Soloist - The Best of His Era
Art Lehman (July,
edited by Keith Barton
set out to write all that I could about the military musical life of
the legendary euphonium soloist, Harold T. Brasch, I started
wondering whether it was such a good idea. That was another era,
long ago, when Harold roamed the earth and made things shake and
roll. Who now a days would know a thing about him and his times?
But then I thought, “Well, if no one knows how much he shook
the musical world ‘way back over fifty years ago, they really
ought to know about it. It is history and it, to me, at least, is a
fascinating story. You see, Harold Brasch, single handedly,
influenced the entire country to adopt the four valve English type
euphonium with compensating pistons and forsake all other types of
euphoniums. He did it all by himself and he was as successful as
ever anyone could have been at an endeavor. His efforts turned the
world of military band euphonium playing completely around and he did
it in a very few years; a feat of amazing strength and determination.
His name has gone down in history for this single accomplishment.
Here, then, is the saga of Harold Brasch, euphonium soloist
My Early Years
heard Harold Brasch play the Mantia solo, “All Those Endearing
Young Charms” on a U.S. Navy Band radio broadcast in 1945, I
was an Army Service Forces member stationed at the Indiantown Gap
Military Reservation near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I heard an
amazing display of artistry, coupled with a great tone, and enhanced
by an attractive vibrato. I said to myself, “What I hear here
is exactly what I need in my playing, what I want to possess, and
somehow I must find a way to study with this artist.” “How”
was a dismal question back in war time.
I just bided my time and in May 1946 I got discharged and became a
civilian again. Free at last! Free to get my old job back; but,
then, the 7,000 workers at the plant dwindled to 600 and almost
everyone was given a “pink slip”. No income, no job, no
prospects. Again, I say, dismal. Now, wait a minute. It turned out
splendidly. What it did for me, being out of work, was to give me
lots of time to engage in an effort to contact Mr. Brasch by mail, to
speak to him on the telephone, to set up a date for a lesson, and to
travel to Arlington, Virginia to take one lesson each of the three
summer months of 1946. Was I lucky!
remember asking Harold Brasch on the telephone, “Mr. Brasch, I
sure would like to play the euphonium better. Would you give me
lessons?” Amazingly this kind man replied, “Sure I
will!” I couldn’t have been happier. But getting there
and back would be a real chore and it took all day long for that
trip. I would leave my home in Doylestown, Pennsylvania on a spur
line railroad route to Philadelphia, rush at top speed from the
Reading terminal to another railroad line’s terminal so that I
could catch a train bound for Washington, D.C. although it was
always nip and tuck, and I had to run most of the six blocks, I never
quite missed catching the right train and the correct car. Lucky!
The train pulled up to D.C.’s Union Station eventually and off
I got lugging my euphonium. I took a taxi to 20th
and what was it, Pennsylvania Avenue? Anyway, from there I took a
bus to within four blocks of Harold Brasch’s home in Arlington,
Virginia. What a trip!
rang his door bell, I was astounded not to see an older, pudgy man.
What I saw was a young man, my age, trim, in a business suit
(actually it was a Navy blue Petty Officer’s uniform), and he
had a nice wide smile. “I am Arthur Lehman,” I said,
“And I am here from Pennsylvania for a lesson.” Harold
invited me in and from then on it got better and better. You might
think that I was a long lost brother from the cordial and gracious
way I was treated. I didn’t know what to think. Was it
sincere or some cruel put-on. No, sir. It was simply Mr. Brasch’s
quiet and generous outpouring of kindness. It really touched me, a
hardened military man with nasty experiences all through my time in
the U.S. Army. What a blessing. How thankful I was. I still bless
this kind man, Harold Brasch.
pretty tired by then – it was around 2 pm – from the
early rising, through the various train and bus changes, etc. But in
no time, I was so pepped up that I never felt tired again until I was
at Union Station, starting the return trip to Philadelphia. Now, dig
this! I had no idea whatever what Mr. Brash had in store for me. He
gave me the works. It was a three hour lesson by a top drawer
soloist. Three hours! Has any one of you gone through a three hour
lesson? Seemed like 15 minutes to me. So interesting. Again, note
this. He charged me five bucks for a lesson. “Mr. Brasch.
Your lesson is much more valuable to me than five bucks; won’t
you at least take a ten spot, too?” He told me and his jaw was
set – a warning which I heeded – “My charge for
lessons no matter how short or how long is five dollars and that’s
my way of conducting business.” “Yes, sir. Thank you
sir.” That’s all I could stammer. He smiled, shook my
hand and lied – “It’s been a pleasure, Mr. Lehman.
See you next month?” I assured him that I’d be there and
I would be playing better. I wonder if I really did play better the
Brasch was barely 10 months older than I. To me he seemed to be ten
feet tall. My idol. In actuality, he was just my height of 5’8”
plus. However, Harold and I were of completely different builds. I
am normal in length of legs, arms, torso, neck, size of head.
Harold, on the other hand, was not normal anywhere. His legs were
pretty short and it gave him a peculiar sort of lurching gait as he
marched up to the front of a stage to play a solo. When set and ready
to play, he would kind of shift his weight about and get set for the
solo. His horn at rest in some ungainly spot, not at the ready in
any way. At the last possible second, he would whip that horn up to
his lips and how he never busted his chops I’ll never know but
he never did. He’d go into the opening cadenza with a fast and
furious tempo and hurry-up style. What an exciting start to a solo!
