Brass | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Besides fulfilling traditional military and ceremonial functions, brass instruments have accompanied services in churches, played a pioneer role in the development of ensemble playing, participated in orchestral performances, and simply displayed their own gleaming brand of virtuosity.

Besides fulfilling traditional military and ceremonial functions, brass instruments have accompanied services in churches lacking organs, summoned farm workers for lunch (see Dinner horn), played a pioneer role in the development of ensemble playing (the brass band being the instrumental group most easily trainable in a short time), participated in orchestral performances, and simply displayed their own gleaming brand of virtuosity, notably in the cornet solos that were a feature of wind band concerts in the late-19th and 20th centuries, and later in jazz ensembles. Despite the wide use of brass instruments the concert repertoire for soloists has remained small.


Brass instruments are the first European musical instruments mentioned in Canadian history. When Jacques Cartier and the Indians at Hochelaga (Montreal) had their first ceremonial meeting, 3 Oct 1535, 'the captain next ordered the trumpets and other musical instruments to be sounded, whereat the Indians were much delighted' (H.P. Biggar, The Voyages of Cartier, Ottawa 1924, p 166). There are documentary references to trumpets in 17th-century New France: one occurs in a letter written by Mother Marie de l'Incarnation 4 Oct 1658; Jean Casavan (sic), a 17th-century ancestor of the organ builders Casavant, is supposed to have been a fine trumpeter (Ernest Gagnon, Louis Jolliet, Montreal 1926, p 135); E.-Z. Massicotte, in 'La musique militaire sous le régime français' (BRH, vol 39, July 1933), mentions that an expedition to Lake Ontario included two trumpeters; and Baron de Lahontan, in letter XVI, 28 May 1689, in New Voyages to North America/Nouveaux Voyages dans l'Amérique septentrionale (1703, in English and French editions), advises the would-be explorer to carry with him some 'trumpeters and fiddlers, both for animating his retinue, and for raising the admiration of the savages'. However, the military band in New France seems to have excluded brass: the Carignan-Salières Regiments, which arrived in Canada in 1665, had two tambours and one fife in each company of 53 men.

An inscription on an early copy of Campra's Motets (1710), preserved at Laval University, reveals that the copy belonged to Jean-Baptiste Savard, 'joueur de serpent de la cathédral sic de Québec'. Henri Têtu's article 'Le chapitre de la cathédrale de Québec..'. (BRH, vol 13, August 1907) mentions a Sieur Perin, who was a serpent player there in 1718. Graham George (in Culture, Dec 1955), quoting Frère Pierre-Alphonse, says that the viol (la viole), bass viol, flute, and bugle (clairon) were the instruments used in churches before 1760. In 1842, before church organs were customary in Anglo-Canadian settlements, a 'horn' was used in Christ Church, Hamilton, Ont.

Late-18th-century newspaper advertisements in Canada usually offered violins, flutes, and harpsichords for sale, but no brass instruments. Presumably the brass players in the concert ensembles of the day (eg, horn in chamber music) were military bandsmen not required to supply their own instruments. With the growth of numerous towns in Lower and Upper Canada ca 1830 came the formation of municipal (temperance, parish, fire-brigade, town-police, company bands, etc) brass or mixed bands (see Bands 6; Children of Peace; La Musique Canadienne), and soon there were hundreds of such bands across Canada. Thus, there was a considerable demand for brass and woodwind instruments which had to be imported from England, France, and later the USA. In 1888 the music firm Whaley Royce made the first Canadian cornet and soon established the brand names 'Imperial' (top line) and 'Ideal' (a less expensive line). It ceased production in 1974, though it continued sales and repairs. A number of other Canadian music enterprises during the last half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th were engaged in the importation and distribution of brass instruments if not directly in their manufacture. Among these firms, whose names were often inscribed on the instruments as though they actually produced them, are: Beare & Son and Boosey & Hawkes Canada Ltd. (branches of their respective London companies), Fred A. Boddington, Thomas Claxton, Mendell, A. & S. Nordheimer, I. Suckling, Weatherburn & Glidden, and R.S. Williams & Sons in Toronto; C.W. Lindsay & Co, J.L. Orme & Son, and McKechnie Music Co in Ottawa; Peter Grossman in Hamilton; H.C. Wilson & Sons in Sherbrooke; St. Cyr & Frère, Quebec City; Archambault, and Chas Lavallée in Montreal; Waterloo Music Co. Ltd.; and the International Winnipeg Musical Supply Co. A custom brass instrument mouthpiece maker of international repute in Toronto during the 1970s was Terry Warburton, who later moved his business to Florida. Small-scale manufacturers of brass instruments in 1991 on a specialized and individual basis but with international recognition included the Ottawa trumpetsmith Robert Barclay, maker of precise replicas of baroque trumpets, and the Saskatoon custom horn maker Keith Berg.


