Brass band instrumentation

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by PeterPlod, Mar 28, 2008.

  1. PeterPlod

    PeterPlod New Member

    As someone who is essentially orchestral-based and a relative newcomer to The Mouthpiece, I would be interested in fellow tMPers views on the instrumentation of a brass band i.e.
    a) are we happy with almost half the band being made up of cornets - do you actually need four on the front row and two on each of the 2nd and 3rd cornets all the time;
    b) is the middle of the band (horns and baritones) strong enough to support the cornets and still balance up the rest of the band;
    c) would be better off with four euphoniums (euphonia?) instead of 2 of them and 2 baritones;
    d) does the size of modern day bass trombones affect the balance of the overall band sound, perhaps to the detriment of the bass section; and lastly
    e) are there any other brass instruments you would wish to see in a brass band which aren't currently there, or conversely any instruments that are there that shouldn't be??
    If this has been discussed on a previous thread then tell me to shut up!

  2. GordonH

    GordonH Active Member

    The idea is that the band should sound like a pyramid, with a solid bass section less in the middle and the soprano cornet sitting on the top.

    Where this can go wrong is over blowing by the cornets* and the trombones (both aided by modern equipment which can play much louder than older types of instrument).

    In fact, I would say that its the control of dynamics which is the main difference between most first section bands and most championship section bands, rather than technical playing ability per se.

    As for changes in instrumentation, this has been done to death over the years. I think some of the rigidity needs to be relaxed but I don't think there is a need for the introduction of piccolo trumpetrs or trumpets in brass bands. If that happened the repertoire would catch up with the instrumentation and lots of other things would change along the way.

    *I am the worst offender in this regard.
  3. brasscrest

    brasscrest Active Member

    Not in my (admittedly biased) opinion. The baritone is a distinct instrument, and the playing style and timbre is different from that of the euphonium. In a contesting band, where you only have three tenor horns, a baritone is much better if you want to do something like four-part writing with a "horn" sound, which is not going to work as well with the darker tone of the euphonium. The same thing goes for trombone quartet writing - again, only three trombones in the standard contesting band. Three trombones and a baritone is not really a trombone quartet, but it's a lot closer to one than three trombones and a euph.
  4. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    I always think that the real warmth of the brass band sound comes from the sextet of flugel, 3 x tenor horns and 2 x baritones. The saxhorns in particular are what differentiates the British-style brass band from a brass ensemble, or a continental fanfare or wind band. If you replace baritones with euphs you lose that central warmth, plus you then have a band with essentially 8 tubas, which even if the euphs are written high, can be a bit overpowering. As far as the bass trom is concerned, you will find a lot of older bander who mourn the demise of narrow bore trombones and the G bass trom in particular - I'm not old enough, obviously.;) Personally I think the sound a modern trom section can generate when well balanced is nothing short of awesome, and a good bass trom player can give the bass line a superb degree of bite and definition.

    Edward Gregson has always been a keen advocate of expanding the brass band instrumentation to include trumpets and french horns, without a huge amount of support from bands, it must be said. I think the general feeling is that it isn't broken, so it doesn't need fixing! :D

    As far as the balance of so many cornets is concerned. it's no different to orchestras which regularly play 30 violins against 12 violas, 10 cellos and 8 basses. There's an argument for having a better balance within the section - the semi-archaic position of Repiano cornet, for instance, is often misused (speaking as a rep-ist ;) ). Wilby's Vienna Nights actually has 10 independent and roughly equal cornet parts, in the manner of Strauss' string Metamorphosen.

    There are a couple of threads where this topic is mentioned; if I can find them I'll post links.
  5. ronnie_the_lizard

    ronnie_the_lizard Active Member

    I'd echo much of what A-D has just said.

    Much of the Brass Band movement would be very set against the idea of adding e.g. trumpets, piccolo trombones or [cough-spit] french horns [/cough spit] though where work has been done to integrate them (in particular Gregson's "Concerto for French Horn & Brass Band") the blend can work very well (though not necessarily with the traditional 'Brass Band' sound).

    Having said that I again agree with A-D and Brasscrest that the Baritone and Tenor Horn have their own unique sound, and the question has to be "why don't standard symphony orchestras include saxhorns?"

