A musical experiment

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by MoominDave, Sep 11, 2007.

  1. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Via tMP (see thread http://www.themouthpiece.com/vb/showthread.php?t=29608) I recently bought a 1923 Hawkes & Son G/D bass trombone from Steve Butler of Kippax band. It had been used by his father many years ago, but had lain dormant in a loft for a long while. I've played G instruments before in several contexts, from pretending-to-be-a-sackbutt to a full symphony orchestra playing Elgar, but never in a brass band. And so I took my curiosity out on the poor citizens of Kidlington last night...

    I probably ought to explain a little about trombone bore sizes first; a modern bass instrument has a standard bore size of .562", a modern large-bore tenor one of .547". Intermediate bore tenors are about .525", and so were later G/D instruments - though not this one, which seems to have been originally a straight G before someone added the valve section later. Small bore tenors are about .508". The bore of the traditional G instrument, and hence this specimen, is .484". This is about the same as a modern small-bore alto trombone! Or (I think) an Imperial baritone.
    So it's very narrow indeed by modern standards, with the various ramifications for tone colour etc. that that implies.

    All of the traditional G mouthpieces that I have seen have been titchy by modern bass trombone standards (somewhere near a Bach or Wick 5, I'd guess), so we've filed off a plastic Kelly 1.5G mouthpiece to fit the shank, which makes the sound much more mellow and full, particularly in the louder dynamics.

    So how did it go? The results were mixed, but overall positive:

    Balance was hard, against two tenors playing respectively a Conn 88H and a Bach 42B (big big instruments with which I usually play a Holton TR181), but the large mouthpiece size helped a lot in this regard. If I'd tried to balance the section volume of sound using one of the supplied original G bone mouthpieces, the sound would have become absurdly edgy. I believe I'm right in saying that bands became gradually louder as the instruments they used became larger bore (but which was cause and which was effect?), and this was exactly the period at which the G trombone all but died out. I wonder if the G would have survived longer if people had taken the simple step of using much bigger mouthpieces? Certainly, it would have made the sound more workable in the louder context.

    The difference in tone colour from my usual instrument was very obvious - and not in a bad way. More focus, more bite - but at a lower dynamic; even in the middle and lower dynamics, I had my own distinctive trombone sound without being swamped by the basses and euphoniums. There was no need to go potty with volume to get edge, in the way that bass trombonists (myself included!) sometimes do. But on the other side of the coin, this meant that there was no way of adding an unedgy weight to the bottom end, in the way that our bass section often needs. I think the gain in tone colour is worth much more than any negative there though.

    For general wieldiness, the G/D suffered in comparison with the modern bass. Getting around fast passages cleanly is simply easier on a wider bore instrument of this length, although the thumb valve made matters very much easier than they would have been on a straight G; for example, we spent some time last night rehearsing Philip Sparke's 'Harmony Music', and the opening ff demisemiquavers on a straight G instrument would lie in the following positions - 5 7 1 5 5. The fast jump from 7 to 1 and back out again is impossible, even with the extra motion-magnifying effect of the handle. On the G/D it was a more managable 5 T2 T3 5 5 (I found T3 to be easier than 1 for G in this particular case). But still one has to be so careful and precise with the articulation and breath control when compared to a modern instrument.

    There are one or two compensations in ease of note production in the low register - low Eb, D and Db in 5th, 6th and 7th positions are pearly notes, particularly compared to their stuffiness on a Bb/F instrument, where they are handicapped by the bendy trigger tubing. Continuing down, low C and B on the valve are also much clearer on the G/D than on a Bb/F/D instrument, where they must be taken on both valves at once. But then the Bb instrument wins on Bb and A, which are pedal notes, while the G/D is still stuffy inside the valve, and I missed having my 3-leger-line Ab, which is not available on the G/D. The same pattern occurs again an octave lower (although notes this low are used incredibly rarely), and the G/D has an extra semitone at the very bottom which is only of interest to Bass Bone Pedal Freaks (tm).

