by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
edited by David Werden
Without doubt the best and most beautiful euphonium playing I have ever heard was a splendid performance of a simple song with, of all things, harp accompaniment; and it was performed by Harold Brasch accompanied by William Cameron during a U.S. Navy Band concert down at the Departmental Auditorium in, possibly, 1948. It was very early in my U.S. Marine Band career, at any rate, and it was long before they constructed a huge platform which greatly extended the stage area so that musical performing groups bands and orchestras - would have more room and better seating for their concerts.
It is true that this new stage extension was a great improvement in the area of seating and vision for all of the band or orchestra members. However, it was definitely not a help in any way in the area of the audience listening pleasure. That is, when a musical group was playing a concert on the original stage area, the sound was spectacular for any audience on hand. Especially was the sound fine when one was listening from the balcony far up there in the air so high above the stage and the ground floor. That balcony was the best place to sit if you wanted to hear a great sound. But when that new stage extension was constructed, there went much of the good sound we liked so much about that Departmental Auditorium. What a shame!
I often would tell anyone willing to hear me that the listening up there - originally - was so remarkably good that even a bad band would sound great from that location. Naturally, the U.S. Navy Band was a fine band under CDR. Brendler so it really sounded splendid from the balcony location. Then, when someone stood up to play a solo, he benefited from the great sound projection coming off of that original stage. Perhaps the reason that we were getting that wonderful projection, coupled by some happy blending of musical tones, was that there was so much granite all over the place - on floor, risers, walls, ceiling, etc. Then, with so many of the band members required to squeeze together on the cramped, small risered, awkward areas of the "stage", quite a few of the men were up against the granite walls. This no doubt resulted in a sort of "sounding board" effect and, consequentially, there was a natural amplification and reverberation taking place. All of this, and much more, probably caused the old Departmental Auditorium stage to be a perfect venue for the listening audience -especially when seated in that very high balcony.
All of this may explain, partly, just why that single Harold Brasch solo was so fantastic. It wasn't that Harold didn't play extremely well, or have such a marvelous tone, or use so much fine phrasing and feeling in his playing. It was simply that in addition to everything else, Harold was aided and supported by unbelievable natural amplification, reverberation, and sound quality enhancement. All natural. No electrical amplification was used back then. Not for any of the music. Some bands were starting to use microphones and small speakers but this was merely to aid the announcer who would give the name of the next piece to be played. Back in those days no microphones were put up to catch sounds from any of the musical instruments. Pretty primitive, wasn't it? Well, that was the norm back in 1948.
So, there Harold was, standing down on the ground floor of the auditorium with the harp beside him. William Cameron was playing the introduction. Harold was close to Cameron and both men were standing on solid granite blocks of that floor. I wonder if their feet were cold? At any rate the song was a beautiful one by Reynaldo Hahn titled, "Were My Song with Wings Provided". Now, that is a lovely song and the two Navy Band musicians did a fine musical reading of it for us in the audience.
When Harold started to play, it was absolutely amazing in that his tone was perfectly pure. No fuzz. No extraneous sounds. Nothing there to distract the listener from that beautiful euphonium tone. And Harold was by now playing that ancient Boosey & Hawkes "Imperial" euphonium with the 10" bell". How in the world could he get such a fantastic tone out of that old crock? No one knew the answer. I believe that I have guessed it. It was simply that in addition to being the best euphonium player possibly - in the whole world, and having the very best tone - that's a good bet - ever, Harold was greatly aided by that wonderful natural amplification, reverberation, and sound enhancement which I have mentioned above. Together, it all added up to the best of the best, ever, forever - in my opinion. If I ever hear anything like that again, it will be in heaven, if I am lucky enough to "make the scene" one fine day.
Although it is almost sixty years ago now, I can still hear that lovely Brasch sound as he played the Hahn song for the appreciative audience down at the Departmental Auditorium. I can hear it almost as plainly as I originally heard it in 1948. Am I a freak of nature? Can I remember things which no one else can remember? Not at all. I am positive that any band musician who heard that Navy Band concert that night and was lucky enough to catch Harold Brasch's solo with harp accompaniment - a fantastic combination, as a matter of fact - will never forget it and he, too, will hear it undiminished in his "mind's ear." Betcha we'll get into the matter of this old instrument soon.
