Five Cents Sharp, a brass quintet made up of five Ithaca College music education majors, was formed through friendship and a love for music. This summer, with dedication and a little luck, they took their music from Ithaca to Hof, Germany. Junior trumpet player Jon Stewart is credited with bringing fellow trumpet player and senior Christopher Tolbert, junior horn player Mike Drennan, junior trombone player JC VonHoltz and junior tuba player Dan Troiano together to form the group. Staff writer Danielle Paccione spoke to the members about taking their talents abroad.
Danielle Paccione: How did Five Cents Sharp come to be?
Jon Stewart: We officially formed in November of 2006. We decided to put a group together and started practicing, just for fun, really. We just wanted to play music. [Five Cents Sharp] is based on a good friendship, and we just went from there.
DP: Where do you find your inspiration?
JS: It is really tough when you’re in a small group to play your own pieces. We arrange pieces that have already been written.
Chris Tolbert: Usually there is a standard repertoire for brass quintets. We try to select things from there that we like. Mostly we are just picking out of classical music repertoire, popular stuff. A little jazz from time to time.
JS: Sometimes we hear a piece that we like and say that might sound good in the quintet. Or we’ll be looking for a specific style, like if we need a fast piece for a recital or if we need a slow one. Mike Drennan arranged a piece that was really nice and slow that was based on a poem. It’s situational.
Mike Drennan: One of the arrangements I’ve done is this really fun polka that we did. It was pretty well received.
DP: How did you land your first summer tour in Germany?
MD: We pushed ourselves to do a recital [in Ithaca] by the end of last year. [Trumpet] professor Dr. Kim Dunnick came to see us play. He got us started in Germany, where he played for several years in the Hof orchestra.
Dan Troiano: While we were in Germany at the [recital hall] Haus Marteau, we took part in rehearsals and clinics, which basically served as an aid in helping us become better musicians, both individually and as an ensemble.
JS: The clinic gives one group from outside of Germany a scholarship, and we were selected.
DP: How did you prepare?
JS: We do a performance every semester. We built up enough music so we felt really confident going over there. Preparing for our concerts got us in shape.
DP: During your performances in Hof and Lichtenberg, was it intimidating to play with other quintets from around the world?
CT: Absolutely. The Russians were incredibly intimidating at first. The language barrier had a lot to do with that. These guys were playing really, really well. It was the same thing with some of the Germans as well, but we really warmed up to them by the end. It had changed from us being students at a clinic. In the first half of the final concert, our quintet was the big act. It felt like we were taking our first step into the professional world with this.
DP: What was performing in a foreign country like in comparison with Ithaca College?
MD: The audience was just so much more enthusiastic about our playing. We played an outdoor concert for 45 minutes and there were people in the street watching us play. I’m not sure you really get that in the States.
CT: In the middle of nowhere, you could get a full house. The audience was incredibly receptive. You can see the German youth will go out on dates to see the opera [one weekend] and a rock concert the next.
DP: What do you hope to achieve from here?
JS: It’s kind of funny because when we first started there was no notion that we would be getting paid to play overseas. We just wanted to play some music.
CT: We have two years to get our master’s after graduation. While we’re teaching and getting settled into jobs we may do some tours and cut a CD. We’d like to take the professional side more seriously.