When the Canadian Brass came to NPR for a Tiny Desk Concert, the group kicked off the show with a piece its members say has been central to its repertoire for more than 40 years. It's a transcription of an organ work, Johann Sebastian Bach's "Little" Fugue in G Minor.
Classical material like Bach was just a starting point for the group, which has been pleasing crowds for decades with a vast repertoire that includes modern compositions, Dixieland, jazz, Latin and Broadway, all served up with a light touch and a sense of humor. Tuba player Chuck Daellenbach, one of the founding members of the group, spins his horn around and regularly incorporates fun interplay with the group members.
"Given that we were brass players when we started out, we had a very tall hill to climb just to get people interested in our music," Daellenbach tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin. "So we employed every method possible, and that really let us be ourselves onstage."
That approach was not without consequences. Daellenbach says that early on, some purists criticized the group for its playful attitude.
"Critics said that we were debasing the recital environment and that we were somehow taking music apart," he says. "In fact, it was always musically centered. We're seriously trained, classically trained musicians, we've taken music history courses and everything else you're supposed to do. We love this music, and we wanted to find a way to present this and build an audience for brass in general and Canadian Brass specifically."