How do you name a chamber group?

by Gwendolyn Hoberg, Special to MPR
March 24, 2014

MOORHEAD, Minn. — Two colleagues and I recently formed a brass trio (trumpet, horn, trombone) in the Red River Valley area (two of us live in Moorhead, Minn., and one lives in Grand Forks, N.D.). For some reason, naming ourselves didn't occur to me when I first started organizing this group, even though I've gone through this process before. It was designing a flier for a photographer friend to distribute that reminded me that we should come up with a memorable name if we want to do anything more than get a few scattershot gigs.

Chamber ensemble names tend to fit into a few categories, I've found, though there are plenty of exceptions. Many are named after places, such as the Minneapolis Trombone Choir and the Roseville String Ensemble. It's fairly common to be named after a composer, like the Amadeus (string) Quartet and the Twin Cities' the WolfGang. One-word names are popular (Cantus, the Moscow-based Rusquartet, the contemporary ensemble Zeitgeist), while some go the opposite route with more ornate names (my pals in the Compass Rose Brass Ensemble, the Long Island Chamber Ensemble of New York). A fifth popular category is nature-based names (the Rose Ensemble, Ensemble Polaris).

I suggested to Mark and Austin that we all bring a list of name ideas to our first rehearsal on March 15. Here is my initial brainstorm, the silly and boring alongside the more plausible (as I used to tell my writing students, at first you should let it be bad): Red River Brass Trio, Tres Brass, Piston Cor Posuane, Valves and Slides, the Joyful Brass, Valley Brass Trio, the MGA Brass (our initials), Resonant, Flood of Sound (floods being a distinctive, if not beloved, feature of our region), the Odin Trio, Trio Odin, the Loki Trio, and Musikk (Norwegian for music). The day after this brainstorm, I watched the first episode of the new Cosmos TV series and was inspired to add the Sagan Trio, in honor of the wonderful scientist Carl Sagan.

I shared my list with the guys on the 15th, and Austin shared what he had come up with. Two names overlapped with mine (Red River Brass Trio and Valley Brass Trio, unsurprisingly), and his other ideas were the Prairie Winds Brass and Sub Zero Brass. When Austin said this last name, Mark and I both lit up. It was catchy and fun, and we joked that even in the summer we could tell audiences and clients how cool we are. (Aren't we hilarious?) Though Mark hadn't come prepared with anything, he threw out Tundra Brass and Shelter Belt Brass as we discussed our options. We decided to sit on the decision for a few days, but I had a feeling Sub Zero Brass would be it.

Meanwhile, my dad, who had sat in on our rehearsal, wanted to join in the creative process. He emailed me this list of names: Prairie Rose Brass (nice), Bohemian Brass, Sodbuster Brass, Agassiz Brass, Scandinavian Brass, Banana Belt Brass (based on a joke from that weekend), Legendary Brass, and Dakota Brass (already taken).

Today I emailed Austin and Mark to get their votes on the narrowed-down list of Prairie Rose Brass, Prairie Winds Brass, the Sagan Trio, and Sub Zero Brass. I cast my own vote for Sub Zero, and they both ended up doing the same. So it's unanimous: welcome the Sub Zero Brass to the world!

Gwendolyn Hoberg is a classical musician and the owner of the editing and writing business Content & Contour. She lives in Moorhead, plays with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, and writes the Little Mouse fitness blog. She is also a co-author of The Walk Across North Dakota.

Are you in a chamber group? What names did you consider? Are there alternate names you'd suggest for existing chamber groups? Leave a comment below!

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