It's a night at the opera and, as the curtain calls conclude the performance inside, four brothers nervously wait on the plaza outside the Music Center downtown. They share the same boyish smile as the doors open to release a sea of tuxedos and glittery dresses. On cue, each brother raises a silver trumpet to his lips and begins blasting a whirring, hysterical "Flight of the Bumblebee."
The curious crowd detours toward the wall of sound. Opera-goers stand transfixed as the players, known as the Brunson Brothers, pump out an electrifying "William Tell Overture" and a flourishing arrangement of "America" from "West Side Story."
The screaming trumpets need no amplifiers. The audience lingers until the set is finished and their ears are ringing. Some declare the Brunsons the highlight of the evening and buy the brothers' cassettes. Then one listener asks the jackpot question: "Why aren't you guys playing inside?"
After more than 100 such nights, the Brunson Brothers have gone inside. In little more than a year, the four--Arlan, 31; Raland, 28; Deron, 27, and Gaynor, 25--have gone from playing for spare change on the streets of Los Angeles to "The Tonight Show" and "The Merv Griffin Show." They played on NBC's "Christmas in Washington" special before the Reagans and the Fox network's "Christmas in Beverly Hills" with James Stewart.
An International Fanfare
Most recently, the brothers arranged and performed the Tournament of Roses Parade fanfare, a musical lead-in, for the international broadcast to 27 countries.
"We're pretty good hustlers," Raland Brunson, the group's unofficial spokesman, said as he fiddled with a switch in their North Hollywood home studio. "When we first came down to Los Angeles (in January, 1985), we thought the best way to get exposure was to go to places where important people go to be entertained and, when they come outside, we'll be all set up and we'll blast away."
The strategy worked: Their manager, Joseph Gunchef, first heard them outside the Variety Arts Center and agreed to represent them soon after. Johnny Carson booked them on the "Tonight Show" after they played for the audience waiting in the NBC studio parking lot in Burbank.
The brothers were born to strict Mormon parents in Provo, Utah. They developed an interest in music at an early age. While their peers were wearing out Beatles records, the Brunsons were bopping around the living room to the mariachi beat of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
Their mother, Reba, tried unsuccessfully to interest them in the piano, but it was too tame. In 1971, Raland picked up a cornet and, within a few weeks, all four brothers were hooked. Reba bought them used cornets. Their father, Lynn, encouraged them, but worried about the expense of lessons.
"He wanted to wash it out of us, but we didn't know that," said Raland. "He told us, 'We're going to go 70 miles away to Brigham Young University and take lessons.' We were excited because we didn't realize that he was talking about six hours of lessons a day. He was going to drill us until we just wanted to quit. So we worked out six hours a day, and we were eating it up. Then, after two weeks, we learned a tune and our dad ran out of money."
The plan had backfired--the brothers wanted to play more than ever. But, once the boys were back home, their father, concerned about money, decided to sell the cornets. However, the music store owner was convinced of the boys' potential and presented Lynn with four shiny new silver Bach Stradivarius 43 lightweight trumpets. "Pay me when you can," he said. "Your kids will be playing all up and down the state."
They practiced individually every morning for an hour and together after school for at least two hours. Four-hour practice sessions dominated Saturdays. That discipline remains ingrained. Today, they practice at least four hours a day.
Power is the key to their sound. As a child listening to those Herb Alpert records, Raland was moved by their sense of power. "There is a lot of majesty in trumpets," he said. "If you work with the trumpet right, there is a lot of substance in there to affect your feelings in a very strong way."
Sometimes too strong. At a recent celebrity benefit for Big Sisters of Los Angeles, producer George Schlatter warned them: "I wouldn't blow too hard because old people usually pay more to be in the front rows and you're going to blow their lids off."
The Brunson Brothers' first album featured several of the gimmicky songs perfected in their street performances (which they rarely have time for anymore), but their second album will have some original material. One number, "Fleece Novae," has a funky salsa flavor, and the brothers plan to arrange some "high-energy" danceable songs for the album in hopes of breaking the Top 40 barrier.
Pointing to the 12-track mixing console, synthesizers, drum machine, digital sequencer and other equipment that crowd their den, Arlan said: "This is where everything is happening. This is where our future is."