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This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on December 15,

1999. All rights reserved.

Mystical Canadian Brass

Sometimes performing artists prefer to be interviewed

by telephone from their homes or offices. Sometimes, when they’re

touring, they prefer to be reached at their hotel. Weighing in,


with a first, Canadian Brass trombonist Gene Watts prefers to be


from the streets of Kansas City, Missouri.

The Canadian Brass has alighted in Kansas City on their way to


Missouri, Watts’ hometown. Sedalia has declared a "Gene Watts

Day," complete with parade and high school marching bands to honor

their native son, as a follow-up to the first ever Canadian Brass

concert there.

In Kansas City, Watts is standing by on his cell phone. The five


of the Canadian Brass are strolling purposefully from the plaza in

front of Saks Fifth Avenue, past Starbucks, on the way back to their

hotel, in pursuit of concert dress for the Christmas season. They

are looking for T-shirts. "We have three red ones," says


"but the green is terrible." Clearly, the Canadian Brass is

one earthy ensemble, with a highly-developed sense of play. "We

hang out a lot together on tour," Watts says with a twinkle in

his voice, "because we don’t know anybody else."

The Canadian Brass appears at New Brunswick’s State Theater on


December 15, at 8 p.m. Members of the ensemble are Jens Lindemann

and Ron Romm, trumpets; Chris Cooper, French horn; Gene Watts,


and Chuck Daellenbach, tuba. Watts and Daellenbach are the founding

members of the group.

The Canadian Brass bring its sense of play to recital appearances

on the road, incorporating skits and its own versions of operas into

the program. The New Brunswick performance includes the Brass’s


of Bizet’s opera "Carmen." "We correct Bizet," Watts

says. "We put the bull into the opera. And we do something else

that’s really appreciated — we cut it down to 10 minutes."

In guest appearances with some of the world’s leading orchestras about

20 times a year, the Brass restrains itself, and omits the skits and


Their repertoire, like their recordings, covers the musical map. The

New Brunswick program includes arrangements of the baroque masters

Purcell and Vivaldi, an arrangement of a Paganini Caprice for solo

French horn, a tribute to Duke Ellington, and both Chanukah and


selections. Watts is primarily responsible for programming and


presentation. He is also, I learn, the philosopher of the ensemble.

The outlines of the vast territory Canadian Brass has claimed for

its own can be seen by the range covered in more than 50 recordings.

A short selection of titles from the discography includes


Brass: Pachelbel to Joplin," "Ain’t Misbehavin’ and other

Fats Waller Hits," "Vivaldi: The Four Seasons," "Bach:

Art of the Fugue," "The Christmas Album," "The Mozart

Album," "Gabrieli/Monteverdi: Antiphonal Music,"


for Brass," "Brass on Broadway," "Canadian Brass Plays

Bernstein," and "Take the `A’ Train: Canadian Brass play the

music of Duke Ellington." Ever active, Canadian Brass issued two

new CDs in 1999, the Ellington album, and an album called


named after the piece, "Celebration," commissioned from Lukas

Foss for Canadian Brass and Orchestra, that marks the ensemble’s 30th


Born in 1936, Watts grew up in a family where music was important.

His mother was a piano teacher who taught 70 to 80 pupils a week for

40 years. His father was a minister who played trumpet as a young

man. Watts’ brother, a trumpeter, turned away from a career as a


in favor of a steady job with U.S. Steel.

"The piano was not an attraction for me," Watts says. "I

had to hear those beginning students too much. Besides, the piano

was always so busy, I couldn’t get to it even if I had wanted to."

He started on euphonium, a baritone horn, and switched to trombone

at age 14 when his arms were long enough to make the necessary


With his mother as accompanist, he played frequently at home and as

a church soloist.

Watts relates the musical scene in Sedalia, Missouri, to the history

of the town. Sedalia was part of the Underground Railroad, home to

Scott Joplin, and, therefore, a center for jazz clubs and good jazz

musicians. "I started playing jazz early," he notes. "In

high school I discovered that there were jazz sessions every weekend,

and they let me come in and play."

Watts formed his own Dixieland band, the Missouri Mudcats, as a way

to fund his education at the University of Missouri in Columbia. After

three years of study at the New England Conservatory in Boston, he

served as a member of the North Carolina Symphony, the San Antonio

Symphony, and the Milwaukee Symphony, before being chosen by Seiji

Ozawa as principal trombonist of the Toronto Symphony.

