Valves v. pistons
Having got back from holidays with the cornet I had to check my hornplaying was still working before heading off to Edinburgh with the Britten Sinfonia, to play some stuff by James Macmillan. This would be followed by a week of film sessions (Peter Pan) for Joel McNeely. To my great relief the horn playing seemed hardly changed. Perhaps a little unfocussed in the high register but elsewhere, if anything, improvements had taken place. How completely brilliant! I really didn’t know what sort of damage I might have done so I was very relieved.
What struck me most of all was the difference of practice technique. With the cornet I had been playing scales and arpeggios and improvising bits of melody and jazz licks. With the horn, on the other hand, I found myself playing long tones with crescendi and diminuendi and bathing in the sheer loveliness of the sound. The cornet is nice but it really doesn’t have that fascinating, hypnotic timbre. I don’t think I could have spent thirty years practicing long notes on a trumpet like I have with the horn.
Another difference which became obvious was that rotary valves sound very different to pistons. I had no idea about this before learning the cornet. It’s not just a left hand versus right hand thing, it’s a different mechanism with a different sound effect. The rotary valves of a horn are capable of giving a very quick change, more like a switch than a valve, whereas the piston can be moved slower if required and the half-valve sounds are more useful and easy to use than those of the horn. I wonder now what a modern piston horn would feel like to play. I must earmark that idea for a future project.
I’m still working at Locrians (Ø), diminished whole-tone scales (C7+9), and Diminished (beginning with the semitone) (C7-9).