The Exquisite Risk of Civil War Brass
 The 1st Brigade Band - Winner at the da Vinci Film and Video Festival

A documentary by Dan Senn | Synopsis
"The Exquisite Risk of Civil War Brass: The 1st Brigade Band" documents a community band in Wisconsin which performs antique instruments from 1865 and earlier-when valved brass instrument were still at a stage of experimention.The director of the film, experimental sound artist Dan Senn, is drawn to the band by his experiences with building, performing and exhibiting sculptural instruments of his own. (see Motivations)

The 40 minute piece is entirely presented in the words of band members as derived from interviews. The piece is divided in 19 sections of about 1 to 5 minutes with each preceded by a descriptive title. These are summarized below:

1) Ticker-tape pre-run: email message sent to the film's director near conclusion of production.

2) Introduction. Shows darkened rehearsal space of 1st Brigade Band in Watertown, Wisconsin as accompanied by the low sound of a brass plate continuously resonating.

3) "Arrested Development at Umpa." Draws stark comparisons between "umpa-silliness" of Civil War brass music and the exquisite nature of its rich mellow sound.

4) "On a Precipice." Contrasts instability of Civil War brass instruments with fact that these were the first brass instruments capable of playing loudly while managing the chromatic scale.

5) "Not Terribly Complex." Describes the skill potential of the 1860's performer as the 1st Brigade Band rehearses. Section ends humorously as woman cornet player slaps a mosquito at rehearsal on a hot and humid summer evening.

6) "A Well-define Structure." Shows unusual structure of the Civil War E-flat brass band and its music. Again, uses current 1st Brigade as backdrop to historical context.

7) "A Lot of Mean Strength and Awkwardness." Elaborates on teaching methods of 1860's bands while showing the current band in route to a July 4th staging area.

8) "Filled with Errors." Compares the nature of error-making in the 1860's to that in the present day as band members engage in an editing session at a modern digital recording studio. Gives music examples as written out by members of the original 1st Brigade Band.

9) "Tree Shaking." Within the airy environment of an outdoor 4th of July concert, references the ancestral connection to the Civil War in today's population and to the large number of war casualties from the State of Wisconsin.

10) "On a More Deadly Note." Reveals the extent to which bands where involved in Civil War battle and the degree to which this affected the structure of the music itself. Emphasizes the reality that such bands existed to propel soldiers into battle.

11) "Independence Day." Shows band marching in July 4th parade using an overhead camera which appears to be jogged by a nearby battle. Marching band begins playing "Dixie" in monochrome and gradually transforms to color as the music modulates to "Yankee Doodle Dandy." No spoken material in this section as band is shown on parade as accompanied by ladies in period dress.

12) "Trim, Trim, Trim." Begins by describing the attention given to authenticity in woman's dress and concludes with the discomfort of one woman, a former horn player, as she now pretends to be a lady.

13) "The Blend." Addresses the issue of woman playing in a traditionally all-male organization. Presents a progressive attitude which has been present since band was reorganized in 1964.

14) "By Her Brother's Side." Argues that woman in Civil War reenactment bands have a long historical precedent and that woman have been serving in war as men "for a very long time."

15) "The Paradox." Draws an ironical comparison between expertise of today's 1st Brigade Band and the original 1860's band. Question is raised, "As band approaches perfection, does it leave an authentic sound behind."

16) "Like an Oatmeal Box." Compares modern high-tension drums to the calf-head, rope and leather drums of 1860's. Shows band striking a concert set in New Berlin, Wisconsin to demonstrate extent of volunteer commitment in today's band. "Clears the ears" in preparation for the next section using the incidental percussive sounds of chairs being stacked.

17) "Hearing the Other Way." Deals with the extreme problems of intonation as presented by instruments made by competing 1860's manufacturers. Suggests, through special effects, how note-to-note listening in performances reaches a rare intensity by performers.

18) "Pushing Back." Reveals the anthropomorphic tendencies the band has developed to cope with difficult-to-play instruments. "Pushing Back" refers to the resistance of the instruments to easy performance and the need to "negotiate" with instruments moment-to-moment during a performance.

19) "In Focus." A connection is made between the anthropomorphized instrument collection and its impact on performance and the family of instruments vis-a-vis the band family.

20) "Touching the Moment." Concludes documentary with story of how the band connects with audiences. Credits are integrated at end of section.

| director bio | video stills | start | motivations | extended bio | Dan Senn | The 1st Brigade Band | Press |