By Robert Nein/Chewelah Arts Guild
Roam the Jenkins High hallways weekday afternoons this month and you might hear a brassy Christmas song from the band room. That would be the Chewelah Brass Quintet rehearsing for “Joy to the World,” a Chewelah Arts Guild concert they’ll open at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4 at the Abundant Life Fellowship Church.
The quintet is a welcome outlet for five busy local guys, all lifelong horn players, to continue a craft they began long ago.
“Continuing to play a brass instrument in your adult life is a challenge,” says Joe Trudeau, JHS band director now in his tenth year. “In a small community it’s easier to have a small group than a band, so practicing once a week with a quintet allows us to keep our chops up and have fun.”
That’s especially important with Trudeau’s notoriously difficult instrument, the French horn. Because multiple notes are played with one fingering, precise control of the facial muscles (“embouchure”) is needed to get the right notes.
Trudeau believes people enjoy brass quintets “because the sound is a pretty blend of low tuba notes to high trumpet notes; the same tonal quality, and good players can tackle some difficult music.” Groups like the Canadian Brass Quintet have helped make the genre popular.
Trudeau organized this quintet four years ago with four other musicians who have similar histories with their chosen instruments.
Tuba player Dave Johnstone has taught both math and music at JHS since 1997. He and his wife Kimberlyn, a physician, found exactly what they were looking for—a beautiful small town with good schools—in Chewelah after her graduation from medical school in California in the early ‘90s.
A native of Huntington Beach, California, Johnstone began on trumpet but became a tuba player one summer when his junior high band needed one. While not an easy instrument, it’s easier than the higher-pitched horns. “We can hold a note for 40 or 50 seconds and our lips don’t wear out as fast,” he says.
Dave says he’s always learning something new on his tuba. In July he performed a theme and variations on “The Cobbler’s Bench” (familiar as “Pop Goes The Weasel”) at Chataqua. He also loves teaching in Chewelah. “Where I grew up, kids are spoiled. Here they’re eager to learn, we get to know them and their families well, so it’s a pleasure to teach them.”
Byron Kerner, the group’s trombonist, has played the instrument since fifth grade in Brooklyn, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. He continued through high school and at Case Western University where, he says, “the marching band was much better than the football team.”
He moved to Stevens County in 1973 after a few years of teaching in a Cleveland inner city school and a few more doing motorcycle trips to Alaska and living in Seattle. He and his wife settled near the Addy-Gifford summit through “complete randomness,” a system that has worked well for him.
“That’s how I became a band teacher and conductor,” he explains. “When I was volunteering as a parent-aide at Summit Valley, they found out I had a degree. Pretty soon I started a band program and slowly learned conducting from a book. I faked my way through it, just like I did as an algebra teacher.” Summit school also put him to work “keeping 50 computers happy.”
A charter member of the Woodlands orchestra since 1977, Kerner has conducted five musicals at Woodlands. He likes the challenges of a quintet. “You have no place to hide, and you’re always playing. In an orchestra the ‘bone players might spend 90 minutes counting rests and playing for 15.”
John Southwick, pastor of Abundant Life Fellowship since July 1, learned trumpet in Minnesota, played with quintets and orchestras in Denver, and often in church since then. He’s a new member of the group, filling in for Paul Sety who is on military deployment.
“I’m excited by the opportunity, and really enjoying it,” he says. “The key to making a quintet work is listening—so that you complement what the other players are doing. You don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons.”
The intimate chamber music dynamic, which has been compared to a musical conversation, is not unlike that of a small town, he feels. “There’s such a strong feeling of love and care for the community here, where people are able to relate to and support one another.”
Father Jeff Lewis, pastor of St. Mary of the Rosary, has always found time for his trumpet, from fifth grade and high school in Mead through college and seminary. At WSU he played in concert band, orchestra, a brass quintet and a trumpet ensemble.
“The quintet is my favorite group because you get to show off a little, but it’s more relaxing than playing a solo, which can be nerve-wracking,” he says. “You can focus on playing in time and harmony with your fellow players.”
When he arrived here in 2011, Father Lewis became the missing piece in Trudeau and Johnstone’s effort to organize a brass quintet; they had one good trumpet in Paul Sety, but needed another. Father Lewis fit right in, just as he has in the town’s spiritual and community life.
“Chewelah is great because I get to know all the parishioners well but still have time to be involved in the community; with Kiwanis, the Chamber, and this musical group,” he says.
The quintet’s opening set at “Joy to the World” will be followed by more Christmas and seasonal music from Broken Whistle, a five-member Spokane Celtic group known for their rich instrumental and vocal harmonies. The concert’s second half features Spokane Choral Artists, a 12-voice ensemble composed of music professionals.
Tickets for the concert are on sale for $10 at four outlets: Valley Drug Co. and Akers United Drug in Chewelah and House of Music and Happy’s (Hallmark) Gift Shop in Colville. You can also buy them online at www.chewelahartsguild.org. For information, call 509-499-4376.