french horns

Thirteen Ball

Active Member
im glad my original post has started an interesting debate, but one of my main thoughts was that there are probably a lot of school kids around that are playing french horn badly and that when they leave school probably never play an instrument again and maybe getting them to their local brass band maybe [unlikely i know] will take up another brass instrument and continue playing.

So the solution appears to be a simple one. Get them off french horn and onto a band instrument. Problem solved. With the added bonus that saxhorns in general are far less capricious than french horns, so would allow the learner to attain a greater degree of proficiency with greater speed, and therefore move onto more interesting music far more quickly....

No offence intended, but it's a lot simpler and a lot more feasible solution than attempting to cro-bar intruments we haven't needed for over 100 years into an ensemble that works fine without them.
 

Anno Draconis

Well-Known Member
No offence intended, but it's a lot simpler and a lot more feasible solution than attempting to cro-bar intruments we haven't needed for over 100 years into an ensemble that works fine without them.

Remarkably similar to the arguments against percussion instruments when Spectrum came out, dontcha think? ;)


The reason for the standardised line-up is contesting, pure and simple. The original "brass bands" had all sorts in them - keyed bugles, ophicleides, french horns, etc. - and it was purely the need to level the playing field a bit that led to rules about what instruments constitute a brass band. And that still applies to contesting; I can't bear to think of the fuss if suddenly sop players were allowed to play picc trumpets in Titan's Progress, for instance.

However, there's no reason why occasional concert pieces shouldn't be augmented by other brass instruments. Edward Gregson has been a big advocate of this for years, and two of his most significant non-contest works feature extra instruments - Trumpets in particular. Lots of bands feature trumpet soloists without causing a rumpus, even at contests - my band did at Butlins, for example.

French horns differ most in their range of expansion, which saxhorns don't have. Try getting your horns and baritones to go from ppp to fff as effectively as your cornets and trombones can and unless you've got world class players in your ranks, you won't manage it. French horns can, and do, very effectively. I've occasionally wondered about writing some sort of concerto grosso thing for brass band and brass ensemble, with the ensemble as the concerto group.
 

GordonH

Active Member
I can remember a senior figure in the brass band world telling me back in the 80's that bands could definitely have piccolo trumpets now that Booseys made one (they didn't in actual fact, it was badged Besson but made by Kanstul). Not much difference between a trumpet and cornet anyway these days, as I have said before. The standardisation of line up was partly down to contests but also down to commercial pressures from people selling instruments made by particular maker who did a distinct line of saxhorns (Distin, Boosey etc). In the 1800's bands seemed to have had more flugels and less cornets judging by the old photos I have seen on bandroom walls. The main standardisation came from Boosey and Hawkes who redefined what counted as a cornet amongst other things to prevent competitors products making it into the market.
 

Anno Draconis

Well-Known Member
You're right about the flugels - Besses back row in the earlier Alex Owen days was mostly flugels, I think. In more recent times two of Gregson's testpieces are scored for one of the cornets to switch to playing a second flugel part way through, because that's another of his suggested changes to the standard lineup. From what I remember of my banding history didn't the Distin manufacturing operation essentially become Boosey's brass instrument plant when they bought him out?

I still think contesting had the biggest influence on banding line-up; Distin sold out in the 1860s but there were still "non-standard" combinations at a lot of contests at that time. Besses included woodwind until 1853 and there's a picture on their website from 1869 of them still using Ophicleides, so Distin himself clearly didn't have much clout (although to be fair, history shows Boosey & Hawkes certainly did in later years).

We shouldn't underestimate the influence of sticking with high pitch either. Standard brass band instruments spent 40-50 years as musical marsupials, marooned on their island of A=457 with only B&H making suitable instruments - American cornets, tubas and trombones of the time were playing in A=440ish with local variations, so even if you wanted a different make you couldn't use it in your band.
 

GordonH

Active Member
You're right about the flugels - Besses back row in the earlier Alex Owen days was mostly flugels, I think. In more recent times two of Gregson's testpieces are scored for one of the cornets to switch to playing a second flugel part way through, because that's another of his suggested changes to the standard lineup. From what I remember of my banding history didn't the Distin manufacturing operation essentially become Boosey's brass instrument plant when they bought him out?

I still think contesting had the biggest influence on banding line-up; Distin sold out in the 1860s but there were still "non-standard" combinations at a lot of contests at that time. Besses included woodwind until 1853 and there's a picture on their website from 1869 of them still using Ophicleides, so Distin himself clearly didn't have much clout (although to be fair, history shows Boosey & Hawkes certainly did in later years).

We shouldn't underestimate the influence of sticking with high pitch either. Standard brass band instruments spent 40-50 years as musical marsupials, marooned on their island of A=457 with only B&H making suitable instruments - American cornets, tubas and trombones of the time were playing in A=440ish with local variations, so even if you wanted a different make you couldn't use it in your band.

I had forgotten about the high pitch issue! The City of Edinburgh band stayed in high pitch till it disbanded in 1981:
http://www.music.ed.ac.uk/euchmi/uei/index.html
It has to be a significant issue. French manufacturers made high pitch instruments too.
 

Thirteen Ball

Active Member
Remarkably similar to the arguments against percussion instruments when Spectrum came out, dontcha think? ;)

Indeed - and my reply was meant to be more than a little tongue in-cheek.

Since a simplification of the OP's angle could be 'I like french horns, let's get kids playing french horns in a brass band' it is no more or less mischevious to suggest in counter 'I like saxhorns, let's get kids in orchestras playing them!' ;)

As an addition for a particular feature I've certainly no objection to them - but if suggested as a replacement for Tenor horns and baritone horns, I'd be somewhat against that.
 

nethers

Active Member
Though no one objects to having kids in a training band etc on these with the hope that they can learn to play a saxhorn as well in time I presume?
 

Dave Payn

Active Member
I've occasionally wondered about writing some sort of concerto grosso thing for brass band and brass ensemble, with the ensemble as the concerto group.

Didn't Derek Bourgeois do just that for the PJBE and band? Nice idea. Always room for more than one, in any case.
 

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