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Spotlight interview: George Dougherty and fellow players in Artisans in brass will inaugurate Fresno Pacific’s new concert hall

It’s a good weekend for Fresno Pacific University’s music department. At 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, the university kicks off the 2022-23 season for the Pacific Artist Series in a spectacular new venue: the Elizabeth V. Lyles Theater in the Warkentine Culture and Arts Center. Artisans in Brass, a national brass quintet, will perform. The ensemble consists of players from across the nation, including trumpet player George Dougherty, an FPU music professor.

I caught up with Dougherty in the midst of his busy week preparing for the quintet’s visit.

Pictured above: The groundbreaking ceremony at the new Warkentine Culture and Arts Center. Photo: Fresno Pacific University

Q: I like the title of your group. An artisan sounds like someone making something substantial, like a beautiful building or one ring to rule them all. How did you all come up with the name?

A: An artisan is a skilled laborer, and we felt that was a good description of what we are– musicians who have worked diligently to develop our God-given talents. We also have a member of the ensemble who makes hand-crafted brass instruments, and another member who is a talented wood-worker. The name seemed a good fit on several levels.

Q: Brass instruments are often told to shush by conductors because they can so easily overpower strings and woodwinds. In a brass quintet, is there a gradation in terms of the natural decibel power of the individual instruments? (In other words, are you always telling the horn, say, to be quiet?)

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A: Chamber music for brass is all about balancing the sound. Someone has described it as a conversation among equals. Some players may feel that the horn has to work a little harder to project in a brass ensemble than say a wind quintet, as its bell faces away from the audience, and it is generally employing a more mellow concept of sound. Otherwise, most brass players would observe that a quality instrument in the hands of a trained professional can produce plenty of sound as needed, but a seasoned player will follow the composer’s directions, and the listeners will be able to hear all the voices appropriately at the right times. AiB is fortunate to have an artisan builder in the group, and several of our trumpets are made by Fred Powell of Powell Custom Trumpets, giving us an advantage in blending and balancing our trumpet sounds.

Q: You are the director of bands and coordinator of instrumental music at Fresno Pacific University. Has Artisans in Brass ever performed at the university?

A: Though we have performed for colleges, universities, artist series concert events and educators’ conferences in Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska, this will be the first time AiB has performed at FPU.

Q: Have you been tapped as the Fresno tour guide for the group’s visit? Any sights you’re planning to show your fellow musicians?

A: In an unofficial capacity, I am glad to point out the local eateries, and talk about some of the neat features of the Valley. As we reside all over the country, when we come together for a concert tour, our priority is on rehearsing and determining our program, so there is little time to take in much of the local flora and fauna, sadly enough.

George Dougherty is a member of Artisans in Brass.

Q: Tell us a little about the acoustics and features of the Elizabeth V. Lyles Theater in the Warkentine Culture and Arts Center.

A: The CAC is a state-of-the-art facility, and we are excited to be able to perform for the opening concert. Special efforts were made to insulate the main theatre from outside noises, such as traffic and aircraft. The seating is retractable, and the broad, spacious stage can be viewed equally and easily from any seat in the house. My impression so far is that the acoustics may favor instrumental music more than vocal, but the jury is still out on that. Weekly college hour has had worship teams with amplified instruments and vocals, and those events have sounded just fine.

Q: I understand this will be the first public performance in the new center. Are there any special festivities planned? What will it be like to be the inaugural group to perform?

A: Our Events and Advancement departments have put together a time of dedication that will take place at intermission, and there is a reception that will follow. Our donors and many dignitaries have received special invitations, and I believe our new FPU President will be speaking, along with greetings and brief welcomes from other administrators.

Q: Tell us a little about Sunday’s program. What is the most difficult piece? Is there a piece that is most spiritually significant for you?

A: All of our pieces have challenges, but they do not always come from technical or endurance aspects. Blending, balance, intonation, phrasing, and musicality are certainly elements that go into every work. As musicians, we are endeavoring to communicate the composer’s message, and we want to do that in as clear and seemingly effortless a manner as possible. We will be presenting music by legendary names such as Bach, Mozart, Purcell, and Rossini, but will also perform works by unfamiliar writers who we think deserve to be better known: Ewald, Bagley, Pollack, Elvey. Furthermore, AiB loves to promote music by living composers, and even our own pieces and arrangements. We have a work by Juilliard’s Eric Ewazen, and our own Rick Nichols. Dr. Nichols has over 100 titles in print, and has received commissions and requests to arrange and produce for many artists and projects around the country. Personally, I find great spiritual significance in our version of J.S. Bach’s My Spirit Be Joyful, but I also love to present settings of great hymns of the faith, like Crown Him with Many Crowns, Be Thou My Vision, and Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.

Q: I know that your ensemble puts an emphasis on Christian music. I’m curious how that mission fits into the classical music world, particularly touring and recording. Can it be an advantage to have a specific niche like you do? Or can it be a hurdle?

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J.S. Bach believed that all music was a gift from God, and that music-making and musical expression/communication was an outflow of the creative abilities gifted to mankind by the Creator. It feels as natural to us as breathing and walking that our music should reflect the wonderful things God has done for us. We are His children, and we want to thank Him for His goodness, live our lives according to His principles, express joy for the beautiful world we see around us, and represent Him well to our fellow man. I do not see it as an advantage or a hurdle– we are classically trained musicians that give God the glory for what we do, and are having a great time doing it! 🙂

Q: Can you give a pitch for the rest of the 2022-23 Pacific Artist series lineup? What can we look forward to?

A: Dr. Christa Evans heads up the series, and I know it is still in progress. We hope to have at least one concert, and possibly some additional events coordinated with it, featuring early music. We are also looking at a duo piano recital, that will showcase our new Steinway grand piano, a generous gift made possible by the kindness of donors.

Q: Fill in the blank: The trumpet is the best instrument because _____________________

A: If I answer that, I’ll upset three-fifths of our ensemble! All joking aside, each of the brass instruments in the quintet brings something special to the palette of colors available to the composer’s pen. The AiB trumpeters will be playing several different keyed instruments, as well as flugelhorns. Their versatility is extensive, with technical and lyrical sentiments both called for and equally able to be expressed. The horn is loved by many for its rich, noble, and heroic character. The trombone has a wide range that corresponds to a powerful male voice, and can generate distinctive glissando effects with its long slide. The tuba is far more than just an oom-pah instrument, and its nimbleness in laying down the bass foundation is at the very heart of a fine quintet’s sound.

Q: You’ve been here since 2021. What have been your impressions so far of Fresno and teaching at FPU?

A: I am very thankful for my colleagues, our administration, the Valley, and Fresno and the surrounding community. FPU enjoys wonderful support, and is poised to go on to even higher levels of success. God is sending us terrific students, and I am honored to be a part of the Music Department in the School of HRSS. With the new Warkentine CAC, I believe we will be even better positioned to impact the Valley and serve students and community in the years ahead.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Our concert will feature a wide variety of music. There should be something for everyone: classics, music of different eras, popular and patriotic selections, hymns, and a surprise or two.

The ensemble is delighted to be here, and is grateful to FPU for bringing us to the Valley for this dedication event/opening concert. We are also performing at University Presbyterian Church in Fresno at 7 PM on Friday, September 23.


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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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