by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
edited by David Werden
It is now time, I believe, when we should discuss when, how, why, and where Harold Brasch first started playing the large bore straight-bell four-valve automatic compensating English-type euphonium most of us are using currently.
When was late in 1946. Where was at the sail loft at the Navy yard in Washington, D.C. and at his home as he started working with the instrument, trying to figure it out, and to see how well it played, etc. Why was simply out of curiosity. How is the big question.
The Navy Band had some instruments - spare ones - in their storeroom. Somehow Harold found out that they had this brass, Boosey & Hawkes, compensating piston euphonium with the big bore on hand. No one in the Navy Band had ever used it, it seemed. No one knew how it played. Apparently, no one cared to try it out to see how it played. Well, Harold decided that he was going to find out for himself just how well this funny looking horn worked.
Perhaps he had heard some of the fine English euphonium players on recordings. That is quite possible since he was a record collector and dealer. However, whatever prompted Harold to try out that old horn - and it seemed to be quite old, dating from the 1920's or 1930's - he did start looking into the matter of that horn while I was studying with him during the summer of 1946.
I believe that during our final lesson that summer - in august - Harold spoke about the B&H "Imperial" euphonium. He described to me in detail where and how the Navy Band came to own it, and he mentioned that he had been looking it over - and it was intriguing. For one thing it had an automatic compensation system and that was enough to pique his curiosity. How did it work? Was the intonation that much better, if at all, with this system? What about the tone? Was it easy to blow? He had 1001 questions about the old horn. And he was just about to find out the answers to all of his questions later that year.He knew that I wasn't going to come down for any lessons after those of the summer of that year (1946) but what about the following Summer? We hadn't gone into that. I really don't know whether or not I would have continued making that terrible trip for more than that first summer. I may have. I suppose it all depended upon where I was playing, what kind of a job I was muddling along with, how my dad was faring with his heard attacks, etc. But, things took a change for the better, as far as music in general went, band music in particular, and euphonium playing most of all, were concerned.
One day I received a telephone call from Harold. We were corresponding, of course, so it wasn't that unusual that he should call. I sometimes called him, as well. Anyway, he called me at home very early in the spring of 1947, say in late February or early in march. It seemed that he had been engaged to be guest soloist with one of the four bands of Allentown, PA. That was thirty miles north of my hometown of Doylestown, PA. Harold asked me to attend the concert. He had some matter he wanted to discuss with me.
He wouldn't say what the subject of that discussion was but he said that it was an important matter. Oh, boy. I scratched my head trying to figure out just what in the world Harold had in mind which was so important. Of course, I would go and hear him play his solo. I didn't need any secret subject of discussion to prompt me to go and attend that concert. On that day when Harold played his solo as a guest soloist, he was using his usual personal instrument, a King five-valve double-bell euphonium, brass with lacquer. I later learned that soon after that he switched to the old B&H "Imperial" euphonium.
What Harold wanted to discuss with me - or, at least, to broach the subject with me - was to talk me into coming down to Washington, D.C. and to take an audition with the Navy Band for an opening in the euphonium section. Well, that was a real shocker. Just the fact that he thought I should even consider taking such an audition made me dizzy. What if I did go down and audition? And what if I passed and was accepted? That meant leaving my home and parents, moving to D.C., and leaving my profession. (What profession? I never did a day's work in electrical engineering so how would leaving the factory work bother me? I was on a layoff, anyway.)
I decided to give it a try. I made it to the Navy yard, took the audition at the Navy Band quarters at the sail loft, and waited for word as to whether I was accepted or rejected. I'm still waiting. They still haven't let me know. After a few weeks and no word - and even Harold couldn't find out a thing - I got thoroughly disgusted with the Navy Band and wrote to major Santelmann, leader of the U.S. Marine Band requesting an audition. I received a reply and was given a chance to audition, drove down to the Marine barracks, auditioned, was accepted, joined the band, and remained a Marine band member for the next twenty-four years virtually to the day.
