Schankman’s St. Louis: What is The Saint Louis Low Brass Collective?

    By Paul Schankman

    The Saint Louis Low Brass Collective is all about doing things on a high note.

    It is run by a group of low brass enthusiasts created by the ultimate low brass enthusiasts; players from the St. Louis Symphony, who want to promote some of the more forgotten instruments in just about any orchestra.

    “People don’t know what brass instruments are capable of,” said Gerry Pagano, Bass Trombonist with the symphony and founder of the Saint Louis Low Brass Collective.

    “We get trapped a lot, especially the tubas, and it is tough to get out of that stereotype,” Pagano said.

    For the record, by “low brass” they are talking mostly about three instruments: The tuba, the Euphonium and the Trombone.

    Pagono believes the low brass collective is the only organization of its kind in the country to promote and perform exclusively with those instruments.

    Throughout the year, and throughout the area, the low brass collective brings performers to St. Louis for audiences to enjoy, as well as putting on their own concerts open to local players.

    Often, those who take up low brass instruments started out wanting to play something else.

    “Sometimes they get talked into it by band directors who suggest ‘you are going to play the tuba,’ and unfortunately sometimes in high school it is the big guy, because they can carry the thing,” Pagano said.

    But these days, more low brass instruments are being played by women, including Brittney Lasch, a trombone virtuoso and college music instructor from Ohio, who was brought to St. Louis recently by the low brass collective to give a public recital at Ladue Chapel.

    “I think it starts at the elementary level. Now, we are showing instruments more equally than we did in my generation,” Lasch said.

    The Saint Louis Low Brass Collective’s performances and always free, and during the holidays, they host a concert where anyone can play regardless of their level of talent.

    “There are enough people there that if someone is just learning or isn’t the greatest player, they will get absorbed in the herd. We’d rather have it be that way than have it feel exclusive,” Pagano said.

    Since their mission is to both entertain and educate, the collective was pleased Lasch’s recital was attended by a large group of students from Metro High School.

    “I didn’t really know the range of sounds (the trombone) could produce,” said senior Antonio Kotoni. “I learned about it in Music History, but I never paid attention to it because there were more captivating instruments, but I thought (the recital) was really enlightening.”

    After more than a decade of trying to raise the profile of low brass music, it is still a challenge finding arrangements to play.

    But in time and with luck, they believe more composers, and more listeners, will eventually find splendor in the brass.

    “Maybe over time we will chip away at it, but in the meantime we will just keep doing what we are doing and hope that it will catch on,” Pagano said.