Why are there 4 valves on certain trumpets?

I often have to remind myself that many of you who read my Blog are not brass players, but you show a great deal of interest in what I do and also are curious to know the workings and origins of the equipment that I use on a day-to-day basis. As a result, one of the frequent questions I get is “why does that trumpet have 4 valves?”, so for this Blog I’ll try to demystify that topic.

Stomvi “Elite” 4-valve Piccolo Trumpet

Following the invention of piston valves in the second half of the 19th Century, there were many ongoing attempts to develop and improve what valved instruments could achieve, musically speaking. Whilst the addition of valves meant an increase in the number of notes attainable, there was still a desire to try to further increase the range possible on the instrument and perhaps more importantly, to improve the intonation (tuning) on certain “sour” notes, that were proving problematic. These would certainly include low D, D flat and C sharp below the stave

So how does it all work? Well, the 4th valve essentially removes the need to use the often problematic 3rd valve, with a selection of notes given below.

No fancy notation software here I’m afraid, just my wobbly hand and trusty pencil!

The D is normally played on 1st & 3rd valves. If you then think, 1+3=? Yes, it’s as basic as that! You now play D on 4th valve. The same goes for the low G.

Db (D  flat) & C# (C sharp) are both played 1,2&3, but alternatively you now play on 2&4.

The low F (required for Baroque works such as Handel’s “Let The Bright Seraphim” and “The Trumpet Shall Sound”) falls outside the natural range of the standard 3-valve instrument – F# being the lowest note, therefore a 3-valve Piccolo Trumpet in A would be of little use for these 2 particular pieces and the performer would have to resort to using a D Trumpet – not the choice of the vast majority of players, I suspect! With the 4th valve, it is possible to get the F natural, by playing 1&4. Result!

Stomvi “Elite” D/Eb 3-valve Trumpet

So,with the advent of the 4th valve, players now have a viable option that makes life easier, not just in an intonation and tuning sense, but also in facilitating tricky passages and also giving certain notes a better tone quality. For example, playing a D on 4th valve sounds more “open” and “free” than when played on the conventional 1st & 3rd valves. As an example, C-D trills are much easier i.e. rather than open-1st & 3rd, you play open-4th valve!

The 4-valve instruments are not just restricted to the trumpet world however. 4-valve flugel horns have been around for years, however it is now possible to get Bb Cornets and Eb Soprano Cornets with 4 valves, courtesy of Spanish instrument makers Stomvi. A notable flag-bearer and ridiculously talented exponent of the Soprano is the Cory Band’s Steve Stewart, who was playing on one, when I was guesting at a rehearsal with them the other night. It was fascinating watching (and hearing) how he utilised this 4th valve to maximum potential!

 Stomvi 4-valve Bb Cornet

If you’d like to try a 4-valve Stomvi instrument, contact Mark Carter at Mr. Tuba or call +44 (0)1633 871506 for further information.

For further information about Music for You please contact Andrew on 07973 869621.

Advertisements

Why, in the world of music, does mediocrity win over genuine talent and skill?

Its been a while since I last wrote a blog, but I’ve been inspired to put cursor to screen having witnessed music-making of the very highest order this week. Both events were polar opposites, but the levels of skill and talent on display were never in question.

First up was my brass band  “Fest” watching the live streaming of the European Brass Band Championships from Oostende, where 12 of Europe’s finest (including the Cory and Tredegar Bands from Wales and Brighouse & Rastrick Band representing England) were vying for the coveted title.

Tredegar Town Band, 2002 European Brass Band Championships, Belgium

The  24 performances – each Band performed a set-work (Kevin Houben’s “Where Angles Fly”) plus an own-choice work – over the 2 days was quite frankly astounding. I’ve been privileged to have performed at the Europeans on 8 different occasions and the standard of playing since I first appeared in 1990 has risen year on year, to a point where you’d be hard-pressed to say that these weren’t professional ensembles.

Cory Band, 2015 European Brass Band Championships, Germany

Wales once again were at the forefront come results time, with Cory (defending Champions) being placed third and Tredegar coming in fifth. The winning Band this year were Eikanger-Bjorsvik from Norway, led by their inspirational conductor Ingar Heine Bergby, who won following a near 30 year gap since the last time they lifted the trophy. Their stunning own-choice performance of “Fraternity” by Thierry  Deleruyelle will live long in the memory.

