UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Our Tiny Desk concert with the Canadian Brass is about to begin. Come up to the fifth floor, the skinny end, for a great concert and some fun. Canadian Brass.



When the group Canadian Brass came to NPR for a Tiny Desk concert recently, they kicked off the show with a piece they say has been central to their repertoire for over 40 years. It's a transcription of an organ work, Bach's "Little Fugue in G Minor."



MARTIN: The classics, such as Bach, were just a starting point for this legendary brass group. They've been pleasing crowds for decades with a repertoire that also includes modern compositions, Dixieland, jazz, Latin and Broadway, all served up with a light touch and a good sense of humor.


MARTIN: That's Chuck Daellenbach on the tuba. He is one of the founding members of the group, and he joins us now from the studios of the CBC in Toronto. Welcome to the program, Chuck.

CHUCK DAELLENBACH: Thank you, Rachel. Glad to be here.

MARTIN: So, when our listeners click on the Tiny Desk video on our website, they also get to see you kind of spinning your tuba around and this really fun interplay that you have with the group. You guys clearly know how to poke fun at yourselves, right?

DAELLENBACH: Well, given that we were brass players when we started out, we had a very tall hill to climb just to get people interested in our music. So, we employed every method possible. Great music, of course, and then how to make that connection. And that really let us be ourselves on stage, which was what a gift.

MARTIN: I want to make sure we listen to the end of this piece. This is kind of a playful moment at the end. Let's take a listen.


MARTIN: Chuck, that is a low note.


DAELLENBACH: Well, as my trumpet-playing colleague used to say: no, no, B-flat.

MARTIN: I mean, you're kind of exaggerating those breaths in there, but, I mean, it takes a lot of breath. Have you ever fainted after one of those solos?

DAELLENBACH: Well, there are certain pieces that when you're really tanked up and you can - very much like airline pilots where you have too much oxygen, you can actually get quite dizzy. So, yeah, you have to be careful of that. 'Cause you'd hate to drop the tuba and hurt somebody's foot.

MARTIN: After that selection, you told the audience something interesting about your instrument, the tuba. Let me play that.

DAELLENBACH: Well, this particular tuba has a carbon fiber bell. There's a joke: how old do you have to be to play tuba? And the answer is old enough to be able to carry it but young enough to still want to. So, keep in mind to yourself, I'm lightening the horn as we go along and it's carbon fiber, so you can see right through.

MARTIN: What goes into making a great Canadian Brass show?

DAELLENBACH: Well, we always start with the music. That's always been central and no matter what critics said for a few years. You know you're not getting anywhere if you don't get a few bad reviews. So, what critics said, we were really debasing the recital environment and that we were somehow taking music apart. And in fact, it was always musically centered. We're seriously trained, classically trained musicians. We've taken music history courses and everything else you're supposed to do. So, we love this music and we wanted to find a way to present this and really build an audience for brass in general and Canadian Brass specifically. So, that was our task, and we always took a masterpiece approach. And then we also kind of drew from the early recital tradition where a tenor might show up in Wisconsin and, of course, sing a great aria, an Italian aria, but then they'd also sing a Broadway tune and do things that would really make for an interesting program. So, we kind of, I think in a sense, revived the classic recital and it has been very strong for us to have that kind of connection to the audience and a wide range of music.


MARTIN: You've had to create a lot of your own transcriptions. It's not like there are huge libraries of music for brass ensembles. So, on your latest CD we hear brass arrangements of these show pieces that were originally written for piano or organ or even choral groups. Does that just go with the territory. Do you just assume you're going to have to do this, make your own arrangements?

DAELLENBACH: Well, actually, that's true. The music that was in existence for brass quintet was very, very slim. And it's just a feature of the fact that valves, giving us a chromatic scale, were only invented 150 years ago. So, we missed the chamber music era. We don't have the Hayden quartets. We don't have Beethoven's string quartet kind of music. And by the time the valve was invented, it was the orchestra era. So, the brass went right to the back and played the big symphonies. I guess Brahms was the first to use a tuba in the orchestra, 'cause that's about when the valves were invented. And consequently, we were in Bruckner orchestras and Mahler orchestras. So, by the time we started, we really had very little repertoire but really had a love of chamber music. So, we figured if we were going to build the repertoire, we might as well take a masterpiece approach. Why not have the very best examples of so-called Western art music and just start searching for great examples of music that would translate perfectly for the brass instruments.


MARTIN: What are the stereotypes or assumptions about brass bands that you and your group have been trying to buck?

DAELLENBACH: Well, I think there are stereotypes. I think we agree.


MARTIN: You think they're true?

DAELLENBACH: Oh, brass instruments are kind of rough and ready. They stand up really well in this electronic era. That's been one feature - a lucky feature - for us, is that brass can stand right in with rock bands and can be a background for a rap. And brass has a great versatility. That means that lots of different kinds of people play brass instruments. So, it's really a cross-section of society rather than a small sample. So, you do have kids - la banda movement in South America is in the pop regime - and that relies even on sousaphones. You probably saw the article where schools are having to lock up their tubas and sousaphones now because of the popularity of this genre. So, it's really changing a lot.

MARTIN: Chuck Daellenbach is the tuba player and one of the founding members of the group Canadian Brass. Their latest CD is "Take Flight." And you can see a video of their Tiny Desk concert on our website, nprmusic.org. Chuck Daellenbach joined us from the studios of the CBC in Toronto. Thanks so much for talking with us, Chuck. It was a pleasure.

DAELLENBACH: Great fun, Rachel. thanks.


MARTIN: And this is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

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