The bands of the Salvation Army and more particularly those of the armed forces, patterned on British prototypes, contributed significantly to the development of brass playing in Canada. In his book The Cultural Connection (Toronto 1978) Bernard Ostry points out that until after World War II federal government aid to the arts was 'the result of isolated initiatives,' rather than of any consistent cultural policy or even attitude, except in the Dept of National Defence. There, he says, 'the importance of music and theatre was recognized early, not only in relieving the tedium of military routine but in promoting a corporate spirit and sense of pride, and in fostering cheerful relations between garrisons and civilian populations. For years the Department of National Defence was alone among federal departments in developing a conscious, consistent and imaginative cultural policy and providing the funds to make it work'. Standards in brass playing certainly improved during World War II, when substantial monies were made available for the establishment of service entertainment groups using professional players; and the personnel from these groups, many re-entering the musical community after the war as players or teachers in high schools or universities, supplemented the work of private teachers and conservatories, developing bands, bugle corps, and skilled individual players who joined orchestras and ensembles.

In the 1960s the Montreal Brass Quintet (James Ranti and Jean-Louis Chatel, trumpets; Aimé Lainesse, horn; Joseph Zuskin, trombone; and Robert Ryker, tuba) gave many concerts and commissioned Morley Calvert'sSuite from the Monteregian Hills and François Morel'sQuintette de cuivres. It disbanded shortly after appearing at Expo 67. Numerous other brass groups were formed in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s: the Atlantic Brass Ensemble, which recorded Charles Wilson'sConcerto 5 X 4 X3 (CBC SM 195); Canadian Brass; the Canzona Brass Ensemble, Calgary; the Dalhousie Brass Trio, Halifax; the Mount Royal Brass Quintet, Rallye-Québec, and Ensemble de cuivres du Québec, all of Montreal; the City Brass, the Ontario Brass Quintet, the Brass Company, and the Toronto Brass Quintet, all of Toronto; the London (Ont) Brass Quintet; Northern Brass of Winnipeg; Triceratops, a trio from Edmonton; the Vancouver Brass Quintet which recorded the Calvert suite and other pieces for release on CBC SM 252, and Touch of Brass, both of Vancouver; and the Great Lakes Brass, a quintet of NYO alumni, formed in 1984 and still active in 1989. Sonaré, an Ontario-based trombone choir active during the summers 1976-9 premiered works by William McCauley, Eldon Rathburn, Ben McPeek, Pierre Gallant, Clifford Crawley, David Keane, and Norman Symonds but became best known through the 1979 filming and CBC recording of R. Murray Schafer'sMusic for Wilderness Lake for 12 tombones. It is not to be confused with Sonare, a brass and percussion sextet founded in London, Ont in 1980, which performs numerous public and educational concerts each year. Other brass groups established or active in the 1980s include London's Brassroots (an 11-piece brass choir patterned after England's Philip Jones Brass Ensemble), Toronto's Aeolus Brass Quintet, Calgary's Foothills Brass quintet, and Vancouver's Cornucopia Brass Ensemble (with the unusual instrumentation of 3 horns, trumpet, bass trombone). The Hannaford Street Silver Band (formed in Toronto in 1983) represents a resurgence of the British amateur brass tradition but with professional players. Recent interest in performing on period brass instruments has spawned professional historical brass ensembles based in London, Ont, including The King's Heralds (valveless trumpets), The Forest City Forest Horn Society (valveless horns), and The Vintage Brass Ensemble (mid-19th-century instruments such as keyed bugles, ophicleides, cornopeans, and over-the-shoulder and helical saxhorns).

