Taking a ‘journey’: Dallas Brass to explore American music during April 1 show in Hollidaysburg

It’s quite a demanding task that Dallas Brass has taken upon itself – tackling the broad, diverse scope of the American musical landscape in concert.

“It’s a pretty big statement, to do that justice,” said Michael Levine, the director of the six-piece brass group, as well as its trombone player. “There really is only so much we can get done. I tell our audiences it would take us three months to cover the entire American musical journey.

“But we start in the time of George Washington and go up through the decades, play some early jazz, some of the great American composers like [Aaron] Copland and [George] Gershwin. We do some [John Philip] Sousa marches, Broadway, music from movies. We want to give an overview of how rich our American music culture is.”

Dallas Brass will perform its “American Musical Journey” concert at 7 p.m. April 1 at the Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School auditorium. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at either the Hollidaysburg Area Junior High School or Senior High School or at the Hollidaysburg Area YMCA.

The concert is sponsored by the Hollidaysburg Area Music Parents Association and the Altoona Mirror and “is intended to be an educational enrichment opportunity for the students, as well as an entertaining evening of great music for the community,” said Scott Sheehan, the director of bands and the music department chairman for the Hollidaysburg Area School District.

Dallas Brass – originally formed in Dallas, Texas, 30 years ago – consists of Levine; D.J. Barraclough, trumpet; Luis Miguel Araya, trumpet; Juan Berrios, horn, alto horn and flugelhorn; Paul Carson, tuba; and Ben Handel, drums and percussion.

“I like to call it an innocent venture on my part,” Levine said of the group’s origins. “I wanted to put a group together to play weddings, ceremonies, receptions. Then I thought, ‘Gee, we could do more than that,’ so we got into social events. Then we decided we could go beyond that and do concerts.”

“We strictly do concerts now. No more weddings,” he added, with a laugh.

The group has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City, which Levine called “daunting,” considering that “every incredible musician ever has been on that stage.” It also has played at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and overseas, as well as sharing the stage with late comedian Bob Hope and performing for U.S. presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, according to a release.

It also performed in Hollidaysburg in 2008.

“We wanted our current students, as well as the community, to have a similar musical experience,” Sheehan said. “The group is comprised of world-class musicians who are incredibly gifted in sharing their enthusiasm and excitement for music, as well as the many benefits that music offers.”

Levine wants to take the group’s shows beyond just “entertaining.”

“[We want it to be] fun, informative and entertaining,” he said. “If I could choose one word, it would be ‘fun.’ We want people to come and have a good time. I think of it as a show more than a concert. We have blocking, choreography, elements of the theater.

“People don’t just come to listen; they come to watch. We want it to be more than five or six guys sitting in chairs, staring at music stands.”

The group will also work that day with Hollidaysburg music students and will share the stage with them during the evening’s performance.

“The students will have an opportunity to rehearse and attend a workshop in the afternoon,” Sheehan said, “which will culminate with both the junior high and senior high bands performing with the group in the evening concert.”

Levine said working with students is “a big part of our mission.”

“We want to inspire kids, to motivate them to practice and embrace the arts,” he said. “Bringing them onstage and performing with them, that makes an impact on them.”

Mirror staff writer Cory Dobrowolsky can be reached at 946-7428.