Why did the Cornet become a second rate citizen?

Bruce Chidester

New Member
Why did the Cornet become a second rate citizen?


First I need to apologize to the uninitiated followers of trumpet history. This will not be an entertaining document. This might be boring to the casual reader but for the rest of us who are deeply interested in how our trumpet/cornet history has been developing, I think this is worth reading.

Most of us are trumpet players and the thought of playing a cornet sometimes turns us off. The reason could be that many think that we began on a cornet and when we got good, we switched over to a realinstrument. How this idea ever got started is a wonder to many of us. If I were a craftsman and needed to remove a nail from a board, I would choose a claw hammer. If I needed to hammer out some sheet metal, I would select a ball penne hammer. Making the selection between a trumpet and a cornet should be made for the same reason. One instrument does a job that the other can not. Some might argue that they are the same instrument and that might be the real reason there is so much confusion and argument over the importance and use of each instrument. This past week I have been bothered by one thought which has kept me up at night. Why did we put the cornet on the back shelf and replace it with the trumpet? After searching many sources on the internet, I found three possible reasons which I will share with you.

Theory #1
“Did Louis Armstrong cause the switch from cornet to trumpet?”

In a paper written by John Wallace, entitled The Emancipation of the Trumpet, he traces the history and popularity of both the trumpet and the cornet. I strongly recommend that you read this paper for not only is Mr. Wallace a gifted player and trumpet teacher, he is a very interesting music historian (can there be such a person?). In his paper he traces the loss of popularity of the cornet and seems to think Louis Armstrong had a significant roll in the cornets loss of stature. He wrote, and I agree with his theory, that during Armstrong’s evolution as a jazz musician, his switch from cornet to trumpet could have swayed the whole music scenes preference from the cornet to the trumpet. I have greatly simplified and perhaps misstated his thinking and for that reason you need to read his paper as he had originally written it. Mr. Wallace impressed me greatly after reading his play by play analysis of Pop’s transition via the recordings of that time. I was very impressed with his commentary of individual recordings and the subtle changes in Armstrong’s style of playing, first starting as an ensemble cornet player and eventually evolving into a dominating trumpet soloist.

I have no doubt that a figure as revolutionary as Satchmo could have changed history. On page 76 of Mr. Wallace’s paper, he quotes Armstrong as saying “Of course in those early days we did not know very much about trumpets. We all played cornets. Only the big orchestras in the theaters had trumpet players in their brass sections (….) at that time we all thought you had to be a music conservatory man or some kind of a big muckity-muck to play the trumpet. For years I would not even try to play the instrument”. This quote was taken from the book Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans (London,1955), page 190 by Louis Armstrong. As Mr. Wallace continued in his paper, he compares the early ensemble style to Louis’s more leadership playing style and Armstrongs switch from cornet to trumpet was a logical observation. The trumpet was more of a lead instrument and in the hands of such an artist, it would be logical that Armstrong’s dominance in jazz as well as popular music could have cast a dark trumpet shadow over the once revered cornet. Could it have been possible for one man to change the popularity of such a wonderful instrument as the cornet? I strongly encourage you to read this interesting and informative paper for yourself same day payday loans.


Theory #2
“Did Vincent Bach aid in the cornets fall from grace?”

Good morning class. You now have another reading assignment. This time we will be reading from A Brief History of the Cornet by Tom Turner. I also found this article interesting for it gives another view of the evolution of the cornet. You must read this for your selves for I might not convey the authors true thoughts on this topic.

I have decided to include some material from his writing. This was taken from page one, last five paragraphs of his paper.

“In 1924 Vincent Bach began making revolutionary mouthpieces too. These had much wider rims that were more rounded in the lip contact area and with deep but rounded “C” shaped cups that were brilliant and cutting but not harsh! Also, and very important for sellers and potential buyers, these rims were so forgiving that even self-taught “lip-mashers” as well as those with less development as players could mash the mouthpiece against the chops and last longer!
By the 1930s most cornets that were made were the “trumpet-bell” type “long models.” With traditional funnel-shaped mouthpieces they were still fairly mellow, though not as gentle and mellow as a shepherd’s crook cornet with the same funnel mouthpiece.
However, most young band players (like today) wanted to be heard above their band and the “C” shaped cornet mouthpieces made the kid’s cornet almost as dominant as if he’d bought one of those newfangled Bach Strad trumpets or Conn 2B or 22B cornet-like trumpets cloned from the F. Besson trumpet!
By the 1960’s the poor cornet was (temporarily) dead! Virtually all cornet mouthpieces sold in America were basically trumpet mouthpiece tops on shorter cornet shanks. Plus, some companies made cornets and trumpets that were basically the same instrument except in the leadpipe area where one would be made for a cornet mouthpiece and the other for trumpet. The long model Conn Connstellation cornet/Connstellation Trumpet are a good example. The cornet’s model number ended in “A” (like all Conns did then) and the trumpet ended in “B.”
The cornet died because, in the end, it couldn’t quite project as well as the cornet-like trumpets we now all play. Both instruments had moved towards each other until the gentle cornet sound was heard no more”.
I have one additional comment to make pertaining to the Bach improvement on the rim contour and the subsequent increase in comfort to the player. When first reminded of the change of the cornet mouthpiece to a more comfortable Bach rim, I was reminded of a story I had heard many years ago. Thanks to the internet, I was able to find verifying information about the year Armstrong was forced to stop playing his horn because of an injury to his chops. I wanted to know if this happened at the same time Pops was making the change from cornet to trumpet and in essence making a change from a “cookie cutter cornet mouthpiece” to the modern Bach rim. My answer was found in the following article.


