BRASS BANDS IN BRITAIN
by Doug Smith
Brass Bands in Britain was introduced in Vol. 8 No. 4 of Lines and Spaces. An Overview and Part I - The Aldbourne Band - appeared. There are a total of 11 parts.
Part 2 - INSTRUMENTS
A delightfully predictable feature of the British Brass Band is its instru-mentation.The composer/arran-ger knows exactly what to write for-the instruments and the number of each.The publisher knows what kind of score to use, what size paper to buy and how many parts to print. For a band to compete, it must have the right number of the right people playing all the right instruments.
In the current DIRECTORY OF BRITISH BRASS BANDS there is an entry for Stalybridge: Founded 1809.The oldest brass band in the world. Such a claim demands the question: What kind of 'brass band' was Stalybridge in 1809?
According to J. F. Russell and J. H. Elliot in their THE BRASS BAND MOVEMENT, London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1936, the Stalybridge Old Band, as it was then called, listed among its instruments a trumpet, 2 French horns, a bugle horn, a serpent, 2 bassoons, a bass horn, 4 flutes, 4 clarinets, cymbals, drum, and a triangle.That, their critics must wonder, was a brass band?! Before we go any further, we need to realize that in 1809 valves had not yet been invented, which rules out our kind of trumpet, French horn, and bass horn. (No problem with the bugle horn and serpent!)
Let's fast-forward a century or two and set down an annotated list of instruments in today's traditional brass band. It should be noted that unless a key is given, all instruments are pitched in Bb.
Eb Soprano Cornet (1)
The one-of-a-kind clarino voice, usually, because of the high tessitura, is scored sparingly.The part usually carries solo lines or doubles the solo cornet line, either at pitch or at the octave.
Solo Cornet (4)2nd Cornet (2) 3rd Cornet (2)
The solo, 2nd, and 3rd cornets are all doubling parts. In fact, it is common to quadruple the solo line unless instructed differently by the composer. There is always one player who is recognized as THE soloist, and when the composer wants him to play alone, a 1 appears on the part.
Repiano Cornet (1)
The part that the Salvation Army bands did not adopt is most frequently defined as supplementary. This part can double the solo cornets, strengthen an important accompaniment, or provide a duet part for the Eb Cornet or the Solo Cornet. Often the repiano part is used to prepare a young player for the Solo Cornet chair.
One other thing about this part: it is customarily printed on the same sheet as that of the Flugelhorn. When the composer wants only the cornet sound, he indicates Rep; when he wants only the flugelhorn, he indicates Flugel. In tutti passages he uses the term A2 or Both.
In anticipation of the section below on Saxhorns, it must be noted that the flugelhorn is the only instrument designed by Adolph Sax that has a forward pointing bell. All the rest have upright bells.
The flugelhorn part bridges the gap between the cornets and Eb horns, but has increasingly gained popularity as a solo voice.
1stTrombone (1)2ndTrombone (1) Bass Trombone (1)
The trombones complete the bell-front grouping. Yes, they do read Bb Treble Clef parts, with one notable exception: The Bass Trombone.The bass trombone is the only instrument in the British Brass Band system that reads a non-transposed part written in bass clef. None of my English authorities could explain the when, where, or why. Sorry.
As for an American learning to play trombone parts in treble clef, it has been discovered that one familiar with tenor clef will adapt rather painlessly to the treble clef scoring.Once they discover the system of subtracting two flats from their key signatures, they merely read the part as they would read a tenor clef part
Adolphe Sax had an instrument factory in Paris, but his big break came at the Crystal Palace in London, during the Great Industrial Exhibition of 1851. At the huge hall there were products for business, industry and agriculture, but no exhibit created more of a sensation than Sax's new brass instruments. Word spread quickly among the working-class players, all of whom wanted desperately to try out these new brasses.
To make a long story short, two years later, in 1853, in the very first British Open Band Contest held at Manchester's Belle Vue Kings Hall, the Mossley Temperance Band arrived with a complete set of Sax's instruments, and with sounds that transfixed the enthralled audience, Mossley walked off with first prize.
The influence of Sax is seen even today by every single brass band in Great Britain, and all brass instru-ments-in America as well as the rest of the world-with upright bells. Having thus arrived, we may now continue through the remainder of the band.
Solo Eb Horn (1) 1st Eb Horn (1) 2nd Eb Horn (1)
The Tenorhorns, as the British call them. have essentially the same range as French horns, although their light, pliable sound is much more at home with the brass bands. Recalling the cornet designation above as Solo, 2nd and 3rd, it is curious that with the horns the score reads, Solo, 1st and 2nd.
1st Baritone(1) 2nd Baritone (1) Euphonium (2)
With the brass bands the two kinds of parts have the same range and the same transpositions, but although Americans all-too-frequently use the terms interchangeably, in Great Britain composers treat the two as having separate functions. The baritone is of smaller gauge, and the sound is lighter and less assertive than that of the euphonium. Ordinarily there are two separate staffs in the score for baritones, but the two euphoniums are written together on one staff.
It has been quite common to use the euphonium as a solo instrument, and as a result, it has tended to draw the better players. As the literature matured, the parts have grown more similar in interest.
EEb Bass (2) BBb Bass (2)
As for ensemble, the gap between the BBb basses and the euphoniums is filled quite effectively by the EEb basses. We would ordinarily use the term Tuba for both instruments, and more often than not, the British do also. Just to be sure, the other term used for the basses is Bom-bardon.Since all the valved instruments in the British Brass Bands use three valves and read the same music, it is common for a young player to start with cornet, and then move down into the lower-pitched instruments as the years accum-ulate. The process seems to the British to be both normal and especially satisfying.
The Russell and Elliot book mentioned above cites the existence in 1832 of a band in Blaina, Wales, which, as far as records show, was completely made up of brass instruments.Just what kind of brass is not completely clear, although valves were certainly a reality by 1832. The band's entry in the most recent directory carries the statement, Longest established brass band in Great Britain.
It is a matter of historical record that the Mossley Temperance Band won the very first British Open Contest in 1853, playing ten of Sax's brand new in-ventions.As for Stalybridge, it is pro-bably the group that started making music first, but any resemblance to what we now know as a British Brass Band is purely circumstantial.Today all three bands still exist playing instruments after Sax, but as to which is entitled to the distinction of being first..
October 5, 2006
Doug Smith is a Professor of Church Music at The Southern Baptist Theo-logical Seminary, Louisville KY, where he has taught since 1975. His arrangements for various instrumental combinations have been published by Broadman Press, Theodore Presser, Lorenz, Hope Publishing Co., and several others. He holds the B.S. degree from Carson-Newman College, the M.M.E. from the University of North Texas and the D.M.A. from the University of Michigan.
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