    So in summary, it was quite a different experience from the usual heavyweight parpage. Balance was difficult, but managable (and our tenors are not shy), and the tone colour gains were obvious. I sometimes struggled with cleanliness (though not impossibly so), and there were some notes which had, shall we say, idiosyncratic tunings.
    The deciding word on the good taste of it should go to the conductor, perhaps - and sadly she was adamant that it didn't fit in to the modern band, mostly, I think, because the tonal blend of the trombone section with the two large tenors was upside-down from where it normally is! A larger bore G/D (as most are) should be much more acceptable - and indeed Duncan Wilson ("Bass Trumpet" on tMP) has tried this with Crystal Palace band, and confirms. Next time I'm asked to help out a band with a smaller sound, I'll see if the conductor will let me experiment on them!
    If I could persuade the tenors to adopt smaller instruments, it might be a different story... But for now, I'll save it for Mozart, Beethoven and Elgar's contemporaries - though I have hopes for next Whit Friday! And I think 'Harmony Music' would sound awesome on a section of peashooters......
  2. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    Interesting read, Dave. I have actually been bold enough to play it in two contests; once with Manea Silver Band in the Cambridgeshire contest (on Holst's First Suite in Eb) and again with Crystal Palace at Weston Super Mare (on Holst's Moorside Suite). I have to say that my G/D is one of the later ones and is probably of a similar bore to a modern large bore tenor, so I'm not sure how I would have got on on an older G. Although I'm a tenor player, I have used it professionally once, but it was with an authentic performance group alongside a couple of peashooters.

    Talking of peashooters, I have in the boot of the car a Courtois trombone from about the turn of the 20th Century. Probably the same trombone Bolero was written for. I'll let you know how I get on.
  3. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    You need a C slide, mate. :cool:
  4. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Would fitting a second valve to it be a frivolous thing to do??
  5. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Are you going to try your Courtois with an ensemble?
  6. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    Hasn't been out of the case yet! It's one of two I picked up from Manea Band last week. I occasionally get asked to do period performance stuff, but not very often. I had a really good peashooter, but Mark Templeton borrowed it a got it nicked, so I hope one of them might be good. The other is a Boosey & Co.
  7. simonbassbone

    simonbassbone Member

    One of the most interesting threads for a long time. It would be very interesting to see if anyone dare'd play on a G and two peashooters if a (really) old piece cropped up for the Areas.

    Keep us updated with how it goes.
  8. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    My next guinea pigs will be the Oxford University Big Band. I have higher hopes of getting away with it in this group. After all, if challenged, I can claim that it's part of my 'jazz aesthetic'!

    First rehearsal of the term is at the beginning of October...

    Your comment about getting a peashooter section together for an old testpiece is an idea that I've thought about in the past - the doctrine of 'HIP' (Historically Informed Performance) is not one that's gathered a great deal of attention in bands, but as we gradually develop a longer and increasingly diverse history, it does become necessary to think more about how the composer would have expected to hear his work rendered.

    I would love to play G trombone for a 'HIP' contest performance of, say, Percy Fletcher's 'An Epic Symphony' (written 1926, with a wonderful bass bone part). It wouldn't be enough to just get the bones to shoot peas - all the other players (*) should dig out their aged narrow bore equivalent instruments, and what about vib? I can't quite recall what the fashion was in the 20s (I'm mentally replaying 78s of St Hilda's Colliery in my head as I type), but I'm fairly sure that more tended to be applied than is today, even if good taste didn't quite sanction the excesses that bands got into a few years later.

    (*) Apart from the horns, whose instruments have not substantially changed in the years since

    I'd be very interested to see how an excellent performance fared under such circumstances in the contest arena.

    Some people have tried things along these lines before - didn't John Wallace reconstruct the instrumentation of the Cyfarthfa band of the 1840s? And Grimethorpe recorded a CD of early 20th century band music with at least some original instruments. In fact, I've had a question about that since I heard about it, and, if Frosty is reading this, maybe he can answer it... He used a G trombone - but did the other trombones and the rest of the band join him on appropriate instruments? I only remember the bass trombone being mentioned at the time.
  9. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

  10. iancwilx

    iancwilx Well-Known Member

    What about "Life Divine" at Pontins ?
    I played it at the B.Open in 1963, and the sound of the 2Tenor peashooters and the G Bass Bones in their declamatory statements is still fresh in my mind today - absolutely awsome.
    Will any band try and emulate that sound by playing a "G" at Pontins on the day ?
    I'd also love to experience once again that magnificent "Edge" that a "G" puts on the Bass Section in loud passages and Bass Solo's in Marches - gone but not forgotten as they say !!
    - Wilkie
  11. Bayerd

    Bayerd Active Member

    I'd love to.....Although I've got a sneaking suspicion that my MD thinks otherwise!
  12. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    We have the handicap of not even attending the contest this year... Not that I think our MD would be very keen on the idea either.
  13. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Sounds like a good Idea, playing pieces as they were originally intended.

