by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
edited by David Werden
Harold Brasch was in great demand as a teacher for anyone who played the euphonium. You could call him, ask for a time and day for a lesson, and he would accommodate you. Occasionally, some wise guy would show up for a lesson and the two would not hit it off. That terminated the lessons. Harold wasn't interested in teaching such a fellow any longer.
Once in a while some too smart kid would come for a lesson and the result would be the same. Harold wouldn't teach him any more. One such kid showed up for a lesson one summer day and it was a disaster from the start. This is how it began. The young fellow's father had called Harold and asked Harold to give his son some lessons. The teenager was starting college and wanted to improve himself on his euphonium playing. Harold agreed to give the boy some lessons and set a time an day for lesson number one.
On the appointed day the young fellow appeared right on time. He drove up in a big Cadillac convertible, got out of the car, picked his euphonium out of the trunk, and ambled to Harold's front door. Harold let him in and escorted him into the den where he always gave lessons. The college kid had a brand new Besson euphonium, shiny silver plated. Beautiful horn. To get an idea how the boy played, Harold put up a piece of music for the pupil to read. Apparently, the young fellow was not making a good impression on Harold with a sort of "attitude problem". Too smart, it seems.
Harold decided to bring him down a peg or two. "Play that passage for me, and be careful how you play it. Do as well as you can," or words to that effect is how Harold instructed his pupil. The boy wasn't such a good player and did poorly in reading the part, not playing it well at all. Harold, seeing his opportunity to put him in his place, made this remark to the boy, "That wasn't too good. I counted 23 mistakes. Play it again and try to eliminate some of those mistakes," instructed Harold. The kid tried it again. Harold remarked, "That was a little better. You still made 18 mistakes, so try it again and try to eliminate some more mistakes", Harold instructed him. The young fellow was getting steamed by now but he did try it once again. Harold remarked that that was better but there were still 15 mistakes there so he should try it again and be more careful eliminate more of the mistakes.
That did it. The wise guy kid had had it. He blew up. "Suppose you try the passage and I'll tell you how many mistakes you make!" the kid screamed at Harold. Well, that really irked Harold and he told the kid, "Suppose that you now take that brand new shiny Besson euphonium and put it back in its case, pick it up, and leave. Then, get in that brand new Cadillac convertible and drive away and don't come back! Furthermore, there will be no charge for this lesson!
That was the last time that Harold ever saw that smart-Alec kid. I think that Harold enjoyed telling this story for he told it to various people for a good laugh. He related it to me over the telephone one time when we were chatting. It is actually a funny story but, at the time, it was not so funny. It was a mess. I wonder if the young euphonium player is still playing euphonium? If so, has he improved, or does he still make 23 mistakes in playing a passage?
As you see, attitude has a lot to do with how well people like you. If you are humble, polite, and don't give the impression that you know it all, people will get along with you. If not, expect to be at odds with everyone.
Harold Brasch seemed not to understand anything about lip problems. He seemed to never have any such problems himself so he must have been simply unable to relate to anyone who did have a problem with his lip. I lost my lip in the middle of one Marine Band concert tour. For a first chair man that was a disaster. Colonel schoepper had to take one nice melody or this solo away from me and give it to some other instrument. While I could still negotiate the very high notes and the very low notes, the mid range notes were a real problem for me. Naturally, the mid range notes were the most important in my first chair work. By the end of the tour, however, my lip had recovered and I could play everything again just fine.
When I related this to Harold after the tour was over, he could not understand any of it. "How can anyone lose his lip?" he exclaimed. He simply could not understand it. He may even have doubted that there was such a thing. So, if I expected sympathy from Harold, I surely didn't get any. It wasn't that he wasn't a sympathetic person. It was that he didn't understand anything about any lip problems. Well, having gone though that tour with a miserable lip for half of the time, I sure did understand about a lost lip. You bet!
Harold seemed to know all sorts of odd techniques. Some I had never heard of and others I did know of but had no firsthand knowledge about. He would occasionally mention some strange technique. Had I ever come across that one, he would ask. I never had. He would describe it and demonstrate it very easily and very well. These were all very interesting but no one seems to use them any more and why worry about them, anyway? Harold only knew what they were and how to use them. I doubt that he ever put them to use in his playing. Still, it just goes to prove that in all things musical Harold was a genius. He was a master. He was able to easily perform the most difficult and obscure techniques, long forgotten, but which I failed to handle at all. Easy for him; impossible for me. No wonder those techniques died out. Ordinary players like me couldn't handle them. It took experts like Harold to conquer them and put them to use. (If Harold ever did put them to use, that is.)
One such odd technique was some sort of a flutter tongue or other. More like a substitute for double tonguing. It was of Czech origin, Harold said. It involved the use of the tongue in an impossible, for me, manner. Instead of a back and forth movement of the tongue, it involved a sideways movement. As Harold demonstrated it for me, it sounded a bit strange but it did work okay. How it was any better than the normal tonguing we use, I do not see. However, perhaps in certain situations, it could be useful. I never got into these strange techniques. Only stuck with the tried and true ones. They were tough enough to master, let alone going into some obscure tonguing which might present a whole new set of problems for me. Phooey to that! Harold never advocated the use of these odd methods. He merely mentioned them in passing, as a matter of slight interest.
