200 Days in the Life of the College

Friday, December 10

These guerrillas have a lot of brass

By Allison Eck ’12

“Where’s our fearless leader?” asks Ilse Zoerb ’11, member of the Hamilton College Brass Ensemble and a fellow French horn player. “Where’s Heather?”

We’re sitting by the McEwen rock swing, the sound of instrument cases unlatching and mouthpieces clanging as we prepare for a whirlwind lunch hour. Our sheet music is heavily weathered — evidence that the Brass Ensemble’s “guerrilla caroling” tradition has become a much-loved one. Although it has existed for some 40 years, the Brass Ensemble has recently developed an eclectic group personality. We plan social events together throughout the year, and guerrilla caroling — so named for the impromptu nature of the event — has become a part of our close-knit identity as the ensemble serenades various campus venues with holiday tunes on the last day of first-semester classes.

Our “fearless leader” is Associate Professor of Music Heather Buchman, who arrives bearing the traditional Santa hats and jingle bells for us to sport. New this year is a wooden slapstick, to imitate the sound of a horsewhip in the Christmas standard Sleigh Ride. The props help add to the concept of surprise in our performance. “It’s a little hard for us to have the element of stealth, with our music and stands and all,” Buchman says. “But we strive for some element of both spontaneity and general good humor.”

At McEwen, groups flock to the railing above us, and coffee drinkers milling about Café Opus gather near. We play a lively set of hymns, which features our signature sforzando and — new— an original rendition of Winter Wonderland, composed and arranged by trumpeter Brandon Kline ’11. From McEwen, we trudge through the snow, bundles of brass in our gloved hands as we make our way to KJ, then Sadove Student Center, Commons and, finally, the Science Center. It’s not surprising that we acquire some groupies along the way. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this?