by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
edited by David Werden
Now we have a sort of introduction to Harold Brasch and the service bands of Washington, D.C. starting with the early 1930's, we can get on with more information about Brasch, himself.
Harold was a very nice fellow. He could be as brash as his name sounded. But, underneath it all ‑ a sometimes rough exterior ‑ he was a very kind and considerate person, always willing to do all he could to help any musician asking for help. He was also a religious man. Later, in the 1950's, he was leading a nice church band in nearby Virginia. He gave of his time and experience in overflowing measure. It would be no surprise to any, I imagine, to know that the band he conducted was a nice sounding band and those people could play well. If his help was as fine for them as it was for me when I studied with him, they could not fail to play well.
When I finally did become a member of the U.S. Marine Band, and I started taking lessons from Harold Brasch, not once a month as I had during the summer of 1946, but once a week, then my skills really blossomed. But it wasn't without a lot of hard work. Harold had to help me eliminate several faults in my playing as well as in facial contortions while playing some particular things such as octaves. I really spent a lot of time ‑ hours ‑in front of a mirror until finally I got rid of those lousy contortions. But, whatever the problem, Harold had the solution immediately. While it could take me a long time to affect a permanent cure, it took him only a few seconds to identify each fault and to suggest a way to eliminate it. His suggestions never failed to work well in eliminating whatever bad thing I had to contend with.
While it took Harold but a few seconds to identify and explain a fault, it took me a long time occasionally to correct it. While I was working to eliminate the fault, Harold was giving me certain exercises out of Arban's which I needed to drill on to strengthen the positive and to weaken the negative of the countermeasure. It may have taken weeks but eventually, everything worked out splendidly. Naturally, I was as happy as I could possibly be. No one else, I am sure, could have helped me eliminate those faults so positively and so permanently as Harold did. That fellow was a genius as a teacher. No doubt about it.
Harold Brasch, as we mentioned earlier, collected recordings. He was a record collector and dealer. He had lists he had typed up and he sent out copies to clients and interested parties. Before I got into the u.s. marine band and moved to Washington, D.C., I was corresponding with Harold and I bought some solo discs from him. I also was hunting around for old discs of the kind he was interested in. I'd visit second hand furniture places, auction sites, junk yards,, etc. And I did pick up a lot of old discs of the kind he collected. I'd package them well and send them off to him. He, of course, paid me the going rate wholesale, of course ‑ for these discs.
We continued to correspond until I became a member of the u.s. marine band. Then, my record collecting work for him stopped. He continued with his little side business for years. However, the important part of this collection -‑ he did have a vast collection of brass instrumental solo discs -- was that he was able to use these in his teaching to great advantage as well as to create a rest period which was interesting and informative. I can remember hearing, to my great delight, solos played by Clarke, Pryor, Mantia, etc. Often, there was a lesson in the particular disc he was playing for me. "What do you think of the triple tonguing Clarke is using here?" he might say. I would, naturally, love it. It was perfect as far as I could see. Then, when the lesson resumed, I might be called upon to run through a triple tonguing passage in a solo we had been working on. It would be a solo I was going to play with the marine band, perhaps. After hearing Clarke and his great triple tongue, I could tell that my own wasn't so great. Harold would help me with it until I was sounding much better. Maybe I was not Herbert l. Clarke, but I was a lot better than I had been. Harold's help plus listening to a good solo disc was a wonderful thing. Never failed to assist me in a painless way.
If there happened to be no message in this playing of great solos on disc, then, it would just be, "hear this fine duet. How do you like the style? What about the tone?" we'd talk about what we were hearing and he may have some slant on it which I hadn't seen. It all went into a nice education as well as a pleasant time spent with a fine teacher, on a social basis.
