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Recently I was asked by a colleague, Jill Sullivan, to identify the backwards horns in some of the band photographs she had come across in her research into the history of women’s bands. In her site there are a number of photos of women’s bands from the 1870’s to after WWII, and in many of those photos it is clear that they are using mellophones instead of French horns.
Commonly called classic mellophones today to differentiate them from marching mellophones, I was given one when I was in high school by a family friend, the one pictured at right. This type of mellophone was used fairly widely in the United States from before the turn of the century until just after WWII. Featuring piston valves and fingered with the right hand, this instrument is an octave shorter than a standard single F horn and was generally used to play horn parts in amateur groups. While it is easier to play, it lacks some of the poetry of tone we associate with the horn. It is built to use a mouthpiece sized between that of a trumpet and trombone with a cornet shank. There are always a few classic mellophones for sale on eBay.
The history of the mellophone is convoluted. Modern marching mellophones use the same fingerings and play in the same range but are in terms of design somewhat different as they use a mouthpiece with a trumpet shank and the instrument is of course bell front. For more mellophone photos and historical information check out the history page at Al’s Mellophone Page and also check my book, A Mello Catechism, a book of questions and answers on the mellophone.