Rupture of the Orbicularis Oris in Trumpet Players (Satchmo’s Syndrome)

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. April 1982
© The American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons
Jaime Planas, M.D
Barcelona, Spain
“Satchmo was a nickname of the great trumpet player of New Orleans, the king of jazz, Louis Armstrong. We used his name to label this syndrome because apparently it fits with the symptoms he experienced in his lips in 1935 that obliged him to stop playing the trumpet for 1 year”.

When comparing the dates of his hiatus from the trumpet with the John Wallace’s The Emancipation of the Trumpet chronology, it confirms the fact that Armstrong had made the convergence to the trumpet at least seven years before his lip injury. In other words, Sachmo’s switch from the old style V cup and narrow rimmed cornet mouthpiece to the modern Bach mouthpiece could not have caused his lip problem. I found this interesting and have only included it to answer any questions that you might have had about an additional reason for his switch from cornet to trumpet.
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
I'm a bit puzzled by your post; the cornet may be a "second class citizen" in orchestras and jazz bands, but it's the lead instrument in brass bands - and this is, after all, a forum dedicated to brass bands.

I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't know of any brass band (that is, in the British style) which uses trumpets at all.
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
I believe that Bruce is in North America where the situation is somewhat different from that of the UK Brass Band scene that this forum seems to overwhelmingly centre on - whilst this site does now have an American owner perhaps Bruce's post would have been better placed and addressed on a different USA based forum (Trumpetmaster?)

In the USA, well per eBay listings there, Tumpets outnumber Cornets by a ratio of roughly 6:1. According to eBay's indicative figures that ratio is more than reversed here in the U.K. Our North American cousins have a different musical culture which perhaps doesn't suit the sweet melodic tone of the Cornet and prefers the cutting tone of the Trumpet. My belief is that the Cornet got valves before the Trumpet, but once valved Trumpets became available the balance of desirability changed.

Whatever, IMHO, it's a matter of horses for courses.

Edit 1) These might prove useful in any discussion:
http://www.themouthpiece.com/forum/...ferred-over-trumpets-in-uk-brass-bands.44566/
Trumpet v Cornet - What's the Difference? | Normans Music

Edit 2) Whilst not a name I instantly recognised Bruce Chidester is the name of a professional musician in the USA. See: Bruce Chidester | Facebook
 
Last edited:

Bruce Chidester

New Member
I'm a bit puzzled by your post; the cornet may be a "second class citizen" in orchestras and jazz bands, but it's the lead instrument in brass bands - and this is, after all, a forum dedicated to brass bands.

I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't know of any brass band (that is, in the British style) which uses trumpets at all.
I am fully aware of the prominence of the cornet in your specific area as I have enjoyed working with several brass bands in the USA but on a world level, the cornet is still positioned at a much lower level than the trumpet and for that reason I have undertaken this subject to increase awareness of the beauty of this wonderful and underrated instrument.
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
I am fully aware of the prominence of the cornet in your specific area as I have enjoyed working with several brass bands in the USA but on a world level, the cornet is still positioned at a much lower level than the trumpet and for that reason I have undertaken this subject to increase awareness of the beauty of this wonderful and underrated instrument.
Thank you for the clarification, Bruce, and best regards,

Jack E.
 

jobriant

Active Member
Hello, Bruce --

You may not remember me, but I remember you. You joined the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa during my last year as a music student there.

There's one other factor in this "cornet vs. trumpet" dichotomy that I recall from my school days in the 1950's and 60's, and teaching days in the 1970's. When I took up an instrument in the fifth grade (for our British friends, that's at about the age of 10, a common age to begin playing a wind instrument in American school band programs), virtually all beginning high brass players started on cornets, and this continued well into the 1970's and 80's. And most of them began on a Bach 7C "Cornet" mouthpiece -- which, as you describe above, was basically a "C" shaped, trumpet style cup with a cornet shank. Those who were serious players, and thus were usually the better players, eventually "graduated" from a Cornet to a Trumpet. This, I believe, contributed to the erroneous belief, widely held in the USA, that the Trumpet is the "superior" instrument of the two.

When asked why they didn't have these students begin on Trumpets, many school band directors' stock answer was that younger students had shorter arms, and it was easier for them to hold a cornet because the valve cluster was closer to their face, and the Cornet was therefore less tiring to hold. This is the same reason that many American tuba players began as youngsters on smaller Eb Tubas, and then, after they'd grown a few inches, they "graduated" to a BBb tuba. The flaw in this argument was that Trombone students began on regular, ordinary Tenor Trombones, which for a 10-year old can be very tiring to hold. A couple of instrument makers have made "double slide" trombones with four inner and four outer slide tubes, thus making the slide half the length, but these have never been a widely-available alternative.

