by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
edited by David Werden
Harold was never satisfied with the results of recordings he was involved with. For instance with the first LP disc he had made of his solos, he was very upset that the fidelity was so poor. The engineers couldn't even begin to get a good duplication of his actual tone as heard in a live performance. On their test recording discs the euphonium, to Harold, sounded terrible. While I never thought it to be terrible with hoarold's solo discs, I didn't think they actually did well in capturing his beautiful tone. When his playing made it onto a disc, his tone was almost ordinary. Live, up close, his tone was anything but ordinary. It was extra ordinary. Unusually fine. On his solo discs, this was simply lost. What a shame.
I never was satisfied with any recordings ever made of my sound, either. The later they were made, the better was the sound, however. Were I to have had the benefit of today's recording techniques, I may have been satisfied with the pickup on my tone. (and, I might not, either). Harold's tone would surely have come across much better with today's recording methods and equipment. I doubt that we ever could duplicate that splendid tone even today, but certainly today we would have done better by far than they did with Harold's tone when he put out his first solo disc, in about 1956. Too bad we are cheated out of hearing that lovely tone as Harold played his solos 'way back then.
As I mentioned, I wasn't pleased with the microphone pickup on my tone, either. However, when I would play a solo with the U.S. Marine band, during the time when I was studying with Harold Brasch, and even later, I would always make him an acetate copy of the recording they made of the Marine band broadcast on which I was featured as the soloist. He liked to keep up on these things. I was happy to provide him with a copy. Of course, when I was no longer studying with Harold, I would send him a copy of my latest solo on acetate disc.One time I was very pleased with a recording they had made of my solo on a radio broadcast concert. This was in 1957. Finally, they had done a better job in capturing my tone. I was pretty well satisfied. I made an acetate disc copy of the solo, put it in between some cardboard pieces and sent it to Harold's home in arlington. Soon I received a telephone call from Harold. He thanked me for the acetate disc. However, he complained that he couldn't play it so hadn't heard it. "What's wrong?” I asked. He chuckled as he replied, "the crazy mailman bent the record,and the cardboard completely in half so he could stuff it into my mailbox. He was very strong. That must have been a hard job," he said that he had bent it back but it was too distorted so couldn't be played. We both got a kind of a negative laugh over this. Although it was funny, it also was too bad. Actually, it was quite easy for me to dub off another acetate disc copy. This time I packed it between two pieces of cardboard, as before, but with an added layer - plywood. Let that crazy mailman try to bend this package in two, I thought. The recording reached Harold and he found it placed between his wooden door and storm door. It had not been folded in two. That would have taken a gorilla to do that trick.
It used to be a real hassle to get mail from Virginia to Maryland or from Maryland to Virginia. I would send Harold a piece of music he had requested. A week later he would call and ask if I'd sent it. I had but it took so long for mail to go between out two states that it was unbelievable. I always claimed that I could roll a peanut with my nose from my house to his house in a much shorter length of time than it took the post office department to deliver it. (I never did attempt to try this stunt to see if it really was true!)
Eventually, the P.O. Dept. Took steps to correct this delay in mail deliveries. Now a days the mail service is fine between Maryland and Virginia. Back in the 1960's and 1970's it was b-a-d, however.
One thing which we could do to combat the slow mail deliveries was to not use the mails at all. As we were both attending band rehearsals and playing concerts together in the National Concert Band through the 1970's and into the 1980's, we'd just call each other on the telephone and if Harold needed some music, some information, etc., he'd request it, and I would have it for him at the next band rehearsal, etc. Seemed to work out well that way.
I believe that it may have been in 1981 when I recorded the nice trumpet solo by George Swift - "Elfriede" - with the National Concert Band. We had a good euphonium section at that time. Harold was on hand. I believe that we were using five youff's during that period. For the recording I decided at the last minute to simply sit in the euphonium section right where I was and play the solo there. This did work out very nicely for me. For poor Eddie de Mattia, our conductor, it was a curve ball. He was used to having me play up front right next to him. Eddie couldn't hear me. Well when I was back in the euph. section. However, he did a great job of following me and all went quite well. Harold was as pleased as he could be. Following the recording session I could hear him as I was passing by at one point and he was giving me high compliments to some of the other players. He also mentioned to me that he had thought that I did a good 30b on the solo. Harold was very happy when any euphonium player performed a solo and he was always quick with his compliments and praise. If you were a youffer, you could do no wrong in his estimate. He even would tell me that I had done a fine job with a solo and I didn't think that I'd done well at all. He wanted to give me encouragement, you see.
