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Christmas around the world - Burning River Brass

Some twenty or more years ago, the Cuyahoga River (which flows south from Lake Erie, separating Cleveland, Ohio, into an East side and a West side, and seldom do the twain meet) acquired a temporary dam downstream from the city center. Near the steel mills which provided a great deal of the early economy of Cleveland, oil and other flammable liquids leeched into the river. The dam, consisting of stray driftwood as well as other miscellaneous lumber and big city detritus, was thus vulnerable to a stray spark. That spark lit a fire which made international headlines.

River Catches on Fire, Burns the papers shrieked. But it wasn't really the river itself burning, it was the junk on top of it. The name stuck, however, and the topic became a gold-mine for comedians. Several years ago it was adapted as the name of a brass ensemble, the Burning River Brass, which is industriously bringing musical honors to Cleveland, helping to dispel the old jokes in favor of new compliments.

Burning River Brass. Photo © Roger Mastroianni
Burning River Brass. Photo © Roger Mastroianni

The Burning River Brass is usually eleven players, sometimes twelve, of whom one, co-founder Feza Zweifel -- his trumpet-playing wife, Heather is the other -- performs on percussion and occasionally conducts, as well as producing arrangements for the group. Generally, there are four trumpets, two horns, three trombones (one doubles on euphonium), bass trombone and tuba, in addition to the necessary -- if occasional -- percussion.

Some of the members are also part of other groups, or play in local orchestras, sometimes even filling in as extras in the Cleveland Orchestra, or others around the country. The BRB also tour extensively and specialize in educational programs. They also make splendid colorful CDs. The first of these was Of Knights and Castles featuring mostly British music. This was followed by Russian Carnival and then Romanza Espana. Now, just in time for Christmas, they've come out with their first Christmas collection, and it is simply superb.

Christmas around the world is just that. From the very first bells of the traditional French carol Ding Dong, Merrily on High! you know you're in for a treat. There can be no better way to listen to this CD than relaxing in a comfortable chair in front of a fireplace with the music flowing around you. (Surround sound would earn you definite bonus points!) There are no words to distract you, yet you'll hear them in your head, and probably even sing along in some places.

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Copyright © 18 December 2004 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA


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