Players, Teachers

It was not uncommon for the professional musician at work in Canada in the years bounded by 1875 and 1950 to play a brass instrument (usually cornet) and a string or keyboard instrument - one with at least proficiency, the other with some degree of virtuosity. Calixa Lavallée played piano, organ, violin, and cornet in Canada and the USA, while Herbert L. Clarke, born in the USA but raised in Canada, played the violin and the viola in addition to being the outstanding cornet virtuoso of his time. The horn player Herbert Barrow also played the viola. Other excellent cornet/trumpet players of that era were Lavallée's brother Charles; Ernest Lavigne; Édouard L'Africain, a Canadian who became principal trumpet with the Boston SO; the Belgians Louis Vanpoucke and Theodore Van der Meerschen; Charles de La Casinière; and O.D. Joiner. Thomas H. King (b Hamilton, Ont, 15 Jan 1868, d Chicago 27 Mar 1926) was trombone soloist with the Innes Band, the 7th Regiment Band of New York, Victor Herbert's band, and others. He was known as one of the greatest technicians on the instrument and was also a trombone designer. Other trombonists at the turn of the century were G. Arless, E. Laberge, Télesphore Laliberté, and John Slatter. Laliberté and Slatter also played the euphonium. Joseph-Laurent Gariépy, bandmaster of the Victoria Rifles of Montreal, was a prominent trumpet and cornet teacher in the 1930s and 1940s.

Players and teachers of note who were active at some time during the period 1930-91 include the trumpeters George Anderson, Martin Boundy, Stephen Chenette, John Cowell, Susan Enger, Robert Farnon, A.J. Ford, Jerold Gerbrecht, Theodore Gorshkoff, George Jones, Larry Larson, Stuart Laughton, Jacques LeComte, Ellis McLintock senior and junior, Henry Meredith, Fred Mills, Robert Oades, Ramon Parcells, Bill Phillips, Ronald Romm, Erik Schultz, Albert Simoens, W. Bramwell Smith, James Spragg, Jeffrey Stern, Douglas Sturdevant, John Tickner, Raymond Tizzard, Joseph Umbrico, Robert Venables, Larry Weeks, and Graham Wilson; the trombonists Joseph Bell, Jay Castello, Gordon Cherry, Murray Crewe, William Cross, Albert Devito, H.C. Ford, E.J. Fowler, Seymour 'Red' Ginzler, Frank Harmantas, Harry Hawe, Herbert Jeffrey, Al Kay, James (trombonist) Montgomery, R. Pezzella, Donald Renshaw, David Robbins, Ted Roderman, Emil Subirana, Gordon Sweeney, James Thompson, Alain Trudel, Eugene Watts, and Alfred Wood; the tuba players Brent Adams, Charles Daellenbach, Claude Engli, Salvatore Fratia, J.P. Hamilton, Gregory Irvine, J. Scott Irvine, John Leonard, Hubert C. Meyer, Dennis Miller, Jane Noyes, David Otto, Ted Robbins (also euphonium), Robert Ryker, Gurney Titmarsh, and Ellis Wean; and the french-hornists Reginald Barrow, Mary Robb Barrow, Derek Conrod, Robert Creech, Guillaume Gagnier, Jean Gaudreault, Ronald George, Daniel Gress, Martin Hackleman, Harcus Hennigar, James and John MacDonald, the brothers Joseph, Giulio, and Paul Masella, Anne Marie Monaco, Graeme Page, Gary Pattison, Eugene Rittich, Frederick Rizner, John Scecina, Stephen Seiffert, James Sommerville, and Joan Watson. Many of those named also performed on related instruments, such as cornet, piccolo trumpet, and flügelhorn for the trumpeters, and baritone or euphonium for the trombonists and tubaists. A recent area of emphasis has been the performance of early music on authentic instruments, and several professional players of modern brass instruments have become specialists on their historical antecedents such as cornetto and natural trumpet (Douglas Kirk, Len Hanna, Henry Meredith, John Thiessen); baroque horn and hand horn (Derek Conrod, Henry Meredith); keyed bugle, keyed trumpet, slide trumpet, cornopean, saxhorn (Henry Meredith); sackbut, serpent, ophicleide (Claude Engli, Gary Nagels).