Probably the very best performance of a technical solo played by Harold Brasch of which I have heard, either live or on recordings, was a solo played at a Navy Band concert, again down at the Departmental Auditorium. However, this incident was much later than the Brasch solo with harp accompaniment mentioned above. This was either in 1951 or 1952 and the band was sitting on that huge stage extension platform they had constructed, perhaps, a year earlier. The band still sounded very, very good but not as stunning as it had before that platform had been built. Harold was on for a very good cornet solo composed by Hermann Bellstedt titled "La Mandolinata". When Harold was called to the front of the stage to stand where he would play the solo, it turned out that he was pretty much closer to the edge of the stage (platform) than he was to the band. I wondered if that would cause him any problems. It seemed not to have any bad effect on the solo whatever, so I guess we can assume that it didn't bother Harold a bit. I believe that it would have bothered me, for I would not have been able to hear the band as well as usual and seeing the leader from that spot would have been virtually impossible.
Knowing Harold and realizing - I do now, I didn't then that he was engaged in a sort of feud with CDR. Brendler, I can see that, when he was playing his solo, he was just playing it his way and it was up to the commander to follow him. Lucky for everyone that the commander was an excellent conductor and he could follow Harold just fine. The results were wonderful. Harold was spectacular in his performance. What a fine microphone pickup on his sound he enjoyed that night! Never a better one, ever, with a Harold Brasch solo.
The fact that he was so far up front, and sort of away from the band, made his sound very "forward" but the band sounded distant. From that standpoint it was not a perfect recording. However, from the standpoint of the soloist, it could not have been a better recording. Naturally, there was, this time, a microphone set up on a high stand to pick up the soloist. Only one microphone was being used and it was closest to Harold. Picked him up very well, indeed. As to his playing of this great solo, it was flawless and such a great style made it something to remember. Fortunately, I was able to obtain a recording of this solo performance and occasionally, when I wanted to hear a splendid tone and great microphone pickup, I'd play the old acetate disc. Kind of raised the spirits and created excitement. Got the juices flowing and made one feel good. At least, with me it did. Perhaps some clarinet player would have thought to himself, "Ho, hum. Just another brass player." But to brass men such playing is noteworthy and, when a perfect performance is coupled with a great microphone pickup, what we have is a genuine gem. Yes, indeed.
Did you know that Harold Brasch had a four valve cornet? He broke it out one time when I was over at his house for my usual weekly lesson. I believe that he had been practicing on it. He had a good lip, apparently, for cornet even so long after he had switched over to euphonium. He really sounded nice on that Boosey & Hawkes cornet. I am not sure if it was a compensating piston instrument or not. At any rate I had never seen a four valve cornet. There it was, being played by Harold.
Another strange - well, maybe not strange but unusual, now a days - instrument he owned was a Czech valve trombone. It was a tenor trombone - brass, not plated. He had at one time played Mantia's arrangement of "Original Fantasie" on a Navy Band radio broadcast. Sounded pretty good, too. I heard a recording of it. Strange, however, that he should use this odd musical instrument to play a solo on. Just a novelty, apparently, for him.
Much later, when Harold was playing with the National Concert Band - having been retired from the Navy for many years - he played a funny solo spot on a garden hose. Yes, you heard it correctly. I said on a garden hose. He would be on for a solo and he'd play some standard solo which everyone knew. Then, for his encore he would take a garden hose from under a chair and play his encore on that unusual "musical instrument". Well, a musical instrument it was definitely not. However, it always went over big with the audience. Apparently, they knew more about a garden hose than they knew about the euphonium.I seem to recall that Harold played some post horn solos on that garden hose during his National Concert Band years. He did play encores on the hose occasionally. A novelty, not a serious presentation. Seemed to be very easy although I never tried to play a garden hose, myself. But, no matter what it was - easy or difficult - Harold seemed really to enjoy himself when he was playing that hose. For him it seemed to be a huge joke. Well, I believe that the audiences did realize and appreciate this. They certainly gave him an ovation each time he played an encore on his garden hose. No recordings of this exist, as far as I know.