by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
edited by David Werden
One thing which many people don't know about Harold Brasch is that he worked off and on for many years for the aeoleon organ company of Hagerstown, MD (at least, that seems like the correct name, if I recall it right.) The important thing is that Harold worked there doing all sorts of pipe organ related work for years and years. When I say that he worked there "off and on", I mean that whenever he was in the Washington, D.C. area, he worked there. He was often off on one of his concert, performing, conducting, clinic tours - for a number of years once or twice a year and then he wasn't available for this sort of work. The head of the organ company thought so highly of Harold that he vowed that whenever Harold was able to come and work at the organ works, he had a job.
Harold knew the organ business backwards. He could do any job required and, obviously, he did great work. The organ company did all work connected with pipe organs except build them. They rebuilt them, repaired them, added pipes, replaced pipes, tuned organs, moved entire pipe organs from one location to another. If an old church, equipped with an excellent pipe organ, eventually built a new building, this company was hired to dismantle the old organ, transport it to the new church building, and set it up there, and get it working perfectly.
Occasionally, I would be chatting before a band concert or rehearsal of the National Concert Band in the 1970's or 1980's and Harold would mention that he was driving down to Richmond, or some other location, the following week to install an organ in some new church building. They were sending him down there and entrusting him with that rather difficult and demanding job of moving and reinstalling an old organ in a new building. Pretty keen, I'd say.
That was probably why Harold had such thick fingers and strong meaty hands. But that was no impediment in his euphonium playing flexibility. His fingers worked beautifully on the euphonium valves. Never any problems with Harold's fingering. There were lots of problems with mine, but with Harold's help, they disappeared through time, lots of exercises, and much attention to his cogent instructions. So, it isn't how thin, thick, straight, crooked, long, short, etc. One's fingers are. It's how one used them. Use what you've got correctly and wisely and you will make out just fine. I believe that was Harold's philosophy. Great wisdom, in my opinion. (it worked for me!)
One incident is a fondly remembered one in the minds of all Navy Band members who were playing in that band during the early 1950's. And the incident involved Harold Brasch. This was during the ongoing feud between CDR. Brendler, the Navy Band leader, and Harold, perhaps the single most famous soloist of the Navy Band of that period. CDR. Brendler almost had to program Harold for solos because the audiences wanted to hear this great artist play one of his difficult solos. The commander wished to please his audiences. Therefore, Harold was often on for a solo, even though the commander may have wished that he were not on. He had misgivings. He was correct.
For one of these concerts when Harold was on for a solo, he had chosen some solo with several fairly long cadenzas. Did he pick this solo with something diabolical in mind? Or was the solo just a happenstance? Whatever it was originally, eventually it became a real nightmare for CDR. Brendler. What happened was this: no doubt Harold, being involved in this silly feud, decided to "fix" the commander and fix him he surely did. As you will soon see.
As Harold was rehearsing the solo with the Navy Band back at the sail loft, everything went swimmingly. CDR. Brendler knew the solo backwards and he was right with Harold all the way. Harold breezed through the solo and there was nothing to go back over and rehearse. I can just see the commander, smiling and heaving a sigh of relief. Nothing bad had happened. At last. No problems with the "problem child".
Then, along came the performance. It was an out of doors summer concert and there was a large audience. They were hungry for a nice solo and when Harold stepped up to the front of the band, they applauded wildly. Everyone was heartened by that and the commander started the introduction. The solo was going along just great. Then, came the first fairly long cadenza. Wow! Harold had this planned. Or did he? No one knew. However it happened, it did happen and no one could miss seeing it happen. Harold played his cadenza but did not stop when he came to the end of it. He kept on playing. First, he played part of a Herbert L. Clarke solo. Then, he played part of an Arban's "Carnival of Venice" variation. Then, he switched to some exercises out of st. Jacombe's method. Finally, he stopped, turned partway towards the commander, who was "all at sea" not knowing what to expect next - and smiled sweetly. The commander took the cue and conducted the tutti and the solo continued just fine until the next cadenza which wasn't as long as the first one. Harold could have done the same thing, but he played it straight this time. Probably, he realized that enough was enough. The third cadenza was no different. Harold played it as written. It all turned out well at the end. The encore number went fine. Nothing out of kilter there. However, the damage had been done. The good commander had been severely shaken and he was angry. What would he do about Harold and his quiet but unsettling rebellion? He could have done a lot of things but, give CDR. Brendler credit, he did the wisest thing and the kindest thing as far as Harold was concerned. The next morning at roll call, just before the morning's rehearsal, he called Harold down for his dirty little trick and remarked that he knew what Harold was doing but, he added, "Don't ever do that to me again!" it was as mild a dressing down as was ever given a rebellious Navy Band member.