However, as soon as he got into the melody and the variations, he was
a careful metered player, but with clever use of rubatos, holds,
accelerandos, etc. Clever enough that he kept one guessing as to
just what the heck he was really doing.
to his odd physical build. Harold Brash was, as I mentioned above,
just my height of 5’8” plus tall. But he had a vastly
different build from me. I was normal but he was certainly anything
but normal. First of all he had a very large, very long head which
slanted back from forehead to crown in a seemingly endless slant.
His beautiful darkish hair was always slicked back but he never could
quite control the cocktail which stuck up somewhere in back. That
was pretty humorous with his navy Band peers and Russ Langrabbe, one
of the Band’s top B flat clarinet players, also a marvelous
cartoonist, often drew some hilarious cartoon in beautiful color,
depicting Harold Brasch performing a solo in front of the Band and
all you could see was that cock’s tail hank of hair sticking up
behind Harold. The artist had drawn the cartoon so cleverly that all
of your concentration must be on that out of place hair. A scream!
Harold always laughed as hard as the rest, I am told.
had an overlong torso to match his under-long legs and I often
wondered if that gave him more lung power, diaphragm control, and
perhaps some of his luscious tone. I never found out. (Please don’t
think that I am criticizing Harold in any way. My father was of
Harold’s identical build, only very much heavier and muscular.
He was a star fullback in college. Long torso plus short legs plus
weight equals a fullback.)
mentioned at the outset, I came down to take a lesson from Harold
Brasch each of the summer months of 1946. Long time ago. Seems to
me like just yesterday. I can remember every step of the trip and
every minute of the lesson. Well, perhaps not all of the three hour
lesson. Too much to remember, What Harold touched upon was so fast
and covered so much territory that he lost me in not time at all. He
was a veritable encyclopedia of musical facts and information. I
later learned that he had gone through the U.S. Navy School of Music,
a fine music school in those days, and had graduated the second
highest in his class. While the rest struggled to pass, Harold
breezed through easily. Incidentally, I understand that the one
fellow who beat out Harold for first place never made it as a
military or professional musician – but Harold surely did.
or not Harold had total recall, he really remembered all of his
musical studies, training, instructions, etc. He was laying it out
for me so fast that I had trouble keeping up with the subject, let
alone what he was instructing me about. However, his purpose was not
to get me to remember it all but to see what a vast sea of knowledge
was out there in the general field of music. Do you know? That was
exactly what I wanted and needed to spur me on to take more and more
action towards bettering myself in my musical studies. Harold, after
all, was a very wise man. Much wiser than I. He no doubt sensed
that I needed a big push and did I get that big push!
left the Brasch residence that day of the first lesson I was on cloud
nine. On the train ride back to Philadelphia, I wrote down in a small
notebook everything I could remember of the lesson and it was
plenty. When that task was as complete as my memory could make it, I
was a wreck. I leaned back and slept like a baby all the way to
Philadelphia; a very happy man.
July I returned to the Brasch house for my second lesson. If
possible, this one was even more enjoyable than the first one. We
were working on something – forget what – and Harold
said, “Let’s take a break. Time for fun.” Okay.
Fun? Let’s see what he has in store. Harold went into a
record shelving unit and came out with a 78 rpm disc. “Now, I
would like to have you listen to this record. It is a Herbert L.
Clarke solo played by a world famous cornet soloist. Tell me what
you think of it.” He put the disc on his turntable and what a
lovely overall sound his equipment produced – just right. I
listened to the cornet solo and felt it to be very, very good. After
the solo was done, he asked me what I thought of it. I told him that
I thought it was excellent. “Well”, Harold said, “Now
let me put on this same solo and it is also played by a world famous
soloist. Tell me what you think of this one.” I again
listened. While I could hear that it was, indeed, the very same
Herbert L. Clarke solo, it really sounded so different that you might
think that it had been a completely different solo. Naturally, the
soloist had made the difference. This second soloist was as good as
they get – a master. His rendition was worlds ahead of the
remarked that I was amazed and I asked who in the world that second
soloist was. Harold was quick to respond, “Why that was
Herbert L. Clarke himself and he was accompanied by Sousa’s
band.” What a perfect performance. What a great player. I
really learned something in that lesson. Not all famous players are
that good. Herbert L. Clarke was famous and he was far better than
and he surprised me by this, he said, “We aren’t ready to
pick up our horns yet so allow me to put on this different disc and
let you hear it. Tell me what you think of it.” Then he
pulled out a metropolitan opera company disc with two famous opera
singers in a lovely duet from Verdi’s opera, “Aida”.
The aria which they sang was “The Fatal Stone”, a duet.
I listened to those great voices and I was really enjoying it. When
the disc was finished, Harold asked me what I thought of it. I
replied that I thought it was terrific. “And so it is”,
Harold agreed. “But, why don’t we just listen to this
particular recording. Same aria but by two top brass players.”
Okay by me. We listened from beginning to the end. “What did
you think of this?” Harold wanted to know. Not that dumb, I
replied truthfully, “In my opinion the brass players had it all
over the opera singers and they played it much more musically than
did the opera stars.” Harold agreed. Then he proceeded to
take each measure and explain just what the brass players did what
they did and why the opera stars failed in this department. Talk
about a quick education in careful listening! That started me on a
lifelong quest for ever better listening. All of us can listen but
do we hear and understand what we hear? Most of us do not, in my
opinion. Careful listening plus attention to what one is hearing
equals better understanding and improved performance.
the brass soloists on “The Fatal Stone” record were
Arthur Pryor on trombone and Emile Koenicke on B flat cornet. Great
artists, both of them.
was some lesson, let me tell you. If any pupil of Harold Brasch’s
didn’t learn anything during a lesson, he had to be addled.
