Beatboxing in Church

by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & E & lt;/span & ven if you don't like brass bands or, God forbid, classical music, you should still watch the video on the Clarion Brass Website, Trumpeters toot and trombonists blare as their animated bodies zigzag down ski slopes and stumble around a Christmas tree. It's guaranteed to make you smile.

Clarion's music director, William Berry, explains that his flash animation is rough around the edges on purpose: "Well, because we can't act or sing, hopefully people will make allowances. We're just a bunch of fat old bald guys."

If so, they're guys (and a couple of women) who have been playing non-traditional brass band Christmas concerts for 17 years -- just as they'll do on Monday night in Spokane Valley and Tuesday night in downtown Spokane.

"We're all brass all the time," says Berry of Clarion, which includes four each of trumpets, horns and trombones, along with a tuba and a couple of percussion players. "It's hard to describe what we do," says Berry. "But the short version is that people go to our concerts because we don't do just the same old, same old six Christmas carols. We introduce them to new stuff. People like that we're non-traditional -- they listen to us and they think, 'Yeah, I know that carol, but this is being done in a different way.'"

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & erry usually does all of Clarion's musical arrangements, but this year, four of the group's members have orchestrated one tune each. Horn player Margaret Wilds, for example, has arranged the opening piece, Maurice Durufl & eacute;'s "Ubi Caritas" ("Where There Is Love"). It's a choral work from the 1960s, and, says Berry, Wilds has "transcribed it for a brass 'hot tub of sound.' With vocal works, you can sneak in and really shape the sound."

Next, after bass vocalist John Frankhauser sings "Good King Wenceslas," Berry's own arrangement of "Dona Nobis Pacem" ("Give Us Peace") will be done in "laid-back gospel style, sort of like Take Six," he says. "The percussion will be prominent, with lots of vibes. Call it 'Contemporary Gospel.'"

Jennifer Scriggins Brummett, who also plays French horn with Clarion, is the arranger for "Born in Bethlehem." Berry comments, "That's actually a tune by Brahms. It has a lot of bright sounds, like an upbeat march on British TV. It sounds like 'modern baroque.'"

The concert's first half will end with Frankhauser singing along with the brass band on a couple of spirituals, "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" and "Behold That Star." "It's good to have some lyrics," says Berry. "Nobody wants to listen to just brass for an hour and a half."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & fter a first half that's "more traditional," says Berry, the concert's second half will be "way out there and more adventuresome -- our concerts are not a church service, but we do try not to do anything that's totally disrespectful."

Just for openers, right there in church, Jacob Sampson will liven up Victor Herbert's century-old "March of the Toys" from Babes in Toyland with some beatboxing. "It's all hip-hop rhythms," Berry says. Then he adds, "We're funking it out -- pretty much destroying it, really."

Sampson will also introduce some vocal percussion into "A New Orleans Christmas" by Clarion's conductor, Gonzaga music professor Robert Spittal. Berry describes "New Orleans Christmas" as "kaleidoscopic," with "snippets of Christmas carols, very upbeat."

After Frankhauser returns to lend basso profundo comedy to "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" -- which Berry says will be done in the style of the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy swing band -- the mood will turn contemplative and even gloomy with trumpeter Andy Plamondon's arrangement of Chet Baker's "Gray December." As a change of pace, Berry muses, it's "a real downer song about lost love."

But the holiday spirit won't be lost. Clarion's concertizing will likely conclude with "Carol of the Bells." They'll perform it "screaming-fast," Berry says. "There's almost a limit to how fast we can go -- some of the screaming-fast parts are so repetitive, it's almost like minimalism."

Berry calls this "virtuoso-level, stinkin'-hard stuff." In fact, when the Canadian Brass quintet joined forces with some brass players from the New York Philharmonic to perform a half-dozen of Berry's pieces, the New Yorkers' principal trombone player "almost bagged it" in rehearsal, Berry recalls. "So this is material that gives the best players in the world a run for their money."

In other words, Clarion Brass is world-class. So next week, when they perform at a couple of churches near you, there's no need to keep your hands folded when the guy starts beatboxing.

Clarion Brass will funk up some Christmas carols on Monday, Dec. 17, at 7:30 pm at Opportunity Presbyterian Church, 202 N. Pines Rd. Repeat performance on Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 7:30 pm at First Pres, 318 S. Cedar St. Tickets: $15; $10, seniors and students. Visit or call 489-4633.