It started with one musician’s innovative idea to form a chamber ensemble with a piano — but not necessarily with strings. “I wanted to think outside the box,” said Rosetta Bacon, a pianist who founded Brass Roots Trio by adding a trumpet and a French horn player
We grew the idea from the roots up, said Bacon. Hence the name. Beyond that, she said, the name Brass Roots Trio has a “catchy sound.”
Like the composition of the ensemble, the trio’s repertoire is a little unorthodox — or, at least, diverse. “We play classical and jazz, from instrumental to choral, from early music to premieres of commissioned pieces,” Bacon said.
Also unusual is that the ensemble includes a vocalist, who happens to be one of the musicians.
Brass Roots Trio was established in 2004. When Bacon, a pianist, arranger and accompanist with an international career, was looking for “some top brass players,” the name of Douglas Lundeen, professor at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, “kept coming up.”
“The two of us got together, and there was no question it was a great fit,” Bacon said. “As an aside, I asked him if he sang, and was thrilled when he told me he had studied to be an opera singer.”
Lundeen then recommended Travis Heath, who was at the time a graduate student trumpeter, as the third trio member. “The three of us got together, and the first time we played together it was as if we had played together for years,” said Bacon. “That kind of ensemble playing is not something that can be forced; it’s a lot deeper than playing notes together.
“The singing tones and phrasing became our signature style,” she added.
One challenge was the scarcity of repertory written for their combination of instruments, so Brass Roots had to arrange its own. “This gave us the freedom to choose music that we liked from any instrumentation and genre, and make it our own,” Bacon said. “We are constantly evolving with new programming ideas and musical styles.”
One particularly memorable venue Brass Roots played in was the White House. When the Obama Administration expressed an interest in bringing American artists into the presidential residence for various functions and concerts, Bacon sent the President’s social secretary a CD and letter. “I didn’t really think much about it after that,” she admitted.
The ensemble ended up performing at the White House Christmas party, and meeting the President and First Lady. “I think we were all in shock,” Bacon said. “And to top it all off, I got to play the National Steinway that stands on golden Eagles. It was a magical night that we will never forget.”
The trio’s upcoming concert will take place in a church. Whatever the location, whoever the audience, the pianist said, “to be able to reach someone’s soul through our music is the ultimate reward for me, and I feel blessed to be able to do what I love so much with my two outstanding colleagues.”
Lundeen almost went in a different direction. “I grew up going to All Saints Episcopal Church in Great Neck on Long Island, which had an excellent Anglican-style music program,” he said. “When I was about 13 and having my first thoughts about what I might do for a career, I thought of becoming an Episcopal priest.”
At about the same time, Lundeen was part of a youth group that went Christmas caroling with at a hospital and nursing homes. “I felt the spirit of the music and saw its effect on the listeners, “ he said. “There are times when thoughts come to my mind that I sense are the Holy Spirit speaking. During the caroling, the thought came: ‘You will minister to people, but your ministry is music.”
This is the trio’s first appearance with the Living Arts Concert Series, said founder/director Annick Kanter-Saint Hubert. “They have been sending me fliers asking if we would be interested in hiring them for the past two or three years,” she said. “I receive a lot of requests from musicians, and the question is always to choose groups that present different styles of music within that year’s series. This group has national exposure, and we decided to ask if they were going to be in the area at a time that would also work for us.”
Although the day the trio was not available for the series’ usual Sunday afternoon, Kanter-Saint Hubert decided to “take a risk. Our audiences have come to expect high musical expertise from our artists, but also exposure to new styles, to interesting programming. We hope to satisfy them again this year.”
The Living Arts Concert Series presents the Brass Roots Trio in concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Church of the Resurrection, 3315 Greencastle Road, Burtonsville. A donation of $15 is suggested. Visit www.livingartconcerts.com.