Why does the Principal Cornet sit there?


I don’t know if this has been thrashed out previously on this site, but since my return to banding since 2004 after a 17-year sabbatical, I have been wondering about the logic behind the traditional seat placing of the principal cornet on the end of the front row.

I would presume the job of a principal cornet is to listen to and coordinate the cornet section, as well as lead in terms of style and sound. I have had the honour of playing soprano cornet behind three of the best in the last four years, Leon Renilson, Alex Kerwin and Vaughan McDonald. They have been wonderful to sit behind and listen to when I’m not playing, but nigh impossible to hear while playing with them, and totally impossible if playing in unison. You can’t even see facial expressions of approval or otherwise.

Having done a contest stint at fourth solo cornet for Dalewool,I found it is just as bad trying to hear what is being lead from the top. Similarly, I don’t believe a principal cornet would be able to hear much other than the deputy, soprano and repiano (or in some cases, hear at all for some minutes after some exuberant soprano playing!).

So considering the principal cornet probably cannot effectively hear, or be heard, on the end of the front row, why do they sit there? Is it merely so that they are safe in the knowledge that the audience can see they are the principal cornet, and not merely “one of the others”.

In an orchestra, the lead violinist sits where they do for visual reasons, so that they can all match the bow directions for each phrase, and follow it on to the back rows – no such need in a cornet rank.

Surely the best place for a principal cornet to sit is in either the middle of the back row (if they want to lead and communicate) or the middle of the front row (if they want to listen more and coordinate)

I would be interested in people’s thoughts and experience on this.


Supporting Member
I thought it was because the audience get to hear the best player most prominently? Same with Euph's and Trom's.


Active Member
Similar question can be asked of an orchestra's principal violin. Principal cornet mirrors it's position. Historically, I think it has something to do with leading the ensemble when there is no conductor.

Anno Draconis

Well-Known Member
Re the orchestral comparison: Unison bowing decided upon by the leader became popular long after the standard seating (or standing) pattern of an orchestra was agreed. In Mozart's time orchestras sat much as they do now but the decision whether to use an up-bow or a down-bow for a particular note was left to individual players. Now it's written on the part for each desk (I used to do it!) so they don't need to follow the leader for bow direction, merely timing.

Traditionally the orchestra leader sat centre left to direct the music, since most orchestras didn't use conductors until the early 19th century. Sitting centre left meant that the leader could use his bow in his right hand to "conduct" and be seen by every player or, later, could liaise with the conductor during rehearsals. Later, military, wind and brass Bands simply followed the convention of having the main melodic instrument (the cornets) to the conductor's left, with the leader of the section on the end chair, presumably because many conductors were from an orchestral background and that's what they expected.

Although there's an element of "leading" the section while playing, this is a much less important role for a PC, because you're only talking about 10 players, in 2 rows. The conductor ought to be able to "lead" them. In an orchestra there can be 18 first violins stretching back 7 or 8 desks and it's much tougher for a conductor to have the instant visual communication with the back desk of first violins 30-40 feet away than it is with the 3rd cornets 8 feet away. I'd say the PC's role is (in rough order of priority):
  • To be the best player in the section, certainly in terms of sound and preferably in terms of technique.
  • To take all the solos and quiet passages, leaving the razzing to the other 3
  • To listen to what the cornet section are doing - and I take on board what you say about not actually hearing much if you've got powerful sop/rep/2md players, but the conductor is in the same situation and further away - making suggestions to the players and/or the conductor about how it could be done better.
  • To know who the best players are in the section and make sure the conductor knows, and puts them in appropriate seats.
  • To "link" the cornet section with the rest of the band, being in the best seat to have eye contact with solo euph, horn, trom and flugel.
Have you thought that the Sop may need moving? I am currently playing sop at the far end of the front row, a bit odd at first but you can hear everything. Easy to face in if it's a quiet high bit and brilliant to face out and give it some!
Of course it could just be that my conductor is trying to hide me both visualy and audibly!
I've known a few bands to have one of the Solo Cornets on the front row to lead the section and let the PC get on with solo work. A number of whom couldn't organise a ... in a ..., let alone a cornet section - so that makes sense for the organisation to be assigned to the best organiser in the section.

With regard the Sop, I think it's in the right place to ensure that it is mainly facing inwards.


Nah..............it's so he/she can get off the stage super quick and in to the pub before the rest of the band!!!

See ya


Well-Known Member
I'd like to propose a redesign of the seating layout for brass members of the band:

Front row stay where they are
Back row from rep to 3rd sit opposite the front row; sop joins the front row on top end
Horns move a row back
Trombones swap sides of the band, sitting behind the front row
Euphoniums and baritones sit in front of the conductor, with baritones sitting left of euphoniums
Basses sit behind euphoniums and baritones, staying where they are
[Percussion stay where they are]

This has the following advantages:
i) Front and back rows encouraged to blow on "equal" terms, with front row's real volume clearly audible to back row.
ii) Back row closer to conductor so that the weaker players cannot hide.
iii) Equal numbers of players on "front" and "back" rows - seating wouldn't be lopsided.
iv) Sop and principal cornet could work together more effectively. If the idea of having the principal one seat in from the edge wasn't popular, the sop could sit at the bottom of the front row.
v) Rep, the "second principal", would sit on the edge of the band, and in front of the flugel, for those old arrangements where rep and flugel work together.
vi) Bass trombone doesn't have to look through their bell or point out inappropriately to see the conductor.
vii) All saxhorn sounds (flugel, horn, baritone) sit together.
viii) All tuba sounds (euphonium, bass) sit together.
ix) Traditional seating associations that don't actually make a lot of sense tonally (trom-euph-bari pitch grouping in particular) are not lost.
x) Solo euph, sitting in the middle of the row, has clearer communication to euphs/baris.

while avoiding the following possible disadvantages:
i) Sideways-pointing instruments point inwards (as in traditional formation).
ii) In fact, generally, nobody points outwards

This parallels the alternative orchestra set-up, where 1st violins sit opposite 2nd violins, although that is not the inspiration for this idea.

