In their 50-year history, Canadian Brass has set the standard for brass groups. In 1977 they were the first Western ensemble invited to tour China after the death of Mao and end to the Cultural Revolution. In 1979 they appeared on Sesame Street. It’s been a dynamic career for the ensemble that seemed like a pipe dream when founders Chuck Daellenbach, tuba, and Gene Watts, trombone, first floated the idea in the late 1960s.
At that point, nobody was making a career out of performing in a brass ensemble, but that fact did not stop Daellenbach and Watts from forming the Canadian Brass Ensemble in 1970 (later changing the name to just Canadian Brass) with Graeme Page, horn and Bill Phillips on trumpet. Stuart Laughton, trumpet, was already an HPO musician and joined the quintet when they first arrived, though he left the following year to pursue schooling and Ronald Romm took his seat in the group. Trumpeter Fred Mills joined in 1972 following Bill Phillips’ departure; Mills also created many of the arrangements performed by the group.
Right around the time the original Brass was forming, Betty Webster, Executive Director of the HPO was working on a plan to build a core of full-time musicians. On the advice of the Ontario Arts Council, she sought out existing ensembles and hired them to play in the orchestra, teach at McMaster University and perform for students in partnership with the Hamilton Board of Education. Webster had secured both strings and woodwind ensembles, the missing piece was the brass section.
That stellar timing led to the quintet’s joining the HPO and spending their first few years keeping up a busy schedule of performances for students around Ontario in addition to HPO concerts.
HPO Board of Directors President at the time of the quintet’s arrival Marnie Paikin and her husband Larry (1963-65 Board of Directors President) were early fans of the quintet and ensured the group’s arrival at the HPO. They continue to be some of Canadian Brass’ biggest supporters. The Hamilton couple has traveled far and wide to be there for some of the quintet’s biggest career moments. They traveled to Canadian Brass debuts at the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and all the way to Paris, France where the ensemble opened Festival Estival and held a week-long residency on the Bateaux Mouches Seine River cruise in Paris.
Musicians in the ensemble have changed over the years, Daellenbach being the only original member remaining with the quintet. However, the energetic and never-too-serious performance style Canadian Brass became known for has always remained.