I believe that another factor in the American preference for Trumpets can be found on the marching field. Drum & Bugle Corps and Marching Bands strive for a huge, brilliant, piercing sound. On a football field (whether "American football" or "Soccer," as we call it over here), Trumpet sounds carry further and are perceived as louder and more brilliant. When in a marching competition, the bigger, brighter sound means a higher score, and a higher score was (and unfortunately still is) more important than musicality. Since the vast majority of American student Cornet or Trumpet players own but one instrument, using it for both concert band and marching band, the pressure is on to be sure that this instrument is a Trumpet.

I'm not ready to draw any conclusions from all of this, but rather just to set forth my observations on factors that relate to the American "Cornet vs. Trumpet" issue.

Jim O'Briant
Gilroy, California, USA
Music Director / Staff Arranger
The Pacific Brass Band www.PacificBrassBand.org
 

GordonH

Active Member
There is currently not a huge difference between trumpets and cornets in terms of bore profiles. Some cornets are more trumpet like and some trumpets are more cornet like. In 1932 Nat Gonella wrote a book while he was in hospital "recovering" from the excesses of his lifestyle. The book was called "Modern Style Trumpet Playing". I have a copy and this is the chapter on why you should play the trumpet and not the cornet:


His argument can be summarised as: The trumpet cuts better through a bigger, modern, band and it looks more streamlined and up to date (this was the age of the streamlined locomotives etc).
 

Andrew Norman

Active Member
There is currently not a huge difference between trumpets and cornets in terms of bore profiles. Some cornets are more trumpet like and some trumpets are more cornet like. In 1932 Nat Gonella wrote a book while he was in hospital "recovering" from the excesses of his lifestyle. The book was called "Modern Style Trumpet Playing".
I was lucky enough to work with Nat several times in the last few years of his life. He was no longer playing but sang and told stories... A real Gem of a man and a pleasure to have played alongside a Legend of British Jazz.
 

GordonH

Active Member
I was lucky enough to work with Nat several times in the last few years of his life. He was no longer playing but sang and told stories... A real Gem of a man and a pleasure to have played alongside a Legend of British Jazz.
Indeed, and someone I listen to fairly regularly. In terms of this thread we might all have a listen to "His old Cornet".
 

euphoria

Member
I don't know whether a trumpet is better than a cornet, but it is definately less versatile. As a conductor of many years I have often heard poor cornet players make their cornet sound like a trumpet, but I have never heard a good trumpet player make his instrument sound like a cornet.
 

GordonH

Active Member
Having had to compete against trumpets over the weekend while playing on a cornet, even putting a trumpet style mouthpiece in the cornet did not do it. But it will depend on the specific instrument. There is not a lot in it sometimes. There is a university research paper on whether audiences could tell the difference between trumpet and cornet. Apparently only brass musicians could. The general public couldn't.

If you listen to Chet Baker, for example, it is often difficult to tell if he is playing trumpet or flugel his sound is so soft.

The main advantage of cornet is the ability to articulate accurately, in my experience. It feels a lot more controlled and easier to move around on.
 

Boxfive

New Member
As an American high school student, I think the only really reason is the musical styles played in America vs in the UK.

In the UK, British-style brass bands are of course very popular. The cornet is the soprano instrument of the brass band, and it fills the job much better than a trumpet-- and hence it is used exclusively. Because brass bands are popular, so are cornets.

Now, moving to America. Here, jazz bands, marching bands, drum corps, wind bands, and orchestras are much more popular than brass banding. Take a look at each of these genres: imagine using a cornet as the soprano instrument in a marching band, a drum corps, or a jazz band. Even in a wind band, the current style of wind band music and instrumentation certainly favors the trumpet over the cornet. I can see that a cornet could be used in an orchestral situation. However, considering all of the above factors, nearly everybody in the United States plays trumpet rather than cornet outside of the orchestral setting and so it simply makes the most sense to make use of these players on their native instrument.

In short, I think it is most definitely the style and genre of music played that has created this popularity difference between the two instruments. And in cases where use for the cornet is available-- I'm a member of a brass band here, although I play baritone-- there seems to be no disdain towards it or preference of the trumpet over it. I have plenty of cornet-playing friends who look forward to brass band rehearsals to get a chance to play their cornet rather than the trumpet they play every day in class. So again, I think this is merely a matter of choosing the appropriate instrument for the style being played.
 

GordonH

Active Member
Cornet vs Trumpet is like Organ vs Piano.
There are some pianists who can also play the organ, but being able to play the piano does not mean you can necessarily play the organ.
They look superficially similar but the techniques are different.
 

4th Cornet

Well-Known Member
Cornet vs Trumpet is like Organ vs Piano.
There are some pianists who can also play the organ, but being able to play the piano does not mean you can necessarily play the organ.
They look superficially similar but the techniques are different.
You score 50%. Techniques on trumpet and cornet are the same. It's the sound and the way the instrument responds that are different.
Well done for your evaluation of piano vs. organ which is correct.
 
Top