Once in a while, I would come over for my lesson at the appointed hour on the correct day. Usually when this happened ‑ the event that I shall mention ‑ it was on some very hot evening. Harold would say, "put your horn in the den. We're going out to eat." he knew that I didn't eat much of anything after the noon hour. He and Evelyn, his wife, and "Fella" his small son, would all go in his car to some restaurant nearby and we'd have a pleasant meal at his expense. When we got back, the lesson was quite a bit shorter, naturally, but he always managed to give me some good coaching. I never felt that, musically speaking, I hadn't had any help on my playing when we cut the lesson short for a nice meal together. Not at all.
During the late 1940's and early 1950's I was importing records from England and Germany. In England what I liked were records by the various brass contest bands and the military bands. I also favored brass solo discs. However, the best ones were on acetate discs made at solo contests. Some of these were outstanding. Then, I was collecting march records from Germany. Some of those revealed the best style of playing marches ever, in my opinion. And the marches were even better than that. Best marches of all, I felt.
I was providing Harold with some of these. What he liked I was making copies of on acetate discs. He liked many of the solos from England, as did I. One euphonium soloist, a member of the royal air force band central, was particularly good and his solos were great ones, we thought. I eventually obtained copies of the solo and band parts. Harold got copies from me and he did perform some of these with the navy band while I did the same with the marine band. When all I could find was the solo part with piano accompaniment, he sometimes made a band accompaniment for the solo, and he performed that solo, too. If it wasn't too difficult for me, I also played the solo. If it turned out to be too difficult, Harold and I would work on it until I could play it well enough to perform it with the marine band. It might take six months but we eventually did conquer that solo ‑ with Harold's expert help.
When we encountered a solo much too difficult for me to play, it was usually because in one variation there would be a technique necessary which was new to me. Then, Harold would start at the beginning and work me gradually into the correct way of playing the passage or variation. While it may have taken quite a long while to learn the new technique, there was never anything in this area which we did not conquer ‑ nothing! What a teacher!
One thing I remember quite well that I could not do at all but which Harold taught me to do easily, was "stilt passages". These are passages with constantly repeated octave or double octave jumps. At first I couldn't do even one double octave jump when it had to be repeated. But, with Harold's help, and after drilling for hours on Arban's, I was able to play these effortlessly. In fact, no matter how old I was, even at age of 84, 1 could still quite easily play "stilt passages" from solos I had performed forty years earlier in the marine band. All thanks to dear Harold. As our weeks, months, years of lessons progressed, Harold was teaching me more and more. I really needed lots of help and he was ready, willing, and able to provide whatever I needed in that area, wherever I needed help. Just as soon as some bad spot came along and he could see what was causing me some trouble, he went to work on me. If I needed it, and I always did, he would have me drill on some exercises in Arban's until I was so used to the technique in question that I could play it perfectly in my sleep, standing on my head. Now, that would be some trick, wouldn't it?
But, the point is that there was no problem that Harold could not solve when it came to correcting faults. One thing that comes to mind immediately was my trouble with double and triple tonguing. I didn't even realize that I had any trouble until I was required in some solo or other to play running triplets. Couldn't do it very well at all. Oh, oh! "Harold, how can you help me on that?" that was my thought. He did help me and after drilling on some pages in Arban's forever ‑ or so it seemed ‑ I could play running triplets just fine. Easily.
The main trouble, however, with my double and triple tonguing was that I was making all of the notes too short and that gave them an irregular, too staccato, and uncontrolled effect. This did nothing for the smoothness of my tonguing, not to mention giving everything a bad sound. When Harold was finished with me on this problem, my double and triple tonguing did not cause my tone to suffer, my regularity was much improved, and everything was much, much smoother. What a teacher!
In time I was working on a new solo every month or two, and when I had it pretty well in hand, I would break it out for Harold to listen to where I was in playing it. He would make suggestions and, when required, make corrections and adjustments. Eventually, I would run over a new solo for him and he would find nothing to suggest, correct, or work on. That's when I got "fired". He claimed that he could teach me nothing new so he let me loose as a pupil. I still feel to this day that there was still much that he could have taught me.