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Thar They Blow 

The Canadian Brass make the holidays horny.

The Canadian Brass
  • The Canadian Brass
By this time of year, it gets a little uncomfortable being a member of the esteemed Canadian Brass. "When we're at the hotels, we hear music piped through the speakers," explains trumpet-player Joe Burgstaller. "Eighty percent of the Christmas music we hear is brass music. And 95 percent of that is us."

Such are the travails of the world's most popular and respected brass quintet. Since forming more than 30 years ago in Toronto, they've recorded almost 70 albums of works by Bach, Beethoven, and Wagner, among others. But it's the holiday tunes that everyone knows. "It's a month-long invasion of our music," Burgstaller laughs. "It's a neat thing, but it's also quite comical. We'll come off a flight, and we'll hear pieces on the radio that we're performing that night."

If the troupe -- which blows two trumpets, a trombone, French horn, and tuba -- hasn't exactly revolutionized brass performance over the past three decades, it certainly has raised public awareness of it. You can't walk into a mall, a supermarket, or, yes, a hotel without being serenaded by a bevy of horns at Christmastime. More than just a holiday wonder, the quintet spends more than 200 days on the road each year. And while performances vary by season (they're now playing holiday-themed music by Handel, Mozart, and Vivaldi), innovation is inherently limited. Age-old music is what they do, after all.

"We tend to rotate things in and out of the program," Burgstaller says. "We communicate with the audience very directly and gladly do so. It's an enthralling experience for us each night. Each performance is special, because it's in front of new people. It's like meeting new people.

"We approach everything as a great piece of music. And we often play [material] not originally [written] for brass. We try to eliminate the wall between the audience and the performer. This job is a life and a lifestyle."

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