by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
edited by David Werden
For a few years Harold Brasch had been talking about writing a new book about the 4-valve brasses in general and about the 4-valve compensating euphonium in particular. He felt strongly that there was a lack of information, studies, exercises designed especially for the 4-valve euphonium players who were using instruments with compensating pistons. I felt the same way. There was room for a good book on the subject and I hoped that someone would one day write such a book. I would surely buy one, I knew that.
Harold was talking about it but I had no idea that he really was serious about writing such a book until he mentioned, in passing, one day that he was involved in actually working on "his book". Wow! That was terrific. I liked that. I tried to give him encouragement but he really didn't need it. He was well into the huge project and was working very hard. Soon, he hoped, it would be ready for proof reading, corrections, etc.
One evening Harold called me on the telephone. This would be in 1970. I was still playing in the U.S. Marine Band. He said that he had finally finished the manuscript of "his book". Now it was ready for proof reading. Could I help him? He explained that he wanted to bring the manuscript over and have me proof read it completely through. I was to read all of the typed matter and to play through all of the notes. That meant playing through all of the exercises, the examples, everything. Sure, I would do that for him.
Soon Harold came over to my house on Keppler Road and deposited the manuscript of "his book" at my house. We had a nice visit and he showed me the manuscript of the book, again explaining what I was asked to do, how I was to do it, how the corrections were to be made, etc. I could see how it was to be done and it was perfectly logical and straightforward. Nothing to it. That was wrong. There was a lot to it!
What a job! Although I was happy to proof read the book, what a task that was! In reading through every note of every exercise, I had to wade through every theoretical possibility as to what strange fingerings could be used to play certain notes. With some of the multiple valve combinations, especially in the low registers, it got so sticky and thick that it was very difficult to even get anything out, let alone play things even fairly well. However, it was not too difficult to proof read it all. That was because Harold was very, very accurate. While I did find some things to correct, these were all very minor. Naturally, Harold himself had proof read the manuscript many times and eliminated the mistakes he found. Then, I came along and found a few more.
As soon as I was finished with my proof reading chores, I called him and he drove over to retrieve the copy of the book which I had been working with. Harold took it back, thanked me, and left. After that, some other euphonium player was given that manuscript and asked if he could proof read it. This fellow did his best. I believe that Karl Humble was one who proof read the book. He, too, confirmed that playing every one of those exercises was a real chore, especially the ones in the low registers which involved the use of many valves (alternate fingering). So it wasn't just I. Everyone who read through the book found out that those special theoretically possible exercises were tough to play.
Finally, Harold did get the book into print and I received a nice copy or my own use. I would occasionally buy a few copies from Harold to give as gifts when someone had done me a favor. Made excellent gifts for a euphonium player.
Then, there came a time when Harold had very few copies on hand so that he could sell them to interested purchasers. At that time the conductor of the National Concert Band, in which Harold and I were playing for years together, was Eddie de Mattia. He owned and operated a Minuteman Print Shop in Camp Springs. Harold approached Eddie about making a quantity of copies of his book so he would have enough on hand for sale and it should keep him in business for a few years, he figured.
I had been working at the print shop, helping Eddie out, on a voluntary basis, and Harold would often drive over to do his Xeroxing on Eddie's wonderful enormous Xerox machine. Sometimes he would give Eddie a printing order. However, this new order for Harold's book, was for 250 new copies. That was a big order. Eddie called on some of the members of the National Concert Band, including me, and all of us came to the shop to help put the book together. It was a big job but we did get it all finished in a reasonable time. Harold, himself, was front and center with his contribution to the work. We all pitched in and the job got done.
I can still see Harold carry the cartons of his books over to his tiny car and drive off, starting his trip back to his home in Arlington. Everyone liked him and all of us were very happy to see him get the copies of that wonderful book in a reasonable amount of time. This was in the summer of 1984. Although no one ever dreamed of it, Harold would be gone in six months or less. Bob Hoe had already passed away the previous year. He was only 60, I believe. His life was much too short. When Harold died in the winter of 1984, he was only 68, and that, too, was a life which was much too short. Harold was about 10 months older than I, but he was so far ahead of me, musically speaking, that he might have been fifty years old before I was even born, so much more did he know about music and euphonium playing than I. What a shame that such great talent and skills were lost so early.
In passing I had mentioned that Harold had had some heart attacks. I do not know how many. He probably never let on about some of them. However, one occurred in such a strange, even humorous, way that he liked to relate the story and laugh about it. It may have been serious, as all heart attacks are, but this one seemed to leave no effects afterwards whatever. No wonder he was able to laugh about it.
