Buzz Brass / Buzz Cuivres: A Secret No Longer

by Katie Brennan

Buzz Brass or Buzz Cuirvres as they are know in French speaking Canada is a brass quintet made up of  Sylvain Lapointe – artistic director / trumpet, Frédéric Gagnon – principal trumpet, Pascal Lafrenière – horn, Jason De Carufel – trombone, Sylvain Arseneau – bass trombone and Vincent Côté – actor (The History of Music) all hailing from Montreal.  Their recent performance at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre on April 26th marked their 150 + performance in BC and yet, not many people have seen them.


No, their 150 + performances have all be in the local school system through the Artstarts programs that brings artists, writers, dancers, theatre troupes and musicians into our schools. To date Buzz Brass has performed in practically every town in the province (except on Vancouver Island), including a whole slew of performances in Okanagan schools – Kelowna, Vernon, Armstrong, Salmon Arm, Penticton, etc. etc. For a group of performers based in Montreal, they now have an impressive repertoire of small BC town names to brandy about.


This performance marked their third in BC to adult audiences. While they will still continue their kid friendly shows, like the ones they will be doing in and around Prince George in a few weeks, they’d like to reach out to more adult audiences. To the performers, this performance felt a bit different, as you’ll see in the interview below, however, the overall presentation was smooth, elegant and hilarious.


The History of Music takes the audience through a Monty Python-esque storyline that examines how societal shifts from cavemen to the feudal system to the street influences of the 20th Century shape the music of each period.


While all serious and brilliantly poised musicians, all the boys of Buzz Brass have a natural flare for the the dramatic. They easily shift from stirring renditions all of the pieces they touch on in the History of Music – there was about 36 in this performance –  to the dramatics of characters is variety of scenes, including a memorable medieval court. A young prince, Jason De Carufel and a dastardly fellow, Sylvain Arseneau, fight a violent trombone duel, using their instrument as their swords to strike at each other and win the hand to the demure and simmering damsel, Pascal Lafrenière, as Sylvain Lapointe, the King and Frédéric Gagnon, the evil uncle, look on. All the while, Vincent Côté, the sole actor of the troupe, conducts them through the History of Music making every attempt to steal the show. Unfortunately for him, the superb musicality of Buzz Brass, easily outshines his ego to great the hilarity, particularly in the finale.


Buzz Brass formed 2002 when Sylvain Lapointe, ‘Mr. Buzz’ as his band mates affectionately call him, brought together a brass quintet of grads from the University of Montreal around the idea of creating performances about French-Canadian stories and legends, like the Flying Canoe. In their first year, they performed 21 times, in their second 40 and in their third 80. In the world of chamber music, this many performances in any given year is unusual, as even the most noted Canadian ensembles will only perform 10 – 20 times a year. Besides wanting to get more performance experience under their belts, which was part of the original impetus behind starting Buzz Brass, it’s also equally important for all 5 members of Buzz Brass to reach out to different kinds of audiences and introduce them to wonderful world of classical music. To date, Buzz Brass have been awarded the OPUS Prize in 2007  for their production of the History of Music, as well as three critically-acclaimed albums and a nomination to the 2010 ADISQ awards for “Album of the Year” in the classical music category / solo and small ensembles.


I caught up with Sylvain, Jason, Pascal, Sylvain, Vincent and Frederic as they were loading up their van after their second performance at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre sponsored by the North Okanagan Community Concerts Association.


oook: What’s the appeal, beyond getting a start as emerging musicians, of performing to kids?


Buzz Brass: It’s really important for us to do this. I don’t know about here, but in Quebec there is less and less music in schools. So when they see us, they want to play and learn an instrument. There is an interest created by our performances. Many schools we go to, don’t have a music program.


At the end of each show, we present our instruments and talk about how to play them and what kinds of sounds you can make. So it’s educational too.


This also demonstrates that music is a career option. Sure you can become a fireman, but you can also become a musician.


It’s very important that we reach young audiences. If you see a show in kindergarten, a classical show, you become the new public who appreciates classical music. Like symphony orchestras don’t reach kids and they begin to lose their public. Their audiences numbers are suffering because of it, are all getting older and older and not many young people are coming to them.


It’s really fun to play for kids, even in the gym, with their awful lights. It’s so fun to see them smile. They are really crazy, especially in the finale with the Maestro, where they are all cheering and yelling “Oui! Non! Boo!’. It’s like a wrestling match.


oook: So how does performing to adults compare to performing to kids?


BB: It’s fun. It’s new. There’s a challenge for us as there are new songs and new things to think about and we also play more in these performances.


It’s a test.


You guys were our guinea pigs tonight.


At some point we’d like to do this with an opera in front of a symphony orchestra. And I think tonight, that we saw that this could really work.


oook: When you’re performing to adults are you thinking more about your musicality?


BB: No. Never. We always think about our musicality.


The only thing is that it’s easier in the evening. When we have a show at 9 o’clock in the morning, sometimes we miss some notes. [The lips and the body haven’t sufficient warmed up by then]


Yeah, brass players don’t play before 9pm, even in recordings.


Even in tonight’s show, I’m pretty sure everyone feels better than the afternoon show. We were tired, but the feeling was better.

Buzz Brass & Vincent Côté (center)

oook: And now [turning to Vincent, the sole actor of the group] you’re the actor. Do you play any musical instruments?


Vincent: Not at all.


oook: How did you become a part of these performances?


Vincent: They have worked with an actor friend of mine, Ellis Arch, who I went to school with at the National Theatre School, who couldn’t couldn’t make all the tour dates. So we split the tour half and half. Ellis knew that I love classical music, that I have lots of CD’s but I’m not a musician. He introduced me to the guys thinking that I would work well with them. I had two or three rehearsals with them and that was that.


BB: It’s fun for us because it becomes two different shows, depending if it’s with Vincent or with Ellis.


oook: Does Ellis perform the Maestro as a different kind of character?


BB: Oh yeah! Especially the Maestro.


oook: What’s the difference?


BB: Ellis is more clean, precise, by the book, arrogant, a snob.


Vincent: I’m more rat-like, vicious, cruel.


oook: Puck-ish?


Vincent: Yes, that too.



Buzz Brass returned to Montreal after a handful of days later to not only resume the tasks of their daily lives ‘Dishes, laundry, take out the trash, kiss my kids”, but also to launch right into a full slate of performances there. Until they next appear in BC, check out their website,, for upcoming performances dates and more information about their 3 CDs, background and upcoming projects.

One Response to “Buzz Brass / Buzz Cuivres: A Secret No Longer”
  1. heather says:

    How did you end up in 100 Mile House instead of Kelowna?

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