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Amy’s Brass Band

Amy Schumacher Bliss, a 2007 graduate of Capital University and alumni of Phi chapter, recently published an excellent children’s book, Amy’s Brass Band, with the help of a Mini-Grant awarded by Phi Beta Fraternity. Dawn Evans asked Amy a few questions, which she graciously answered.

Dawn: What inspired you to write a children’s book about brass instruments?

Amy: When my son Simon was born, everyone was eager to give him musical toys and books. I started noticing pretty quickly that all of the books had orchestral instruments in them. There were none about wind ensemble or brass band, which are ensembles that I typically play in as a euphonium player. I looked online for children’s books on brass bands and couldn’t find any. After doing a considerable amount of research, I found that the only children’s book on brass bands was a young adult novel that features a character who plays in a brass band as a good portion of the plot. That book was published in the ’70s and only had a short run. Other than that, I couldn’t find anything. With the culture of brass bands centering around multigenerational music-making and community building, I knew that there would be an audience for this sort of book.

Dawn: How did the Phi Beta grant support your work in developing this children’s book?

Amy: Phi Beta gave me a grant that assisted with some of the initial expenses so that I could get this project off the ground. I paid for this project out of pocket and so putting out a large sum of money on my own was a bit scary, but Phi Beta helped cut that down a bit.

Dawn: Where can we purchase your book?

Amy: The book is sold worldwide through Amazon and is sold in the US online through Target, Walmart, Barnes & Noble, Solid Brass, and Brass Band World. You can also pick it up at any large brass event in the US, at the Solid Brass or Brass Band World booth. (ISBN: 978-1-54396-061-7)

Dawn: What was the most challenging part of this project?

Amy: Not knowing how to write, illustrate, edit, or publish a children’s book. I really didn’t have a clue how to do any of it. I just had an idea and thank goodness for Google because it started telling me how to do the rest. I have a friend in my online mother’s group who illustrated the book and so we put it together through Google Docs at night when our babies were sleeping.

Dawn: When you saw the finished product, what excited you the most?

Amy: We got the boxes home, I opened up the first box and pulled out the first book and sat down to read it to my son, Simon, who by that time was two and a half. When we were reading through it together and arrived at the page about euphonium and baritone, he pointed at my character unprompted and said, “That’s mommy!” That’s when I felt like my project had been successful. I wanted him to have a book that showed him what mommy does, and he could look at the book and see that it was me on the first try.

Since then, I’ve gotten pictures from people all over the world reading my book to their children. They send pictures of children practicing their conducting or telling me what instrument they want to play. I don’t share those pictures with anyone to respect the children’s’ privacy, but I really do get great joy seeing them.

Another goal that Allie (my illustrator) and I set when we were writing this book was to help every child see him or herself in a musical ensemble. Classical music today is overwhelmingly white, straight, and male, so we went out of our way to incorporate diversity without bringing in token diverse characters or specifically calling attention to it. In this way, we hoped to help children see themselves in the characters, and in this subtle way, we can send the message that everyone is welcome in a brass band and music in general.

Dawn: As a music educator, I was tremendously excited to read this book to my class. My students were excited to see the excellent illustrations of the different instruments, which lead to discussions of how the instruments varied. That kind of detail is rare in a children’s book. My students noticed right away that a variety of people were included. If you are a teacher or a parent, I highly recommend this book!