The Barclay Brass is a classical outfit comprising trumpeters, trombonists, French hornists, euphonists and one tubist, co-founder Willie Clark. Think about all of the thunder and authority of classical music, however with out balancing strings and woodwinds. It’s a uncommon sufficient configuration even within the classical world, however the Barclay Brass, which options 11 musicians (the technical time period is undecet) somewhat than a customary single or double quintet, is rarer nonetheless. It’s not simple to seek out nearly a dozen orchestra-quality brass gamers with time for an unpaid exploration of a musical sub-sub-genre. However D.C. has a reserve of classical professionals that few different cities can boast because of the Nationwide Symphony Orchestra, the Washington Nationwide Opera and the U.S. navy.
Practically all Barclay members are energetic navy musicians, together with Clark. The membership has rotated since he and trumpeter Nathan Clark (no relation) bonded with trombonist David Miller at a music camp a few decade in the past. They began performing in 2015, impressed by decades-old establishments like Empire Brass and the Canadian Brass.
Brass devices had been popularized solely within the early nineteenth century. Whereas distinctive traditions on this mode have taken root all through England, the Balkans, New Orleans and the Caribbean, the western classical repertoire stays small. “Comparatively, to a string quartet, we’ve not a lot literature in any respect,” says trumpeter Amy McCabe, the fourth core member of the group. “There’s a variety of room to discover and broaden this style.”
This largely crew-cut and stiff-shouldered group is an odd match for the up to date classical world, which has grown extremely experimental when it comes to tonality, instrumentation and cross-cultural pollination. On the March live performance — a celebration of latest feminine composers known as the WoCo Fest 2020 that includes a number of ensembles — the Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion used its boundless assortment of bells, mallet keyboards and drums to delirious impact, creating lush soundscapes and pounding repetitions. As compared, the Barclay Brass’s seated, formal efficiency may appear tame or old school.
The group loomed within the mezzanine among the many towering and protruding organ pipes, maybe the suitable place for steel tubes that sing with air. Miller, who has pushed a lot of the group’s inventive enlargement, typically adapts pipe organ charts for his preparations. Once they started, they summoned the feeling of a spiritual constructing actually abuzz with an expertly performed organ. We may really feel the grand nave’s wooden pews vibrating by way of the cushions beneath us. Each time the musicians swelled from a whisper to a roar, the air within the constructing modified.
The supply of the roar was Willie Clark’s tuba — almost the dimensions of a harp and much more formidable. Its rounded decrease curve rested in Clark’s lap whereas he bear-hugged the nickel-plated instrument’s center and the foot-thick bell horn bloomed above him. The mouthpiece was as large as a tennis ball. Clark barely moved as he performed, simply the short dance of his fingers on the instrument’s three valve keys.
The ensemble’s set was various, together with a world-premiere composition known as “Resolute Fanfare,” as courtly as its title suggests, by visitor euphonium participant Gail Robertson. As with a choir, there was big pleasure in being overwhelmed by the magnitude of human breath. When the group sometimes reached a collective relaxation, we may hear the musicians gasp in unison, getting ready themselves for the subsequent plunge. It was a reminder of the mere mortals behind such a supernatural sound.
The Barclay Brass has performed nearly 30 live shows in 5 years, a gentle clip for an off-hours venture, and has discovered methods to stay energetic in the course of the pandemic. It ceaselessly shares performances and recordings on its YouTube web page, and launched its first Zoom video final summer time. As of October, the Barclay Brass has begun taking part in socially distanced outside live shows, together with occasions held by the Boulanger Initiative, the group that sponsored the March live performance,and an Oktoberfest at Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington. It has additionally taught a grasp class for college kids on the College of Maryland.
Again at All Souls in early March, I requested Miller to account for the ambition of the group. It was two months after the sudden demise of Rush drummer Neil Peart, and Miller revealed he was in mourning. “They had been the largest affect on my choice to pursue a profession in music,” he informed me. “Their music transcends any type of model or boundaries. They’d their very own method.” The Barclay Brass crammed the church with its personal indefinable energy that evening, extra austere than Rush however no much less eccentric or exploratory.
John Lingan is a author in Rockville.