Following the Europeans, my next source of inspiration was at Cardiff’s St. David’s Hall, where the wonderful, zany, jaw-dropping, breath-taking etc. etc. “gentlemen” of Mnozil Brass wowed the audience with the mastery of their art. Musicality, power of recall – playing everything from memory, humour, timing, stamina (where do they develop that staying power?), diversity, subtlety and innuendo and so much more. A sheer joy to hear and watch, leaving the audience shell-shocked and spellbound in equal measure. Superlatives are often over-used, but each one I have used was hugely earned and justified.

So, the point of today’s blog is, why do the general public get pawned off with rubbish on television and radio and the publicity given in column inches in the press/social media, when there is so much REAL talent out there? Admittedly, the European Brass Band Championships is very much a niche market, but when Cory Band last year (2016) won the “Grand Slam” of European, National, British Open and Brass in Concert titles (an amazing achievement), they barely made a mention in the local paper. Eikanger’s win at the Euro’s last weekend earned them a massive welcome reception at the airport on their return, with TV and media crews in attendance! Says a lot for what we think of our Champions doesn’t it?

Mnozil however, is an ensemble that could easily be featured on mainstream TV, or at very least on one of the Arts-focused stations. But no, we are subjected to performing dogs or yet another 11-year-old bashing out a Celine Dion hit and being told she has “amazing talent” and will go far etc. etc.

As “defenders of the faith”, perhaps we need to be more pro-active in demanding that the TV companies and media do cater for the more discerning audience and not settle for the rubbish that is often forced down our throats.

A small ray of sunshine in this gloom of mine, was Cory’s invitation to appear on ITV’s ‘Tonight at the London Palladium’ programme hosted by entertainment star Bradley Walsh.

Their performance was recorded live in front of a packed audience of 2,200 people and subsequently broadcast to an estimated audience of over 5 million people last night (03.05.17). Perhaps this is a significant step towards redressing the balance and highlighting the TRUE talent that can and should be presented to audiences the world over.

Here endeth the Lesson!

Stomvi Piccolo Trumpet

The Monday Morning Mention – Part 2

For those of you who read my Monday Morning Mention post a few weeks ago , praising the efforts of the Welsh brass bands who became National Champions, I’m going to risk sounding repetitive now, I’m going to risk sounding repetitive now – sorry! – and reiterate my sentiments, but with one slight, but significant amendment.

Whilst the focus of discussion at the photo-copier this morning, will undoubtedly be on the Welsh rugby team’s inability to see off 13-man Australia in the Rugby World Cup and the wonderful achievement of the national football team in making its first major championships in over 50 years, I will champion the cause of our wonderful brass once again and highlight the fact that Wales also starts the week with not three, but FOUR National Champions now.

Congratulations to the Cory Band who, under the baton of their conductor Philip Harper, have once again won the National title at the Royal Albert Hall, performing Thomas Doss’s fiendishly difficult work “Spiriti”.

Cory_Smallish

Having been privileged to have performed on the Contest platform as a guest player with the Band earlier this year, I have had an insight into the effort that it takes to perform at the highest level and believe me, it borders on being scary! During that intense period of rehearsals, my Wife said to me “This brass band lark is a bit obsessive, isn’t it?” Perhaps there was more than an ounce of truth in that statement, but it goes to show how much effort and commitment went in to trying to win that competition!

It would be remiss also not to acknowledge the achievements of another Welsh outfit and my former Band – Tredegar Town Band – who came 5th at the same competition. A great day for Welsh brass bands indeed.

003

(Tredegar Town Band at the Royal Albert Hall, London in the 1990’s.)

So, yet another big shout out this Monday morning for the unsung heroes of Usk, Ebbw Valley, Goodwick and now Cory, who are now National Brass Champions of Great Britain, in Sections 4, 2 ,1 and Championship Sections respectively.

Rugby? What rugby match?

IMG_1240

(The Cory Band performing at the 2015 European Brass Band Championships in Freiburg, Germany.)

The unsung “Champions” on our doorstep

In an earlier blog, I wrote about exploring “new horizons” and doing something different, in order to “spice things up” in one’s career.

Since writing that, I have been very lucky to have been given yet another opportunity to push the boundaries, but this time it’s not a new experience, but one however that has challenged me (in every sense) to the very limit and given me a much deeper appreciation, of the standard of music-making that goes on around us, on a day-to-day basis, much of it unacknowledged and without suitable recognition.

