C Street Brass musically combine the old and new

Turning a passion for something like computer science into a viable career is not difficult. Turning something like music into a viable career, especially in such an uncommon form as the brass quintet, is much harder. But that’s what the members of Carnegie Mellon’s ensemble-in-residence C Street Brass are doing.

“What you see on stage is such a small part of what goes into it all,” trumpet player and advanced performance certificate in trumpet student Kyle Anderson said during an interview following the release of Wop De Wop. Trombone player and second-year trombone performance graduate student Gabriel Colby was also present. Wop De Wop is a collaborative EP between brass quintet C Street Brass and electronic artist Jakeisrain, a sophomore music technology and philosophy double major at Carnegie Mellon named Jake Bernsten. C Street Brass also includes trumpet player and second-year trumpet performance master’s student Scott Nadelson, French horn player and advanced performance certificate in French horn student Eric Damashek, and bass trombone player and second year-bass trombone performance master’s student Hakeem Bilal.

While at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where the five band members originally met, the musicians were aware that their art form held a limited number of opportunities. “The brass quintet as an art form … it’s relatively young, but it’s almost been played out already,” Anderson said. “And so the encouragement to find a niche, something a little more different, was always encouraged by our earlier teachers, but then when we got here, it’s like, you actually need to do it.... It hit us pretty hard, that we needed to start branching out a little more if we wanted to do this.”

Colby added, “It’s not that we don’t believe in the art form — because we do — it’s knowing that, and doing something with the knowledge. There’s so much new technology. There’s more possible.”

The band members wanted to leave Baltimore after graduation but also keep playing together. “We knew a kind of standard path that groups kind of similar to ours go through — or professional groups — is that they align themselves with a university,” Colby said. “So there are all kinds of residencies, all different kinds, that mean different things ... we were like, well, why don’t we just propose that we could be resident ensemble somewhere?” They applied to three different programs and got into all of them, but Carnegie Mellon was their first choice.

“Everyone has other things that they do, but we’re all passionate about making this work,” Colby said. “We’re trying to do everything,” Anderson added. He explained that C Street Brass puts a lot of effort into maintaining their classical presence in Pittsburgh, while trying to build up a repertoire of electronic brass music with Jakeisrain. On top of that, he said that the band members are “learning these insanely difficult, modern compositions that don’t have a place in the rock hall or the concert hall, but we’re learning them anyways because we need to know them if we’re ever going to pass that information along to our future students.” All of the practicing ends up taking at least five hours a day, every day, and both Colby and Anderson pointed out that sometimes it’s much more than that.

Both Anderson and Colby cite the closeness of the band as part of the reason this project works at all. “It’s also kind of two-sided, because we’re really together musically, like playing-wise and sound-wise. Gabe will schedule gigs, Eric and I will write arrangements … Hakeem will look pretty,” Anderson said with a grin. “But no, he does the Facebook page, and Scott does the website.… We’re all actively participating, which is something that keeps the motor running.”

Colby said: “We’re also just trying to become better musicians, and it’s like, these shows are so much fun; our goal is to make the audience have a good time, but at the same time, you need to grow as a musician, and so we work on these insane pieces, that it’s sort of like a rite of passage to become a virtuoso on your

Carnegie Mellon is a place that prides itself on its ruthless enthusiasm, and its commitment to its various disciplines. As a university with a heavy technical focus, many of those disciplines translate easily into traditional job opportunities. C Street Brass is an example of a group of young, talented musicians who are making a less traditional passion a viable possibility for themselves.