And now we come to the matter of the origin of that old Boosey and Hawkes "Imperial"euphonium which soon was to become Harold's instrument of choice for the rest of his life. In the first place that horn was quite old. It had a 10" bell. Today that would surely look strange - even funny - as compared with the modern similar type of euphoniums with their 12" or larger bells. However, in Harold's hands that old horn surely did sound marvelous. It possessed a rich, sonorous, loud, robust tone. That described it just right. And the intonation was much improved over our American instruments. That, alone, was worth the effort to change over to this instrument and murder along trying to dope out the sometimes strange fingering. The fourth valve was so much more important in that horn than it ever was with the American horns, as all of us know now.
Alright, that explains something about the old horn. But what about its origin? First of all, let me say again that although the B&H "Imperial" euphonium with the 10" bell, of which we are writing, was very old - dating from the 1920's or the early 1930's - it had been beautifully reconditioned and even had a splendid coat of lacquer. It was a classy looking old horn. Harold had no qualms about playing it as far as its appearance went. And he soon found that it had superior playing qualities to the American horns he was used to playing. On top of all of this, the old horn was so well balanced that it was much easier to hold and to carry. This was especially noticed when playing on a parade. Being easier to hold and to play on the march was a real blessing.
But, I repeat, what about the origin of this old euphonium? Well, I can't prolong it any further. I will have to tell what I know of its origin. I can only relate the story which Harold told me back in the august 1946. This is not the only story of the origin of the instrument which Harold is reputed to have told. There is at least one other, and different, story which he mentioned at one time or other. I never heard him mention any origin save the one I shall relate next.
What Harold told me about this old horn was this. It was probably at the start of WWII, probably before America got in the war. A British warship was banged up in a naval battle in the Atlantic ocean. It limped to an American port where it stayed for a time while repairs were being made. I don't remember what port but on the east coast there are some large naval installations capable of repairing any damage at all to any kind of ship.
At any rate somewhere along the line some of the ship's crew made their way to Washington, D.C. and the wound up in the Washington Navy yard. Along with some officers of the British ship were the members of the ship's band - a very, very small band, probably 14-15 players. They were the guests of The U.S. Navy Band and a good time was had by all.
The British ship's band members were very highly impressed by the high quality of The U.S. Navy Band as they attended a couple of band rehearsals and radio broadcasts. They really liked the American instruments. The upshot of this was that, in a friendly act of diplomacy, The U.S. Navy arranged to present the British band with a new set of American musical instruments to replace their old, beat-up English instruments. Harold said that those instruments were in sad repair - literally falling apart. That's the main reason that small ship's band was so thrilled to be given a brand new set of musical instruments. They were, however, required to give their old instruments to the Navy Band for disposal. Apparently, disposal meant reconditioning and placing back in circulation within the Navy Band system. How the old euphonium remained with the Navy Band so long is anyone's guess.
Now, again, let me state that this is the story Harold Brasch related to me in 1946. Much later he apparently told other stories of the origin of the old B&H "Imperial" euphonium. Just why this was, I have no idea. Perhaps it was merely that Harold forgot the true story. It may be that he wanted to cause some controversy. I think that it simply may have been a wry joke of his. Perhaps he was joking and didn't let on, keeping the joke to himself. Who knows? It's too late to ask him about it now, twenty or more years after his untimely death. Harold died in 1984, the year after bob hoe had died.
Whatever the true story of the origin of the old euphonium is, and we may never know, the one he told me sounds right. Whether it actually is right, I can't say. What I can say, however, is that Harold played that horn for several years and eventually bought, or was loaned a brand new Besson by the Boosey & Hawkes company. He was soon the leading exponant of the use of the B&H or Besson euphoniums in the USA. From time to time I would see him with this or that B&H or Besson euphonium. Occasionally, it would be a brand new one. I believe that all of these were on loan from the Boosey & Hawkes company. Thus, he probably never had to actually buy one. Pretty nice, in my opinion. Of course, B&H was getting a load of exposure out of Harold for their product. Harold was going on his little tours and many Americans were seeing and hearing him play his solos. "What instrument is that?” they'd ask. "It's an English Boosey and Hawkes." was the reply. Harold might go into a sales spiel but I don't believe that that was actually necessary when he was sounding so beautiful on the English instrument.