Marching On

Craig Mason brings creativity to the brass band tradition

When the Madison Brass Band performs, it’s keeping a piece of history alive—and helping it thrive in the twenty-first century.

The group dates back to 1863, and its founding members included businessmen, cobblers, a saloon proprietor and a single professional musician. After a longtime dormancy, the band revived in 2002 and four years later conductor and music director Craig Mason came on board.

Historically, a brass band is made up of brass instruments—a flugelhorn, cornets, alto horns, English baritones, trombones, tubas and euphoniums—and a percussion section. “The British figured out a long time ago what the perfect size would be and how to write for that group,” Mason says.

But Mason and his band have enjoyed experimenting and achieving variety in the types of music they play and the sounds they create. “It’s traditional marches to contemporary compositions to orchestral arrangements to pop tunes,” he says. “It can be very rich and pleasing to the ear, or it can be very powerful and emotional.”

Mason, who also teaches at Stoughton High School, finds arranging new music a creative challenge. “We do a few pieces every year that haven’t been done for brass band before,” he says. “I’m really into tradition but I also like to push the envelope.”

On February 5, the group takes the stage at the Stoughton Opera House, and Mason encourages music lovers unfamiliar with the brass band tradition to check it out.

“I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t liked us after hearing us,” he says.

Katie Vaughn is associate editor at Madison Magazine.

Read more arts profiles here.

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