Chestnut Brass Co. performs with humor

Posted by Dale Obble

Five dollars isn't much to ask to see a museum, a comedian or, for that matter, a group of professional musicians.

It's a shame, then, that hardly any students went to see the Chestnut Brass Company, whose show on Feb. 11 in Zankel combined elements from all of the above to make for a uniquely entertaining performance.

The Grammy-winning horn quintet began its show with an exhibition of its huge collection of antique brass instruments.

Some players were recognizable, while others looked like they were meant to be blown from the bow of a Viking warship cruising into battle or a shepherd from a hilltop in the Swiss Alps.

These assumptions weren't too farfetched. Some of the group's historical instruments — most of which had names like ‘sacbut' and ‘serpent horn' — dated back to the Renaissance.

But for those who were less interested in the musicological parts of the performance and were there to hear some foot-stompingly good music, the Chestnut Brass Company did not fail to deliver.

The group's diverse instrumentation allowed for an equally diverse repertoire of music, including both early and contemporary classical pieces, 19th century American brass band music, and at the end of the chronological journey, the jazz of Duke Ellington.

The Chestnut Brass Company opened their first set with the gospel song "This Little Light of Mine," making the Filene Auditorium feel like a street in New Orleans on a summer day.

Next the group played "Juanita," which was impressive, considering the song was originally intended for a mariachi band. Being a horn quintet didn't make a difference. To recreate the airy tone of Spanish guitars and the warbling vocals of a mariachi singer, the two trumpet players stuck the bells of their horns into the end of the tuba and played, while the tuba player sat back smiling and fiddled with his valves.

It was the quintet's collective enthusiasm and sense of humor in moments such as this one that made the show so engaging.

Both the group's music and its explanations of its history were well seasoned with humor.

For instance: while one trumpet player demonstrated the features of a Baroque trumpet with his grandiose hand gestures and a goofy grin, another snuck to the back of the auditorium, and together they surprised the audience with a surround sound red-faced blare.

It's understandable why not many students wanted to make the long, cold walk to Zankel on a Friday night.

The audience may have consisted mostly of Saratoga Springs' senior crowd - the group that frequents most of the college's great jazz shows - but there wasn't one white New Balance shoe in the house that wasn't energetically tapping out the rhythms that the Chestnut Brass Company had to throw at the audience.

The group put on a fun and truly innovative show, hopefully one of many Zankel events that will see a larger student turnout in the future.

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