Cost me $5 and that in itself was unbelievable but for three solid
hours of pure bliss? How could you beat that?
last lesson of the summer of 1946 in August – hot, hot, hot –
at around the two hour mark of the three hour lesson, Harold excused
himself and spoke quietly with his wife, Evelyn. I wondered if they
were going to throw me out. Far from that, as it turned out. Harold
returned and spoke with me, “Arthur, Evelyn and I are going to
lunch now as I have an early concert to play a bit later. We want
you to join us as our guest.” I protested, thinking “How
can you benefit from my $5 if you spend it on a meal?” “Let
me pay my way. It’s only fair” I said, but again
Harold’s stern set of jaw warned me and I agreed to go along as
their guest. Their young son whom everyone called “Fella”
went with us. We had a great meal and it was very enjoyable. I can
even remember what I ordered and it sure did taste good. It was a
burger with a salad and iced tea. I was always an iced tea man.
This was a fast food place similar to the present day McDonalds but
it wasn’t a member of a chain. In fact, this was before those
kinds of shops came into being. A long time ago, 1946.
the meal Harold had to get ready to leave for that Navy Band concert
so I had to go. This lesson must, then, have been “only”
a two hour one. Still, it was a wonderful lesson with a few new
quirks supplied by Harold, no doubt designed to tweak my interest.
But the thing which touched me most of all was his great compassion.
He knew that I was only a beginner when it came to professional
euphonium playing. He probably thought, “This kid will never
make it as a pro.” Yet he treated me as an honored guest and
how nice can a family be to a stranger? I have always been so
grateful to have known Harold Brasch, my hero, and to know that he
liked me just a little. What a wonderful man!
back to Union Station, took the train to Philadelphia, got on that
spur line to Doylestown, and when the train was stopped at the
Doylestown Station, I walked the mile to my Mom and Dad’s home.
Tired, dirty (many coal powered engines then, still), but a very,
very happy young man. Let’s see. I was not yet twenty nine
years of age. Young.
had got me started on learning his lovely vibrato and all the rest of
the year I worked on it. What progress I made is the question. It
was difficult for me to learn. In fact, to my detriment, I never
succeeded in learning his method of producing his vibrato very well.
I developed my own vibrato which served me well for years and years
but I will be the first to admit that Harold’s was the best.
Mine was many notches below his, alas.
My Middle Years
never got to ask Harold Brash what method of reading clefs he used.
I wonder if he used the “movable do” system? I believe
that Simone Mantia used this great system. He was right in the
middle of the era when that “movable do” method was
popular. Well, it is a foolproof system so that’s no doubt why
it was so popular. Why do we not hear a thing about it now a days?
I, alas, had the opportunity to learn this system and turned it down.
I have kicked myself lots of times for being so dumb.
Harold “fired me” as a pupil, saying that he couldn’t
teach me anymore as I knew all I needed to know (I never agreed with
that), we would visit and see one another here and there. At a point
early on – long before he fired me – I expressed the
desire to go to New York City and take some lessons from Simone
Mantia, himself. I didn’t know what Harold’s reaction to
this would be. He was a staunch supporter of Mantia, claiming him to
be the very best of the best and Harold said, “That is great!
When you see him, please ask him to jot down the “Crazy Polka”
for me.” Apparently, Mantia had written some difficult polka
with difficult licks in it for euphonium and Harold wanted to see it.
Mr. Mantia never did this, however, as far as I know.
that “Crazy Polka”, I believe that it was merely one
variation out of a Mantia solo titled, “Polka Fantastic”
or some such title. I used to have this solo and the band parts but
I believe that the U.S. Marine Band library has it now. That “Crazy
Polka” variation was one of those “stilt”
variations which are very tough to perform. I never did perform it
although I had it worked up at one time.
used some tricks and odd ball techniques in some of his solos in the
1970s and 1980s with the National Concert Band. One never knew what
would come next because he often surprised us with something we had
never heard him attempt before.
concert down at the Watergate on a fine summer evening, Harold played
a great solo and was it a fine performance! Simply splendid. But –
for his encore – he walked back to the center of the stage with
a garden hose around his neck. On the business end was his euphonium
mouthpiece and for a bell he used a plain old cheap tin funnel. What
a sight. He enjoyed himself and the laughter of the audience . For
the encore he played, of all things, “The Volunteer”
(Rogers) and on a garden hose! Did the audience roar with laughter.
We band members had trouble restraining our laughter. Harold loved
it. A lark for him. And that garden hose really had a rotten tone,
did play chords occasionally but he did so very judiciously and never
more than two or three in one solo. But each at just exactly the
right spot. He also could “do” circular breathing so
quietly and smoothly that you had to watch his diaphragm area to make
sure that he was really breathing in air while blowing out air –
circular breathing. The way he did it was perfect. Perfect!
one of our later lessons, perhaps in 1955, he let me in on a wealth
of information all of which was new to me. He was talking about
strange types of tonguing some of the brass players of the middle
European countries as well as Germany used to use routinely many,
many years ago. (Did he glean this information from his two
“bibles”? I never learned the answer.) One of these
obscure techniques I remember involved the use of the tongue
controlled in a side ways motion. Harold explained why it was used
and demonstrated it. He really could use the technique and
surprisingly it was quite attractive because it was very smooth and
soft. Nice technique.
Harold said, “Here’s a strange one. How do you like it?”
It was similar to the first one but the tongue oscillated up and
down, not back and forth. The sound and effect was different but it,
too, was surprisingly attractive as Harold used it. It was as smooth
as grease and it did have that soft quality about it.
time during a lesson in the late 1940’s Harold said, “Let’s
take a break, I want to show you some of my instruments.”
