Instruments of a Brass Band

Tenor (alto) horn:

The tenor horn is a valved brass instrument (in E flat) which has a predominantly conical bore like the baritone horn and flugelhorn. It uses a deep funnel- or cup-shaped mouthpiece. The tenor horn's conical bore and deep mouthpiece produce a mellow, rounded tone which is often used as a middle voice, supporting the melodies of the trumpets, cornets or flugelhorns, and filling the gap above the lower tenor and bass instruments (the trombone, baritone horn, euphonium and tuba). Its valves are typically, though not exclusively, piston valves.

The tenor horn has been made and is made in various shapes: the most common in the United States and the UK, and in most other parts of the world, is a sort of mini-tuba shape, with the bell pointing upward, which may help the voice blend before reaching the audience. In contrast, the solo horn (found mainly in Europe) looks like (and indeed effectively is) an enlarged flugelhorn, with the bell pointing forward, projecting more toward the audience. Only the standard upright instrument is seen in UK brass bands.

Within a British brass band, the tenor horn section usually plays a unique part in the middle of the band, with the Solo Horn having frequent solo passages. However, it is less often featured as a solo instrument. The horn section contributes greatly to the rich mellow sound of a brass band. Tenor horns, especially those built in the middle of the 20th century, typically have very poor projection and power, so much so that they quickly became known as the "cinderella" of the brass band, hiding between the much more powerful cornets and trombones. This reputation played no small part in discouraging composers outside of the British brass band from writing for the tenor horn, and certainly had an adverse effect on the instrument's popularity outside the UK. In more recent years, however, there have been many attempts by various makers to create a tenor horn with much better power and projection while still retaining the instrument's characteristic "narrow-mellow" timbre. A few of these modern instruments have become especially popular within the UK; the Besson Sovereign and the Yamaha Maestro have dominated the tenor horn market over the last decade or so.

Today, different makes of alto horns have a wide range of bore sizes. Narrow bore instruments such as those made by the former Besson company tend to emphasise the tonal delicacy of older instruments, and play more like a French-styled flugelhorn, while larger bore instruments like those made by Courtois have a weight of sound much greater than traditional tenor horns, playing much more like a conical-bored trumpet. Good, well-made instruments should however, regardless of bore size, retain a light, velvety and mellow tone quality.


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