In Praise of the Olds F Alto


Annually our church has a retreat over Memorial Day weekend up at a camp in the mountains near Prescott. Most years I have brought along a mellophone for praise band duties. However, this year I decided to take along a slightly more compact Olds F alto.

This instrument is similar to an Altonium (described here) in that it is in F, but it is not an Altonium as it was built to use a larger shank mouthpiece (a true Altonium was a King product and was built to use a horn mouthpiece). In my own case I used the Jupiter hybrid horn/mellophone mouthpiece that I reviewed a few months ago (here) with the shank wrapped with one piece of paper as it was a hair too small (without it would bottom out in the receiver). The result was an instrument that

  • projected forward into the space
  • was easy to hold
  • and played very easily as well with good intonation (intonation being the best on the Jupiter mouthpiece compared to any other alternative I had available) and with a warm sound similar to low Flugelhorn.

DSC00138I went into the weekend with my chops pretty geared up as I had been working on excerpts a lot with students taking the Phoenix Symphony auditions and had a very nice time playing the alto. I really liked how it is pitched in F instead of the traditional Eb for an alto (or tenor) horn (more on these here). The only negatives for me were

  • right hand fingering
  • very open feel (lack of resistance).

After camp it was on to a family vacation and I did not play another note for a week! The chops were a bit unhappy with that choice when I started playing again today, but they will recover easily.

This type of instrument was intended, of course, for marching band and is no longer used. It worked great though for praise music at camp set up with the Jupiter mouthpiece, and if you have one around dig it out, you might find it to be fun to play. And music after all can be fun.

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