Instruments? What instruments? I soon found out. First he brought
out a Boosey and Hawkes four valve compensating B flat cornet. Gosh,
I’d never even heard about any such thing but there it was.
But a compensating cornet? Unheard of. Harold said that the company
could manufacture any kind of instrument whatever and equip it with
the compensation feature. All news to me.
he brought out a funny looking trombone. It was a Cerveny valve
trombone with only three valves. He had performed a solo with the
Navy Band during a radio broadcast using this little valve trombone,
he explained. He’d played, “Original Fantasia”
(Picchi-Mantia) using it and he had an acetate disc of the solo from
the studio in his shelves somewhere. He brought it out and I
listened to it. While he did play it well, it really isn’t for
a valve trombone; it’s for a euphonium, in my opinion.
I forget, and I am writing such a rambling article, it’s a
wonder that anyone who reads it can not be thoroughly confused;
however, that’s how my brain works and that’s how I get
the words typed to paper – I ramble. But I feel that these
next two events are worth more than the rest of this article, so hold
on to your hats. Here we go!
describe as best as I can the two very best Harold Brasch solos I
ever heard him play. These were so fine that how anyone on the face
of the earth could ever approach their excellence is beyond me. That
was a type of euphonium playing never heard before or since. That is
my own personal opinion but, remember, I’ve been around for 90
years and I’ve heard lots and lots of fine youffers in their
prime. Harold, I will guarantee you, was in a class all by himself.
In my opinion it is a terrible thing that when he was recording some
solos for commercial discs and sale, he never could get any recording
which captured his tone well at all. I could see that quite easily.
No question. His tone was never captured on any commercial disc.
Not even close. What a shame.
it fortunate that my memory is a splendid one for sounds? I can hear
his lovely tone in my mind’s ear as well today as I heard it in
a live environment with my own ears. It is true. Here I am a 90
year old very deaf man and I can hear, I can hear, I can hear! But
only in my minds ear. But my memory serves me well in this regard.
Now let me describe this momentous musical event to you in some
detail – rambling as ever!
in the winter of 1948/1949 I went down to the Departmental Auditorium
in Washington, D.C. to hear a U.S. Navy Band concert. In our lesson
on Wednesday night, Harold told me that he was on for a solo and he
had the sheet music for a beautiful song on the music stand for me to
look over. It was “Were My Song With Wing’s Provided”
(Reynaldo Hahn). What a really nice song. I had heard this song
often on radio during the 1930’s. Simply a beautiful song.
But, when I looked at the key signature, I almost fainted. What a
key! All sharps! Now, all of you know that flats are much easier to
read than sharps especially when we almost never get into many
sharps in band work. Naturally, when I asked Harold about this, he
merely shrugged and said that for him such sharp keys were easier to
play than flat keys and he had some easy to understand whys. (I
still don’t care for those sharp keys).
the lesson we worked on the song. Oh boy, did he sound nice on that
beautiful song. I was only a beginner compared to him but I enjoyed
being allowed to play it, too. What I didn’t realize was that
he was using it with only a single harp as his accompaniment. I
naturally thought it would be with the full Navy Band accompanying
him. Was I ever wrong.
I start describing the solo performance, let me, as an aside, tell
you what you should know about the Departmental Auditorium those
early days. What was it? Virtually 60 years ago? That’s just
about what it was. A long time ago.
in 1948/1949, the Departmental Auditorium – where all bands set
up to play concerts – was on all sorts of odd shaped, odd
heights, odd types of risers. It was a nightmare to get a fifty
piece band all set up and have all members see the band leader well.
However, when the band was playing – no matter how good or how
bad – it sounded like the very best band ever heard on the
planet. Why was that? Simply because of the fact that every surface
at any spot in the entire auditorium was solid stone. Talk about
acoustics. They were superb for a band in concert. On top of all of
this, some of us found that if we climbed many flights of stairs,
also solid stone, we eventually came to a decent sized balcony just
for the very best listening. Then, if you sat in a particular row of
seats, what you heard was pure heaven. I could not believe my ears
the first time I sat up there for a Navy Band concert. Why, I never
realized that the Navy Band was so fine a band. Actually, in
Commander Brendler’s day, the Navy Band rivaled the U.S. Marine
Band in its excellence. Brendler was a top flight conductor with
enormous ability and experience. He conducted all concerts from
memory, too. What a feat of memorization week after week, year after
the outset there was a fine band, there were the terrific acoustics,
there was the balcony, and where was I? Right in the balcony. After
some nice programmed music, Harold’s solo spot came along.
William Cameron, the harpist, moved his celestial harp up to the
front and set it up with his music stand just right for him to read
all of those sharps! Almost immediately came Harold, large head
nodding to the applause and, naturally, that cock’s comb
sticking up behind. After a nod from one to the other, the harpist
played an introduction and Harold started the strains of this
marvelous song. Bear in mind that Harold was now using his old
Boosey and Hawkes euphonium with the 10 inch bell. What a tone!
