British Brass Band Making Debut

FRIDAY, SEPT. 22, 1995

The Spokane British Brass Band is launching its first season with a concert this Sunday at The Met. Leading this brand new 30-member ensemble is Mike Warner, local brass musician and music educator.

The Spokane British Brass Band is sponsored by Windemere Real Estate, for which Warner works, and the proceeds of all of the performances will support homeless assistance programs via the Windermere Foundation. While performing groups and artists often dedicate a portion of their work or single performances for the support of a worthwhile cause, it is unusual for a group to form for the sole purpose of supporting one charitable organization.

Created in 1989 by the real estate firm, the Windermere Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to raising money for programs for the homeless in the Northwest. Since its inception, Windermere has raised more than $1.5 million, which has been handed over to provider organizations that serve individuals and families in need.

Windermere’s recent presence in this neck of the woods has not stopped it from jumping on the bandwagon, so to speak. Its four local offices have contributed to the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program (SNAP), the Transitional Living Center, St. Margaret’s, and the Volunteers of America Crosswalk, among others.

In addition to contributions from Windermere employees and other individuals, a portion of the commission from each home sale is funneled to the foundation. The members of the Spokane British Brass Band, who are donating their time for weekly rehearsals and the performances, are hoping that their four-concert season at The Met will help add to this pile.

You may be wondering what “Spokane” has to do with “British” in the group’s name. Well, “brass band” for Americans is a rather loose and fuzzy term. We can regard such an outfit to be made up of any number of instrumentalists, and it might include clarinets, saxophones and flutes, which are not members of the brass family.

In Britain, however, “brass band” means something very specific. The kind and number of instruments is set in stone, much like athletic teams are here.

One would not expect to go to a football game and see a team fielding 13 players, including five quarterbacks, at the same time.

The Spokane British Brass Band complies with that ordained instrumentation, thus its title. This instrumentation includes cornets, horns, trombones, euphoniums and tubas, all in B-flat or E-flat, and percussion.

In a feature unique to the world of brass bands, all of the players traditionally read treble clef parts transposed to their instruments, even the tuba players, who normally read bass clef. The logic of this plan is that all of the instruments in the band are fingered the same: Any player seeing an F will plunk down his first valve.

Theoretically, then, when the soprano E-flat cornet player runs his Triumph off the road and is laid up in the hospital, one of the tuba players can play his part simply by donning matching socks.

Another unique feature of the British brass band is the preponderance of conical instruments.

Whereas trumpets have been commonplace in American bands since just after the turn of the century, they have no place in British bands. A cornet and trumpet in the same key will be the same length, and although both taper from a tube the size of a milkshake straw to a five-inch flared bell, the cornet does so more gradually, earning it the conical moniker.

Having a full complement of conical instruments lends the band a warm, mellow and matched sound, from the lowest horns to the highest. Another element that should help in the matching and blending within the ensemble is the fact that Warner has had an entire set of Boosey and Hawkes instruments shipped from the mother country for the band to use.

It comes as no surprise that military marches are part of the standard repertoire played by such an ensemble. But another staple on brass band programs has traditionally been hymns, since this band formation has been intertwined with the Salvation Army for more than 175 years.

Robert Platte, a lyric tenor who won the Luciano Pavarotti Tenor Competition in 1984 and has sung with the Spokane Symphony, will be joining the band to sing “Memories” from the musical “Cats,” and selections from “West Side Story.” The program will also feature percussionist Scott Jones, band director at Mead High School, in an arrangement of Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

xxxx The Spokane British Brass Band Location and time: The Met, Sunday, 3 p.m. Tickets: $20, $16 and $14

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