What do you think? I might see if I can persuade Kidlington to try this out!

Thirteen Ball

Active Member
I've known a few bands to have one of the Solo Cornets on the front row to lead the section and let the PC get on with solo work. A number of whom couldn't organise a ... in a ..., let alone a cornet section - so that makes sense for the organisation to be assigned to the best organiser in the section.
That's how it's worked on any bass section I've played on. The section leader is not necessarily the best player. (ie: principal) It's usually the one who grasps what the conductor wants quickest, and has the ability to organise the section so they achieve it. Alright, there's more chairs on a cornet section, but the principle is the same.

I'd also suggest that a properly run section will take note of whoever is in the best position to make any particular comment. For example my experience of bass sections is that it's usually the 2nd BB who listens for the tuning/intonation problems on the section - as since all the instrument bells point to the right he/she will hear any problems from the other three the clearest. That's probably another reason why the best cornet players are (supposedly) on the front row, as it allows them to hear if there are any problems from the back row.


OMG :eek:

A suggestion that breaks with tradition :clap:

Are you a madman? :biggrin:

Actually makes sense bar for the horns pointing toward the back of the band/stage, not great for getting their sound across I think


Supporting Member
I agree, Horns are by nature a quiet instrument so need to be left in the front, or even sitting where the cornets do, so the sound goes to the audience.

Owen S

Definitely an interesting suggestion. The only thing I would say is that I think the sop and rep work together too much for the sop to be sitting below the 4th man while the rep is opposite the principal.


Well-Known Member
I'm not sure I agree with the horn comments. Horns are often played more quietly than they should be, but they're perfectly capable of balancing - just as back row and baritones are. And I missed off another advantage:

xi) Horns wouldn't have trombones parping in their ears and periodically deafening them - they would find it easier to listen to the rest of the band.

They don't move away from the front of the band in my suggestion - just one row back from the conductor. The audience would hear no difference.

I don't like the idea of having them pointing out - it makes splits very much more obvious from the audience's perspective, and, with players who aren't needlessly weedy, it would lead to an undue horn prominence.


Supporting Member
But horns are protected from those bothersome trombones by the Euph's and Bari's. So best leave it as is then.

Oh and I refuse to be told how loud horns are (or not) by a trombone player! ;)

As for splits, you are confusing horns with trombones again.


Well-Known Member

Okay - for a band where horns don't sit in front of the trombones (and, interestingly, I haven't committed to a band where they don't sit in front of the bones since about 1995 - perhaps I'm imagining that this layout is more common that it actually is), substitute 'euphoniums and baritones' for 'horns' in Advantage (xi).
For a band where horns sat in the middle of the band, they would actually be markedly closer to the audience, and thus more audible despite pointing a little backwards - horn sound isn't as directional as all that.


i no what you mean, i can`t hear what my front row are doing most of the time only the assistant. i just edge forward a touch to try and hear what is going on but its hard even then. Also sumtimes the sop player sits next to the top man in contests to make it easier when theres some sort of duet or sumthing like that. there must be some logic or history behind why the seats are where they are.


New Member
I don't believe that there is any ruling stipulating where players sit on stage in relation to either each other or the audience.

I've played in numerous bands where the scoring of the music itself designates which set-up is most beneficial to the bands.

If you want to go down this line surely the ideal situation would be where every players bell faces the audience, but this is obviously not the placement where each player can hear each other.

Solo instruments with side facing bells tend to always sit with their bells facing their next in the section. This prevents the Principal from being encouraged to try and overblow by not beig influenced by his 2nd and similraily down the line.

Bb Corets need to project across the whole band therefore are ideally placed on the left with the leads in front of the back row for the same reason as above.

For Troms read same as above as they will always be able to project above Baris and Euphs. (Trust any Euph Player. We'd rather sit in a different theatre let alone position)

Basses need to hear everything (although they may not understand what they hear) which is why they sit at the back. This gives them an excuse to say "Sorry Boss, didn't hear what you said"

Horns & Flug, again need to hear how much louder they need to blow in order for the MD to tell them to "Blow the ****** things"

This leaves the kitchen which in most standard houses is at the back door.
I'll leave you to make your minds up as to why.



Who Cares. He/She could be in the next county and you'dd still hear them!

p.s. Why is the conductor in the middle ?
Nobody ever follows them so why do you need to see them ???


Active Member
Ive always had a thought on seating arrnagments, so that the PC, etc, can have a better idea as to whats going on. Here it is:

Front row, stay as is, back row where euphs and baris are. Trombs where horns and fugel ae. Horns and flugelwhere back row cornets were. Euphs and Baris behind where horns were and basses stay at the back.


Supporting Member
Which would have the trombones pointing straight at the audience? Being a naturally loud instrument (in my opinion), not sure that's a good idea. The horns and baris need to be close as they often play in unison. As does the solo horn and flugel, so solo horn should be at the cornet end of the line, as it quite often is. In short I think the usual formation is about right.