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Reviews & Articles
Saturday, 22 January 2005

So, What is this euphonium thing?
The euphonium takes it's name from the Greek word for 'well sounding'. It is an upright brass instrument that creates a sonorous sound somewhere between that of the trombone and the tuba. The euphonium (or tenor tuba) can be more accurately described as the 'cello of the brass family' and rivals that instrument in both tone, lyricism and utility.

What's the difference between it and a tuba?
The main difference between the euphonium and the tuba is that the euphonium is considerably smaller. This puts the instrument at a higher pitch, which enables it to cut through textures with greater clarity than a tuba and also play with extreme agility.

Who invented it and why?
The euphonium was developed by Adolf Sax in the mid-Nineteenth Century as part of a family of brass instruments that could be played together in a self-contained ensemble, thus the brass band was born. The instrument's predecessors include the serpent and the ophiclide.

Don't you have to be, er, on the large side to play it? (is it hard to play)
Like all brass instruments, the euphonium is physically demanding to play. As brass players we are constantly using intercostal muscles and the diaphragm for rapid intake and expulsion of air, as well as using the muscles in and around the lips which vibrate to produce the sound. When it comes to playing a brass instrument I don't really think size matters at all. In fact I know a couple of fantastic euphonium players who are extremely small.

Does it have a use beyond brass bands?
As a euphonium player I have enjoyed playing with brass bands from a very early age. However, I have also enjoyed playing as a soloist with orchestras, in the brass section of orchestras, giving solo recitals all over the globe and also as part of a pop artist's backing ensemble. In my opinion the euphonium certainly has a use outside of brass bands.

What's life like as a euphonium player?
Life as a euphonium player is extremely varied, exciting, but also frustrating. I have experienced great snobbery against my instrument so far in my career, but I have also found that this is neutralised somewhat when people actually sit down and listen to this unique instrument with their ears and not just with their preconceived ideas. I believe a lot of the snobbery I experience from other musicians stems from the instrument's heritage. Yes, the home of the euphonium in the UK is the brass band movement and this is something that I am proud of, but unfortunately some people are still of the thinking that top class brass bands are all about playing marches in band stands with flat caps on, and not about making music. These people are wrong and should remember that players such as Maurice Murphy (principal trumpet with the LSO) and Ian Bousfield (principal trombone of the Vienna Philharmonic) both grew up in the brass band movement, and are now probably the finest exponents of their respective instruments in the world today. As a euphonium player I cannot afford to worry too much about what people think of my instrument or my background. Instead I try to concentrate all my efforts into performing to the best of my ability at every opportunity enabling my instrument to speak for itself.

I want to have one – where do I begin?
Like string instruments, there are various student model euphoniums and also various makes. I play on a Besson professional model which I consider to be unrivalled for both sound quality and craftsmanship. Besson euphoniums can be purchased through all major musical instrument stores.

Does it need feeding? (how do you maintain it?)
Unlike string instruments, brass instruments do not become greater or more expensive with age. They are more like cars and need servicing regularly. The piston valves in a euphonium regularly need cleaning and the springs in those valves need replacing occasionally. To keep the instrument looking good, giving it a polish now and again doesn't go a miss.

Where can I find a teacher?
With regard to studying the euphonium as a principal instrument in a conservatoire I would say that the best establishments for this inside the UK are the Royal Northern College of Music and the Welsh College of Music and Drama. I believe that a euphonium player can learn a great deal form all sorts of different instrumental teachers whether they're french horn players or cellists, but personally I've had lessons from my father my whole life and I can strongly recommend him to anyone.

How do I become a professional?
To be a professional you need to be good. James Watson is a musician I respect greatly and he gave me a fantastic yet simple piece of advice: "in order to become a better player practice things you can not play until you can, and play with musicians who are better than you until you are better than them!"

Give me three good reasons for playing the euphonium.
I chose to play the euphonium because it felt right. My Grandfather played, my father still plays but more important to be than both of those factors was that I loved the sound the instrument can make - it is different from all other brass instruments.

The euphonium is a young instrument and at the moment it is an exciting instrument to play. Composer's looking for fresh colours in their music are beginning to look towards the euphonium which is helping to provide us with a substancial repertoire. Alun Hoddinott is currently composing a euphonium concerto.

The best reason I can think of for playing the euphonium at the moment is to help the players of tomorrow. I hope to lift the profile of my chosen instrument throughout my lifetime so that in 50 to 100 years euphonium players will find themselves on a level playing field with other musicians and not have people asking the question, 'So, what is this euphonium thing?'!

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