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World-class Clarion Brass returns for holiday concerts

Sun., Dec. 18, 2011

William Berry, artistic director of Clarion Brass, is the equivalent of a standup comic in the brass music world. Check out his lines about the Clarion Brass holiday concert, “This Is What Christmas Sounds Like”:

• “This is the first time we’ve added a Coeur d’Alene performance. The concerts will be the same, but we’re planning to miss different notes.”

• “We’re calling it the Identical Snowflake Tour, since Coeur d’Alene is only 30 miles away.”

• “One of our new numbers is an arrangement of ‘We Need a Little Christmas,’ which includes quotes from 54 different Christmas songs in three-and-a-half minutes. We’re calling it the kitchen-sinkification of Christmas music.”

As you can tell, Clarion Brass will live up to its reputation as a quirky and innovative brass ensemble. But make no mistake, Clarion and Berry are dead serious about creating world-class brass music. Clarion’s Christmas recordings have been heard on the air around the country, and Berry’s arrangements have been performed by the Canadian Brass, the New York Philharmonic and many regional ensembles, including, this year, the Green Bay Symphony.

Still, catching the annual holiday concert is the best way to get the undiluted essence of Clarion.

“The work is premiered here, so everyone hears it first,” said Berry. “Then we make it available throughout the country.”

The first half of the concert will show off Clarion’s serious side and will also show off the soloists within this brass choir. Horn player Jennifer Scriggins Brummett will perform an arrangement of a 15th century piece, “Lullay My Liking,” that Berry described as haunting and introspective. Trombonist Holly Amend will perform an arrangement of “I Wonder As I Wander,” in which the trombone will “wander” throughout its range, from low to high.

On the lighter side, trumpeter Larry Jess will put his jazzy mark on a familiar tune renamed, “Have Yourself a Larry Little Christmas.” And Berry himself will take on the half-sized “piccolo” trumpet in a klezmer-inflected tune titled “Sevivon,” a dreidel song.

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