The Art of Mellophone Playing

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This coming weekend I will perform and present at the Southeast Horn Workshop, where I will address a topic seldom discussed at such venues but addressed from time to time in Horn Matters, that of the mellophone.

Of all the topics out there related to the horn the topic of the mellophone is certainly one of the most polarizing. And it is also a topic that horn teachers in the United States ignore at their peril.

Up to a few years ago it was a topic I could successfully ignore in my teaching as very few of my students were playing mellophone. At my first full time college position at The Crane School of Music there is no marching band and at Arizona State the marching band used at the beginning of my tenure here B-flat marching horns which are built to take horn mouthpieces and operate rather like a big, piston valve single B-flat horn (like the B-flat side of a double horn). When that changed and a switch was made to mellophones in F alto my eyes were opened to a reality, that the mellophone is very widely played by our horn students in marching bands and drum corps but has also got to be the least understood and most poorly taught of all the brass instruments. Not a good situation for horn players in general.

This led to several years of looking closer at the instrument, including the creation of The Mello Zone in Horn Articles Online (if you type “mellophone” in Google, my article posted there on mellophone mouthpiece choices comes up as the number two hit worldwide, number one being the Wikipedia article), getting involved with a great podcast on the mellophone and middle brass playing (The Mellocast, check it out) and the development of a book of questions and answers about the mellophone, A Mello Catechism.

This year I will take things up even one more level at the Southeast Horn Workshop, where I will present a full session with the title “The Art of Mellophone Playing.” I will present on the mellophone, demonstrating not only specifics of equipment options but also looking at the bigger picture in relation to horn students in the real musical world we live in.

Speaking of the Southeast Horn Workshop, if you are in the area you should attend! This is always the largest of the regional horn workshops in the United States (held this year on the campus of Appalachian State University in Boone, NC March 4-6) and I will be performing this year as a featured artist on the first half of the Friday night concert, music of Abbott, Rheinberger, and more! The other featured artists are David Jolley and Gail Williams; it will be quite an event.

Finally, as to “The Art of Mellophone Playing” as a general topic, some hornists will continue to ignore/despise the mellophone of course, hoping that it will simply go away, but I do hope that by getting information out there more widely it will help the bigger picture of it being better taught and more horn friendly, growing our middle brass playing community.

University of Horn Matters