By Kait Burgan
The brilliant and energizing sounds of brass instruments are synonymous with the magic and joy of the holiday season.
“There is a biblical connection to brass,” says Stevan Paranosic, founding member of The Festive Brass, an ensemble that performs as a quartet, quintet, sextet and a large 12-piece brass and percussion group. “Historically, the brass has been used for signalling. It is storied to have heralded the arrival of Baby Jesus and goes back to the early days of the Salvation Army and the playing of the carols at outdoor events.”
Brass and percussion are the few instruments that can play outdoors without adverse effects on the instrument or its sound, and while brass can play outside, The Festive Brass Vancouver Island “Holiday Horns” Tour will bring audiences inside for six concerts, each featuring seasonal favourites with the entire 12-piece ensemble performing brilliant and quirky arrangements, many that have never been heard before.
With a library approaching 200 arrangements, almost all of which have been written by the members of the group, The Festive Brass playfully boasts the ability to play nearly any Christmas tune upon request. They can do Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer in about ten different styles, including blues and polka.
“Trombonist Robert Fraser has written an arrangement where he’s inserted the Rudolph theme into the Nutcracker!”
Music, and a particular instrument, becomes a core part of people’s lives, a profession for some, in many different ways. For Paranosic, teeth had a lot to do with it.
“My mother thought my siblings and I should each play an instrument, and she also believed that my pronounced front teeth as a twelve, maybe thirteen-year-old, would actually be pushed back so we wouldn’t need braces if I played something like a trumpet,” he recalls. “Whether or not it was successful, we don’t know, but it was an interesting theory.” Paranosic never did get braces, and it wasn’t until he joined the local marching band - his mother dragging him “kicking and screaming” - that he became excited about playing an instrument.
“That marching band put me in a social situation where becoming a better trumpet player and a better musician was a status quo, like joining the football team and wanting to be a quarterback. It took off for me after that, and it never really left me.” Paranosic grew up in Ontario, and today he’s the Principal Trumpet Player with the Vancouver Island Symphony and is a band teacher in multiple school districts on Vancouver Island.
He’s also one of the driving forces of the Vancouver Island Repertory Jazz Orchestra and played for many years with Victoria’s Symphony. He says a lot of responsibility comes with playing the trumpet.
“It has so much carrying power to it, and that has always been a major appeal,” he says. “I tell my young students that we have ‘Weapons of mass sound destruction in our hands, but we cannot yield them like that.’ That’s the beauty of the instrument. It is capable of so much power but so much beauty at the same time.”
Paranosic admits that he’s likely to face some differing opinions, but he doesn’t think that there are other instruments that match the quality of the voice, the singing voice, as much as a brass instrument. “The trumpet,” he says, “Is the soprano of the Brass family. He continues to say that for those familiar with the different musical styles, there’s an awareness of a little bit of a hierarchy.
“Trumpet players like to think that we’re at the top.”
The Festive Brass Vancouver Island “Holiday Horns” Tour is at the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River on Dec. 14, Mary Winspear Theatre in Sidney on Dec. 15, Comox United Church on Dec. 16, Knox United Church in Parksville on Dec. 17, the Salvation Army Victoria Citadel on Dec. 18 and the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre in Duncan on Dec. 19. Featured musical selections include the beautiful “White Christmas”, Latin party style “Feliz Navidad”, a “Funky Little Drummer Boy”, some New Orleans “Frosty the Snowman”, and, of course, Festive Brass’ infamously twisted “Rudolph Variations.” Guest include SD63 Secondary Choirs (Sidney) & Village Voices Choir (Parksville).