The History of the Houston Brass Band

The Houston Brass Band (HBB) was formed in 2000 by several brass music enthusiasts, inspired by the British film Brassed Off. Leading the band in those early years was conductor Damon Hilsmeier, a music educator in Pasadena ISD. The Band performed casually at festivals, concerts, and patriotic events, including the annual Pearl Harbor Memorial on the deck of the Battleship Texas. In 2004 the Band was incorporated as a 501(c) (3) nonprofit corporation.

Robert Walp, Assistant Principal Trumpet of the Houston Symphony, was asked to coach the Band’s cornets in 2006. After next conducting rehearsals, Mr. Walp was soon appointed the ensemble’s first Music Director. Under his expert direction, the Band began a period of accelerated growth, transforming it from a local community group to the professional-level organization you see and hear today.

In 2007, Christ the King Lutheran Church became the band’s new home for rehearsals and concerts. The now-annual Oktoberfest Konzert at Christ the King draws large, enthusiastic audiences. These performances recognize and highlight the Houston Saengerbund’s generous support of the Band.

Fortunate to have developed a close relationship with the British School of Houston. In 2008 the Band appointed the School’s Head of Music, Chris Lewis, its Assistant Conductor. Chris brought with him a wealth of knowledge and experience from the UK brass band movement, having previously conducted the City of Coventry Brass Band. Houston Brass Band is proud to continue its connection with the British community. Paul Wright, the British School’s Head of Music following Chris Lewis’ departure, is a former Band member and now its superb staff arranger.

In 2010, the Band performed to a packed house at Zilkha Hall in the Hobby Center, Houston. This concert set a new standard for future concerts. Subsequently, the Band was invited to perform at the Festival Institute at Round Top, and at the Houston Symphony’s Day of Music in Jones Hall, as part of its Centennial Celebration in July, 2013. A year later, the Band was again invited to perform at the second annual Day of Music at Jones Hall. In 2011, the Band released its first CD, One, and made its first Texas tour, performing in Conroe, Richardson, and Waco, Texas. The Band’s second CD, Zwei, of all German repertoire, will be released in 2020. It features Houston Symphony Associate Principal Trumpet John Parker in Paul Wright’s arrangement of the Concerto for Trumpet by Oskar Böhme.

Music education is paramount to the Band’s mission and success. The Band is proud that over fifty percent of its members are middle and high school music educators, as well as private instructors. Beginning in 2012, the Band has conducted summer BOB (Brass-Only Band) Camps, taught by its talented educators, for student musicians in grades 8 through 12. In March of 2015, the HBB instituted an annual Young Brass Soloist Competition where young musicians have the opportunity to perform for a panel of prominent musicians, all principals of the Houston Symphony’s brass section: Principal Trumpet Mark Hughes, Principal Horn William VerMeulen, Principal Trombone Allen Barnhill, and Principal Tuba David Kirk.

Our next exciting educational project is the Houston Youth Brass Band, initiated in spring 2020 and led by Leo Hernandez and Emily McGinnis. Mr. Hernandez is director of the award-winning Lanier Middle School bands and vice president of the Houston Brass Band. Dr. McGinnis was a member of the Fountain City Brass Band prior to moving to Houston in 2019, contributing to FCBB’s highly ranked performances at numerous national and international competitions, and assisting with their Youth Academy Bands. Rehearsals for the Houston Youth Brass Band (HYBB) are on Mondays, beginning March 26, from 5:00-6:30 at Lanier Middle School. The HYBB will share a concert with the HBB on April 26. Please visit the Houston Youth Brass Band website for additional details and registration information.