My musical upbringing was in the brass band movement, learning to play the Cornet aged 7, with the Crwbin Silver Band. With just 2 pubs, 2 chapels and a church in my home village in the Gwendraeth Valley, there wasn’t much for a young person to do, so joining the local band seemed the obvious thing to do, especially as my Father, Uncle and Cousins were already playing in it.

scan0004

Where it all began – Crwbin Silver Band c.1974 (I’m the one sat in front of the bass drum)

I remember my first competition with them, was at the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea in 1976 on Edward Gregson’s “Voices of Youth”. Having performed in the 4th Section, I recall spending the rest of the day, not only sitting, gazing at the fantastic murals on the walls of this fantastic venue (some might disagree), but listening in awe to the bands in the Championship Section tackling Gilbert Vinter’s “Spectrum”. Names like Parc & Dare, Tredegar and Cory led by Ieuan Morgan, Bram Gay and John Childs.

These names were for me, the equivalent of Chelsea and Mourinho and Manchester United and Van Gaal for a young kid today. Superstars and demigods whose skills and talents were of a different planet to mine. The music too, was also of a “language” that I was totally unfamiliar with, yet there was something about “Pageantry”, “Variations for Brass Band” and “Contest Music”, that caught my ear and made me thirsty to hear more and more.

Little did I know at the time, that listening to these and future performances in that Hall over the coming years would shape and influence my dreams and ambitions for the future. I certainly never expected things to have panned out as they have now.

Fast forward approximately 40 years and I have had the great honour and pleasure of not only having played for Parc and Dare and Tredegar at the National Championships, the British Open and European Championships, but also conducted both bands in concerts and competitions, attempting in some small measure to follow in the footsteps of those icons who were my childhood heroes.

10382845_641288682622614_1098533009483515872_n

Parc and Dare Band – 2014

The scrapbook will this weekend be somewhat more complete however, as I take to the stage of the European Brass Band Championships in Freiburg, Germany, performing as a guest player with the Cory Band, where they will compete with bands from England, Norway, Belgium to name but a few, to win the coveted title.

The circumstances for being invited to play are extremely sad but that aside, I am extremely excited (yes, even aged 40 something I can still get animated about my music-making!) to be performing at one of the premier events in the brass band calendar.

Each band performs a test-piece (this year written by Rolf Rudin entitled “The God Particle”) on the Friday evening, then the following day return to play an own-choice work. The aggregate points awarded for each performance will then decide who is the victor. Having been a former Champion and the No.1 ranked brass band in the world for the past 8 or so years, it’s safe to say that Cory are in with a shout at least! Not that they are taking that as a God-given (sorry, no pun intended!) right to win the title. It will be down to good old-fashioned hard graft, blood, sweat and a few tears perhaps.

In the last few weeks, since trying to get to grips with “The God Particle” and the other work (I can’t tell you what it is, as it’s highly classified information!) I have been reminded of the amazing standards and levels of commitment that our nation’s brass bands are capable of. Listening to them perform is one thing, however, when you’re at the coal-face and getting stuck in as a player, one instantly can appreciate the intensity of concentration and sheer effort given to every single note produced during those rehearsals. Not that the conductor doesn’t earn his corn either mind, as I well know. Philip Harper, Cory’s Musical Director, has worked tirelessly in his preparation, meticulously dissecting the scores to get the very best out of his players.

With still a few nights’ rehearsals to go, I know the band will move up another few gears in terms of their performance, which given how well they are playing already, is scary to think what levels it could potentially achieve. The purpose though of my writing, is to highlight that for all it’s successes and the incredible standards achieved, the brass band movement never really gets the plaudits and acknowledgment it so thoroughly deserves, either in the press and media or often from its local community.

Cory_Smallish

For Wales alone to have 2 bands (Cory and Tredegar), in the top 3 world rankings must count for something surely? However, a dog performing tricks on a prime time TV “talent” show will get more air time and social media publicity than any of our brass bands ever will sadly.

In the meantime, know that regardless of their status in the rankings, the brass band on your door-step may not all be world-beaters, but they work their socks off, contributing to the local community when needed for Carols at Christmas, playing at a Charity Concert when raising much-needed money for the local hospice or children’s hospital or providing music for the annual Remembrance Parade. Not to forget also giving great pleasure to many people along the way. As if that wasn’t enough, they’ll also give you and your kids the opportunity of learning to play an instrument, (usually for no more than a couple of quid a week) AND they’ll probably lend you an instrument free of charge!

Let’s hope that Chelsea win the Premier League this week and that come next Monday, there may be a few spare column inches on the front page of the paper to hopefully announce that a certain Welsh brass band has become Champions of Europe!