Extracted from Volume 1: No 2: Summer 1996
Eb tenor-horn is often referred to as Alto horn in America. One recalls the bell front Mellophone in E-flat as well. The instrument used in Brass bands has the upright bell. This instrument is essential to the brass band blend, primarily because it is derived from the saxhorn group of brass instruments.
French horns are the instruments of choice for solo and ensemble work in orchestras. The sound of French horns is too piercing and penetrating to blend well in the Brass band. There have been some historical references to french horns supplementing the standard section of three tenor-horns. Perhaps some larger brass bands will want to experiment with this. By and large, the use of french horns in brass bands is an exercise in futility, because they fail to blend well in this milieu.
In the beginning bands, mellophones are preferable to french horns for the same reason. As your band develops, you will want to replace them with upright-bell tenor horns in Eb.
Each brass band has three tenor-horns; Solo, First and Second. It would be preferable to utilize two on a part, as tenor horn parts often become more florid than typical horn parts in standard Band literature. Tenor horns are frequently called upon to perform complicated viola and 2nd violin parts in transcriptions from major orchestral works.
Tenor-horns are available from Yamaha, Boosey and Hawkes, as well as other manufacturers of brass instruments. The Jupiter instruments (made in Asia) are very inexpensive instruments, quite serviceable for beginners or auxiliary band. You can get a section of Jupiter tenor-horns for what you would pay for one Yamaha. You can get three Yamahas for the price of one Besson (Boosey and Hawkes). ‘A grade’ brass bands generally try to match their section with all top grade Sovereigns or Professional Yamahas.
My experience as a tenor-horn player has been on Yamaha instruments. There were some valve problems that were irritating. Intonation is not at its finest in tenor horns, and to date, I am not aware of any compensating valves. ‘Lipping and listening’ are important in tenor-horn intonation.
Most tenor-horn players come from other instruments. A few start out on tenor-horn.
Drummers, flute and clarinet players, alto sax players, oboists and pianists have all sat next to me in tenor-horn sections.
Tenor-horn is allegedly the easiest of the brass band instruments on which to form an embouchure that will provide a suitable working tone. I played at my first rehearsal: I was given a fingering chart, a Yamaha tenor-horn, a 2nd horn part and told not to over-blow!
This point is important. Many musicians who play other instruments will want to play in the brass band. There is no reason why flautists, clarinetists, saxophonists, bassoonists and oboe players should be disallowed. These players already have strong embouchures and breathing technique and are usually musicians of high caliber. Start them out on tenor-horn and once the embouchure realigns, they can be shifted to 2nd or 3rd cornet, or other instruments as needed. Many pianists can be utilized on bass drum, cymbals, melodic percussion and even tympani.
Even drummers should not be rejected from the band in the face of a complete percussion section. They too (as I was) can be started out on tenor-horn, and their drumming talents used to supplement the regular section when needs be. Many of them do not want to return to the drums once they are on a tenor-horn bench. Many percussionists are interested in arranging as well, and generally are musicians of quality. Many bands start all percussionists out on tenor-horn in an auxiliary unit. It will make them more sensitive percussionists to know what brass playing is about, and many will become your most dedicated brass players.
Your regular complement of percussionists should be two or three; bass drummer, side drummer, and melodic percussionist. There will be more about percussion in later writings. For now suffice it to say ‘go easy’ on the percussion. Experience suggests not utilizing a trap set in the brass band and very little or no tympani. (See the Article on Percussion in a later edition of the Shepherd’s Crook.)
It is better to have two sensitive percussionists (cymbal mounted on scotch bass drum) than several people running about the back row of the band disturbing the rehearsals and performances. In percussion, more is not better.
It is the present day baritone horn. In Europe, what Americans call a baritone is a Bb tenor-horn. While it is in mind, I wish to reiterate the statement that the only instrument in the brass band that reads Bass Clef is the Bass-Trombone. All other instruments read treble clef. Yes, even the Eb and Bb tubas, Euphoniums, and Flugelhorn.
Bass-trombone has one other distinction in the brass band; it is the only non-transposing instrument, so look for the Concert Key in the bass-trombone part.
The only real difficulty with Eb tenor-horns is there procurement. For beginners band, keep in mind the Jupiter instruments. A section of three can be purchased for the price of one Yamaha tenor-horn. They are quite serviceable, especially for the auxiliary and beginners brass bands. Talk to individual music dealers and instrument wholesalers about lease/own options.
Our suggestion is the bell-upright Eb tenor-horn. Marching brass tenor-horns in Eb are available and are easy for a beginner to blow. It is my impression that the marching brass instruments that have evolved recently are not ideal brass band instruments. Marketing of the Marching brass instruments has unfortunately succeeded in many High School Bands.
For a beginner’s band, you might also have luck contacting an older established brass band. They usually have some used instruments around, and usually are trying to find a place for them. Some are only in need of a little valve oil and a good cleaning. Some may need minimal repair. (Always check the valves and slides).
Although not as easy to find as cornets and trombones, there are Eb tenor-horns out there.
Good luck in your search, and enjoy your section work on Eb tenor-horn.
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Extracted from Vol. 1: No. 2: Summer 1996