Holidays go better with brass

Known for ambitious and quirky arrangements, Clarion Brass Choir will perform with the Walla Walla Symphony next week.

Clairon Brass Choir members will perform with the Walla Walla Symphony on Dec. 10 and give their own concert on Dec. 15.

Clairon Brass Choir members will perform with the Walla Walla Symphony on Dec. 10 and give their own concert on Dec. 15.


WALLA WALLA — Cramming 54 Christmas tunes into a 3 1/2-minute song would be impossible for most composers, but it’s exactly the sort of challenge William Berry thrives on.

Berry is the artistic director of Spokane’s Clarion Brass Choir, a 13-member ensemble of trumpets, trombones, French horns, a tuba and a percussionist.

If you go

Clarion Brass Choir in concert with the Walla Walla Symphony Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m. in Cordiner Hall. Guest Artist Soirée Dec. 15 at 4 p.m. in Cordiner Hall. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students and $5 for youth 18 and under. They can be purchased at, by calling 509-529-8020 or at the door.

His holiday arrangements, including ambitious medley “We Need a Little Christmas + 53,” (video below) have been played on the radio nationwide and performed by groups such as the New York Philharmonic.

Clarion will perform as part of Tuesday’s Walla Walla Symphony’s Sounds of the Season concert, where several members of the group will play together. The full Clarion Brass Choir will return to Walla Walla on Dec. 15 for a guest artist soirée.

Berry has played for the Walla Walla Symphony as a principal trumpet for long enough that he doesn’t recall when he started, so bringing Clarion to Walla Walla made sense.

Lea Wilson-Velasco, the symphony’s chief executive, said the idea had been developing for a few years. For her, the holiday season is best celebrated with brass instruments.

“This is a really special opportunity because it will be a full professional brass choir,” she said.

The group is known for being quirky, a reputation its artistic director upholds with aplomb. Berry’s video introduction to his 54-song medley identifies him as both an Efficiency Expert in Holiday Time Travel and Vice President of Magical Thinking.

He especially enjoys working with holiday music because it gives him flexibility in his arrangements.

“The fun of doing holiday music and Christmas music is everybody knows it. “Jingle Bells” is one of the best known songs on the planet, so you can really mess with it,” he said.

Though Clarion likes to have fun, the music is varied and challenging to perform. His “Jingle Bells” arrangement is played so quickly he’s included phrases from “Flight of the Bumblebee.” Much of his work would be too difficult for amateur ensembles to perform.

“You can tell that people are pushing the limits of what’s doable,” he said.


William Berry, founder and artistic director of the Clarion Brass Choir.

The concert program will include songs from the group’s latest album, “Reindeer Games,” which came out earlier this year, and Berry said the more somber songs are concentrated in the first half of the performance. Each instrument has a song highlighting it, and Clarion will perform their “surprise hit” from the album: “Lo, How a Rose,” a German carol to which Berry has added a Middle Eastern frame drum.

“Live, especially in Cordiner, it’s going to be just riveting for people,” he said.

The performance includes singalongs of some type, though Berry was reluctant to share details.

“We do singalongs a little differently and I’m not really at liberty to reveal how that works,” he said. “The band might not be playing the same thing the audience is singing but it all works out in the end.”

Wilson-Valesco said she hoped families would attend the concert and take advantage of $5 tickets for youths 18 and under.

“The overall ambiance is really festive and fun,” she said. “We’re trying to make it more affordable for families to celebrate together.”


Clarion Brass Choir: 54 Songs in 4 Minutes


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