    A lot of modern pieces of advanced standard (particularly Philip Wilby, but many other composers too) do give each of the players in the band an individual voice rather than just having several players in unison - see the scoring of "Revelation" for instance (where the band is split into 2x 12 piece ensembles) or Vienna Nights (where all players in the band, even the 2x BBb Bass Tubas, have a separate part; if you have the chance take the opportunity if of hearing it played many times over at the forthcoming Spring Festival).

    Having said that, the 'doubling' or 'quadrupling' of parts can be beneficial - there is a very different art to playing Tuba as part of a section of 4 Basses (where with good teamwork you can stagger breathing even within long loud sustained notes to give a sustained sound) as opposed to orchestral playing where you only have one tuba so you have to limit either note volume or note length to a single player's capacities.

    One limit to the introduction of new instruments is the reliance on both historical repertoire and especially on contesting within the Banding movement - it wouldn't be viable to introduce a french horn part for just one piece, when all the other music played by the band excludes the instrument. As a sporting comparison you might well say why not add a batsman or two into a soccer side - other very popular ball games such as cricket, baseball, tennis (and ?quidditch) include using bats of various forms successfully and hitting a soccer ball with a large bat could add new and very interesting dimensions to the game but it just isn't going to happen, for historic and competitive reasons rather than any particularly logical ones.
  6. RobBari

    RobBari Member

    Do my eyes deceive me?, support for the baritone!
    can't agree more that the tenor horn / baritone sound is indeed quite indispensible for the 'brass band ' sound.
  7. PeterPlod

    PeterPlod New Member

    My wife IS a baritone player - she thinks I am trying to get her out of the band....!
  8. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    Are you? ;)
  9. Irrelivant of whether or not it is 'right' to expand the instrumentation of the brass band lineup, the fact remains that in pracitcal terms it simply couldn't be implemented...

    Lineup restrictions rule out the idea for contests.
    Trying to get in a 'specialist' instrumentalist for one piece would be hard.
    Getting hold of and affording extra Euphoniums.
    What do we do with all the spare cornetists when you cut numbers?
    Would a new lineup rule out playing all the old repertoire?

    I'm sure many people could add more practical problems.

    Finally, as a cornet players, just because there are four of us on the front row doesn't mean they all have to be playing all the time. Having just two for example would only restrict their versatility. It's the art of a good composer or conductor to get the balance right.
  10. Aussie Tuba

    Aussie Tuba Member

    in a Band I played in in the past our solo horn payer also played french horn,Sound was very strong and I must admit I like the sound of the French horn. when listening to tapes of that time The Band sounded like French horn with Band acompanyment. The tenor horn would have been better balanced for the Brass band.
  11. lynchie

    lynchie Active Member

    I think the balance of instruments in brass bands is very good. It sometimes doesn't seem so when bands just put weaker euph players on baritone etc.

    Bringing in extra instruments for the odd piece can work where a band can find the players, like the bagpipe part in Hymn of the Highlands(?), but I don't think it would be a practical change in the long term. Nor do I think trumpets or french horns would blend into the brass band sound particularly well as ensemble instruments.
  12. Daisy Duck

    Daisy Duck Member

    There's an awful lot of music out there where cornet parts are split, so the four players on the front row are playing four separate parts and the 2nd and 3rd cornets are also split too. So quite often, you need 10 cornets.

    Stamina wise on a gig, it can get very hard when the cornet section is a bit sparse.
  13. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member

    Prepare for a shock (some of you more than others)

    I DO NOT think that trumpets should be encouraged into the brass band world, likewise french horns.

    The sound of a brass band is something that sends a shiver down the spine - the softer, blending, sound of a cornet section is something that is not as easy to achieve using trumpets (possible, but not at all easy). I have played brass band pieces in groups which use trumpets and french horns (sorry) and the sound is just not the same (I would even go as far to say that it doesn't sound "right").
    That said, using a trumpet, horn, piccolo trumpet or similar "orchestral brass" instrument as a featured instrument can be a very effective tonal colour, especially as a soloist.

    I like the ability to have cornets and trumpets working alongside each other and have often done this within the brass ensemble world (where players commonly have both instruments and many of them are able to play both in the correct style). The chance to contrast the tonal colours of the two instruments is somethig I enjoy, but I don't think it works as well within the soundscape of a brass band - the rest of the ensemble lends itself more to the cornet timbre.

