The Dallas Brass: A Little-Known National Treasure

May 2, 2015 Updated: May 12, 2015

From John Philip Sousa to John Williams, from Herb Alpert to Aaron Copland and Henry Mancini, the Dallas Brass led by trombonist Michael Levine completely enchants.

Several days ago, I saw their beautifully worked out program. It tied whole periods and whole genres of music together—pop, rock, classical, jazz—and demonstrated music’s highest mission: to deeply touch another human being.

The sheer virtuosity of the Dallas Brass players is uncanny.
The sheer virtuosity of the Dallas Brass players is uncanny. D.J. Barraclough and Luis Araya, the two trumpet players, tossed incredibly difficult passages back and forth. In one piece, they played virtuosic passages from the “William Tell Overture,” originally scored for the first violin section with the backdrop of a whole orchestra.

In other instances, following the theme of an American panorama of music, Barraclough played in the style of Harry James and Herb Alpert. His uncanny ear and the power of his embouchure enabled him to reach the trumpeters’ heights and into the realm of Doc Severinsen or Harry James.

Featured in this concert was Chris McWilliams, a drummer who imitated the legendary Gene Krupa in one work amazingly well. In another piece, he was featured on xylophone playing a virtuoso work of a hair-raising sort, bringing humor to the audience and simultaneously eliciting from us respect for his sheer mastery.

Juan Berrios, who played horn and alto horn (the latter an instrument not heard often enough), had the instrument singing in a manner foreign to most horn players. They are often overly careful of missing notes and strip their sound of vibrato. It was therefore heartwarming and joyful to hear Berrios and his rare artistry.

Paul Carlson played the glorious and all but forgotten tuba. In Carlson’s hands, the bass was of course richly provided, and yet he had the flexibility to play very high solo work with dazzling panache. His range from the bottom to the top register was seamless, and he made the tuba playing seem effortless.

None of these glories would be possible were it not for the tireless leader, Michael Levine, who put the whole group and concept together.

Levine, so able on the stage, speaks to the audience with great humor and intelligence and, above all, soul. He is never at a loss for words, given, musician that he is, that he knows exactly what he is talking about. Very few musicians have such control and rapport with an audience.

The trombone is a very beautiful instrument in the right hands as Levine showed throughout the evening, for when he played a solo, he never missed a beat. His incredibly mellow trombone sound prevailed.

Art Worthy of Supporting

It saddens me that so fine a group as the Dallas Brass struggles for support. I have heard they are magnificent at clinics held throughout the country and the world. Young children exposed to music in such a joyful way would be electrified by its beauty and become converts immediately. And the old with less spark and enthusiasm would come alive when their souls, too long in storage, were touched.

With the ability the Dallas Brass has to educate and to touch audiences around the globe, the group is a national treasure.

Anyone reading with financial means, who understands and loves music, might consider getting to know the Dallas Brass. Lest the group lose more money getting to concerts than they make entertaining grateful audiences worldwide, their art needs help.

A bit of soul-searching could certainly turn on the philanthropic spirit in the artistic souls of those who really care and can see the wonderful good of this group.

To contact Michael Levine:  

Eric Shumsky is an American concert violist, chamber musician, and conductor.