Forget those 12 to 13 inch bells. That 10 inch did sound
seemed to pride himself on a very pure tone. He was always working
on this whenever I arrived for a lesson in the late 1940’s and
early 1950’s. I always wondered why. When I heard this song,
accompanied by the harp, I realized in a flash just why he wanted
that pure tone. In that setting, on that solo, and at that concert
Harold Brasch was the most beautiful euphonium toned player ever. I
tell you the truth, when I leave this life for the next and they ask
me what music I want to hear as I pass over the Great Divide, Just
forget “The Manzoni Requiem”. I want to hear my hero,
Harold Brasch, play “Were My Song With Wings Provided”
(Hahn). For this old man, that would be as close to heaven as I
could go without being there. I cannot begin to express my
reverence, my admiration, my gratitude, or my pleasure in once
hearing this perfect performance by Harold. I wish that I could see
him once again and thank him personally. I can still see and hear
him. Now I wish I could talk to him. Maybe sometime…
pure tone and unparalleled beauty, no one will ever touch that
performance. It was, to my knowledge, never recorded. No tape
machines existed then. The next best Harold Brasch solo I have ever
heard was of a much later date. Let me tell you something about it.
of all, while the old concert setup at the Departmental Auditorium
had been splendid for it’s acoustics, it was a miserable place
for the musicians with terrible seating at all angles. Therefore, in
the early 1950’s an enormous superstructure – high, wide,
and deep –was erected in front of all of the area where these
big bands had performed in the 1940’s. This was, however, a
two edged sword for while it gave the band enough room for four times
as large a band easily to sit there, it also ruined those wonderful
acoustics. What a shame. Of course, the band members loved it
because there was lots of room, visibility and much open space in
front of the leader’s podium. The bands then could set up
about 20 to 25 feet behind the front edge of the stage or platform.
Why this was, I never figured out.
rate, I learned on a Wednesday night when I was over at Harold
Brasch’s house for my weekly lesson that he would be the main
soloist the next evening, Thursday. He remarked that he was playing
the famous Bellstedt solo, “La Mandolinata”, one of my
favorites. For some reason, I don’t believe that he ran
through it for me, have me pointers on playing it, or dwelt in any
way upon it then. Much later I did work on this solo extensively
with Harold as teacher and did perform it in a few years. But
Harold’s performance was what was my second best Brasch solo
performance of all time.
Harold played every solo he ever stood up front to rattle through
just as he played this one. I can’t say. However, this one
single solo seemed to capture more of his complete tone than any
other I’ve ever heard. How come? Simply because for one thing
that it was recorded. A small independent local radio station was
recording all of these Navy Band concerts that winter and that’s
how I got the acetate disc of this particular Brasch solo. As soon
as I returned home from hearing the concert, I called the studio and
asked for an acetate disc of the Harold Brasch solo. “Sure.
Send us ten bucks and it’s yours.” I sent the money and
they sent the disc. Simple as that. What a collector’s item
it is now. In the hands of the U.S. Marine Band library. Not played
in, perhaps, 40 years.
as I said above, that superstructure was a monster with too much
space between the audience and the band. That worked very well for
Harold for he walked to the edge of the platform (stage) and placed
his microphone near the correct spot and was all ready to play, the
band 20 feet or more behind him. He never turned to even glance at
the band but occasionally he would give Commander Brendler a glance
as if to say, “Move, Charlie!” This must surely have
been in 1952.
we heard live at the Departmental Auditorium that evening was a
splendid solo, played perfectly, by a world class euphonium artist.
But what the radio audience heard – from the recorded concert –
was much, much better. What they did at the studio was to cut down
on the treble sounds and boost the bass sounds. Just what was needed
to help capture the true Brasch tone. Best recording of Harold’s
tone I’ve ever heard. That really was some spectacular
performance and his great tone was a big help.
if by some fluke of nature, someone ever digs this single acetate
disk out of its cocoon, puts it carefully on some high tech
equipment, refuses to fool with the bass and treble balance, as
skewed as it is, and does a good job of transferring it onto a CD, or
some such disc, we will surely have a treat in store for us. Not
only was it a splendid performance but that tone, that tone! Drives
me crazy. Where did Harold get that tone? Best ever!
My Later Years
he retired from the U.S. Navy Band in 1956 – having been at sea
for a long time and having gone through the Navy School of Music,
Harold finally “packed it in”. Retired on twenty years
of U.S. Navy time. He had been having a long running feud with
Commander Brendler. Poor Brendler. Here he had the world’s
greatest euphonium player and he couldn’t handle him. A tiger
by the tail. I never did find just what the problem between the two
was but for Harold it was a “duel to the death”.
Brendler could have shipped him out to sea; however, old Charley was
too smart for that. If he shipped Harold off onto some battleship
and into a twenty piece band, who knows what would happen? Maybe in
time Harold would return as Charley’s boss. So Brendler just
maintained a status quo and Harold, except for some hilarious tricks
to pull on long suffering Commander Brendler, just played his solos
and first chair work as well as possible and that was pretty darn
mentioned, I never knew what precipitated that feud. I’ll just
bet you that when we came down to it, it would have turned out to be
some trivial thing. However, Harold wasn’t a vicious man, just
a cunning adversary when aroused. He would play these clever little
tricks on Commander Brendler and poor Charley never knew just what
was going to happen or where or when. He always found that out too
soon to suit him.
classic Harold Brash trick perpetrated upon poor old Charley Brendler
was one he sprung on the Commander occasionally, not just once. Once
would have done it for most people. It was so fine a trick that
Harold tried it again and again until poor Charles ordered him to
“cease and desist” or go into the brig. Harold ceased
and desisted but under protest. Never went down without a fight!
is that great trick he would pull on Brendler. Only Harold would
have thought of it. Only Harold could have carried it out so
beautifully. And only Harold could draw it out so long that Brendler
must have been sweating blood before long. When Harold was planning
his trick, he was up for some standard solo, perhaps “The
Volunteer” (Rogers). At any rate not long into the solo, you
may remember, comes a pretty nice long cadenza. Not overly long but
not short, either. Harold chose this solo wisely for it really
suited his nefarious purpose. I’ll bet he was grinning when he
struck the Commander with this one!
didn’t stop playing at the end of the published cadenza. He
just kept playing some cadenza. Turned out to be the cadenza from
“King Carnival” (Kryl), a long cadenza. He didn’t
stop then. He started playing some long Arban’s exercise. He
played and he played and he played. Would he ever stop? No he
wouldn’t stop. After that one exercise, he must have thought
it would be nice to include the Arban’s “Carnival of
Venice” so he played through that. After a half hour of
cadenza, with Brendler an actual sweaty physical and mental wreck,
Harold closed the big cadenza, stopped playing, looked Brendler in
the eye as if to say, “Move it sailor, it’s your time to
roll.” Charley thankfully conducted the rest of the solo and
it was finally finished, to the huge relief of the entire fifty
member navy Band. Brendler never forgot this fiasco – for him
it was a fiasco, for the rest of the band it was a “gas”.
