'Brass and Us' by Marc Reugebrink

RNW archive

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Music plays an important role in the work of Dutch author Marc Reugebrink. His Radio Books story is set in a small village where a traditional brass band puts out a call for new members. A boy with a trumpet has an unexpected impact.

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Marc Reugebrink was born in 1960 in Goor, a small town in the east of the Netherlands. He studied Dutch and English at Groningen University. He made his literary debut in 1988 with the poetry collection ‘Komgrond’ (Backland) which won the Van der Hoogt Prize.

His first novel ‘Wild vlees’ (Proud Flesh) was published in 1998, the same year he moved to Ghent where he still lives. Since 2001 he has been an editor of the Flemish literary magazine Yang and he published a collection of essays ‘De inwijkeling’ (Immigrant) in 2002 followed by another novel ‘Touchdown’ two years later.

Literary soundtrack

Reugebrink won the 2008 Golden Owl, Belgium’s most prestigious literary prize, for his latest novel 'Het grote uitstel’ (The Big Delay). The story is set between 1978 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a period when the seductive promise of change in 1968 gave way to the “No future!” slogan of the punk generation.

In a review of the book, the NRC Handelsblad said: “Reugebrink has sublimely combined history, the psychological development of his main character and his sexual yearnings in language that is pretty unique, and rocks just as hard as the punk section from the soundtrack to this novel.” The book even includes an appendix of music pertinent to the story.

Perfect harmony

In his Radio Books story ‘Brass and Us’ Reugebrink puts a modern spin on the ancient myth of Marsyas – the flute-playing satyr who challenged the Greek god Apollo. The Apollo Brass Band is the pride and joy of a small village. But perfect harmony is threatened when a boy named Marc Suys resolves to become a member of the band.

“It moved us, this harmony, this blending of timbres, this stirring wind… Out of the windows of the low reception hall behind the Star Café-Restaurant, notes ascended that seemed at the same time to settle over the village like a bell-jar. Women stood still, head slightly tilted, hand on throat or heaving bosom. Men looked up and took a deep breath. Children stopped their game and panted. And even after the last notes had died away, it was often as if the music played on, and transmitted its vibrations to everything that made our village what it was and ought to be.”

‘Brass and Us’ by Marc Reugebrink was translated by Michael Blass and read by David Swatling.

The series Radio Books is an initiative of the Flemish-Dutch Huis de Buren in Brussels, in association with the Flemish radio broadcaster Klara and Radio Netherlands Worldwide.