Among noted players of traditional or dixieland jazz have been Cliff 'Kid' Bastien, James 'Trump' Davidson, Ken Dean, Bob Erwig, Charlie Gall, and Mike White (cornet), Stew Barnett, Paul 'Slim' Chandler, and Malcolm Higgins (trumpet), and Jim Abercrombie, Jack Fulton, Bud Hill, Bob Livingston, and Peter Sagermann (trombone). Important soloists in modern jazz include the trumpeters and/or flügelhorn players Guido Basso, Bernard Brien, Bruce Cassidy, Bill Clark, Don Clark, Ron DiLauro, Paul Grosney, Bobby Hales, Daniel Lapp, Steve McDade, John MacLeod, Mike Malone, Sam Noto, Alan Penfold, Ron Proby, Chase Sanborn, Herbie Spanier, Fred Stone, Bob Tildesley, Kevin Turcotte, and Roger Walls; and the trombonists Muhammed Abdul Al-Khabyyr, Herb Besson, Ron Collier, Ross Culley, Ted Elfstrom, Hugh Fraser, David Grott, Russ Little, Terry Lukiwski, Rob McConnell, Ian McDougall, Dave Pepper, Ray Sikora, Bob Stroup, and Jiro 'Butch' Watanabe. Lead trumpeters, distinguished by their range, tone, and sight-reading ability, are essential to studio orchestras and big bands; in Canada they have included Bix Belair, Arnie Chycoski (considered among the finest in North America), Gordon Delamont (whose father, Arthur, led the Kitsilano Boys' Band, an important west-coast training ground for brass players), Darryl Eaton, Al Stanwyck, Graham Topping, Erich Traugott, and Roger Walls. Johnny Frosk of Winnipeg became an important lead trumpeter in New York. Trumpeters Belair, Bobby Gimby, Ellis McLintock, Ted Roderman, and Dave Woods have had success with orchestras in the pop music or dance band fields, and several trombonists (eg, Fraser, McConnell, Robbins, Dave McMurdo, and Vic Vogel) have led big bands. Robbins and Don Johnson (trumpet) have been important teachers. Other brass players, including the trumpeters Chico Alvarez, Maynard Ferguson, Max Goldberg, Alfie Noakes, Jimmy Reynolds, and Ken Wheeler and the trombonist Murray McEachern, have had careers outside of Canada. Jazz ensembles with brass-oriented instrumentation have included the Boss Brass (in its early years), Doug Hamilton's Brass Connection (Toronto, formed in 1979 with five trombones and rhythm section), Brad Muirhead's Brass Roots (Vancouver, formed in 1987), and groups in the New Orleans parade band tradition, eg, in Toronto, Kid Bastien's Magnolia Brass Band.


The Canadian Music Centre Catalogue of Chamber Music and its 1976 supplement list 39 Canadian composers who have written music for brass solo or brass ensemble. By 1991 the CMCentre had over 300 compositions for brass by some 100 composers. Some of these are Ovid Avarmaa, Archer, Michael C. Baker, Beckwith, A. Brott, M. Forsyth, Freedman, Kulesha, Legrady, McCauley, Papineau-Couture, Prévost, Winston Purdy, A. Rae, Rathburn, Surdin, and Weinzweig. Louis Applebaum has written a number of fanfares and Wolfgang Bottenberg, Malcolm Forsyth, Kulesha, Alfred Kunz, Sir Ernest MacMillan, Clermont Pépin, and Gerhard Wuensch also have composed in this genre. In A Guide to Unpublished Canadian Brass Chamber Music Suitable for Student Performers (Toronto 1989), prepared for the CMEA and CMCentre, Eleanor Stubley grades and describes 43 original, unpublished compositions for heterogeneous brass trio, quartet, and quintet written by 28 different composers prior to December 1985. Six of the above-listed as well as Keith Bissell, James Code, Sherilyn Fritz, Graham George, Derek Healey, Elizabeth Raum, Alan Ridgway, Nancy Telfer, and Hubert Tersteeg, are among the composers mentioned. Others who have written solo and chamber brass music include Leonard Ballantine, Kenneth Bray, Morley Calvert, Brent Price Dutton J. Scott Irvine, Henry Meredith, Michael Miller, David Myska, Christopher Weait, and Graham Wilson.

Further Reading

Giant Fiddle