Sherry: The New York Brass Quintet (1954-1985): Pioneers of Brass Chamber Music


Sherry, James. "The New York Brass Quintet (1954-1985): Pioneers of Brass Chamber Music." Lecture presented at the International Trumpet Guild Conference, San Antonio, TX, June 1, 2022.


The New York Brass Quintet (NYBQ) enjoyed thirty years as one of the world’s premier brass ensembles. It was the first quintet to appear regularly on the concert stage and was responsible for the commissioning and introduction of a large body of music into the standard repertoire. It was their involvement with educational programs, performance clinics, and college residencies that earned them global respect in the musical community. Most importantly, their success resulted in the brass quintet becoming an established serious concert chamber music ensemble.

The purpose is to point to the NYBQ’s influence on brass music and musicians. This research highlights their concertizing, their expansion of the brass literature, and their educational programs, and their involvement in national and international brass symposia for the performance of new music. Groups, such as the Canadian Brass, American Brass Quintet, and the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, were aware of the reputation of the NYBQ, their concerts, and their recordings. Furthermore, the next generation of musicians was influenced by the educational activities of the NYBQ. These groups, including the Eastman Brass, Annapolis Brass, and Atlantic Brass, followed in the path of the NYBQ, whose members held faculty positions at top music schools and several summer festivals.

Many cornerstone works were either premiered or published by the NYBQ. These include Brass Quintet (1959) by Alec Wilder, Quintet (1961) by Malcolm Arnold, Music for Brass Quintet (1961) by Gunther Schuller, Quintet (1963) by Alvin Etler, Parable (1968) by Vincent Persichetti, and Laudes (1971) by Jan Bach. Today, most major music schools have chamber music programs with faculty ensembles; this was not the case before 1950. Brass pedagogy and education was a prime motivation for the formation of the NYBQ.

The NYBQ’s pedagogical innovations align with progressive educational trends of the time, during an era impacted by school reform, civil rights, and technological advances. In music education, two events shaped the tone of music education in the late 20th-century: The Yale Seminar of 1963 and the Tanglewood Declaration of 1967. This presentation is based on chapters from the author’s doctoral dissertation on the NYBQ. The NYBQ archives at Yale is an uncatalogued collection containing a complete list of concerts and programs, as well as all the sound recordings produced by the group and scores that were sent to the quintet over the years. This research would have been impossible without that archive.

This historical research addresses the educational rationale for small ensemble programs in high schools and colleges, taken from the author’s doctoral document “New York Brass Quintet (1955-1985): Pioneers of Brass Chamber Music.” The focus of this presentation details the NYBQ’s educational and pedagogical impact. A quote from John Swallow, NYBQ trombonist, and a teacher at Yale, New England Conservatory, and the Manhattan School of Music supports this main idea: “The brass ensemble. . . is the best educational tool for young brass musicians at the high school and college level” (Swallow, 2001).



  • Musical America 1982 International Directory of the Performing Arts. New York: ABC Leisure Magazines, Inc. 1982.
  • McDonald, Donna. The Odyssey of The Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. Bulle, Switzerland. Editions BIM, 1986.
  • Rasmussen, Mary. A Teacher’s Guide to the Literature of Brass Instruments. Durham, New Hampshire: Appleyard Publications, 1968.
  • Walters, Rick. The Canadian Brass Book. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, 1992.


  • Metcalf, Owen. “New York Brass Quintet; Its History and Influence on Brass Literature and Performance.” DMA Dissertation, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, 1978.
  • Tunnell, Michael H. “Comprehensive Performance Project in Trumpet Literature.” DMA Dissertation, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, 1982.

Periodicals Articles

  • Bach, Jan. “Performance Notes on Jan Bach’s Laudes.” International Trumpet Guild Journal. (May 1990): 61-65.
  • Baron, Samuel. “Reminiscences of a Golden Age: New York City (1946-1951).” The Instrumentalist. (December 1987). 19-24.
  • Bogle, James Michael. “Gunther Schuller and John Swallow: Collaboration, Composition and Performance Practice in Ein Kleine Posaunenmusik.” International Trombone Association (Summer 2000): 20-27.
  • Dunnick, D. Kim. “The International Trumpet Guild: The First Year” International Trumpet Guild Journal. (February, 1986): 21-22.
  • Glover, Stephen. “Robert King: Brass Music Advocate and Publishing Icon.” International Trumpet Guild Journal. # (June 2000): 43-51.
  • Irish, John. “Robert Nagel: A Freelance Career.” International Trumpet Guild Journal. (January 2001). 8-16.
  • Johnson, Arthur. “The Young Audiences Program.” Instrumentalist 23 (August 1968):28.
  • Swallow, John. “Malcolm Arnold At 70.” Instrumentalist (October 1991): 16.
  • Swallow, John and Raymond Mase. “Brass Tactics.” Chamber Music. (Spring 1989): 20-42.
  • Tunnell, Michael H. “An Essay on Selected Trumpet Excerpts from Brass Quintets by Ingolf Dahl, Gunther Schuller, Alvin Etler, and Jan Bach.” International Trumpet Guild Journal. (February, 1984): 14-38.
  • Tunnell, Michael, ed. “General News.” International Trumpet Guild Journal. (May 1989): 66.

From the NYBQ Archives, Yale University Music Library (assembled in 1996-98)

  • NYBQ Discography
  • The New York Brass Quintet Series catalogue of publications
  • Various repertoire lists
  • Complete Listing of major Concerts and Educational Services between 1954 and 1988 (22 pages).
  • Columbia Artists Management (CAMI) Community Concerts programs (from 1964-81)
  • Various concert programs with notes
  • Listing and details of Educational Services
  • Programs from The Georgia State College Symposia Of Contemporary Brass Music (1967-78)
  • Programs from various seminars and workshops
  • Details on residencies, including Yale, Cornell, Manhattan School of Music, etc.
  • Statements of Incorporation and Dissolution
  • Newspaper reviews from: Chicago Sun Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Montreal Star, New York Times, Providence, Journal, Duluth
  • News-Tribune, Washington Post, Kalamazoo Gazette, Houston Chronicla, St. Louis Democrat, Pasadena Star News, New Haven Register, London Daily Express, London Daily Telegraph, etc.
  • “The New York Brass Quintet in Europe,” from the diary of Robert Nagel (19 pages)

Interviews and Correspondence

  • Bach, Jan, Composer, Phone Interview, 3/19/02
  • Boxer, Harold, Recording technician, Interview 10/20/93, College Park, Maryland
  • Dean, Allan, Trumpeter – NYBQ, Various Interviews, including 7/12/93, Norfolk, Connecticut, 8/21/99, Monterrey, Massachusetts; 2/19/01, New Haven, Connecticut
  • Crilley, Kendall, Head Librarian – Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University, Interview 2/19/01
  • Thompson Hanks, Tubist – NYBQ, Discussion, 5/11/92, New Haven, Connecticut
  • Lobingier, Christopher, Audio-Visual Librarian, Peabody Institute, Interview 5/30/02, Baltimore, Maryland
  • Nagel, Robert, Trumpeter, founder – NYBQ, Interviews 7/30, 31/01, Weston Vermont
  • Phillips, Harvey. Former tubist – NYBQ, Bloomington, Indiana. Telephone interview 12/29/2000.
  • Swallow, John. Trombonist – NYBQ, Telephone Interview 11/8/00, Interview 2/19/01 New Haven, Connecticut.

Return to Research Room

Take advantage of what ITG has to offer: