Christmas = Brass

This morning while lying in bed and looking out our bedroom sliding doors at the sun coming up over Table Rock Lake, I began to wonder why the Christmas season is most often celebrated with brass instruments. Why do we hear more brass ensembles during this time of the year than woodwind quartets or string ensembles? Why are brass instruments more seasonal than all other instruments? Throughout the day I pondered this question and finally decided to sit down and discuss this question with myself.

Brass instruments were not always used during the Christmas season just as they were not used in the early church. The reason that they were frowned upon in liturgical circles was the fact that the clergy associated brass instruments as the accompaniment to the Roman spectacles which featured the persecution and sacrifice of Christians in the coliseums. In fact the same repulsion for brass instruments was lodged against the organ as well. For decades the organ and brass were banned from church services. Fortunately we were able to overcome this stigma and today the most recognizable instruments during the Christmas season are the organ and brass instruments. One noted exception to this statement would be the Salvation Army’s bell ringers outside Walmart prior to the blessed birth of Christ. But, even though the bell is a percussion instrument, it is constructed from BRASS.

The Christmas season calls for a majestic and marshal tone which can only be produced through the use of brass instruments. Who would be satisfied to hear the announcement of Christ birth heralded by a bassoon or alto saxophone? How could the marshal tone of a trumpet or the richness of a trombone be replaced by the timbre of a clarinet or the crash of a cymbal? Oops, there I go again. The cymbal is another example of a percussion instrument and yet again it is constructed from BRASS.

As I continue to muse at the importance of brass instruments at Christmas time, I must admit that for a wedding, I would prefer hearing a string quartet but that is as far as I can go in the thought of replacing a good brass quintet. As far as the importance of a woodwind quartet (sub-mini orchestra), I am at a loss as to its contribution to the musical world at all.

Further thoughts on my “Brass is Best” attitude can be summed up in the amount of sales of brass arrangements and employment around the Christmas season. While checking my sales of brass arrangements ( from September through December each year, I noticed that this seasonal spike could only be justified by the amount of brass ensembles working the Christmas season. During these four months, our sales double as compared to all the other months. I love the Christmas season!

Now that you have heard my ranting rational as to the importance of brass instruments used during the Christmas season I would be open to other opinions. I am doubtful that Blue Grass bands will every replace a fine Brass Quintet or a Trumpet Trio with Organ during these festive celebrations but I could be wrong. I thought I was wrong several years ago but later found that I was right.

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.