Is Band Instrumentation outdated?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by JSmith, Oct 12, 2004.

  1. JSmith

    JSmith Member

    Reading a post from a while back about Rotary Valves got me thinking (Ohh...).

    So the concensus was that rotary valves (on any instrument) are not better or worse, they're just different. That being the case, why NOT give bands the choice to use them or any other brass instruments they choose??

    In a contest situation if a band elected to use trombones to play the Euph & Bari parts as well, they currently could. They'd be panned for doing so but they could.

    I expect the rules about having to play certain instruments date from when B&H had even more control over contesting and could dictate essentially that all bands used B&H equipment. Why else does the rest of the world play front action tubas? - Because we all grow up playing 3+1 instruments we find it very difficult to use our little finger for the 4th valve.

    In the modern world of choice(!!), I strongly belive the rules in banding should be opened-up regarding instrumentation. Would a band playing C and F tubas gain any advantage? Of course not! Why shouldn't a band have a player or two on Piccolo trumpet? When does a cornet become a trumpet; is it just the wrap or is the bore/taper considered? All of this is ridiculous when we, as musicians should be serving the music. Current rules don't give conductors or adjudicators enough credit IMO. If they get it wrong, they'll be slated in their remarks etc..

    Supposing we redesigned the instrumentation, how would you adjust the current set up?

    Here's a radical idea to get us started:
    #2x Piccolo tpt (in any key to suit the piece)
    #Solo cornets: 2 doubling on Flugel, 2 on Tpt (Bb or otherwise)
    #2nds & 3rds doubling on Flugel
    #Flugel as-is except I'd begin to use 4 valve models and exploit the great low end!
    #Tenor horns. Where do you start here? Best leave them alone methinks, but def allow French Horns as an option and increase section size to 4 players.
    #Euphs as-is. If it ain't broken don't fix it! Poss double on Baritone?
    #Troms. Increase section to 4 players. Valves/slides/whatever.
    #Tubas (basses!). 4 players open to interpretation. ie 2 bass & 2 contrabass. Two players would double on Cimbasso (naturally).
    #Percussion. As is.

    Looking at it, what I've described seems to be a huge (expensive) Orchestral brass and percussion section. Hmm... Point is that composers/players/conductors have the fredom of choice to do what they think serves the music best - traditional band style one minute, 'modern' the next.
    Yeah, I got rid of Baritones but we get an extra horn (perhaps with a French accent) and a trombone. Who could argue with that!? Heh heh...

    Any thoughts?
    Submit your own new line-ups...

  2. A J Foad

    A J Foad Member

    Not too sure about that particular instrumentation, but I certainly like the idea of bands becoming more flexible in their approach to the instruments used. I don't see why bands should be made to stick to brass band orientated instruments. I'm not advocating re-scoring any existing original works for band, I just think that it would be great to hear a bit of variety in the tone colour of the band. Of course it's not always going to be practical - we can't expect bands to fork out for a wide range of instruments just to satisfy certain pieces, but if a band wanted to use french horns, cimbassos and contrabass trombones then I don't see why they should be forbidden.
  3. brasscrest

    brasscrest Active Member

    For Concert work, no problem with extending the instrumentation.

    But for contests, this could easily get out of hand. It's taken a very long time for percussion to be included as a required element (and there are still some who are unhappy about that:) ). What would happen if there were a contest with a requirement for French horns but no baritones? For us baritones, that might be a bad thing ;)

    At some point, it would cease being a "brass band" and be something more like a wind orchestra.
  4. JSmith

    JSmith Member

    Hardly a wind orchestra. No reeds!

    Obviously I don't want any changes to be a "requirement" - just to give bands a degree of choice. My guess is that the top bands would continue to use what they do and still win. If a certain new trend became a winning formula though it would find acceptance and become the norm.

    Tangent warning:

    Part of my concern is that if Bands try to stick too much with tradition they will die a death. Look at how excited everone got about Stavanger's recent performances. The "Canadian Brass" and others have been putting on shows which exceed Stavanger's parameters since the late '70s. Banding could do with upping its game in a variety of ways and I think instrumentation is one.
  5. DublinBass

    DublinBass Supporting Member

    I think sousaphones should be allowed for march contests. :p
  6. JSmith

    JSmith Member

    You imply that Sousas aren't allowed - is that the case?? They are a "Bass" and easily available in Bb or Eb so no pitch worries with the powers that be. :?:

    These rules imply that certain instruments have magical qualities which will greatly aid a player. Bullsh&t! Great players sound great on just about anything, and if you're **** no instrument is gonna suddenly make you sound even 'good'.
  7. JSmith

    JSmith Member

    Sorry, didn't know I wasn't allowed to say "****". :D
  8. JR

    JR Member

    Sorry - i'm just creased up trying to imagine Journey into Freedom or Comedy or Moorside Suite or even Year of the Dragon on your suggested instrumentation - the above quote i think would sum it up fairly succintly

    john roberts
  9. JSmith

    JSmith Member

    Yeah, it would sound different.
    You might think that sounds wrong whilst others might find the version fresh perhaps?

