Julia with the band at NABBA.
The spring of my senior year in high school my parents brought me to James Madison University for my All-State band audition. We heard that the JMU Brass Band had a concert the night before and we decided to go. When I heard the band I was in awe. I was stunned by the emotional connection and intensity that this group was able to bring to their music. It was the first brass band I had ever heard, and by the end of the night I knew I had to be a part of this unique group. In the fall of 2012 I auditioned for the JMU Brass Band and I was beyond excited when I made it into the ensemble.
Mr. Stees holds every student accountable for his or her part. We are all treated as professionals in the band regardless of age. As Vince Bryk mentioned each student is held to a “high quality of musicianship” and all members “are continuously wanting to improve not only their playing but the quality of the Brass Band as well.” This makes the leap from high school musicianship to college level Brass Band a challenging one. The expectations are higher and the results are beyond the imagination of a new music student. Another student, Matt Knopp stated “Remember when you were a kid and on a hot summers day, jump into a pool and you get a little shocked from the coolness of the water? That's how I felt on the first day of Brass Band, a shock. I had no idea what I got myself into and was struggling to stay afloat the first day. Looking back at it now, it was probably one of the best decisions I made here at JMU.” According to Charlie Frise, “The contrast of style the band can produce is astonishing”. Mr. Stees leads the Brass Band to work hard so that we can create music. We focus on our sound as a group in rehearsal; Individual work is done before rehearsal starts. Robert Wollenberg said, “ Brass Band is more than just fast musical licks or beautiful lyrical sections; it's about getting together and making music with around 30 other friends in an ensemble that is like no other. It has been the most rewarding experience of my short time here at JMU. I would not trade these experiences for anything in the world and I am honored to be a part of this great ensemble." Vince said, “To sum things up, Brass Band has been a big challenge, but the hard work has pushed [us] to become more mature and experience [d] players."
Being a freshman in Brass Band automatically makes you step up your game. You are thrown into something you have never experienced before, and it makes the individual and the group benefit as the freshmen players grow. The older players have molded us into a part of what was their group, and now we play as one. Auditioning for Brass Band was one of the best decisions of my year. It has made us think as professionals when we walk into practice rooms and rehearsals. Brass Band has made me realize that my individual work is important and it makes me want to bring something to the table. Brass Band is work, but it keeps my heart in the music. Being a music major is a large commitment, but Brass Band has kept the fun in playing. I need to continue playing for fun but also as a dedication. This ensemble does take work and dedication, but it also requires someone who has a passion for music and for performing with peers.
This past April the JMU Brass Band went to Cincinnati, Ohio for NABBA (North American Brass Band Association). It was the most exciting music event I have ever experienced. It was a weekend of nothing but brass and good company! There are solo competitions at NABBA with a division for slow melodies and a division for technique. Hearing different musicians play inspired me to compete in the slow melody division next spring. The musical moments showed me the caliber of musicianship at this competition and made me want to play to be a good musician. It rekindled my fire to make music- not just catch notes. The group competition was the most thrilling rush of adrenaline. We were connected as a group and performed the best product of our pieces.
My peers have agreed that NABBA is without a doubt worth extra time put into the music. When asked about the experience, Robert Wollenberg stated, “NABBA ... what can I say? Let's sum it up to two days of brass band bliss, listening to some truly high caliber brass bands from all over the North American continent; not to mention, there were vendor's galore, allowing anyone to come try out new horns and new mouthpieces. Personally, I didn't want the weekend to end; I loved heading back to the third floor of the Cincinnati Masonic Temple to just play around on new cornets/trumpets. For a brass player, it was truly heaven on Earth and do not even get me started on performing. Getting to go out on stage and play Elgar Variations and Montage in front of two electric crowds was worth the trip alone; the atmosphere was so alive and I can't say I've had more fun making music than on those performances. NABBA is a once in a lifetime experience, one that any brass musician should take a part in; it's a place where you can show off your hard work and be awarded with thunderous applause. If I do well going into the next two semesters, this won't be my last NABBA and seriously, I hope it's not; NABBA, and playing in this brass band, are experiences that I will never forget for the rest of my musical career.”
Auditioning for the JMU Brass Band is worth every moment of extra work. Going to NABBA meant having two night rehearsals per week, however, these were the most productive rehearsals I have ever been to. That extra time we spent is what made it possible for us to make music together in the way that we did at the competition. Brass Band is a time to actually make music with your colleagues. As a freshman, the competition was intimidating because we competed against older bands, but what Mr. Stees said to us before the competition really stuck with me. He said “ I want people to say you all played well AND you are a young band…not that you all played well FOR a young band”. This type of encouragement and discipline makes us all work harder. It makes us realize that as musicians we cannot give ourselves excuses for not making the best music that we can possibly make. No matter the age, give the best performance. NABBA and Brass Band this year have absolutely been my greatest experiences of the year.