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Top brass: New group brings fresh sound to traditional style

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The stark, metallic sounds of cornets rose like a wave inside the Franklin College rehearsal hall.

The notes hovered over the group, before the big, bossy tones of the tuba, euphonium and baritone kicked in. The flugelhorn and trombone added richness to the sound.

That was the sound of a new musical style taking hold in Johnson County.

In the tradition of the big brass bands that had their start in Britain, a new musical group has formed in central Indiana. The Crossroads Brass Band is made up of amateur musicians playing everything from the tuba to the flugelhorn to the trombone in expansive, percussive brass concerts.

Get involved

The Crossroads Brass Band of Central Indiana is looking for additional members to study and perform British-style brass band music.

Membership is open to any brass and percussion player. All positions have openings. Auditions are not required.

Rehearsals are from 7 to 9 p.m. every Wednesday at Franklin College’s Johnson Center for the Fine Arts.

Instrumentation will include coronets, tenor horns, baritones, euphoniums, tubas, trombones and percussion.

For more information, contact Donald Bookout at 812-204-2264 or donaldbookout@me.com; or visit the group’s page on Facebook.

Their hope is to introduce the pure brass sounds of traditional bands to the area.

“No one knows what a brass band is, so I think we surprise some people. They have a picture in their mind of lederhosen and beer steins, and that’s not what it is,” said Donald Bookout, the managing director of the band.

British brass bands differ from the traditional orchestras, community bands and ensembles by being entirely comprised by brass instruments.

The county has its own community bands in Greenwood and Franklin, where volunteers could gather and perform. But those groups include all of the musical divisions — including woodwinds, strings and percussion. Bookout wanted to focus solely on brass music.

“You won’t find a clarinet or a saxophone in there,” he said.

The Crossroads Brass Band was formed in early 2012 by Bookout. He and his wife had lived in Evansville until about 2009, playing the euphonium in a British-style brass band.

During his time with the band, he competed in contests that drew brass bands from throughout North America. He grew to love the sound and the hearty tone of an all-brass band.

When the Bookouts moved to Greenwood, he knew there was no brass band in the Indianapolis area. The nearest one was playing in Bloomington, and they had no desire to compete.

Bookout wanted to continue participating in brass band competitions, and decided to form a group in Johnson County.

Southside Indianapolis resident Cody Jones had been playing music since his time as a student at Indian Creek High School. Performing had always been a hobby of his, though he only recently started playing with a band.

He knew Bookout from their shared experience with the Greenwood Community Band. When he heard about the brass band, he decided to sign up.

“I like the all-brass sound. It’s very unique, and that made me curious to check this out,” Jones said. “It’s good for personal growth. You keep that artist nerve going, you’re keeping that part of your brain and yourself stretched out.”

The group evolved and grew, until Bookout met Casey Hayes, a music professor at Franklin College. Hayes offered to allow the group to start practicing at the college, and partner with them in the formation of a student band.

“The college has just been wonderful. They don’t have a lot of equipment, but still we have a place where we’re welcomed,” Bookout said. “And an adult group that meets on a college campus is a natural fit.”

Brass band competitions are restrictive. They need to have 25 to 30 players, with four percussionists providing support. Groups are separated by the instruments — the tubas and flugelhorns sit together in the middle, flanked by the cornets on one side and the euphoniums, baritones and trombones on the other.

“Because of the nature of the way we make sound, we all play brass instruments in the same way, the sound is very unique,” Bookout said.

Crossroads brass band has 22 members currently, so the band is still looking for additional players. Openings are available in all sections, from cornets to baritones to tubas.

Members include people from all varieties of backgrounds and professions. Many are former band directors, while others have performed in military bands.

Charles Richert, who plays flugelhorn, is a family doctor in Greenwood.

A longtime musician, Richert played in high school and college. For the past 13 years, he had been a part of different ensembles, quintets and trios that formed around the area.

But this is his first time in an all-brass band of this size. Being a part of a community band serves as a nice break from his medical practice, he said.

“I make a decision literally every 15 seconds at work. When I come here, I don’t have to make any decisions, I’m told what to do. I enjoy that,” he said. “But I also enjoy perfecting the music and trying to get better.”

The band is open to anyone interested, Bookout said. They don’t have auditions, but potential members need to be able to read music. They also need to commit to the rigors of preparing for competition, he said.

“People will come in, and either say they want to work hard and want to be challenged. Or they’ll say they don’t really want to work that hard. They want a more social experience, and that’s fine,” Bookout said.

The goal is to compete in the 2014 competition of the North American Brass Band Association. They had hoped to be ready for this year’s contest, but don’t think they could have everything prepared by April 2014.

“For one thing, we don’t have all of our instrumentation. The composer fills every slot in the music with noise, so until you have all of your instruments, it won’t sound right,” Bookout said.

The Crossroads Brass Band has only done one performance, sitting in with the Greenwood Community Band for a few songs. The response was good, and more opportunities to play in front of an audience have been lining up. Their next performance will be March 8 in Shelbyville.

The group is also working on establishing itself as an official nonprofit organization, so that it can apply for grants and other financial assistance. They have recently started the process, forming a board of directors to oversee its progression.

Until then, they will keep working toward that first competition.

“My vision when I started this band was for people to hear us play and go, ‘Where are these guys from?’ That’s why we want to be sure we’re ready,” Bookout said.

British-style Brass Music?


A type of music performed almost entirely with brass instruments, as well as with some percussion


Started as a cultural and community outlet for working-class citizens in 19th-century Britain. The trend spread to other countries, including the U.S., Australia and Canada. Though prevalent in the United Kingdom, fewer than 50 competing brass bands exist in the U.S.


  • Tuba — the largest member of the brass family, the tuba produces a unique, low sound that is ideal while playing bass lines or the melody.
  • Cornet — an instrument with valves similar to a trumpet, but with a more mellow sound.
  • Baritone — a brass instrument controlled by valves. Sometimes mistaken for a little tuba, it is much smaller, with a smaller bell and higher pitch.
  • Euphonium — a member of the tuba family with a slightly higher range and more mellow tone.
  • Flugelhorn — a valved bugle developed in Germany. The design pitch was typically middle C or B-flat, so the flugelhorn has a mellower sound than the trumpet.
  • Trombone — a popular instrument with a wider and much lower range than that of the horn or trumpet, and a slide mechanism that allows you to play both distinct pitches and sliding tones with ease.

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