CLS MEMORIES: Roger Brenner

Posted on: January 4, 2022 in: Uncategorised

From its beginning, CLS has been very fortunate to work with some of the country’s best musicians and some larger-than-life characters. Here, Dan Jenkins, our Principal Trombone, remembers a founding member of the Orchestra: Roger Brenner. 

Roger was one of the most popular characters in the music profession, certainly in the brass world, and we were proud to have him as a member of CLS for over 34 years. 

Roger was a south Londoner and grew up amongst the bomb sites before going to work in his father’s furrier factory. He joined the Grenadier Guards and whenever he referred to those days, he would imitate the peaked cap, placing his hand almost flat over his eyes. 

As a star trombone player, Roger was soon widely recognised in the freelance world, by, among others, no less a figure than Sir Benjamin Britten. In fact, he became known as ‘Britten’s trombone player’ and was often asked questions by the great composer about what he could write for the instrument. On one famous occasion, Britten wrote a passage for Roger that needed an alto trombone mute. They hadn’t been invented yet! So, Roger went to a nearby sweet shop and bought “a bottle of pop”, as he described it. Having emptied it out, he used it in the show that night, with Sir Ben sitting only yards away. “He didn’t notice,” said Roger, gleefully. 

Roger was a sleek man, with a moustache, but this military appearance hid an incredibly witty and enthusiastic sense of humour. Seeing a row of suits of armour backstage at the Royal Opera House, next to one suit lying and looking comfortable on a table, he remarked, “That’s the fixer”. In Australia, a didgeridoo player asked him if he was interested in early music. “Not that early,” said Rog. His rendition of a 1950 song based on the cartoon Tweety Pie was a joy to behold.

He was articulate and engaging (a particularly enjoyable pint or glass of wine would be described as “a lovely drop of jollop”) and always a real pleasure to be with; his character was one that would often brighten up any occasion. His long career at the top of the London music scene took him around the world, often with the prestigious and world-famous Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. 

Sitting next to him in CLS was always a privilege, though he did claim that my extremely rusty alto trombone must have been “found at the bottom of the sea”. 

Roger died in 2007, after a mercifully short illness. In a series of reminiscences like this, we are merely sketching a loose outline of this legend of the music profession; one of its greatest characters and an amazing man. Never to be forgotten, often to be remembered. 

Written by Dan Jenkins, Principal Trombone