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