Touch of Brass

Saturday November 25, 2017

Knox United Church, Parksville. Concert at 7 pm, doors open at 6:30 pm

touch-of-brass-imageThe Touch of Brass quintet was first formed in 1976 by current member David Sabourin. During its first year, the original members studied at the Banff Center with members of the Canadian Brass, then began performing in the Vancouver area. In 1977, the quintet won first place in the Canadian Music Competition (the national Kiwanis festival) in Toronto. At this point the ensemble changed membership as some players stayed in Toronto to further their studies. In 1978, the quintet was hired by the Courtenay Youth Music Centre where the ensemble began to develop its repertoire and concert style by arranging and commissioning music unique to Touch of Brass.

From 1979 to 1988, Touch of Brass began touring throughout BC and Canada performing over 100 concerts a year, culminating in a world tour of Russia, England, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and India . This version of the quintet stayed together until 1989 at which time several members went on to other careers (that didn’t involve travel!).

In 1996, Touch of Brass started performing again with David, Geoff Leader (French Horn), Tom Shorthouse (Trumpet), Jim Littleford (Trumpet) and Jeremy Berkman (Trombone). Ben Kinsman (French Horn) joined the quintet in 2007. The members of Touch of Brass perform with the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, the Vancouver Symphony and are active as music educators for organizations such as Kwantlen College , University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Academy of Music.

The members of A Touch of Brass are:

Tom Shorthouse Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Cornet, Piccolo Trumpet
Jim Littleford Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Cornet, Piccolo Trumpet
Ben Kinsman French Horn
Jeremy Berkman Trombone, Euphonium
David Sabourin Tuba

A Touch of Brass – In Their Own Words

David Sabourin recalls how it all began: “Geoff Leader, a high school chum and French horn player, called me in January of 1976. He said we need to get a brass quintet together so we can go to the Banff School of Fine Arts that summer (for free) and study with the Canadian Brass. I asked: ‘What’s a brass quintet?’ So Geoff put a Canadian Brass record on the turntable. We were hooked. We found three other guys and started to figure out repertoire. And somehow got accepted. After Banff we started performing school concerts. We discovered that having your own repertoire, rather than using stock published charts, allowed us to develop our own individual style. It worked. In the 1980s ATOB toured a lot, and in 1988, A Touch of Brass completed a world tour, performing in Russia, England, Australia, Hong Kong, and India. After that massive tour, it was time to take a break.  The quintet reformed in 1993. That’s when Tom Shorthouse and Jeremy Berkman came on board. Before long the ensemble’s schedules were again filled with concert bookings and school shows. A year later Jim Littleford was invited to join. Nick Anderson is the newest recruit. Today the ensemble appears in recital throughout BC, presents school shows to gymnasiums full of eager listeners and works with a number of choirs.”

What makes this group click?

Dave Sabourin: “We’re friends and actually like each other.The fact we can play well is one thing but you can’t teach chemistry. Chamber music allows you to play as a soloist but as part of a unit to create a cohesive ensemble sound. We know each other so well now that entrances, phrasing, dynamics, interpretation of a work comes very naturally to us.”

Tom Shorthouse: “So much of our repertoire has been written or arranged specifically for us, often by one of the members of the group. “It’s tailored towards the characteristics and personalities of the individual players. By playing to our strengths we have a unique sound. It’s also basically stress-free. We feel comfortable playing almost any time in any circumstance.

One of the best things about a TOB concert is our ability to speak knowledgeably, comfortably and naturally to any audience group. Whether in a kindergarten class in Prince George or a sold-out crowd at the Orpheum Theatre, the members of the group are able to speak about the music, their individual instrument or tell an amusing or topical anecdote that reflects our relaxed attitude towards performing. All this was borne from countless hours rehearsing, and the many minutes telling stories between tunes!!”

Jeremy Berkman: “It really clicks because it is a really great group of people – Tom is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and we laugh more than we play…Importantly, there is a stylistically flexible skillset in our group making moving from more traditionally classical repertoire to current and popular fare entirely seamless. We are in a sense a “mini-brass band”. And our roles are versatile. I’m sometimes featured with brass accompaniment, sometimes I’m the bass of harmonic movement, or support the higher resonance of a tuba, or entwine with the sound of the French horn, or be in the role of rhythm guitar, or even a disruptor.  We spend a lot of time thinking about the arc of our programs and how the experience for our audiences will be as they take the musical journey with us. We provide personal context for the music we want to share, and always try to present music that we think will move the listener in deeper ways. That’s our goal, and that’s how we hope A Touch of Brass will connect with our audiences.”

They each also bring to their performances a wealth of experience – from their careers in music as well as from their other pursuits. After studying in Vancouver and then Chicago, Tom Shorthouse spent six years in Taipei as principal trumpet for the National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan. While there he taught (entirely in Mandarin) in two university music departments. Tom recorded and made radio and television appearances, becoming one of Taipei’s major figures in classical and jazz performance. He was also a highly ranked amateur golfer in BC and considered pursuing golf as a career. Jim Littleford is Music Director for the Little Mountain Brass Band, having previously served as conductor of the Summer Pops Youth Orchestra. He’s also one of the finest music copyists in the country and has worked with Bryan Adams, Michael Bublé and Bramwell Tovey. Nick Anderson, originally from Albuquerque, NM, plays with orchestras and ensembles all over BC, is a busy session musician and loves to teach. He also runs a bike shop.  Jeremy Berkman has degrees in music and economics, moves easily between the worlds of classical, jazz and contemporary music and, for his enormous contribution to the musical life of the city, was honored with the 2011 Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award.  The group’s tuba player, David Sabourin is the founder of his successful small business: Tapestry Music with three stores, 26 employees and over 50 private teachers.