A conversation with the Canadian Brass

2019-06-17

The members of the Canadian Brass have a full agenda of concerts, so we feel very honored that they have dedicated some of their time to Trumpetland. Stop what you are doing and take a look at our conversation with them!

Hear the name ‘Canadian Brass’, and several images will spring to mind: their infamous tuxedo and tennis shoes, their iconic Charlie Brown-themed album covers, and Chuck Daellenbach himself — the tuba player and founding member of the world-famous ensemble.

Whichever it is, one thing is certain: Canadian Brass has staying power. Described as “one of the most popular brass ensembles in the world,” Canadian Brass has been delighting audiences around the world since 1970.

“First and foremost, we strive for excellence in everything we perform,” says Chuck. “That is one constant that never changes.”

Chuck’s partners in the fabulous five are hornist Jeff Nelsen, trumpeters Caleb Hudson and Chris Coletti, and trombonist Achilles Liarmakopoulos.

This is Jeff Nelsen's third time being part of ‘The Brass’ — his first time was from 2000-2005, then 2007-2010, and now rejoined in early 2018. “This ensemble has such an extensive history, and its own set of traditions. I still feel giddy about being a member of Canadian Brass. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d meet the members, let alone be one! I left the group once to marry the love of my life, and once so we could start a family. Our first son is eight years old now, and so things are balanced enough in our lives at home that I could re-re-join this dream group. Sculpting the future of this dearly loved group is a balancing act between incredible opportunity and big responsibility. Each personality brings their own contributions, so while Canadian Brass remains essentially the same in many ways, we continue to evolve — I think that’s part of the magic.”

You’ll also get to enjoy magic in a more literal sense when you see a live performance — Jeff is a member of the Academy of Magical Arts and will often add touches of the illusionary arts to their performance.

This is part of their charm — honoring the music always comes first, but Canadian Brass isn’t afraid of adding creative personal touches to keep their performances fresh and their audiences engaged.

“It’s so wonderful to hear about younger generations who come to performances and fall in love with the music, because they enjoyed the whole experience,” says Chuck. “And hearing that we’re inspiring a new generation of brass players is always so gratifying for us.”

Speaking of the younger generation, Caleb Hudson is both the newest and youngest member of quintet and recalls listening to Canadian Brass as a beginning trumpeter. “Just about every young brass player grows up listening to Canadian Brass. Its impact is legendary, its legacy is monumental. Not only is it an incredible honor to be a part of it, but there’s also a great responsibility. I’ve seen firsthand the connection that Canadian Brass has with audiences, students, music educators, and music lovers around the world. There has to be an infinite amount of passion, energy, and care in upholding that bond and seeing it grow into the future.”

Fellow trumpeter Chris Coletti was another young fan who now finds himself touring with this iconic ensemble. Says Chris: “When I first joined Canadian Brass, I was thrilled beyond words to be part of a group I had idolized for most of my life. But what I didn’t necessarily expect was just how excited the other four members were to be performing together, even after so many years. Fans often ask us whether we are actually having as much fun as it seems we are. I happily say YES. We are having a blast! We are well aware of how fortunate we are to perform around the world for enthusiastic audiences that make us feel at home everywhere we go.”

The Canadian Brass is known for their versatility, performing everything from Bach concertos to modern covers such as Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. No wonder trombonist Achilles fit right in when he joined Canadian Brass in 2011. He’s just as comfortable playing the classics with ‘The Brass’ as he is performing modern and Latin styles. And like his fellow players, he too was inspired by Canadian Brass as a young player: “I grew up listening to the Canadian Brass tapes and vinyl. When I was 10 years old during a trip to New York, I saw them at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic brass. That was a life changing concert. Sixteen years later, I was playing at the same stage and same concert.  It was a very emotional moment.”

“I think being open to change is one of the keys to our ongoing success,” says Chuck. “While the traditions are important, I also recognize that times change, and it’s important to connect with our younger fans in different ways.” From their online presence on social media (they love sharing pictures on Instagram from their performances), to the technology they use on stage, Canadian Brass hasn't shied away from trying new things.

Jeff explains, “Canadian Brass has always been a groundbreaking group. We’re constantly learning about the latest technology and looking for ways to benefit from it. BlackBinder, for example, is an auto-scrolling app which means we don’t have to worry about turning pages while we’re performing. Instead we can focus on other things — like melting snowmen or posting our latest updates to Facebook.”

“Jeff had already been working with BlackBinder through his professorship at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music,” Chuck recounts. “It sounded like a good fit for us as well. But because of our busy touring schedule, we were finding it hard to pin down a date to actually meet in person. They’re based in Spain, and we were performing all over the place at the time. We ended up making a date in the Frankfurt airport following one of our shows. They flew from Spain just to meet us for this meeting in an airport! That’s when we knew this would be a great partnership, and it’s been fascinating seeing what this new technology can do. It’s great for us to be a part of that.”

So what does 2019 hold for Canadian Brass? A European tour for starters — with dates in Austria, Germany, Czech Republic and Belgium through June and July. While in Germany, they’ll record their 119th album as well, this one being a collaboration with the Hannover Boys Choir. Then, they will continue touring throughout the U.S. and Canada, wrapping up the year and their annual Christmas tour on Christmas Eve. Canadian Brass will enjoy a week at home, and then back to Europe and Japan they go!

“While Christmas is when things get really busy, we really do perform all year round,” says Chuck, “so we have to stay on our A-Game.”

It looks like Canadian Brass will continue to surprise and delight their fans around the world with their timeless classics, new CD and LP covers, and their humor. But most of all, our delight comes from their never-ending world-class musicianship. As Chuck puts it, “Canadian Brass will always put the music first — that was always what we were about. If we get some laughs along the way — well then, that’s just icing on the cake.”