Note: this article is intended for readers 21 years of age and older. The surgeon general of the United States has determined that drinking beer while playing trumpet can cause adverse results in performances, lessons, and auditions.
If you look at a map of the alcoholic beverages of Europe, you may notice that the beer-drinking areas are the ones that contributed mostly to the development of brass instrument playing (whereas the wine producing areas became famous for string instruments). Hurray for beer! Perhaps we trumpeters and other brass players owe beer our greatest debt of gratitude for our livelihood. Yes we find good brass music at times in Italy. We all admire Gabrieli’s brass music, but don’t forget that Gabrieli learned his trade under the renowned Orlando de Lassus at the court of Duke Albert V in Munich. Aha! He must have learned about beer while in Munich, and of course this is what inspired him to write so well for the brass instruments of his time.
Brass groups that record and perform today offer listeners different choices in flavors and styles in just the same way different beers do. Unfortunately, many of us are not aligned with our true preferences. For example, one day not too long ago, I came upon a tuba-playing friend of mine listening to the Empire Brass on his car stereo. I thought that was strange, since this friend is a beer connoisseur, brews his own beer and loves intense, creative, original, craft beer. I pointed out that for him to be listening to the Empire Brass was like drinking Sam Adams: a little too conservative and over-commercialized for his personality and drinking style. Instead, he should be listening to something like the American Brass Quintet–famous their original repertoire, serious demeanor and uncompromising originality. Flustered and incredulous, he eventually saw my point, of course. Satisfied with creating a balance between my friend’s beer choices and his brass group listening preferences, I resolved to create a list of brass groups and their corresponding beer counterparts. In this way brass players all over the world can achieve equilibrium between their beverage and their brass ensemble of choice.
1. Dallas Brass. A great show with pizzaz, and choreography. Percussion and drum set added most of the time. Pretty darn fun. My beer pairings: a spicy chili pale ale, such as Ballast Point Pale Ale with Serrano.
2. Boston Brass. For nearly three decades, the Boston Brass has set a great standard of entertainment and artistry. Trumpeter Jose Sibaja, from Costa Rica, is really amazing in his Latin jazz injections. Also, my friend Andy Hitz plays tuba in this group. My beer pairings: a Mexican style lager like Negro Modelo.
3. Center City Brass Quintet. Cleveland-based brass quintet with Anthony DiLorenzo and Geoffrey Hardcastle (and, previously Ryan Anthony) on trumpet. Many nice original arrangements and compositions, especially by DiLorenzo. They don’t perform all that much, but they’re worth it. My beer pairings: might I offer a rich Czech Pilsner, like Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager?
4. The Empire Brass Quintet. As I mentioned before, Rolf Smedvig’s brass quintet, started in 1971, has showcased the amazing talents of brass players such as Eric Ruske, Jeffrey Curnow, Marty Hackleman and Sam Pilafian. The go-to group for great brass conservatory style. They entertain really well. Christmas albums galore. And they have Rolf Smedvig! My beer pairings: amber lager, like Sam Adams Boston Lager.
5. London Brass (used to be called Philip Jones Brass Ensemble). Since 1951, this amazing quintet or large brass ensemble from Great Britain has always been great. Some of the trumpeters: Philip Jones, John Wilbraham, Michael Laird, John Wallace, Maurice Murphy, and Crispian Steele Perkins. Entertaining, original, and technically brilliant. My beer pairings: an intense, robust porter, like Meantime London Porter.
6. Canadian Brass. The most famous brass ensemble in the world. Mass-marketed, fun-loving, talented mix of veterans and some new players (some of the performers have been Ryan Anthony, Jens Lindemann, Fred Mills, Ronald Romm, Marty Hackleman, Joe Burgstaller). Since 1970, this quintet has had no real aspirations for authenticity or originality but really entertains and amazes. White tennis shoes. My beer pairings: a session-strength IPA, such as Boulevard Pop-Up Session IPA.
7. The American Brass Quintet. Promoting the idea of a brass quintet as a serious chamber music ensemble for more than 50 years. Top notch craft and originality and based in NYC. Commissioned dozens of new pieces by contemporary composers. My beer pairings: a rich, strong barley wine, such as Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine.
8. Meridian Arts Ensemble. I remember when I first saw this NYC-based group play in 1994 (in Amsterdam, no less). They were jaw-droppingly amazing and original. The sweat they had shed in the hours they had spent in rehearsals was virtually soaking this group. Five brass players (and now a drummer). No compromises. My beer pairings: an interesting Gueuze, like Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze Golden Blend.
9. Eminence Brass Quartet. Have you heard of this new conical bore quartet from Great Britain? Cornetists Philip Cobb (principal trumpet of LSO) and Richard Marshall (principal cornet of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band) are truly amazing along with euphoniumist David Childs and tenor hornist Owen Farr. How about a pint of chocolate stout, like Young’s Double Chocolate Stout?
10. Mnozil Brass. Talk about a beer connection. This group, made up originally of graduates from the Vienna College of Music, met at the Mnozil pub in Vienna’s first inner city district. Founded in 1992, this septet is based on equal parts of technical brilliance, lovely Germanic sound and Austrian humor. Their arrangements and routines are truly original. I suggest pairing this group with a complex and smokey rauchbier or grodziskie (Polish style heavily hopped wheat ale), such as Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen.
This video is a great example of their routines. Music doesn’t actually start until about the fourth minute.
11. German Brass. A collection of some of the most brilliant and quintessential German brass players. Virtuosic as soloists and amazingly homogenous as a group, they personify in music the “Reinheitsgebot” (German Beer Purity Law), but with a definite modern appeal. I recommend slowly sipping a rich Eisbock, like Schneider Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock, while enjoying this magnificent ensemble.
12. Concerto Palatino. I love this groups increasing focus on authentic approaches to brass music of the 16th and 17th centuries. Some of the most technically gifted practitioners of cornett (Bruce Dickey and Doron Sherwin) and trombone (Wim Becu, Charles Toet, and Simen Van Mechelen). If this group makes any compromises, I don’t know what they might be. I suggest the ancient Roggenbier, which might be a little hard to find. One example is the Rogue Farms (or Rogue Chatoe) Roguenbier Rye Ale.
Disclaimer: Trumpet Journey in no way is affiliated with any of these brass groups or beers. (Not saying that I don’t want to be….) Much thanks to Tony Halloin, special beer researcher to Trumpet Journey.