Nebraska Brass played its first concert at the former Dana College in Blair in 1987. Co-founder Dean Haist admitted it was a dubious beginning.
“I think we may have had six or seven people in the audience, and they were either family members or friends,” Haist said with a chuckle.
But, boy, did they enjoy it.
The quintet -- Haist and Mike Anderson on trumpet, brothers Scott Anderson (trombone) and Tim Anderson (horn) and John Thomason (tuba) -- was playing the music they loved performing, instead of music decided for them by somebody else.
That’s why the five came together in the first place. All were professional musicians, playing in one orchestra/band or another, but they had little to no say in the repertoire.
So why not branch out?
Especially since composers, thanks to the popularity of the Canadian Brass at the time, were writing tons of new music for brass quintets.
“Arrangers and composers were specifically writing music for (the Canadian Brass),” Haist said. “So there was an interesting library of music available.”
So the Nebraska Brass played a few more concerts that year and began touring in earnest the next year, with cities in western Nebraska booking the quintet quickly because, as Haist learned later, the ensemble proved to be quite a bargain.
“We enjoyed what we were doing, but we weren’t very good at business,” he said.
Nebraska Brass charged just $900 for a gig then. After car rentals, gas, hotel and meals, “we didn’t have much left at the end of it,” Haist said. “But we had a lot of fun.”
So much so, the Nebraska Brass is still going strong 30 years later. The group figured out business dynamics and annually tours the state, performing an array of classical and pops pieces -- from Bach to the Beatles -- to hundreds of music lovers.
On Nov. 26, the quintet begins its tour, “Sounds of the Season,” at 3 p.m. at Calvary Lutheran Church of Swede Home, a small country church just outside of Stromsburg. Nebraska Brass will perform “Sounds of the Season” in Lincoln at 3 p.m. Dec. 3 at First United Methodist Church.
Haist, executive director of the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra, Lincoln Municipal Band and other performing groups, is the only original Nebraska Brass member, but Richard Ricker (horn), Brad Obbink (trumpet) and Mark Mendell (trombone) have performed with the quintet for more than 20 years each. The quintet is looking for a regular tuba player, with Nancy Vogt, who has filled in on other instruments off and on since 2005, playing tuba for the holiday concerts.
To celebrate its 30th year, the Nebraska Brass will release two CDs. It will have “A Nebraska Brass Christmas” available at the holiday concerts, and plans to have “Blowout!”, featuring classical works commissioned by the quintet, for its January performances of “Hot Tunes for Cold Nights.” CDs are $15 each and also are available by calling 402-477-7899.
The commissioned pieces are among the 1,400 works that now fill five filing cabinets in Haist’s downtown office.
“This is why we do it,” Haist said. “We get to play the music we enjoy playing.”