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  • Writer's pictureCharles Mekealian

My Military Brass Quintet Experience

General experience

Some of my most memorable and very enjoyable times as a Marine Corps Musician was with the brass quintet. Traveling to New York City and playing in the subway to promote our concert event and driving up to the wine country of Napa California to assist with school outreach and Marine Corps music recruitment was just something that was part of our mission along with the ceremonial expectations.

The military brass quintet (aka BQ) plays music for a wide variety of settings. The primary job is to provide music for military ceremonies and play the obligatory march-on of the colors, National Anthem and ceremonial music. The BQ also plays a prelude, and at times, a postlude. This is when the members get the chance to prepare and play a variety of music of our choice to entertain attendees.

The BQ is usually the most active performing group within the military band due to its small size and versatility like the ability to play at indoor settings and outdoor settings and not take up too much space. Because the group is so active the members usually get to know each other very well. This makes the music performance part of the experience even more enjoyable as it becomes, dare I say it, fun. The life of a military musician is challenging and you spend most work days playing your instrument in rehearsals for about an average of four hours a day. You also spend time working on the logistics needed to make your unit function and don’t forget that you ARE in the military and have to maintain your physical strength and appearance and focus on developing as a warrior. This all can all be a lot but once you get on the road with your group of five it becomes about you all for that moment. This small group, working together to play music that you all picked out and enjoyed putting together.

Typically the brass quintet is made up of the top brass players in each unit and sometimes members get put into this ensemble by necessity. Two trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba. The Brass Quintet is one of the several chamber ensembles under the immediate direction of the unit’s Small Ensemble Leader but will rehearse and gig on their own. Each member of the quintet has their own responsibilities to ensure the logistics are taken care of for their gigs. Someone has to ensure transportation is arranged and someone drives (usually the youngest member) and someone gives directions to the driver. Another person is in charge of making sure all performance gear is accounted for. The leader of the group coordinates with the point of contact for the gig and ensures that the ensemble knows all moving parts of the event. It’s a five person team that can run itself.

I really enjoyed the experience as soon as I was placed in the brass quintet. I played in a brass ensemble in high school and it was a great experience and one that I feel what being a brass player was all about. It is so different from playing in a large ensemble because well, there are only five of you. The music cannot allow for long breaks while the woodwind or percussion can take over. It’s all you. It was very taxing on the chops at first but I eventually became used to the setting.


Brass Quintet Compositions (a necessity)

This necessity of chop saving became something of a challenge for me as a composer. Thankfully every BQ I played with was very open to my compositional brass quintet experiments. My first fully completed piece was written on a car ride up to see my sister-in-law perform in Paradise Lost by Erikc Whitacre at the Disney Concert Hall. I knew I had something with this piece and took it back to rehearsal. It was an instant staple in our library and stayed that way through my time with the BQ’s.

This first Brass Quintet piece “Malevolent March” was my link into the field of composition as more than a hobby. I was approached by a band director at Allen High School in Texas about my piece after we performed it for his class. I hadn’t even considered that as a possibility. He was very impressed and I was beyond myself because my work was noticed and given credit by a Texas band director. That fueled my desire to continue and try to market myself and write more. I had the very fortunate chance of meeting one of the most well known band composers Robert W. Smith at a concert reflecting on the 10 year reflection of the devastation by Hurricane Katrina. I grew up listening to sheet music demo CDs of his musical compositions and was always intrigued by his writing prowess. I spoke to him and asked him if he would be able and interested in taking a look at my music and give me some feedback and after I sent my email with several tunes I received an email the next day from his company saying that he would like to publish my original brass quintet piece “Hero”! At this point I was beyond excited and finally felt like I was moving in the right direction and haven't turned back from my brass quintet sheet music writing.


Performance Memories

I can think of many great and enjoyable performances that I’ll take with me. I’d say my favorite venue was the World War II Museum in New Orleans. We played there several times a year for Memorial Day and other important military related events. It was a cool location with so much history from suspended WW II aircraft to military vehicles and veterans of different wars always in attendance.

Recruiting tours were also a highlight because we had to put on a show all about us. We traveled to many places in the country to promote the Marine Corps Music Program. We’d prepare a wide variety of music to include a few of my own original brass quintet compositions in hopes of creating an exciting and engaging performance for high school and college age students. We’d also do clinics and play with groups that we were visiting. This was something that I loved because while I was serving I knew that I would continue to pursue my music education degree after my time in the Marine Corps. We traveled to many locations and one that will always stick out to me will be our BQ trip to Colorado in 2012. We were supposed to play music at a local marching band show to help out the recruiting efforts there. The only problem was it was sleeting the entire time we were there. We were not prepared at all and our instruments were freezing! Too cold to touch and we lost functionality within minutes. My fellow trumpet player resorted to using his teeth to pull his stuck valve out and our lips were worthless playing on freezing cold metal mouthpieces that were constantly getting wet sleet on them. Lessons learned and many memories made that day!

I could write so much more but if you’ve read this far then thanks! I will always cherish those memories with the different brass quintets that I’ve performed with over the years and I’ll keep on writing for them even if I’m not actively playing with one.

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