The magic of music

Ty Dunham
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Labrador City brass quintet member brings experience to the schools

A Memorial University student from Labrador City brought her fellow musicians back to her hometown to reach out to budding musicians.

 Catherine Rogers plays horn alongside Michela Comparey (tuba), Emma Clark (trumpet), Aaron Good (trombone) and Michael O'Keefe (trumpet), creating the Apollo 5 brass quintet, with music that would appease the Greek god the band was named after.  

Following MUN’s brass chamber tradition of naming the groups after interesting vehicles, Rogers, who plays French horn, said the name is encompassing of the spirit of the band.  

“Apollo, the god of music, we thought was interesting. And to travel to space is innovative, and in a lot of ways this group is innovative.” 

The quintet came to Labrador West to reach out to the schools with seven shows split between AP Low Elementary, JR Smallwood Middle School, and Menihek High School, as well as sectional rehearsals and lessons for brass players, from April 28-30.

A final performance open to the community will be held at the Labrador City Arts and Culture Centre April 30.

Rogers said the goal was to show the younger students new instruments and new sounds, to recruit middle school band members and help the brass players on their techniques, and to recruit for MUN at the high school and bring the brass players up to the next level of playing.

It is the first student-driven education tour from MUN, which are usually led by instructors or initiated by a community.  

The idea came to Rogers when she was told how Labrador West seldom sees professional or semi-professional groups, especially from the island.  

“So it would be beneficial for them, especially in the high school, to see what a music degree could do for them. Or even to study music as a hobby.”

It’s a hobby she started at a young age and carried through up to graduating this year. Already a pianist at age 12, she moved to French horn with the recommendation of her music teacher, who was looking for people who had musical strengths like reading music, singing, and understanding how intervals work. 

“I was a very keen child and was up for the challenge of a very difficult instrument. I played it for a summer and totally fell in love with it. I loved that it was unique and I was the only French horn player in town.” 

A brass instrument is unique with its three valves, and pressing down just one valve can produce 20 different pitches. Rogers uses her lips, air, and ear to decide where to place the pitches.  

“It’s extremely difficult to play these brass instruments. While each instrument provides its challenges, when you pick up a saxophone or clarinet you put down the fingering combination and you get what you’re looking for.” 

The brass players will practice two to three hours each day, meets with a coach for an hour a week, and plays together two to three hours a week.  

It’s a dedication which allowed the quintet to connect so well after just forming in the fall of 2013. 

“One of the reasons I decided this tour was possible was because we synchronized very well and very quickly. It helps that we are all trained musicians. On our own we are very strong, so when you put us together it doesn’t take us long to get things moving.”

Without the aid of a conductor, communication is key, Rogers said.  

“We work a lot on eye contact, working our breaths together, and always knowing who has what line in the music. It’s constantly juggling between reading your music, listening around you, making eye contact, and of course making music.”

And like the god Apollo, they make music together very well.

“I have worked in three brass quintets and a brass ensemble, and this is the smoothest running machine I’ve ever worked with.”

An advocate of amateur music making, Rogers’ future interest lies in music education. She hopes to complete an education degree, a master’s in conducting, and go somewhere rural and work with children who haven’t had the opportunity to experience music making. 

“Coming from a small town I know how important it can be for children to play music for various reasons.” 

Tickets for the Arts and Culture Centre show on April 30 at 8 p.m. is $15, or $10 for students and seniors.


Organizations: Labrador City, Apollo 5, Menihek High School

Geographic location: Labrador West

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