Shortly after coming to Toronto, he met tuba player

Chuck Daellenbach, who as a newly-minted Ph.D. had just joined the

music faculty at the University of Toronto. With three other Americans

they created the Canadian Brass, which gave its first concert in 1970

and began touring in the United States in the 1980s. "What’s


about us," says Watts, "is that we developed our style and

approach in Canada." In its early years the Canadian Brass


Canadian music heavily. As their careers became more international,

they focused more on international music. Watts still lives in


with filmmaker Barbara Sweete. The couple has a second home in


Both Daellanbach and Watts studied with Arnold Jacobs, the legendary

tuba player and performer of the Chicago Symphony. Watts credits


with forming his approach to performance. Jacobs’ musical outlook

stresses both a fundamental understanding of the basic physical


of playing a brass instrument with the need for a clear conception

of desired musical outcomes. "He was one of the first to


breathing and the neurological responses of the body," Watts says.

"He knew what to focus on. If you focus on how you’re walking

and what each muscle does, soon you’ll be stumbling.

"Similarly, if a musician focuses on the process more than the

result, it can cause problems playing an instrument," he


"For a brass instrument you focus on the lips and the vibration;

when the lips buzz that’s where the sound comes from. You can’t buzz

your lips without breathing. It’s like blowing out a candle; you just

take a breath and blow. It’s wind and song. If you take air in, and

focus on the music, everything should work automatically. At least

that’s true ’til you start thinking about other things. It’s the focus

on the music and the image in your mind that allows a person to be

a musician. That focus, that thought, forms the connection between

musician and audience."

The connection between musician and audience, Watts believes, is


rather than intellectual, and depends heavily on intuition. Rigid

formulas and fixed procedures have no place in program-making, as

Watts sees it. Variety and balance are his watchwords. "A program

is like a fine meal," he says. "You don’t eat the same meal


Watts, who is chiefly responsible for programming,


attention both on the pieces to be played in concert, and on their

precise order. "We want a program to flow in an easy way so that

it’s enjoyable," he says. "We’ll rearrange it if it doesn’t

flow. Each program must lift the audience and take it someplace. Each

piece must lead somewhere. The audience is always aware of whether

a program goes somewhere, even if they’re not conscious of it."

Convinced that communicating musically is a two-way street, Watts,

the resident philosopher of the Canadian Brass, said in an Internet

interview that "the more experience you have, the stronger


you have to your own frequency [individuality], and the more influence

you have over an audience, no matter what you play. When you identify

with something — God or love — you are completely open. That’s

where infinite energy comes from. If you say, `I only had three hours

sleep last night and it’s not a very good audience, or this job


pay very much,’ then that’s what the audience gets. I like to tell

young performers that the audience knows every thought you have, not

intellectually but by feeling."

Watts is convinced that music makes a profound impression on the human


"Any kind of music has an effect on the nervous system," he

says. "It affects the way we feel about ourselves. Classical music

is wonderful because it takes us to the deepest level of experience.

The `Mozart effect’ is just the tip of what’s going to be


He refers to the evidence that listening to classical music enhances

the cognitive ability of young children.

Much of the listening advocated by proponents of the Mozart effect

is listening to recorded music. Watts considers working with


a problem, and, therefore, open to criticism.

"Music must be live to be effective," he says. "When you

listen to a recording, it has an effect because of your memory of

a performance." How does he evaluate the effect of music on people

who have heard only recordings, and have never been exposed to live

music? "People who have only heard recordings will be really [he

underlines the word with his voice] excited when they hear live


Watts frets about excessive focus on the technical and intellectual

aspects of music. He introduced the Brass to meditation. Mindful of

the spiritual, or metaphysical aspects of music, he favors reining

in the intellect. "There’s nothing wrong with the intellect as

long as it’s used properly," he says. "It’s like a computer.

If it turns out to be the master, then we are in trouble."

Remaining master of the computer, Watts is justifiably enthusiastic

about his ensemble’s excellent website,

Updated once or twice a month, the site contains schedules,


archival information, interviews, and tips about brass instruments.

Watts looks to New Age ideas as a valuable corrective to received

wisdom. "The world is changing," he says. "We can accept

the idea of non-verbal experience. That’s what music gives us. Kids

need experience beyond the world of information and intellect. What

the world needs now is love. Music is beginning to be rediscovered.

New Age goes back to old known effects of music and results in


how to present music. Everybody always knew music was mystical. Just

think about chant and about plainsong in church." For those


of mysticism, however, there is no need to fear overdosing on the

spiritual when one is exposed to the Canadian Brass.

As Watts’ ideas about music take form in the reality of performance,

the light touch is a major component of Canadian Brass’s


The mysticism of the Canadian Brass cohabits comfortably with the

group’s earthiness. "One reason we’re seemingly different,"

says Watts, "is that we have a relaxed approach to something


very serious."

— Elaine Strauss

Canadian Brass, State Theater, 15 Livingston Avenue,

New Brunswick, 877-782-8311. $20 to $38. Thursday, December 16,

8 p.m.

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