    Anyway, that's the great thing about leaving things up to bands; you'd get interesting versions of established works. With doubling, you could still keep the sound traditional for particular works. If the changes were subtle even some traditional ears might like the results. Many pieces would sound daft with Cimbassi and French Horns but actually I'd love to hear them in a well played YotDragon; imagine the scope for fire-spitting!

    If anyone doubts the sonic qualities of cimbassi and F Horns, listen to the soundtrack to Gladiator which used something like 4 Cimbassi and umpteen horns. Sounds amazing.
  10. Heather

    Heather Member

    No Baritones eh?? --- well, there's a surprise!!
  11. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    And just think of the arguments at contests about who used what instrumentation and how unfair it was just cos they can afford sousaphones....blah...blah...

    I would refuse to play a sousaphone on windy (or even breezy days) depending on wind direction. I tried it once, years ago, uphill with a strong wind blowing downhill. Put me in bed for a week!

    TIMBONE Active Member

    As a composer/arranger, one of the things which I love about the brass band, is a fixed instrumentation. To a large extent, the symphony orchestra is the same, because although composers have added instruments, this is in percentage terms the exception not the rule. As a director of wind bands, and a composer/arranger for that ensemble, I suffered, as the instrumentation of the wind band became a maze, which eventually made me decide that I wanted nothing more to do with them. In 1925, a standared was set for the British Military Band instrumentation, this has almost dissapeared. THANK GOODNESS THAT THIS HAS NOT HAPPENED TO THE BRASS BAND, and I hope it never will.
  13. John Brooks

    John Brooks Well-Known Member

    There have been some experiments with instrumentation at various times. The one I'm most familiar with is Ifor James and Besses who switched Tenor Cors for Tenor Horns. After two or three years they went back to the traditional instrumentation.

    Although not an experiment, the Red Shield Band, London Collegiate Brass and City of London Band all used French Horns in place of Tenor Horns, in my opinion, to good effect.

    In 1969/70 Johnnie Spence and Johnny Scott produced a couple of recordings by the "Original Brasso Band" which borrowed from the brass band instrumentation. Also, was it not the great Jimmy Shepherd who felt somewhat the same way and this resulted in the very successful and highly acclaimed JSVB. Both are good to listen to but made no attempt to supplant the "traditional" brass band.

    I'm not sure if the instrumentation you suggest is a change for the Orchestral Brass Ensemble (PJBE; London Brass) or the Brass Band; it sort of messes with both. I'm not suggesting that your idea is not a good one, it may be worth an experiment but it won't be a brass band and it won't be a brass ensemble as we know them, it would be something different.

    Eric Ball is on the record as favouring 2 soprano's, finding the single instrument limiting. No doubt there are others too. I believe he also voiced concerns at the suggested use of other brass instruments that might not blend in with the standard instruments or the balance of sound intended by the composer.

    In my opinion, we should be careful. Symphony Orchestra; Big Band; Brass Ensemble; Chamber Orchestra; String Quintet; and Brass Band all carry a distinct understanding of the basic sound associated with each group. A String Quintet or a Brass Band playing the Beatles is still a String Quintet or a Brass Band. When I buy "Black Dyke plays The Beatles", I know what sound I expect to hear. Now, if the album was titled "Black Dyke and friends play The Beatles" I would find out about the "friends" before buying the CD.
  14. Okiedokie of Oz

    Okiedokie of Oz Active Member

    The thing with sousaphones is sound quality. The average fibreglass sousa is not as nice a sound as a traditional bass and the good ones cost nearly 4-5 times that of a normal Sovereign. The front action basses would be extremely awkward to march with also. So for brass bands, the traditional tuba is fine. However, if the player and MD can agree to the different sounds produced by each instrument and can afford a sousa for marches and a nice German front action for concerts and contests, then maybe it's viable. But otherwise, you need a 1-tuba-fits-all approach.