When I first heard this story I actually thought that it was some
fibber’s work of fiction but it was so funny that I laughed and
laughed. However, it is one true story which was subsequently
repeated several times, much to Commander Brendler’s woe.
himself told me a version of this story and it jibed perfectly with
everything any Navy Band member related to me concerning that
tapeworm of a cadenza. The beauty of it all, naturally, was that
Brendler had to stay very alert because when Harold stopped playing,
he had to step right in on a tutti. Would that tutti ever come?
Took a half hour for it to roll around with old Charlie sweating
blood. What a story!
Harold Brasch left the Navy Band he went on many of his little
concert tours. He, himself, and him – all on a tour. He
seemed to revel in these tours. He would play many solos. You asked
him to play a certain solo and immediately he played it. It didn’t
matter if he were at the front of some college band, in someone’s
house for supper, in some church on a Sunday morning, or in a prison
to treat some bored inmates. What you requested, he played. He knew
all of the solos. He could play them backwards. He obliged every
time with a wide smile.
these tours he conducted, gave clinics, and guest soloed. He even
gave private lessons. I think that he would be out on a tour for
2,3,4 months. Kind of a long time but he was raising two sons and he
provided them amply with what they needed. It was a business, then,
and he was very successful. Everybody just loved him.
of you may remember Harold for his unusual physical build. I hate to
dwell upon this for it is nothing – of no importance to our
discussion. However, if you ever noticed Harold’s hands, it
would have startled you. Here was this great artist – the very
best of the very best on euphonium – and he had “hams”
for hands and “bananas” for fingers. And strong! What
strength of grip. How in the world could someone with such thick
fingers play euphonium so flawlessly? A mystery.
got those hands is no mystery, however. He worked in an organ
factory in Hagerstown, or was it in Frederick, Maryland? For maybe
fifty years. How could he play in the Navy band and work at an organ
factory? It is simple. Any day when he had a day off from Navy Band
duty, he drove up to the organ factory and worked all day on organs.
This was called the Aoleon Organ factory and the owner loved Harold’s
work and instructed him, “Harold, whenever you have a spare
hour, a day off, more than some days, come up here and work at my
factory. You have free reign as to your hours. You are always
that was the start of a pair of hams called hands and Harold’s
were some mitts, I’ll tell you. At the organ factory they did
everything possible to, on, with, and about a pipe organ –
nothing but pipe organs – except manufacture them.
Occasionally, Harold would be put in charge of a gang of organ
workers who were assigned the duty of packing up a rebuilt organ,
moving it to a new church some miles away, installing it in a new
sanctuary, and getting it to operate perfectly. Harold always got
things to work perfectly with never a failure. He and his crew.
organ work, he used a pair of extremely heavy tin snips. Naturally
he was cutting and trimming brass, not tin, but what an exercise for
any pair of hands. I myself could not have done that work. My hands
are not big, tough, or strong enough to last on such a job. Harold
lasted for fifty years, hands ever bigger, ever stronger, and ever
tougher. Again I say, what a pair of mitts. And those rough hands
could lovingly caress those four euphonium valves and coax such
lovely sounds out into the soft summer air. Amazing!
we got into the 1960’s and 1970’s, Harold’s record
collecting days were ending. I think that he just lost interest.
The old 78 rpm discs were no longer collector’s items if no one
wanted to buy them. Harold’s record selling business ended.
He even sold his extensive private collection. That must have hurt.
What a shame. Folks were into the reel-to-reel tapes and soon into
cassette tapes. Now it is CDs. What next?
when the days of selling the old 78 rpm discs were in full sway,
Harold used tons of cardboard which he cut into 12 inch squares to
protect any record shipment he sent out to customers. I am sure,
after seeing him work in packaging, that he rarely, if ever, had a
record broken in shipment, so well was his package padded and
cutting up these very many pieces of heavy cardboard – these
must have been in the thousands – he used a pair of those tin
snips he used regularly at the organ factory. These were B-I-G
shears, very heavy and strong. “Hey, Arthur,” he said to
me one day while I was idly watching him cut up cardboard – and
he did it fast. “Just get yourself one of these tin snips and
you’ll cut up lots of cardboard in not time at all.” He
said that it was easy. Well, I soon learned that what was easy for
him was simply impossible for me. I’d watched him assemble and
pack up a big carton of 78 rpm discs and it sure did look easy.
back home in Prince George County and visited a nice old style
hardware store not far from my house. I asked the clerk to show me
some tin snips. “How big?” he asked. Foolishly, I
replied “B-I-G”. He showed me the same identical snips
which Harold always used, I bought them, and we were in business. Or
so I thought. I went back home, dug out a pile of heavy cardboard,
and started cutting it up with my new tin snips. Fast and easy
turned out to be slow and very painful. In no time at all my hands
were crippled, my knuckles were a mass of bruises, and my muscles
seemed strained. It was a total disaster. I ceased and desisted –
out of necessity. These tin snips reside in my basement here on Auth
road, as new and unused as that day forty years ago when I bought
them. Who can use such monsters?
