Summer Reading for Low Brass Players

First of all, my apologies for failing to publish anything here last week. With exams, grading, graduation ceremonies, and various other end-of-semester demands on my time, writing a new blog article just didn’t happen. (I’m sure hundreds of people were unbelievably disappointed; they just forgot to write to let me know. Right. That’s what happened.) I have a number of other pressing matters this week, so today’s post will be somewhat brief.

One of my failings as a teacher is that I sometimes take various concepts in brass history, pedagogy, and performance for granted as “common knowledge,” and am surprised when my students are unaware of them. I too easily forget that the reason I know so much about this field is because I have read and studied much of the relevant literature (I do have a doctorate in performance and pedagogy, after all!), and that my students have not had the opportunity to do this reading. Indeed, some don’t even know where to begin. As an attempt to rectify this, I would like to suggest seven books that are of particular benefit to low brass players. These vary in length and in cost, but all can be read over the course of a three-month break from regular studies. Some of these are perhaps a bit dated, but it can be helpful to read the pedagogical concepts of previous generations of musicians. (In other words, to my students: you should both purchase and read these!!!)

This is not intended to be a comprehensive listing of relevant literature. All of these books are listed (without annotation) in a previous post, as well as in a more comprehensive bibliography on my website at the University of Mississippi. Here I will provide more information about each of these volumes.

Anthony Baines, Brass Instruments: Their History and Development.     

Amazon lists a very recent publication for this book, but that is unintentionally deceptive, as this is a reprint of a book that first appeared in 1976. While some of this material has perhaps been supplanted by more recent research, this is still one of the better one-volume treatments of the history of brass instrument. The discussions of ancient lip-vibrated instruments and their uses are particularly interesting.

Clifford Bevan, The Tuba Family.     

This book was first released in 1978 and was greatly expanded for the 2000 edition. Bevan provides a detailed discussion of the development and use of the tuba, euphonium, baritone horn, and related instruments, including their ancestors such as the serpent, ophicleide, and bass horn. The photographs and drawings, especially those of older instruments, are alone almost worth the full price of the book.

Philip Farkas, The Art of Brass Playing.

First published in 1962, Farkas’s book is one of the early volumes presenting what one might call a “modern American” approach to brass playing, in contrast to that which prevailed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As a longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra brass section which was largely responsible for the development of the orchestral brass sound now prevalent in the United States, Farkas speaks with a voice of skill and experience. While developments in brass pedagogy during the past half-century should not be neglecting, this volume still provides a reliable, broad discussion of various concepts brass playing and teaching. The photographs of the early-60s CSO brass players’ embouchures are fascinating and instructive; they certainly should put to death any “one size fits all” approach to embouchure.

Brian Frederiksen, Arnold Jacobs:  Song and Wind.

Arnold Jacobs (1915-1998) was a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra brass section for over forty years. A sought-after pedagogue as well as tubist, Jacobs’s understanding of respiratory function as related to musical performance was unparalleled, and as a result he was sometimes consulted by woodwind players and vocalists, in addition to brass players. Fredericksen’s book provides a thoughtful introduction to Jacobs’s life, work, and teaching.

David Guion, A History of the Trombone.

Guion’s doctoral dissertation focusing on a particular period of the trombone’s history was and is one of the most sought after resources for those studying the development of the instrument. In this more recent volume, he treats the history of the trombone more broadly. This book is shorter than those of Bevan and Herbert, but is nevertheless reliable, and because of its brevity quite accessible.

Trevor Herbert, The Trombone.

As previously mentioned, Herbert’s volume on trombone history is longer than that of Guion. Unlike most writers on organological subjects, Herbert moves beyond discussing the development of the instrument itself and even its more prominent players, instead taking great pains to uncover material about what and how “regular trombonists” played. This feature is both unique and fascinating, and places Herbert’s book not in competition with that of Guion so much as it views the same material from a different perspective. I prefer to see the two volumes as companions to one another.  

David Vining, What Every Trombonist Needs to Know About the Body.

Vining writes as one who has recovered his playing and career “from the brink,” having suffered a devastating case of Focal Task-Specific Dystonia and spending years rebuilding his trombone playing. Having experienced firsthand the results of “doing it wrong,” Vining has produced a plethora of materials designed to help brass players to avoid suffering as he did. In this volume, he discusses how the body works and exactly “what we do” and “what we should do” when playing brass instruments, drawing heavily from the methodologies of F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) and Moshé Feldenkrais (1904–1984). Having myself suffered some devastating (and to some extent ongoing) physical setbacks in my own playing (though, happily, not nearly to the same extent as Mr. Vining), I find his materials to be extremely helpful.

That’s enough for one summer, I think. Happy reading!

About Micah Everett

Micah Everett is Associate Professor of Music (Trombone/Low Brass) at the University of Mississippi, Principal Trombonist of the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Interim Music Director at College Hill Presbyterian Church, Assistant Editor (Audio/Video Reviews) for the International Trombone Association Journal, and an S.E. Shires trombone artist. He is the author of THE LOW BRASS PLAYER'S GUIDE TO DOUBLING, published by Mountain Peak Music, and released two solo recordings, STEPPING STONES FOR BASS TROMBONE, VOLS. 1 and 2, on the Potenza Music label in 2015 and 2022, respectively. In addition to his professional work, he maintains an avid interest in the study of the Bible and of Reformed theology. He holds doctoral and master's degrees in music from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a bachelor's degree in music education from Delta State University, and a certificate in systematic theology from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.
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