At one point long ago - probably around 1950, I obtained the music for "Four Minute Waltz" (Martin). Fortunately, I had a 12" disc recording of Martin playing his own solo with some band in Chicago. Beautiful solo and that Martin (Carroll Martin) was a fine trombonist with a very large, dark, luscious tone. He could play that solo beautifully. I wanted to work it up so I took the solo part over so that Harold could look it over and start helping me work it into shape so I could perform it. He also had that recording of Martin playing that solo so he knew lots about the music. We worked on the solo for weeks and finally I was able to perform it on a couple of radio broadcast concerts of the U.S. Marine Band. Seemed to go well enough. That was with thanks to Harold for his expert help.
One big problem for me in working up that solo came in the finale where there were written some arpeggios which were simply impossible for me to play at the accelerated tempo at the end of the solo. Harold tried the passage himself and saw the problem immediately. "Let me see. . ." he exclaimed. And he proceeded, quietly, to explore alternate fingerings - something I had not thought of - until he came across one which worked for each arpeggio written in that finale. He marked the fingering on the sheet of music before us, one set of fingering used for each group of notes in each of the several arpeggios. Sure, that did work but for me it only worked when I played the passage very slowly. "Oh, just practice it a lot. Run through it repeatedly, increasing the tempo very gradually, and soon you will be playing it all quite well up to speed." That sounded easy but it wasn't too easy for me. I did as he had advised and eventually it all did work out just as he had predicted. At first, however, it seemed to be completely impossible. With Harold's encouragement and expert instruction, not only was it possible but the finale became easy. Amazing! What a teacher!
I always wanted to be able to play Mantia's "All Those Endearing Young Charms." it was then, and it remains, my favorite euphonium solo. I probably have played that solo more than any other of the many solos I have used in the past 75 or 80 years. However, when I first started studying with Harold Brasch, it was far beyond my poor skills. I wasn't able to perform that solo until 1952. But it was the one single solo which I really wanted badly to perform.
While I was quietly working on "All Those Endearing Young Charms," I was also working on the Mantia arrangement of Picchi's fine euphonium solo, "Original Fantasie". That is even more difficult than the "All Those End. . ." solo. I expected that "All Those End. . ." would finally be worked up well enough to play with the Marine Band before the "Original Fantasie" ever was that well in hand. Fate, however, intervened. Major Santelmann requested that I work on "Original Fantasie" right away because he wanted me to play it. I believe that he wanted to encourage me and figured that without his prodding I might never get around to getting "Original Fantasie" prepared well enough for a performance.
I got Harold on the job and we got to work on that solo. It took a whale of a lot of instruction on Harold's part and a lot of woodshedding for me to get the solo under my fingers. But eventually the job was done. I got it all ready for performance. We rehearsed it a number of times until it was going well. Then, I had to play it on two radio broadcasts and some outdoor concerts. It seemed to go well on all of the concerts and broadcasts. After that I finally did get to play "All Those Endearing Young Charms" but, again, it required much instruction and drilling. However, again with Harold's great encouragement and help the job was done. I did manage to perform the solo starting with a lone radio broadcast. Went well, from then on I did play that solo many times, even on this tour or that one. It is a very popular solo with audiences. I believe they like it because they recognize the melody.
Harold himself was, at this period, playing these two solos with the Navy Band occasionally. He was in great shape for playing them and he could demonstrate beautifully for me any little part which was giving me trouble. Soon I was able to clean up all of the messy playing which was haunting me and, with Harold's expert assistance and instruction, I was playing the solo well enough so that I got through it okay whenever I had to perform it. That was fortuitous!
One time Harold had been on a Navy Band tour. Finally, the tour was over and I was starting to come over to his house to resume my lessons. Harold had some interesting things to tell me about the tour. I can't remember any save one. That was the tour when the Navy Band was moving around from place to place pretty unusually. That is, instead of one straight route involving one town after another all going roughly west and all coming back one after another roughly east, the towns were not only all over the place, not in any particular order, but they were so far apart in some cases that they couldn't reach the new town in time when using their buses. That was when they used aircraft quite a number of times to cover long distances in a short period of time.
On one of these days when they flew from one town to another, while the work crew was moving the Navy Band's equipment and instruments from the plane to the concrete runway, a cable broke when a big load of instruments was about 12 feet up in the air. The load fell heavily to the ground and hitting the concrete of the runway didn't do those poor band instruments any good. Harold said that when they reached the next town and he went into the instrument trunk where the euphoniums were stashed, not only was the trunk smashed, but the poor instruments were all busted up, as well. Harold was pretty good at small repairs to musical instruments so by using such common items as adhesive tape, wire, etc. He was able to put his horn back together into some kind of playing condition.
Harold would laugh loudly when he recalled that tour after the instruments had got broken up. He related that in the hot weather of the tour, he was able to stay cool because the air escaping through the broken seams and leaking pipes kept him very comfortable. How he was able to perform reasonably well on an instrument so gravely damaged is a mystery. But that was Harold. The difficult he did immediately. The impossible took a bit longer!