by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
edited by David Werden
Now we are to the point where I was no longer studying with Harold Brasch because he had "fired" me as a pupil, saying that he could no longer teach me anything. That was a laugh. He had lots left to teach me. Why, I could have learned circular breathing in time, I am sure, for he knew this technique, used it in solos, in band parts, and was easily capable of teaching it to anyone. Also, I would like to have learned to play chords. He did play chords very well, and used them in solos occasionally. There was a Navy Band euphonium player who was in that band with Harold for a while who was the best at playing chords of anyone I have ever heard. By far the best. He even was starting to write a book on the subject but died before finishing it, alas. The problem with this fellow is that when he played a solo, he was putting cadenzas in here and there all over the place so he could showcase his chords. I believe that Harold abhorred this and, consequently would not use chords very much from then on. That was too bad for Harold could play chords quite well and a chord or two here or there makes a nice effect. But I guess that Harold had had it "up to here" with chords as used ad nauseum by the other euphonium player in the Navy Band. A pity.
And that brings me to a funny incident that happened to Harold on a Navy Band tour. He never mentioned it to me, obviously, but this chord expert did. He was sitting next to Harold on one Navy Band tour. He reports that Harold, as usual, played everything flawlessly on the pages of music that came along. Most of the time he had the music memorized in no time at all, so he would look over the audience, not at the music, as the piece was being played. This one matinee concert all of a sudden out from Harold's horn bell came the most unusual number of wrong notes anyone could imagine. He probably had forgotten what piece the band was playing, wasn't paying attention, and started playing a march in a different key from the correct piece, and the clash of notes was startling.
Although his side partner was pretty shocked and shaken, Harold himself was devastated. He was irate. Furious, he was so angry with himself that he put his horn on his lap and didn't play another note the entire concert, to the great amusement of the men playing on stands around him. Oh, Harold could be quite a character. One you would never forget. And, incidentally, I heard this identical story from other Navy Band members who had been on that tour and they told the exact same story which Harold's side partner had told me. Oh, it really happened that way, as funny as it sounds.
Now, we go back to 1938. I was a college student at Penn State who was a college in the exact geographical center of the state of Pennsylvania. It is now a university. However, then I was playing duets every week with a citizen of the town. He was a Bell Telephone 'phone installer, and troubleshooter, and you'd see him driving his telephone company truck around town occasionally. He lived with his wife and children not far from my furnished room off of campus. This fellow was an excellent euphonium player and what a tongue he had. Wonderful attacks, none better. He never tried to get an audition for a big U.S. service band but I believe that they would have accepted him. Fine player. He helped me in lots of things concerning euphonium playing and in music in general.
I had started college in 1935 and by 1938 this fellow and I had seen that the U.S. Navy Band was going to play in some town not too far from State College. Williamsport, I think, is where it was. We drove over in this fellow's Ford sedan with a V‑8 engine and heard the Navy Band. There I met Harold Brasch for the first time. I hadn't known anything about him, only hearing solos by Jean Manganaro in those days. My friend and I had lunch with Harold and his roommate and it was nice meeting them. Naturally, these service band members meet so many people on tours that they don't remember them all. Harold never did remember me, but I sure did remember him. How about this! Eight years later I was taking lessons form him ‑ in the summer of 1946. Amazing! It's a small world, isn't it?
I mentioned Harold and his "fat lip" solo in a recent article, but it must be mentioned here just in passing. This happened after I had been taking lessons from Harold for several years. I had gone over to his house for my lesson this particular evening and he didn't let on that anything was amiss. However, as we got into the lesson, I couldn't help by notice that he had a big ugly bruise and small cut on his lower lip. "what in the world is that?" I wanted to know. He smiled and replied that he had been chopping wood and a piece had flown up and smacked him in the mouth, bruising his lip. I made a remark that it was too bad that he couldn't play his solo two nights hence. The Navy Band was playing somewhere ‑ I think it must have been at the old Watergate barge ‑ and he was on for Mantia's "All Those Endearing Young Charms". I had been looking forward to hearing his usual marvelous solo performance on my favorite euphonium solo. Now, I expected to miss hearing it. However, Harold assured me that he was going to perform the solo because, as he said, "I want to get it over with." well, I would have got it over with by claiming that I was too inured to play and the Marine Band would have excused me from the entire concert. Harold was made of sterner stuff, however, and he wasn't going to back out of anything for any reason. He did perform the solo, all right, but, although it was perfectly passable, it certainly wasn't up to the usual Harold Brasch standard. And how could anyone blame him? It was amazing that he could play euphonium at all, let alone perform a very difficult solo reasonably well. Simply astounding. But, if you knew Harold, you realized that he was very determined. If he decided to perform a solo on a badly bruised and cut lip, he would actually do that impossible job. Impossible for anyone else, that is. Not impossible for Harold.
