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Quirky Quintet Brings Brass to BC

With deadpan delivery and crazy instruments, the Saint Louis Brass Quintet successfully presented a broad range of brass music in two performances for Berea College on Oct. 5. More than a thousand Berea students turned out for the afternoon performance, and hundreds attended the evening concert.

The St. Louis Brass Quintet presents two performances for Berea College.

"We will give you quite a variety of music tonight," said Allan Dean, trumpet player for the quintet. Beginning with some pieces from the Renaissance and Baroque periods and moving into more contemporary compositions, the quintet showed a wide variety of brass music in both their two-hour evening concert and their abbreviated afternoon performance. Near the end of each performance, their historical journey took a side-step with a divertimento, a light-hearted arrangement that showcased the capabilites of their brass instruments.

"We try to do something educational in each performance," Dean explained. However, as the quintet's "history of the brass instrument" progressed, the audience discovered that the presentation – although historically accurate – was slightly tongue-in-cheek.

Over the course of the presentation the quintet members brought out zany instruments, both historical and comedic, to incite laughter in the audience. After another member of the quintet blew a mournful, out-of-key note on a cow horn, Dean joked that it was a "not very successful instrument of our ancestors." Another instrument was a long trumpet where the player had to blow into it and move their entire body to achieve different notes (see picture in slideshow at top right). The quintet also performed the well-known tune "Happy Birthday" ("the only tune [they] could manage") on different-sized conch shells.

The quintet won over their audience with their skilled playing and approachable humor, but the performance eventually had to end; the quintet received a standing ovation from their appreciative audience.

The Saint Louis Brass Quintet was founded in 1964 and is one of the nation’s longest standing brass quintets. Trombonist Melvyn Jernigan is the only original member still playing with the ensemble, and is also the only member actually from Saint Louis. The other members of the quintet are professors and performers: Allan Dean, trumpet, is a professor of music at the Yale School of Music; Ray Sasaki, trumpet, is professor of music at the University of Texas at Austin; Thomas Bacon, horn, is a veteran soloist and recording artists; and Daniel Perantoni, tuba, is professor of music at Indiana University.

The group only tours together for brief periods of time, with three ten-day U.S. tours per year. "It's the reason we get along so well, I think, because we only see each other thirty days a year," said Dean. On their current tour, the quintet had performed at only one other school before coming to Berea. They had met to rehearse "like crazy" only a day before that. The quintet also tours internationally, with past appearances in Norway, India, Japan, Mexico, Germany and Sweden.

Over the course of the Saint Louis Brass Quintet's 40-year history, the group has performed more than 2,700 full-length concerts and has made eight recordings. Over 75 new pieces have been written or arranged for the group, by current and former members as well as other contemporary composers.

More information can be found at the group's website, linked below. The quintet appeared at Berea as part of the Stephenson Memorial Concert series for 2006-07.

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