Kicking it Copper-Street Style

by Luke Taylor, Minnesota Public Radio
August 24, 2012

St. Paul, Minn. — The Minnesota State Fair offers ensembles something not even Carnegie Hall can provide. "You get thousands of people just strolling by who might stop and hear you," says Copper Street Brass Quintet trumpet player Allison Hall. "The State Fair audience is so fluid, which is really great for a group like ours to get that kind of exposure. We run into people all the time who say, 'Oh, we saw you guys at the Fair.'"

This year marks the fourth time the Copper Street Brass Quintet (CSBQ) will be performing at the State Fair; the 2012 Fair also marks the soft release of its new CD, Copper Street Classics. An official CD release event is scheduled for October 4, but the CSBQ will have copies of its CD available for purchase at the State Fair.

The album features CSBQ horn player Tim Bradley's original brass arrangements of works by Wagner, Brahms, Mozart, Dvořák, Gounod, Fauré, Debussy and Schumann, including an ambitious arrangement of Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, Op. 56. From concept to completion, the CSBQ spent more than a year making the album. "You can edit something until you turn purple," Hall says of the final stages of production. "You can literally spend years picking out every little thing, but we're happy with it."

DIY approach

As the album came together, Hall was busy with more than rehearsal and recording; she also designed the album cover, its bold collage of multicolored music staves tossed like salad on a striking black background. "We didn't want it to look like a more typical classical CD cover, with just a picture of a tree and a sunset or something like that," Hall says. "We wanted it to be eye-catching and really sort of non-traditional."

Designing the album cover speaks to the do-it-yourself approach embraced by the members of the CSBQ. For example, Hall does graphic and Web design (she also maintains the ensemble's website), and trombone player Alex Wolff does the quintet's accounting. "You either have to pay somebody else or you learn to do it yourself," Hall says. "[Music] is a multi-faceted career these days and you really have to make yourself talented in more ways than just playing your instrument if you want to make it as a business."

Kicking it

Granted, the CSBQ didn't record its new album entirely without help. Copper Street Classics was recorded and mastered at Wild Sound studio in Minneapolis, and Hall credits sound engineer Matthew Zimmerman with capturing the challenging dynamic range of brass instruments.

Zimmerman also made an observation that resonated with all the members of the quintet. "He told us, 'You guys are trying to make classical music kick ass!'" Hall recalls. "We said, 'Yeah, that's exactly what we want to do!' That's the thought process that we try to go by, both with our CD project and with our concert programming. We want to put it all out there and make it awesome."

Music menu for the Fair

Hall says she and the other members of the Copper Street Brass Quintet prepare for concerts at the State Fair differently than for indoor performances. Some pieces — particularly those with softer movements — simply don't work well when played outdoors, and pieces that demand flawless ensemble precision get excluded from the set list because the hurly-burly of the Fair makes it difficult for the ensemble members to hear one another. Instead, the group opts for music that can be played loudly without the feedback that can happen inside a concert hall. The CSBQ also tries for more recognizable pieces, thinking of those multitudes of fairgoers who may be walking past.

And there's another rule. "We try not to visit any of the food booths before the gig so we can stand up straight and not explode during the show," Hall laughs. "[But afterwards] we pack up the stuff and go straight to the cookie place and get a huge bucket because there's five of us!"

The Copper Street Brass Quintet will perform at the MPR booth at the State Fair on Saturday, Aug. 25 and Sunday, Sept. 2. Both performances are at 2 p.m.

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