This is how Harold's story goes: he was off on some errand or other, driving to and from his house in the car. On the way back, Harold was driving along at his usual moderate pace and at one point he happened to notice that a Virginia State Police patrol car was driving behind him. He kept alert to this and waited for the police car to pass him. It never did. It just followed him. Harold kept on driving. Kept his pace within reasonable and safe limits and was careful to be steady in his speed and driving manner. The police car still stayed behind him. Soon Harold came to Ridge Road and he turned left onto that road. Mister policeman followed. Soon Harold came to his street, South June Street, and he turned left onto the street. Halfway up South June Street is where his house is located and he reached that spot OK, turned right into his short driveway, pulled in all of the way, stopped, turned off the engine, put on the emergency brake, and exited the car. In the meanwhile the police officer had followed Harold the entire distance and even pulled in behind Harold's car in the driveway. "What in the world did I do to have a policeman follow me all of the way home?" Harold asked himself. He would soon find this out.
When Harold pulled into his driveway and got out of his car, the police officer had pulled right behind him, and he got out of his patrol car. Before Harold could think of something to say, the officer addressed Harold in a very stern and sober way. "Do you know that back there on that overpass you edged gradually unto the shoulder, scraped against the guardrail for a quarter of a mile, before edging back onto the road?" Harold, never one to be accused falsely of something without protest, replied in a rather snappy way, "I did no such thing!" The police officer was not angered at all by Harold's gruff manner, but simply instructed Harold, "Is that so? Please step over here, sir, and look at the right side of your car." As Harold would tell this story, here is where he would start to laugh as he explained why the officer directed him to look at the side of his car. As Harold put it, "I looked at the where the officer told me to look, at the side of my car, and there was no side to that car. I really had slipped onto the shoulder, scraped along the guard rail, and it had worn away everything on that side of the car." he added, "but I had no idea that any of that had happened. I must have passed out and then come to without realizing it, and then gradually got back off of the shoulder onto the road."
The officer knew that this driver had obviously had some physical problem, probably a mild heart attack, which was by then gone. He gave Harold some sort of citation, not involving a traffic ticket, and he was advised to seek medical help. Harold went right to the hospital at Fort Belvoir, VA, where they checked him in. Although he was there under observation for about a week, and he was given every test in the book, nothing definite was found to explain his "spell" but they, too, concluded that it was a mild heart episode.
I had been in contact with the family and had learned that Harold was down at "Belvoir" under observation, so I drove down to visit him. He was there - it was quite hot being in the middle of the summer - in a large ward which didn't seem have any air conditioning. While I was there chatting with him, and noting that he showed no effects whatever of any illness, some other people came to visit him so I left. Short visit but he was perfectly well, it appeared.
This incident was no doubt several years before his death and it might have been his first heart related event. A few years later when we were all ready to make a LP record for Bob Hoe and his Heritage series of recordings, Harold was supposed to play "Swan Lake Dance" which was actually the second entrance of the Queen of the Swans from the "Swan Lake Ballet" (Tchaikovsky). Harold had made an arrangement for euphonium and band, and he could really play that quite well. Everything he did was virtually perfect, of course. We had heard that he had had a serious heart attack this time, not that mild one he had had initially - when he had scraped the side off of his poor automobile. That indicated to all of us that Harold wouldn't be playing his solo on the Bob Hoe disc. What a pity.
Harold had been rehearsing the solo with the National Concert Band, which was the band making the Bob Hoe disc, and the band was having some problems playing the accompaniment. Harold had no problems whatever, so he wasn't of any concern, although the band was. As it turned out, the band came through in the end, and all went well with the recording. Oh, yes; Harold did appear for the recording. Amazing. How could someone having suffered a serious heart attack last week, possibly play a solo this week? We learned that it was possible, alright, and that Harold could do his normal especially fine job of playing the solo. However, he surely did not look well. And he was having trouble summoning enough strength just to walk from the school parking lot into the auditorium where we were to be recording. But he played the solo and it was marvelous. Great performer. Half dead he could still play rings around virtually everyone else. What a soloist!
Harold did recover from this serious heart attack in time, and eventually he appeared to be just as robust and energetic as always. He was really enjoying his later years playing in the national concert band. When he was playing with us regularly, he was always the principal euphonium player, and I was sitting on the chair right next to him. How beautifully he was playing, with his splendid tone undiminished. No one could figure out how he could maintain that finest of all euphonium tones as he was aging. I was the first to wonder that because I could not do that. My own tone was diminishing gradually as I aged. How it was possible for Harold to keep his tone without any decline is a big mystery, which may never be satisfactorily explained.
As my own tone was gradually diminishing, my tongue was not suffering any decline. I was able to maintain my facile and fast tongue as long as I was playing euphonium - and I stopped playing in April 2002, which was when I was 84-1/2 years old. So it goes. One player will suffer a decline here, another there, and still a third somewhere else entirely. All of us do decline, however, in some way when we get older. We cannot remain young forever. What a shame!