We may make note of this. Harold never did try that trick again. He realized his limitations. You "can't fight City Hall" but he surely did give "City Hall" a terrible shock, didn't he? In a way, he won the battle. However, CDR. Brendler won the war. Silly feud, anyway.
Incidentally, the episode of that extra long cadenza was related to me by Harold himself during one of my lessons with him, and later several Navy Band members mentioned the incident to me in passing. All of their stories about the long cadenza were identical. Yes, it actually did happen.
It must be mentioned now that - and I realize that this isn't about Harold Brasch at all - the commander was a terrific band musician. He was a fine Bb clarinet player. He had been the no.1 clarinetist with the Navy Band for many years. He was a brilliant soloist and when he finally became the Navy Band leader, he was an amazing conductor. No one could figure out how he did it, but he never used music when he conducted a concert. Always conducted by memory. Furthermore, he never missed anything. When he gave a cue in a concert, at the spot where he was pointing, something happened. He wasn't merely making empty gestures for the benefit of the audience. He was actually cuing in his players. Amazing feat of memory.
How do you suppose he was able to memorize all of the music the Navy Band played? The only logical explanation I can come up with is that he had a photographic memory coupled with total recall. He may also have had perfect pitch, but we don't know about that. But we do know that he actually did have a remarkable memory. And he was a fine conductor. In addition to that, he preferred the best music. He seldom played any junk. He also preferred having lots of solos on his concerts. Harold Brasch was one of his favorite soloists. Of course, with the feud going on, relations were strained, to put it mildly, but as a soloist Harold was a favorite with brendler who knew that some of Harold's fame and excellence as a soloist didn't hurt him one bit. Helped him, as a matter of fact. "Look at CDR. Brendler's fine soloists", his audiences may say. "He knows good work when he sees it." or words to that effect. Yes, Harold's fame and skill rubbed off on the commander. That was why he kept Harold in the Navy Band and left him on first chair as well as encouraged him in his solo work. Harold was willing to keep playing his terrific solos. It looks as though those two didn't really hate each other, after all. It was just a mild feud, even though it sometimes got a bit out of hand, as when Harold played that l-o-n-g cadenza, reputed to have taken about 10-15 minutes. No wonder CDR. Brendler was so shaken. Oh, well. It's all in the past and it was so long ago. "Gone, but not forgotten", as the saying goes.
One thing which I must mention about Harold Brasch and his euphonium playing. He was not what I would call a power player on the stand. He was an excellent first chair man, however. What we need out of a first chair man is a combination of things. We need someone who is a fine sight reader. We need a very accurate player. We need someone who can be heard in his incidental solos, in counter-melodies in band pieces, and in any spot where his part is important enough so that the euphonium must be heard well. Although a power player fills the bill on first chair very well, sometimes what we get is a bit too much sound out of him.In Harold's case, although he would not be classed as a power player, he surely was well able to make himself heard very well in any incidental solos, prominent euphonium parts, counter-melodies, etc. One thing which appealed to me about his first chair work is that although he was never overpowering, he was always heard. He played just exactly at the correct volume to be heard, but it was never even slightly too loud. Amazing. And it just shows me, at least, that Harold knew exactly what he was doing. He knew just how loudly he had to play to be heard barely enough and not even slightly too much. His balance in this regard was marvelous. None better. In fact he was the best at this technique, by far, of any first chair euphonium player I've ever heard. He was an expert at balance. He did not ever play so loudly as to distort his fine tone. However, he did play just exactly loudly enough to be heard, but never more than that. He was very, very skilled.