Harold such tasks were duck’s soup. For me they were bitter
gall. My hands and arms could not stand that heavy work. Harold was
a monster of strength and toughness. Yes, he could tenderly caress
beautiful music out of his euphonium. How? A mystery.
early 1970’s several Navy Band members – all retired –
got together to discuss the possibility of starting a new civilian
band. I was invited to attend which I was very happy to do. We
would meet at Eddie De Mattia’s home on Wheeler road, S.E., a
pleasant and quiet residential area at that time. Now it is as high
a crime area as any found in the entire D.C. metro area – a
meetings, however, were fruitful and a new band was formed. It’s
name was “The National Band of America” and it was
comprised of mainly retired and former members of the four great
military bands of the country – the U.S. Army Band, the U.S.
Navy Band, the U.S. Air Force Band, and of course the U.S. Marine
Band. We started having rehearsals and I remember our first concert
with a thirty five piece band, all professional musicians. Sounded
time this band, familiarly known as “The National Concert Band”
gained world wide fame through some 12 inch LP discs put out by the
late Robert Hoe, Jr. who was a great booster of bands and a world
authority on marches of all kinds. You name a march and he could
tell you everything known about it and its composer. Bob had a
splendid memory. In time, Bob Hoe died following complications of
lung cancer – he was a big cigar smoker – and by then he
had issued and dispensed about 268 12 inch LP discs, about ten of
which were recorded by our National Concert Band.
Brasch and I had been teacher and pupil for nine years. Then, in
this new band we became side partners for another nine years –
a distinct pleasure and honor for me. When Harold was on hand, he
was number one and I sat next to him. When he was away on one of his
little tours, I was number one. That was a pretty small number one
compared with his wonderful first chair work, I will admit. Both of
us shared the solo spot many , many times. He usually played his
normal type of solo while I was always trying something new. I did
some solos I always wanted to play but never quite got to do with the
Marine Band and that was pretty nice.
fine civilian band performed at the Canadian National Exhibition in
1976 and in 1980. Every one of us youffers played at least one solo
during the two week engagement. I did “Original Fantasie”
on the final concert of the 1976 trip in the rain. That was a cool
solo because the weather was cold and raw.
always wanted to perform a fine modern type solo written by George
Swift, an English high note artist, who had recorded four great solos
in 1932 in Australia of all places. Bob Hoe had the discs and loved
Swift’s trumpet playing. Everyone did. I had acquired the
solo part and even the set of band parts from a very good Navy band
friend, Frank Scimonelli. What a fantastic post horn player he was.
None better anywhere in the world. He was certainly a nice man to
simply give me his music. I worked on the solo and got it in shape
to rehearse it and we did rehearse it several times. The band was
going to make a recording of some concert music for the Bob Hoe
Heritage series and I wanted to work this Swift solo into it without
Bob having any inkling of what he was in store for.
record the Swift solo, titled, “Elfriede” after Swift’s
German wife. And it was slipped onto the master tape for Bob to
listen to in his Poughkeepsie, New York home. I was told by Bob that
he heard the high note cadenza first and was mystified as to what
that “mess” of high squeals was but knew it all as soon
as the main theme of the piece was played. Then he knew that we had
tricked and surprised him. He was so pleased and that solo is on the
very end of that disc.
liked most about the entire thing was Harold Brasch’s obvious
unselfish and kind comments which he was making about me and the
solo. I had just made my way to my horn case and heard him say to a
band member, as if in awe, “…and at his age, too…”
I guess that at the age of 63 I should not have been capable of high
notes. Was I lucky, sure I was. I’ll bet that Harold could
have done much better but he was so pleased that I’d carried it
off. Such a kind man. I hated to see him leave us and here I am
still living; why couldn’t we both be living?
when I recorded “Elfriede”, I just sat at my place next
to Harold. He was on my left. Tony Ciarlante was on my right, a
long time pupil of mine. I believe that Buddy Burroughs made up the
rest of the section. Seated that way and with good friends and
colleagues made the job of playing those high notes so much easier.
changed fast after that. Poor Bob Hoe died in 1983 and Harold and
other band members went into a special band assembled of special
friends of Bob to record a concert in Bob’s memory. It would
be recorded and put onto one of the usual bob Hoe 12 inch LP discs
and distributed. Lt. Colonel Erwin of the U.S. Marine Band
conducted. It was Harold who played the main solo. He wanted so
badly to do it for his friend Bob Hoe. And he did a splendid job.
how Harold made Commander Brendler sweat with his long cadenzas?
Well, he did the very same thing in the solo he recorded for that Bob
Hoe memory disc. However, this time it was planned. No unpleasant
surprises. He did play a lot of cadenza and it was very nice,
indeed. What an improviser! What a tone!
next year Harold died of a massive coronary and lingered for four
days and expired. The family wished for some band music. The
sanctuary was too small for a band so we opted for five euphonium
players to play Harold’s favorite hymn, “Trusting As The
Moments Fly”, a very nice hymn. I reworked the music out of a
hymnal and we rehearsed it several times. I believe that our
euphonium section consisted of Buddy Burroughs, Tony Ciarlante, “Mo”
Hickey, Lee Dummer, and me. I was the lead. We were happy to do
this thing but it was the most difficult playing in my entire life,
playing for my dead friend and teacher. The lump in my throat was
the size of a softball but I got through it okay, but how do you hold
back tears? Not forever, I learned.
weeks later, after the simply spectacular funeral over at the
Arlington National Cemetery, the National Concert Band had a memorial
concert in Harold’s honor. We euphoniums again played the
hymn. That was some lump in my throat again but I got through it
okay and the recording shows that it was a nice performance.
