In the final accounting, the business of music is about music. But sometimes the business of music is business.
The latter applies to that most tenuous of musical endeavors, the chamber ensemble. Long-standing ensembles with robust touring schedules are a rarity. Those that pay enough to allow musicians to earn a living? Even rarer.
One of the more successful chamber ensembles is the 26-year-old Boston Brass. The group has established a stable touring career that includes big fan bases in Japan and Finland, and a loyal following in the United States.
On Sunday, the ensemble, composed of trumpeters Jeff Conner and Jose Sibaja, hornist Chris Castellanos, trombonist Lance Laduke and tubist Andrew Hitz, performs at the Crest Theatre in the first concert of the Sacramento Community Concerts Association's 2012-13 season.
The ensemble has a local connection in Sacramento Philharmonic tuba player Julian Dixon. In the 1980s, Dixon was studying tuba at Boston University's College of Fine Arts at the same time the Boston Brass was forming.
"Boston Brass' original tuba player, Velvet Brown, was my studio mate and a member of the Boston Tuba Quartet," Dixon said.
When Brown had a conflict, Dixon sat in with the Boston Brass.
"The Boston Brass combines a high caliber of playing with an entertaining program," Dixon said.
The importance of combining the two is not lost on trumpeter Conner the only original remaining member of Boston Brass. Reached by phone at his home in Boston, Conner talked about the demands a successful brass chamber ensemble face.
Did you have any mentors?
We were very fortunate in the late 1980s, when we were at Boston University, because at the time the Empire Brass was in residence. They, along with Canadian Brass, were one of the top chamber music groups in the world. They were our coaches and became mentors.
What did you learn from them?
We learned about how to make a business from chamber music. A lot of successful groups came out of Boston University. We were very lucky to have Empire Brass as teachers. To this day, Sam Pilafian, who is the founding member and tuba player of Empire, is still a coach and writing music for us.
What did you learn about the chamber business?
We learned that chamber music can be a business. It can be a very successful business. It was great seeing Empire Brass being successful and knowing it can be done. Once you have legs, it is important to know how to find music to play, and creating a whole show and thinking about your product. We learned it's crucial to think about your brand and what separates you from other groups.
Is it all about the music?
It's also important learning how to work with presenters, and learning how to be on the road and working on the road. A lot of what we learned seems like common sense now but it's not when you're in college.
What other ensembles came out of BU at the time?
Atlantic Brass, Epic Brass, Paramount Brass. They all had very successful careers and were just tremendous players.
Why did you choose the trumpet?
I started playing trumpet in the fourth grade. I never thought about playing any other instrument. My dad played trumpet in middle school. I learned on his trumpet a Conn Constellation.
Who influenced you most as a young person?
The reason I'm still playing trumpet to this day is because of the band directors I had in middle and high school.
How important are middle-school band teachers?
Crucial. I think being a band director is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Keeping kids interested and keeping them intrigued? That's hard, especially now that you have to compete with technology.
Back in the '70s, there was not a lot of stuff to do. But now it is so difficult keeping students interested.
Tell me about your program on Sunday.
Our concerts are usually classical the first half and jazz the second. This year's program is based on the four seasons so the centerpiece of the first half is Astor Piazzolla's "Four Seasons" and in the second half, a lot of pieces will have a season theme like "Autumn Leaves" or "Joy Spring."
What's the hardest thing about being in an ensemble such as Boston Brass?
Sustaining it as a business. It's a lot of work making it into a career and getting it to where you are making a living at it.
There's the economy and then there is the competition. A lot of work goes into distinguishing yourself from other ensembles.
I understand the five of you live in different cities. What's the dynamic when you tour?
When we first started, we all lived in the Boston area. Within last 10 years, the ensemble has become a road gig. We're always on the road. We live wherever we want. We do all of our rehearsing on the road.
During the summer, we get together and work on a new program.
If we all lived in the same area? I think we would never want to see one another again.
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday WHERE: Crest Theatre, 1013 K St., Sacramento
INFORMATION: (916) 442-7378; www.sacramentocommunity- concerts.com