In 1984, in his last days on earth, he was not acting too chipper. We'd see him walk to the rehearsal hall from his car. And he would not be his old chipper self. He'd walk pretty slowly. You could tell that he wasn't feeling up to par. He never complained, however. And, amazingly, when he had that horn up to his lips, he sounded exactly as he always did. Played beautifully and used that some outstandingly lovely tone. Unbelievable that he never lost even a tiny bit of his tone as he aged.
Even as he was declining in health, he was still playing an occasional solo. While the tone was certainly there, the old tongue was betraying him. He used all sorts of clever little tricks to conceal the fact that it was getting very slow. He'd smile when he came back to his chair following a solo and he'd quip, "I've got arthritis of the tongue." That may have been true but he concealed it by using all of his vast experience. Even such triple tonguing solos as "The Devil's Tongue" (Schmidt) didn't sound bad at all. For someone else with a slowing tongue, playing that solo would have been a disaster, but with Harold it was simply an annoyance. He simply used some methods to conceal the slowed down tongue and the audience not the wiser. Great soloist. Could handle any emergency, apparently. (Wish I could say that about my own playing!)
In some of his last solos, although his tongue may have slowed down, he was also using some little tricks to enhance his solo effort. He was using some chords occasionally, very well done and tastefully used. Very sparing in his use of chords, they were produced perfectly in tune. When a chord is perfectly in tune, every note produced is quite resonant and the effect is very, very nice. Without the good intonation in producing a chord, the good results are not there. Might as well skip it entirely. But Harold's were perfect. He always used them very sparingly, however.
Harold was not in favor, I believe, of using too many high notes. When I played that swift solo with those very high notes, he may have appreciated the difficulty of playing them, but I am sure that he wouldn't have used them. He was correct. With me it was merely a stunt, not a musical effort. Harold wouldn't use very high notes because they don't sound too great on the euphonium and I do agree.
Now don't anyone get the idea that Harold Brasch's high range was limited. It wasn't. I have no idea of just how high he really could play. I strongly suspect that he could possibly have gone so high, easily, that it would have been unbelievable. All I can say for certain is that one time when I was studying with him, we were working on high notes. The problem was not in reaching a high note. It was in playing octaves. A medium range note and then up to the octave above that. Alternating notes in one octave followed by notes exactly an octave above. For me that was a very hit or miss effort. With Harold it was a sure thing. He never missed. He explained to me how it's done and demonstrated. When he went up to the high note, he would say, "I set my lip like this, and then I play the note." He demonstrated this. Out came the high note clear as a bell. He'd just plucked it out of the air and there is was. Then, he repeated the process a third higher. Same thing. Perfect results. Finally he set his lips for the high "F" concert, and that rotten - for must euphonium players it is a rotten note - note also came out as clear as a bell. Well, it did sound quite easy. For him it may have been easy. For me it was always difficult. However, I did improve a lot in this area. I never was able to pluck out a high "F" concert out of the air as Harold did, however. That fellow was never stumped by anything on the euphonium. If it could be played, he could do it. What's more, he could do it better than anyone else. Amazing! What a genius!He also taught me to play the deadly "stilt" passages found - rarely - in some solos. We had heard a fine English euphonium soloist do a super job on "Lucy Long" (Godfrey). It was on an acetate disc I'd imported from england in the very early 1950's. Somehow I'd located someone in england who was willing to sell me a copy of the band parts. I was determined to learn to play this nice solo. While I was making good progress in learning to play the solo, the variation with the stilt figures in it were completely beyond me. Couldn't do even one of them. Harold set me to work with some related Arban's exercises. I drilled on these every day until finally I could play stilt passages very well. The solo was played and the stilt passages come out just fine. Since then I played other solos with stilt passages in them. Never had been a problem since Harold taught me how to play them well. What a teacher!