Student Spotlight:The Brassholes

It’s no secret that the halls of the Green Music Center are teeming with talent. Gifted individuals walk the halls every day, but the real magic occurs when these musicians begin to collaborate with their peers. One of the most promising musical groups on campus, The Brassholes, have had a great start to the year. They share their story on how they came to be, who they are, and what their plans for the future look like. 

Spencer Causey and John “JJ” Mayer founded the group last year after they began collaborating in multitrack recording projects their sophomore year. “Time” by Hans Zimmer was transcribed by Causey and recorded by the both of them, along with a friend on electric guitar. In need of an outlet to share with the world, they created a Youtube channel titled “The Brassholes.” The project that came right after was a full band score that they transposed to French horn and trombone, creating a virtual brass choir of 30+ voices. Recently, they began recording with their friend and tuba player, Cameron “Nut” Shellnut, and trumpet player Brendan Wilhelmsen. Now equipped with all of the conventional brass instruments available, the overall quality of the recordings have increased dramatically from when they first began.

The ensemble is comprised of Spencer Causey, a third-year french horn performance Major, John “JJ” Mayer, a third-year trombone music education and physics double major, Cameron “Nut” Shellnut, a third-year tuba music education major, and the newest addition to the group, freshman trumpet performance major Brendan Wilhelmsen.

 In the of fall 2017, the Brassholes had plans of performing their virtual choir of Percy Grainger’s band piece “Lincolnshire Posy” live, but the concert was canceled due to the devastating Santa Rosa Fires. However, in the spring semester, they decided to enter the Sonoma State University Concerto Competition with a baroque double concerto (meaning two soloists) and were selected as winners. This allowed them the chance to perform their concerto with the Sonoma State Orchestra directed by Dr. Alexander Khan. In September they decided to challenge themselves and start creating new multitrack recordings every week. Since then, they have recorded a huge variety of music, including orchestral excerpts from Mahler and Bruckner Symphonies, Maynard Ferguson’s version of Birdland, and a fun Halloween music video of Spooky Scary Skeletons. They plan to continue releasing new music every week on their Youtube channel and perform live music with their brass quintet, which is more appropriately named “Sonoma Brass.”

The Brassholes have big dreams. “As an ensemble, our vision is simply to create high-quality recordings of music that we love,” they Mayer. “We have the opportunity to choose our own repertoire and work together with our colleagues to produce an end product that we can be proud of.” 

As an ensemble, the four musicians have grown and learned together about the hardships that come with working as a group. “One of the most important lessons we have learned is to take ourselves seriously, but not too seriously,” Shellnut said. “The main focus should be on doing our best and having fun creating music. We also learn more about our instruments and our individual musicianship every day. It’s a great learning experience.” 

The Brassholes reflect upon both the challenges they have faced and the satisfactions that they have experienced. “The most challenging part of playing together as The Brassholes is actually playing together. It is immensely difficult to line up all 30+ individual parts of full band score recordings. Because we record all the parts separately, we can’t adapt to each other, we just have to conform to the metronome and a tuner. When playing in an ensemble verbal communication is important, so removing that aspect makes everything much more challenging.” Causey went on to say “the most rewarding part, however, is the moment when we finalize a project, play it back, and listen to the final product with stupid grins on our faces and a great feeling of pride that we made it from scratch.”

While creating music is a joyous experience, it was evident that challenges are still present, even in such a dedicated and talented group of people. Despite that, The Brassholes are excited to create content and share it with the world, firmly believing that “The creation of music is a reward in and of itself.”