    The number of cornets is fine in my book - in many more modern pieces and arrangements you need this number to cope with the divisi passages that composers are writing.
    In the older arrangements (where there are basically only 3 or 4 cornet parts) you can either take a rest or (preferably, in my view) achieve that stunning sound of a cornet section where every member is playing at pp and achieving a similar shimmering sound to the orchestral violin section playing quietly.
  14. Bayerd

    Bayerd Active Member

    I personally like the mix of instruments, a lot of what you are mentioning comes down to balance within the band. The decent cornet sections (particularly the higher sounds) know not to blow too loud as they don't need to to be heard. I wouldn't lose the baritones in favour of Euphs, you'd lose the 'bottom of the horn sound'. As for modern bass troms, it's very easy to wipe out half the band if you're not careful. Again it comes down to the player listening to what's going on around him/her and adapting the dynamic to get the balance right, although I personally think that some players play on gear that's too big for the job that's needed. I'm all for one offs that bring in other instrumentation, but don't think there needs to be any changes to standard brass band instrumentation.
  15. midwalesman

    midwalesman Member

    As many have said before this topic has been addressed in a number of other threads, the banding media, in its various forms and by people who are in the hotbed of banding and those with a bit more musical perspective. The notion that instrumentation will change is sadly one that will take a long, long, long, long time to happen. Mainly due to the contest (as highlighted previously), the conservative nature of brass band enthusiasts and those in charge of the direction of the movement. Edward Gregson is only one of a long line of people, with a vested interest in the movement that has expressed a view on expanding the instrumentation of the brass band. At the beginning of the 20th century Ord Hume and many of his associates advocated using percussion in contests, yet it took the movement sixty nine years to take heed.

    Whilst the contest is the main vehicle for change (repertoire etc) it is also the main reason that banding has not developed as much as it could have without the rigourous regulations on instrumentation. HOWEVER, the rules of instrumentation to my knowledge restrict the type of instruments used in a brass band contest and the maximum number of players allowed to perform on the stage, but does not dictate the number of cornets, basses or horns. Therefore in theory the balance could be altered, for example replacing 1 second and third cornet part with a flugal player, quieter and smooth passages on flug and the louder passages led by the cornet. One solo cornet may be replaced by another Soprano (as has happened in the past by its use by at least two bands in major contests). Dependant on the pieces performed instrumentation could be altered to suit. Older pieces more horns and flugals, modern normal instrumentation or more trombones to get an orchestral sound?? Since bands seem to largely exaggerate or ignore tempi and other composer instructions it would not necessarily be blasphemous to alter the instrumentation and it would make the contest day more entertaining for audience members and would give the adjudicators something else to interpret in their written comments.

    Many other issues are connected with this but the end game is: nothing will change drastically because the status quo is deemed to be the best policy.
  16. GordonH

    GordonH Active Member

    I play cornet in the orchestra for sepcific parts written for cornet (e.g. Vaughan Williams). The RSNO had a principal cornet position as well as a principal trumpet position until recently so its not that uncommon.

    The reason the Euphonium/Baritone debate comes up is that modern baritones are not far off older style euphoniums bore wise and sound wise, even having a fourth valve sometimes.
    The separation between the two has decreased over time.
    Also, the cornet and trumpet have got closer over time because trumpets tend to have longer lead pipes and longer bell flares than they used to and cornet bells have become slightly less conical and flatter nearer the edge as time has gone on.
    Stick a cornet mouthpiece in a trumpet and it will often sound just like a cornet.
  17. andywooler

    andywooler Supporting Member

    Have to disagree with you there I'm afraid. I have an Eb trumpet which only takes a cornet sized mouthpiece - being a sop player, I tend to use the same one on both but can assure you the trumpet doesn't sound like a cornet. I also have an other Eb/D trumpet where I use a Wick 5c - much more like the Wick's most cornet players seem to use and still, it sounds like a trumpet.
  18. simonbassbone

    simonbassbone Member

    It would be good to see composers encouraged to mess (?) with the cornet section and use trumpets or flugals for different sounds where required (Am I right in thinking Dances and Arias has a flugal quartet?). I'd also like to see 4 horns rather than and definately 4 trombones.
  19. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    Flugel duet ;)

    I can't remember if early on in the use of the piece that the departure from standard instrumentation was actually allowed in contest rules.
  20. GordonH

    GordonH Active Member

    That must be hard to achieve though.

    I still stand by what I said, most trumpets will sound like most cornets if you swap the mouthpiece over, albeit the trumpet will probably be way too flat to get it in tune with the main tuning slide.