Civil War Brass

Better Than Rations or Medicine. The Federal City Brass Band, dir. Jari Villanueva. Privately produced by JV Music.
Information: 124 Maiden Choice Lane, Baltimore, MD 21228; Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; Web: Recorded April 21-23, 2005.

Eb cornet - R. L. Doucette, Don Johnson, Jeff Stockham
Bb cornet - Paul DeLuca, Jeb Hague
Eb alto - Ronald Friedman, J. V. Rogers
Bb tenor - Richard Bergren, Steve Gasiororowski, Andrew Gelfert
Bb baritone - Jared Denhard
Eb bass - John Bieniarz, Mark Elrod
Percussion - Garmen L. Bowers, Jr., Ted Dietz
Vocals - Heather Faust

Those who attended the 2005 HBS Early Brass Festival in Northfield, MN will certainly remember the wonderful performances of the Federal City Brass Band. They will also surely remember the blazing 100-degree days and watching the band members swelter in their authentic gray jean cloth uniforms of the 26th North Carolina Regimental Band as they staged a "battle of the bands" with the 1st Brigade Band of Wisconsin. Watching those folks sweat buckets gave me cause to ask band member Mark Elrod why they don't get some lightweight cotton or synthetic band uniforms. Mark shook his head at my obviously naïve remark and set me straight. "You don't understand. In our various military recreation performances we play for the stitch counter." Stitch counters??!! What in the world are they? Mark continued to educate me and explained that these there people who could tell at a distance of 10 paces whether your uniform contained the right amount of stitches per square inch, thereby achieving the status of being sufficiently "authentic." This seemed to me to take the "A" word a bit too far but that is the degree in which this fine ensemble takes up the challenge of authentic performance practice, sweat and all!

This present recording includes, among other items, music from the band books of the 26th North Carolina Regimental Band. Based on the existing repertoire and surviving documentation this band, which served the Confederate Army from 1862 until days before Lee's surrender at the end of the Civil War, the band must have been one spectacular musical outfit. The musicians were all Moravians from Salem, NC where the surviving books of the band are now housed. This recording includes music from those books along other music of the period. Jari Villanueva has also tastefully edited music that is known to have been performed by Civil War bands but now only survives in piano scores.

Claudio Grafulla (1810-1880) is represented twice on this program with George Hart's Quickstep and Captain Shepherd's Quickstep. The first piece contains a medley of tunes by Stephen Foster and the second is a flashy tour-de-force. Villanueva created a wonderful arrangement of Arthur Kennedy's Commencement Waltz, a lovely piece that captures the graceful and simple elegance of the music of this period. The Maryland Guard Galop gives the musicians a chance to demonstrate their fast and amazingly clean double tonguing. Arrangements of opera arias and choruses was an important part of brass band repertoire and the recording includes a glorious arrangement commissioned by General Kirkland for the 26th NC Regimental Band, working in many of Verdi's most famous tunes.

All instruments used on this CD (with the single exception of a drum) are originals dating to the mid 19th century, and the playing is uniformly fine. There are 21 short dance selections including quicksteps, waltzes, gallops, quadrilles, and polkas. Most of the works are typical of the period and genre, which is to say, ensemble music that is high on lyricism as well as fast flashy virtuosity. Don Johnson and Jeff Stockham deserve special note for their florid and beautiful playing but all the musicians perform wonderfully creating a solid sense of ensemble. All of the pieces, and indeed much of this repertoire, have several common qualities. There is a combination of exciting virtuoso writing with a lyrical aspect that almost magically conjures a sense of, for want of a better phrase, a more innocent time. The Federal City's latest CD is a fine example of this repertoire. Jari Villanueva and these fine musicians deserve great praise.

-- Jeffrey Nussbaum