Harold was a fine tradesman. In the construction trades, that is. He could do beautiful brick and concrete block work. He could do fine carpentry work. He could connect up electrical systems. Anything concerning the construction area was "duck soup" to Harold. And proving this was the fact that one year he decided that his house on S. June Street, Arlington was becoming too small. He made a decision to enlarge it. He did in fact do exactly that and every bit of work he did with his own two hands. His brickwork was beautiful, for instance, as was everything else about that addition. It was one of two stories, adding a den on the first floor and a bedroom on the second floor. He did really need that extra room and it was room that was used constantly. He changed the location for lessons from the basement, in amongst his vast record collection and sound equipment in the basement, to the new room on the first floor, which was the new den. In my view that was a big improvement as the den was roomier and brighter than the basement ever was. But he did the work and reaped the benefits of the added space, didn't he? He, his family, and his pupils did.
There is one funny story about Harold which every Navy Band member 'way back in the 1950's knows all about. I did mention earlier about how Harold would have the music memorized pretty early on a tour and then he was usually playing it all from memory which sometimes created a problem. However, this was another problem from that one mentioned above. And it all stems from the normal desire by U.S. service band leaders back then to do it the easy way. That is, use the same music on this tour that was used on the last tour. In that way the leader wouldn't need to learn anything new and it was be easier all around. Easier, yes. More boring, however. Especially for the band members. And Harold Brasch protested in the only way he knew to protest. He just wouldn't put up a music stand and therefore he wasn't using his folio of music. This was for the first rehearsals of the music for a new tour. New tour, same old music. Boring! This was noticed soon by the Navy Band leader who complained that it didn't look good for an audience to see him without a music stand or music, and playing from memory. He ordered Brasch to put up his music stand and put the music folio on it. Harold did. However, he left the folio closed and still played from memory. Upon seeing this, the leader ordered him to not only put up the music stand and place the folio on it but also to open it up and to, at least, look as though he were playing as he read the music. Harold did this but reluctantly complained all along about playing the same music on several tours, it being very boring, and so on. The leader was not fazed. He just ordered brash to do what he said he should do and let it go at that, rather than punish him for insubordination. Harold knew, obviously, just how far he could push the Commander and he did as ordered but with some grumbling. All of this was immensely amusing for the rest of the Navy Band; not for the leader, however.
Let us move ahead now, to after Harold was retired. In 1972 or 1973 a new band was formed at the suggestion and urging of two Navy Band members who were retired. These two men contacted several other retired Navy Band members and then, in turn, contacted other service band members who were recently retired and asked what they thought of the idea. Would it be something that would fly? Starting a brand new band? I was one of those contacted. We had our first meeting at the home of a retired Navy Band oboe player. After a couple of meetings, it was decided to start the band as proposed. The band's name would be "the National Concert Band."
The new project of starting a band did get off of the ground and in a few months, with several rehearsals and one of the men appointed as conductor ‑ it was the oboe player, Eddie de Mattia ‑ we started to play concerts here and there during that first summer. I believe that we fell out with a total of thirty‑five players for the first concert. Soon we were fielding a fifty-piece band for most concerts. And we had quite a few soloists in this new band. I was one. Harold Brasch had been contacted but he wanted to wait a while, as he told me on the telephone when I called him to ask him to join us, "to see how things work out", as he said. Things worked out just fine, fortunately.
Soon, Harold was playing with us but although all of us wanted him on first chair, he claimed not to be playing much, so he wound up playing back in the section. A recently retired principal euphonium player of the Marine Band was appointed our first-chair man ‑ Karl Humble. However, several of our euphonium players were soon playing solos. Eventually, we persuaded Harold to solo with us and he, as usual, was outstanding. He remained a member of this band for the next 10‑12 years, until his death in 1984. He played lots of his old Navy Band solos with us and he always did a great job on these.