    Maybe we could start a trend that involves sticking to tempos, leaving out ralls where not written, and leaving parts on the players they're written for! ;)

    Getting back to topic, I've had a similar experience on Tuba. One of the sweetest sounding basses I ever played was an old three-valve BBb which was so old it was just Boosey, not Boosey and Hawkes! Wouldn't want to play a modern piece on it though. Very easy to make it rasp down low.

    I had a similar problem with a four-valve medium-bore Eb, which was lovely and sweet through the middle and up top, and a great solo instrument, but was mighty difficult to blend in with a section of modern instruments. It also sounded naff on a Bach 24 mouthpiece, needing something a lot narrower to get the best out of it.

    To tell you the truth, if I was playing top Eb somewhere, (Hey, it could happen...) I'd pick the medium bore every time, to stand out as and when required and for the lovely tone, but for playing BB, I'd take a modern wide bore job for the warmer low register.

    Maybe a section of one medium, one wide on both BB and Eb might have the best of both worlds... or the worst!!!!
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2007
  14. sunny_jimbob

    sunny_jimbob Member

    Thanks Dave (and indeed Steve!) - an interesting experiment and a very interesting read. I'll be very interested to read how your 'jazz aesthetic' goes!
  15. Frosty

    Frosty Member

    I'm not 100% certain on the instrumentation on the Grimethorpe recording. I used a G/D trombone throughout. Clifford Bevan played ophicleid on a couple of tracks. I'm pretty sure the 1st trombone part was played on a small bore instrument for some of the cd. I'll try and find out which tracks if anyone wants to know.
    The whole G trombone thing on that particular cd only came about after I gave Mr Howarth a lift to and from rehearsal.
  16. Frosty

    Frosty Member

    I think Richard Marshall used an early cornet for the smaller group items.
    As for the rest of the band. With a band like Grimethorpe the diary is extremely full. I don't think you would find enough older instruments that are up to scratch for the whole band to use on one particular weekend to record that cd.
  17. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    You need to be more careful who you pick up ;)
  18. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Very interesting - so most of the band were playing on modern instruments. But then Frosty was on a (presumably largish) G/D, not a straight G, as I'd believed, so perhaps the balance and tonal issues were not as pronounced as they would have been?

    To my shame, I must admit that I haven't heard this CD yet (not being much of a band CD buyer) - I will buy a copy shortly...!

    Something else that occurs to me as worthy of note - there are one or two players out there who have never converted from the G. Stuart Haigh cited Derek Roebuck as a great of former years who still uses one with a band (but didn't say which band), and I noticed from the website of the Breage band (in Cornwall) some time back that their player still used one. Are there any more examples? Do any of the exponents post on here? (Maybe unlikely, if the Bb/F trombone was a step too far technologically...) I'd be very interested to hear their views on how such instruments integrate into the modern band.
  19. sevenhelz

    sevenhelz Active Member

    Very interesting thread
    I have not much to add, except that everyone else I know who is interested in HIP wants me to play sackbutt.
    no, thanks.
  20. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    I got a lovely compliment when I played mine at a contest. I was warming up and I overheard a couple of players from another band. The first said "Mmm, interesting, there's a bloke under 60 with a G trombone" while his mate replied "Yes, he can play it, too!"

    When I was a youngster, there were still a few old guys on the G trombone in village bands. I went to the Northamptonshire Association contest once and saw two bands in the 4th section with G trombone players, but this was 20 years ago and I think most have either died out or been put out to pasture.

    There's only perverts like me and Dave who are interested in it, but I'm on with the Philharmonia this week and I don't think it will quite fit in!