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Where are the trumpets?

Updated: Sep 1, 2022

Before my son and daughter started playing with the Youth Bands in Beaumaris, I didn't have the slightest idea about the weird and wonderful world of Brass Bands.

I wasn't aware of the history and traditions of brass banding but all of a sudden I had to get to grips with this new vocabulary; what is a Flugel Horn, why is there more than one Solo Cornet, who are those people standing behind the band… and where on earth are the trumpets?

So for those parents and friends who, like me, struggled to understand the new lingo, here is my Idiot's Guide to Banding.

Firstly Brass Bands are, unsurprisingly, made up of musicians who play brass instruments … well, apart from the percussionists!

Sat on the left hand side of the band is the Cornet Section. Brass Bands don’t have trumpet players; trumpets are found in an orchestra, brass bands have cornet players. The cornet section is then split into various "families" but they all play the same Bb instrument ... apart from the Soprano Cornet player who plays an Eb instrument.

The Principal Cornet is the band's leader. He or she gets all the fancy cornet solos and usually sits on the end of the front row and gets to shake hands with the conductor at the end of a concert.

The Principal Cornet is part of the Solo Cornet section. Strangely, for a "Solo" section, there are four of them … and they don't all play solos! More often than not, they play the tune.

The Second and Third Cornets sit in the back row and tend to play the harmony against the front row's melody. Also on the back row is the Repiano Cornet who is a sort of 'Jack of All Trades'. The Rep sometimes plays with the front row, sometimes with the back row, sometimes with the opposite side of the band and sometimes even gets a little solo.

Next to the Rep is the Soprano Cornet - no, not a singer, but a slightly smaller Eb cornet. The Sop is one of the most demanding instruments to play in a band and the Sop player is likely to be the one finishing a piece with a flushed, red face from playing all the very high notes!

Moving along the front row we find the Flugel Horn which is sort of an overgrown cornet. The flugel produces a slightly richer, darker sound than a cornet, similar to that of a tenor horn.

The Tenor Horn is an Eb instrument and is unique to the brass band. Unlike the cornet and flugel's horizontal position, the Tenor Horn is played in a vertical position.

The Baritone is the first of the larger instruments and they sit to the right of the Tenor Horn. A Bb instrument, the baritone produces a mellow sound a bit like a tenor horn, but lower.

The Euphonium, along with the cornet, is perhaps one of the most well-known instruments in the band. It is really a mini-bass, and gives the band it's deep, rich sound. The principal Euphonium player sits on the end of the row nearest the audience and is another who gets to shake the hand of the conductor.

Behind the "Euphs" and "Baris" we find the Trombones. In brass bands there are usually two tenor trombones and a bass trombone. For some strange reason, when the band plays a “fun" piece, it is often the trombones that get the limelight.

The last, but by no means least, section of the brass instruments is the Bass Section who sit in the back row behind the conductor - however with their instruments they certainly can't hide!

The Basses give the band that wonderful deep sound and are broken into two sections, the Eb bass and it's lower and bigger cousin, the Bb bass.

Stood behind the band are the Percussion Section; a very important part of any band, the percussion section can consist of up to five or six players depending on the music and they can usually be seen running around from instrument to instrument at the back of the band.

The percussionists play anything from a drum kit to timpani drums, the glockenspiel, xylophone, marimba, tubular bells, bongo drums, vibraphone, rototoms, cymbals, tam tam and anything else that can be hit!

Last but most certainly not least is the Conductor whose job it is to lead the band, give the pieces their musicality and to make sure the correct tempo is kept.

I haven't even started on the various sections and how a band gets promoted or relegated and why the judges sit in a tent or what it is that make Whit Marches a unique event.

Suffice to say that once you get involved it's a whole new world!


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