    And it will more than likely be the same with all instruments!
  15. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    I don't know many bands (or players for that matter) around here who could afford 3 instruments per player. Where would you store them? Mind you, our percussion section gets a lot of storage room - maybe we could get rid of some of their toys? ::D
  16. RonBarnes

    RonBarnes Member

    Is Brass Instrumentation Outdated?

    Having read through the tMP article on copyright only yesterday, I would say that some of the proposals for revised instrumentation are certainly in the forbidden category. The composer does, and always has, determined the instrumentation as an integral part of his composition.

    Regarding the instruments themselves, I've never played a tuba for real but it seems to me that rotary valves, which are more conveniently spaced and have far less travel than the piston variety, would be a preferred choice among tuba players. Any tubists care to comment?
  17. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    I've played tuba as well as bass but, possibly because I started on bass, I found the rotary valves awkward. Even though they do move more fluidly, with less travel, I felt clumsy. Maybe with perseverance I might eventually get used to it, but I wouldn't really put myself out just for the sake of it - but then I'm an idle sod :)
  18. fitzy

    fitzy Active Member

    I like the piccolo trumpet idea (Elgar Howarth does too apparently). It would make my job easier!

    Not too keen on rotary valves. They would make it even trickier to play most of the techniqual passages that are requiered. They are a ****** to trill with too!
  19. JSmith

    JSmith Member

    The Piston Vs Rotary debate continues constantly in the US. In Mainland Europe, Rotaries are the way to go. In the US either goes; Bell & Bobo (in LAPhil) played Rotaries and Jacobs most famously played his Piston York. A majority of US players probably use a piston Contrabass and a Rotary BassTuba. In truth it doesn't make much difference unless you have very small hands (rotaries are better there). If you like the sound/response of the instrument, get it and worry about the valves later :-?

    Whether folks like it or not Sovereign Tubas are out of tune. People only play them in tune by lipping notes (subconciously mostly). No one has ever made a brass instrument (except the trombone) which has a perfect scale. Actually the Sov's are pretty good though. The fact you can adjust slides (not have-to as some people fancy) on a front action tuba is a major selling point IMO. I predict that at some point we'll see triggers on Sov Basses like the Prestige Euph/Cnt - either main slide or 1st/3rd. Perhaps they'll update the Horns first...

    One thing I will say though is that the Bb Bass parts in brass bands are very low. In tuba writing in general the textbooks all say the range of a tuba descends to low concert F. In reality most all tubas can play a good bit lower in fact - but not at speed. That low F is only a treble clef low G on Bb bass; modern Brass Band composers write moving parts down to concert D and lower. A 4valve Bb tuba/bass without compensating would have trouble in that register. A 5th valve would help but you'd be using a lot of valves down there! Heh heh.

    As an aside - a tuba is a bass and VV. Folks who play 'bass' in a band saying they've never played a 'tuba' are playing 'tuba' every week; they are one and the same.

    Back to the original thread though, I don't see why my suggestion of instrumentation shouldn't be considered both a Brass Band AND a Brass Ensemble?

    Someone mentioned knowing what to expect when buying a Black Dyke recording. If we played a recording of 'modern Dyke' to say, 1920's Dyke, they'd hardly have a clue what they were listening to - particularly if it was a contemporary style piece. Not the instrumentation but the sound of the band has changed an unbelievable amount.

    Throughout history successful 'things' have changed and evolved.

    So Fitzy and Elgar Howarth like the idea of Piccolo(s) and Eric Ball would've liked two Sops. Is that it? Everybody else totally happy with instrumentation as it is for evermore... :?:

    Sorry for the rambling post :D
  20. choirmaster

    choirmaster Member

    I think what we need to consider is that the brass band's status is that of an 'amateur' group of musicians who primarily play in a brass band for the social interaction. Getting extra players in and then kicking them out whenever it suits, goes against this principle. Think of the analogy with a rugby team for instance, you wouldn't ( unless you wanted to loose) have three scrum halves playing at prop because you'd decided your props were too fat would you? Or decide that you were going to sack your hooker because they didn't have a brain? ( tongue firmly in cheek). The instrumentation/ playing structure is part of the recognised make up and should stay that way. A string orchestra would soon show you the way to go if you suggested they should supplement their instrumentation with 3 banjos and a hawaiian guitar.
    However, getting down to more musical issues,the brass band is capable of producing a brilliant and beautiful sound already in the right conductors hands and with the accepted current instrumentation. It doesn't need any tampering with. Although I'd prefer to have 5 baritones in my band any day than a soiltary french horn ....Yuk!!!
    A composer worth his salt should accept his commission for the instrumentation selected by the commissioner and work within it's boundaries. If he/she's not happy to do that then they shouldn't accept the job.