Saturday, January 23, 2010

YS Brass! to horse around in McCally Barn

“I was 40 years old and I wanted to buy a Corvette,” said Dave Triplett, looking back on that milestone. But after taking measure of his life and his family’s needs, he reassessed the situation. His wife, Stephanie, had grown up playing piano and their daughter, Katie, was old enough to start taking lessons. So they bought a piano and a tuba instead. Triplett will often introduce his tuba by saying, “This is my Corvette.”

Triplett is one of the founding members of the Yellow Springs Brass! which will perform a benefit concert on Friday, June 6, 7:30 p.m. inside the McCally Horse Barn at 859 E. Hyde Road. Proceeds will go to the Riding Centre’s Therapeutic Riding Program.

The exclamation point at the end of the quintet’s name is key to the group’s dynamic.

“We’re exciting to listen to,” explained Triplett in a recent interview. Sometimes, just before a rehearsal, he’ll be distracted and uninspired. “Then the guys show up and we’ll play for an hour and a half and I’m really glad we did it,” he said. “We have fun.”

A physician assistant by day, Triplett started playing tuba in fifth grade. He played on through high school then with the Ohio University Marching Band. After college, however, the opportunities to play were no longer available—and neither was the tuba.

“It’s an expensive instrument,” said Triplett. “All through college and high school, the schools always provided one. I couldn’t afford one when I got out.”

Presto forward to the Tuba-Corvette Crossroad—a decision that has had a major impact on his life.

“In 2000, I wanted to get back into playing music,” Triplett said. “I joined the YS Community Band and met Bruce Heckman and asked if he thought we could pull enough people together to do a brass quintet. We’ve been together ever since.”

A trumpet-playing mediator and psychotherapist, Heckman is the other quintet member from Yellow Springs. On Sunday evenings you can find him and the others rehearsing at Triplett’s house.

“Most guys get together to play cards or watch football,” said Heckman. “We get together to play music.”

Heckman feels very lucky to be playing trumpet, cards, or anything else after having survived a near-fatal bicycle accident that happened last August.

“I broke 12 to 14 bones,” Heckman said. “I’ve got two titanium rods running up and down my spine and 11 two-to-three inch screws.” Although recovering his trumpet-playing abilities did cross his mind after the accident, his doctors were much more concerned about the injuries to his hand, spine, and cranium.

“I didn’t want to think too far ahead,” he said, recalling the painful months of incapacity, treatment, and recovery. “I tried to just focus on what I needed to do today.”

He credits the love and support of his wife, Ann Cooper, the quintet, and the village to get him through that difficult time. “I got more cards than I could have imagined,” Heckman said. “I floated on all that support.”

Titanium transplants notwithstanding, Heckman admits that it’s hard for aging brass players to keep up their “chops”—a trade term for dexterity and stamina. Group members practice diligently to stay in shape.

The group typically performs three concerts a year with proceeds going toward an agreed-upon organization. In February, YS Brass! played a benefit concert at Friends Care Community. They’ve played benefits for Darfur, Katrina relief, and Sowelo, an end-of-life care provider. “We don’t play for free,” explained Heckman, “but we never make any money. We didn’t want to do this as professionals. We wanted to play well but this was not supposed to be a source of income.”

French horn-player and Springfield elementary school principal Steve Vrooman had a steady gig as a musician when he taught elementary, middle and high school band and orchestra for 18 years. He also directed the Springfield Youth Symphony for 14 years.

“It shows my students that even if you don’t go into it as a professional,” said Vrooman, who took up French horn in fourth grade, “there’s still a lot of opportunities to use your music after high school and college.”

The newest member of the quintet, Vrooman was invited to join by his older brother, Dave, who plays the trombone. The elder Vrooman also lives in Springfield and teaches at Wittenberg University. He, too, took up his brass instrument in fourth grade.

“I couldn’t reach sixth and seventh positions (when the slide is fully extended),” Vrooman remembered fondly.

He attributes the quintet’s longevity to the harmonious interactions of its members. “We’re an amazingly ego-free group,” Vrooman said. “It’s as much a source of congenial fellowship as it is music.”

Trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn player Robert Love travels the farthest to play with the quintet as well as the YS Community Band and Antioch Chamber Orchestra. A 25-mile trip from Englewood is motivated by Love’s love of Yellow Springs and his loyalty to the group.

“Rehearsal is a bit like artillery practice,” said Love, “where everybody tries to hit the right notes at the right time. Fortunately, nobody gets hurt and the music is often quite inspiring.”

Love’s forte in science and music has bridged over to a new career. Last year he was granted a U.S. Patent for a series of mouthpieces he designed that he and fellow trumpeter Heckman are currently using. The quintet’s range of skills encompasses music, medicine, education, psychology, and science. “There’s a lot of intellectual firepower in the group which makes for a lot of fun,” Love explained. “They all get the jokes.”

Recalling its humble beginning and the want of a Corvette, Triplett appreciates the group especially for the act of making music. “It’s such a focused activity,” he said, “that you can’t think about anything else. It gives you a break from your worries.”

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

Susan Gartner is a freelance writer and photographer for the News.