My Very Late Years
this one more story, I will end my long article about my hero, Harold
Brasch, “Mister Euphonium”.
had written a marvelous book all about the four valve compensating
piston euphonium and how to use it. He sold copies at a modest sum
of money. All he wanted was to help foster the use of such an
instrument and the proper use of the compensating system. He did a
thorough and complete job of explaining it all in his great book, a
one of a kind.
one of the first copies. I think that he just gave it to me as a
gift. What a kind gesture. I enjoyed running through the various
exercises. Each one was more difficult than the one before until
finally I got bogged down helplessly. It was all too thick with all
of the valve combinations – merely theoretical stuff, of course
– but it was a real eye-opening education, reading through that
book. Harold told me that it got so thick and difficult that even he
had to skip some of it because as theoretical and impractical it was,
it would never be used in that register in just that way.
hot summer of 1983, Harold found that he had almost no copies of the
book left so he went to Eddie De Mattia’s “Minuteman”
instant print shop in Camp Springs very near my Keppler Road home to
order a new supply. As a volunteer helper for Eddie, I was there all
day most days. Mostly, however, I came in very early, cleaned up the
floor and bathroom, got some of the machinery working – the
enormous Xerox machine was one – and finally opened the shop at
one day, Harold drove up in his tiny car which he lovingly called his
“Whippersnapper” and went inside to speak to Eddie about
printing up 250 copies of his book. Eddie gave him a price, the
price was accepted on the spot, and then everyone who ever knew Eddie
and Harold was summoned over to help work on the book. As clean a
copy as Harold could find was used and it was disassembled and
instant print negatives were made of every page. These were printed
back to back and checked and checked. Eventually, all printing was
done, checked again, and ready for collating. We must have had 15
willing workers there some days. Harold was always somewhere in the
background beaming to see all of this close work being done on his
behalf. In time the job was completed and Harold left for Arlington
and his home with 250 brand new and clean as a whistle copies of his
book. We were all exhausted. Eddie had his check so all was right
with the world of instant printing.
before Harold left for home that day, he approached me with the
original book copy, now all loose leaf, apart and in an envelope.
“Hey, Arthur, this is the copy we took apart to use in the
printing. Would you want it?” I said that I surely would and
he handed it over. I have it on my table right at this very moment
and I have been reading through it again. Nothing wrong with it
except that it is all apart. I’ll always keep that copy.
showed his picture in the book from around 1945 to my wife. He
played a double bell King then and I mentioned to Frieda that he had
such big and powerful hands with bananas for fingers. In the picture
you could see these hands and bananas. However, that picture was
taken long before he ever worked at the organ factory and later his
hands were much larger, thicker, powerful, and they looked it.
Harold died some few months later, no copies of his 250 brand new
books were located. Whatever happened to them? A huge mystery.
time Eddie lost the print shop. He was better suited to be an oboe
player. He still remains the very best oboe player I have ever
heard, bar none. Such a marvelous and unbelievable tone. He is the
Harold Brasch of the oboes and a good conductor as well.
Brasch was one of a kind; will we ever see his like again? Perhaps,
perhaps not. This is a different era. The accent is on
pyrotechnics, not on beautiful tone. We hear modern solos all of the
time which hurt my very deaf ears. Such M.A.D. music (modern
abstract dissonant) does nothing for my aged nerves. Where, oh where
are the old familiar solos? Give me one good Mantia solo and you can
have the ten best M.A.D. music solos. It’ll be an even trade!
recently came as close to dying as anyone can come without passing
through those pearly gates. Believe me, I was not enthralled by
being so deathly ill. When I die, I still claim that I want to pass
out with Harold’s beautiful tone playing “Were My Song
With Wings Provided” just as he played this lovely song long
ago at the Departmental Auditorium. If I can hear this at that time,
I will know then that those pearly gates are opening up for this
ancient youffer. Watch out, here I come; but not too soon, mind!
time my hearing was going. I needed hearing aids. I retired from
the National Concert Band in 1997, the year our old dog died. No
wonder I got depressed. We soon had a new dog, a real live wire and
he really pepped me up. When we got this three year old dog, I told
Frieda, “He and I will grow old together.” Do you know?
We really did grow old together. What a nice old dog!
time that I received my new pair of the best hearing aids known to
man, I was still practicing an hour a day at home. Strangely, I
could still play by memory virtually every note of every solo I’d
ever played with the Marine Band and the National Concert Band. High
notes, low notes, nothing slowed me down. I was even delving into
the glissando world and coming up with some doozeys of displays.
Truthfully, I say this. But with my aids I could hear just how well
– badly – I was playing as to intonation. What I heard
really discouraged me. How out of tune I sounded. Was that real or
a distortion of the hearing aids? I stopped playing entirely in 2002
after seventy-four uninterrupted years of euphing; I had packed it
couple of years later I simply handed the old horn to a friend and
said without even one qualm of regret, “Take it, it’s
yours.” He is still playing it and that really pleases me.
The old horn is exactly sixty years old now and I used it through out
my Marine Band years and through my national Concert Band years.
Harold Brasch also used an identical model to mine. Sounded good in
his hands, you bet!
this Harold Brasch saga, I hope that the reader will now know more
about his life and times than he did at the start of the article.
Certainly, he has to be impressed by Brasch’s skill both in
teaching young pupils and in his solo work, both of the highest
order. When better musicians are made, let us hope they will be as
skilled, educated, and kind as the Harold Brasch whom I knew so well.
He was my hero.