CHAMBER MUSIC ~ The eGALitarians Make Brass Better

The eGALitarians at a concert in Staten Island, N.Y. in June. Top row, left to right: Shelby Blezinger-McCay, Heather Ewer, Blair Hamrick. Bottom row, left to right: Melissa Muñoz, Julie Dombroski, Kate Amrine. (Photos courtesy Kate Amrine)

A quintet challenges the jazz world’s lack of gender diversity

PROVINCETOWN INDEPENDENT – Kate Amrine is a professional trumpeter and co-leader of the eGALitarian Brass Quintet, which will be presenting a free concert at the Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham on Tuesday, Aug. 16 as part of the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival.

Amrine originally wanted to play the clarinet. In fourth grade, she says, she met with the elementary school band teacher, holding her woodwind instrument of choice.

“I couldn’t make a sound come out of it,” she says. “The teacher handed me a trumpet.”

She took to it right away. At home in Bethesda, Md., she had grown up listening to salsa and jazz — music in which the trumpet is often featured. After a couple of years playing “Hot Cross Buns” in the school band, Amrine says, she was hooked and ready for more challenging music.

In middle and high school, she played in a community orchestra and was selected for the all-state band. She played with her high school’s traditional jazz band that went on tour to places like Ocean City, Md.

“I was surrounded by people that were way, way better than me,” Amrine says. “That inspired me.”

After graduating from N.Y.U. and getting her master’s at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Amrine moved back to New York City to work on a doctorate at SUNY Stony Brook and be a freelance musician. That’s how she met the first members of what would become the eGALitarian Quintet — “the gals!” Amrine exclaims.

Despite meeting some kindred spirits in the freelancing, jazz, and brass worlds, she says she still found gender diversity severely lacking.

“It’s very male-dominated,” she says. “It’s a lot of the same kind of person.”

In 2018, she and Blair Hamrick started the eGALitarian Brass, a quintet dedicated to playing only music by woman composers. People moved in and out of the group for two years until the pandemic. Since 2020, the group has remained the same: Amrine and Melissa Muñoz on trumpet, Hamrick on the French horn, Julie Dombroski on trombone, and Heather Ewer on tuba.

“The current group is all women,” Amrine says. “But we do have nonbinary people joining us in certain concerts. I announce us as a women and nonbinary group.”

Kate Amrine with her trumpet.

She says she finds a connection with her colleagues that she wouldn’t find if they were men.

“We’re able to have conversations that aren’t always welcome when we’re surrounded by men,” she says. “That is just a different level of support.”

The eGALitarians prioritize works by women composers and other historically underrepresented groups. They also play arrangements of dance-pop music.

“We’re a classical quintet by day and party band with drums by night,” Amrine says. “I just arranged a Rihanna song.” Shelby Blezinger-McCay is their percussionist.

The group will be making its Cape Cod debut on Aug. 16. They will play some standard brass quintet works, including a fanfare by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon and a piece by Joan Tower. Amrine describes them as “older, amazing women composers who paved the way for others.”

They will also play newer music, such as a piece titled “Personality Test.”

“Each movement features a different member of the group as a different personality type,” Amrine says. “We’ve got ‘Dirty Dawg,’ ‘Sweaty Betty,’ ‘Lil Big Boi…’” The list goes on.

Besides being a leader of eGALitarian Brass, Amrine started a nonprofit organization called Brass Out Loud with Melissa Muñoz two years ago.

“It’s dedicated to spreading awareness and diversity in the brass community,” Amrine says. “We want to say, ‘There’s room for everyone. Kids, you can find a teacher that looks like you.’ ”

During the pandemic, Brass Out Loud held virtual workshops on everything from instrumental master classes to yoga to music entrepreneurship.

Amrine says that those workshops influenced people of widely varying ages and experience. She recalls a workshop participant’s remark after one of the master classes: “I’ve never been in a room with another female tuba player before.”

In both Brass Out Loud and the quintet, Amrine says, she’s trying to change the exclusiveness of this corner of the music world. Whether she’s playing Bach, Higdon, or Rihanna, Amrine says that playing with other like-minded women and nonbinary people has made her life better.

“We’re all connected,” she says of her group. “We’re striving to have a new and better brass community.”

Brass Masters
The event: “Brass in the Park” with the eGALitarian Quintet
The time: Tuesday, Aug. 16, 7 p.m.
The place: Cape Cod National Seashore Salt Pond Visitor Center, Eastham
The cost: Free