by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band, retired.
A Passable but Painful Performance
When I came down to Washington, D.S. to join the U.S. Marine Band very early in august 1947, I knew Harold Brasch already. I had studied with him during the previous summer, and what lessons he gave me! Three hours long, they were so interesting that each seemed like but a half an hour. Doesn’t the time fly fast when we are having fun? Naturally, as soon as I got sworn in and became a Marine Band member, I wasted no time in taking more lessons from Harold. In fact, whenever Harold and I were not off on tour or some band trip, I was over at his house once a week taking a lesson. Harold was a great teacher - none better - and he and I always hit it off famously. He was willing to teach me anything. Of course, I was always playing solos with the Marine Band. And so was Harold - with the navy band. Only, with Harold you got the best there was anywhere in any of the big U.S. service bands. And, I was just learning to play a better class of solo such as those of Simone Mantia. Harold helped me tremendously with these. I did study with Harold for nine wonderful years and then one day he "fired" me saying that he could not teach me any more. That wasn’t true. He was so far ahead of me that I could never catch up - not in a lifetime.
One evening I came to Harold’s house, as usual, for a lesson. Mrs. Brasch (Evelyn) let me in and I walked over to the side room, probably would be considered a den or, in Harold’s case, a studio. He had, in fact, added it onto the house - built everything with his own two hands. Amazing! Anyway, he was sitting in his usual chair with the music stand set up, and he was playing long tones pianissimo. Just about as softly as possible. He often was engaged in such things when I arrived, so I didn’t think much about it. Sounded good to me. However, when I sat down and we started the lesson, I noticed it, “it” being a terrible bruise and a small cut on his lower lip. It had occurred, Harold smiled as he told about it, when he was chopping wood. A large piece had flown up and smacked him in the mouth. I knew that he was on for a solo at the navy band concert that very week, in two days, and I made a remark that it was too bad that he wouldn’t get to play his solo. He had chosen Mantia’s solo, “all those endearing young charms” for that concert performance. To my great surprise, he corrected me immediately, “oh, I’ll play the solo. Have to get it over with.” I wondered how in the world Harold would be able to play that tough solo at all, let alone doing his usual superlative job on it. I found that out soon enough.
When the evening came around for the navy band concert in question, I was there bright and early. It was a concert at night. Down at the Lincoln Memorial, probably on the old Watergate barge. I don’t remember that detail. But, Harold did do just as he said. He performed the solo. Now, to the general public, I am sure that that was a memorable performance, perfect in every detail. However, to me, who can be much more critical of brass performances than the general public, that wasn’t one of Harold’s better solo performances. However, it really wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t up to the Brasch standard of excellence. The fact that he could play at all was amazing. The fact that he could get all of the notes was more amazing. But when he put on a decent solo performance, that was as good as anyone can ever get. I’d say that we could equate it to a runner - say, a dash man - running a loo meter. Race with two broken toes. I don’t know about anyone else, but I could not run at all with a broken toe. Neither could I play a tough solo with a bunged-up lip.
Harold, how did you do it? A fine feat of fitness! A powerful performance of pure purpose! A solid, strong, substantial, sonorous spiel! In other words, Harold did well. Especially with a bruised and cut lip. Leave it to him. He seemed to always be a step ahead of everyone else. I surely do wish that Harold were still among the land of the living. I would enjoy recalling with him this incident of the “fat lip” solo performance. I know that he would have something funny to say about it.
I studied with Harold Brasch for nine years. I sat beside him in the national concert band for another nine years. What an honor! What an education! What a privilege!