by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
edited by David Werden
When I was thinking of writing this article, I was going to title it "The Art Lehman method of teaching". However, I quickly realized that there actually was never any such thing. Oh, I taught many pupils over a long period of time but I always taught in the exact same way as Harold Brasch had. I just used his method. What could be easier? His method worked for me. Why wouldn't it work for others? I always considered Harold Brasch to have been, by a great margin, my very best teacher. No one else came close to him as a teacher. In my opinion he was a perfect teacher of euphonium. Although Harold has been dead for over twenty years, he is still my idol, both as a teacher and as a euphonium player. I always thought that he had the best tone of all. I still have the same opinion. However, what we want to discuss is his method of teaching here. What made Harold such a fine teacher? Many things, actually. His entire method of teaching was very practical, logical, crystal clear, factual, and sensible.
When one came to Harold for lessons, he chatted with him for a time. What was he doing? Where was he playing? What was he interested in learning? Such questions as those. Then, he would ask the pupil if he had some music along with him which he could play for Harold so as to demonstrate how well the pupil was playing. Normally, the pupil really needed lessons so how he played whatever was on the page of music wasn't so precise. That's how it got started. All Harold needed was a tiny start such as that and it was "off to the races" for him.
Whatever faults were revealed, when the new pupil played some music on the sheet he had brought along with him, that gave Harold a starting point. He would explain whatever was wrong with the way it was played, he would demonstrate the correct way of playing the passage, and he would demonstrate the way the pupil had played it. What this revealed in a very clear manner was that the pupil hadn't played the passage well, that there was a better way of playing it, and after that the two worked it all out. Usually, things got cleared up in a hurry. But, of course, that was only with that particular small part. When another lesson period arrived, and the new pupil appeared once again, he had been given something to work on, and he was asked to warm up a bit first. Harold would wait patiently until some brief warmups were gone through. Then, the pupil would be asked to play through the new passage. When he had finished that, it was probably not as nearly perfect as it should be, so Harold would repeat the process. Play it the best way he could - and it would be extremely precise - and he would play it just as the pupil had played it - pretty poorly - after that the two would work on the part together. Before long the passage would be vastly improved. A new passage would be assigned for next week and the pupil would pack up and leave.
For advanced pupils, Harold would ask them to play through a solo they were working on or one they regularly performed. Made no difference to him. Whatever the advanced pupil did, how well he performed the solo - or thought he did - Harold could play it all so much better that the pupil may, initially, have been discouraged. However, any serious pupil is not discouraged for long and he will buckle down and learn what Harold has to offer. And that was much. Brasch would work on the solo variation by variation, part by part, even measure by measure - until the pupil became much improved in everything. As time went on, various aspects of music would be delved into. Intonation, vibrato, chord structure, tuning, automatic compensation system, etc. All would be explained very thoroughly and clearly. Harold would demonstrate everything. Explaining, and playing, things the right way and the wrong way. Seeing, hearing both ways was often a great revelation. Demonstration made everything crystal clear. Let us for a moment get some background on Harold's musical education. When he auditioned for the U.S. Navy Band and was accepted, he was required to go through the Navy School of Music, as were all Navy Band Musicians. He took all of the prescribed courses and when he graduated, he wound up no.2 in his class. He was certainly a brilliant student.
And, as I concluded after studying with him exclusively for nine years, in the field of music he was a genius. Perhaps his genius in music included his ability as a music teacher. I am sure that this is the case. At least, I have never run across a teacher as fine as was Harold Brasch. And from all that I hear about other teachers, he tops them all.
When I first joined the U.S. Marine Band in 1941, Harold was already a world famous soloist. I was just beginning as a soloist of a major U.S. service band. I certainly had an awful lot to learn. Fortunately, I was taking lessons from him just as soon as I came down to the Washington. D.C. area. What a lot of territory we covered, musically speaking! One thing I remember that he helped me clear up. I had a problem with facial contortions when I played. In going up for high notes, for no reason in particular I screwed up my face and pushed up my chin muscles - scrunched them up. While this didn't look so great and I know that Harold noticed it right away, he never said anything until something came up. I was missing my octave high notes when I made a jump from the lower one to a higher one. This had to be corrected but I didn't seem to improve. Harold concluded that my facial contortions were one cause of this serious fault. He worked me hard on this problem. Tried to have me keep from contorting my chin, etc. Got me looking in a mirror. When I observed what I was doing - contorting my face - I knew what to avoid doing, but how to do that was the trick. Harold instructed me how to eliminate it but said that it would take a lot of work and be a long process. He was correct. However, with his encouragement and help, I did the job. I must have just about worn out the big mirror on top of my dresser! And when the facial distortions were eliminated at long last, my problems with playing octave high notes simply disappeared. What a happy joy that was!
During my nine years of study with Harold Brasch, we went over many problems and every one was solved by Harold's fine teaching approach and skill. If there were any phase of euphonium playing which we failed to investigate in those nine years, I fail to see what it possibly could have been. We covered everything. Now, if I could only have understood everything as clearly as Harold did, I would be even happier about it than I already am.
As I would say, when Harold and I were sitting side by side and playing in the National Concert Band - also for nine years - and someone came up to us before or after a concert, and I introduced Harold to that person, "this is Harold Brasch, my teacher. He taught me all I know about playing the euphonium - but not all he knows!" Harold would just grin. He knew what I meant. He was the master, always. I was merely one of his many pupils. I was very fortunate that I knew him as a teacher, side partner, and friend. It is sad that he was taken from us at such an early age. He and I were not even a year apart in age. Yet, here it is 21 years after his death and I survive. Life isn't fair, is it?
Written by Arthur Lehman for Keith Barton,January 2, 2006