All in the High F Family

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One thing perhaps not obvious from my recent mellophone posts is I am actually very familiar with the high F tube length, as I have for the past three years been working on large project related to high horn playing, descant, and triple horns, which has included several workshop presentations. Mellophones are a part of that family of instruments in a sense as they have the same six foot tube length and were developed to solve the same basic “horn problem.”

This “problem” has been around for a long while. A quote I love in relation to this may be found in a letter dated June 3, 1885 from Sir August Manns to Ladislao Zavertal, leader of the Royal Artillery Band, who had introduced the “Koenig Horn” (in high F) into his ensemble for the solo performer, quoted in the preamble to Waits Wind Band Horn (London: Hinrichsen Edition, 1952).

I require for the Double Concerto by Handel at the next Handel Festival some instruments of the Horn Family, which can relieve the 1st Horns of some of the almost impossible passages …. Flugelhorns in F, or Saxhorns in F can manage it without causing the greatest of all Horn nuisances, namely: “cracking the high notes in piano phrases,” and I shall feel glad if you have any such instruments in your Band and can thereby relieve me of some anxiety ….

The first descant horns were single horns in high F. At ASU we have a great Alexander single F descant, and I also own two descant horns in B-flat/high F and primarily play on a Paxman compensating triple horn in F/B-flat/high F. In recent days it has been interesting to compare the mellophone to the high F side on all of the above instruments. They have a “family” feeling; you can tell they are related. The sound is less like a “horn tone” in the middle and lower register on the high F side but you also pick up a quicker response. There is an article in my Horn Articles site on descant horns if they are new to you.

Also I feel that this experiment has been particularly interesting in relation to trying to understand what the “voice” of the modern mellophone is or should be anyway. A mouthpiece that is a small tenor (alto) horn mouthpiece seems to be the best fit for articulations and tone and would seem to me to be the avenue for experimentation and development.

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Part of the “mellophone problem” for a horn player is with the “small” mouthpieces marching mellophone players commonly use the resulting sound is too much like third trumpet; it does not produce quite the alto voice it can present or we are used to presenting. Stated again, this type of tone turns off horn players to the mellophone, and other non-trumpet converts don’t have a real alto range experience that leads them toward becoming horn players either. By the same token, for someone coming to the mellophone from trumpet, with the small mouthpiece it must feel almost like you never left the soprano voice. For me, with the small mouthpiece, I feel like I am back in junior high again playing trumpet, but with the bigger mouthpiece I feel much more at home and in my range.

The final thought of the day though would be if you are a mellophone enthusiast check out the high F side on a descant or triple horn, it is very interesting in relation to the whole mellophone tone discussion.

University of Horn Matters