As I make the switch from euphonium to baritone I’m struck by several things. First is how much lighter the instrument is — not much heavier than a tenor horn, especially with the three-valve Yamaha Neo I currently have. Ultimately I want to get a 4-valve instrument, to give me more alternate fingering choices for the best possible tuning. I got this instrument loan courtesy of Paul Fisher, MD at Amersham Band, who managed to locate it sitting in a cupboard in deepest Wales! It hadn’t been played for a long time, so the first order of business was to give it a long soak in a bath of warm soapy water. I was hoping some interesting things might have emerged from its innards — you know, the usual gunk, the odd creepy crawly and, in one extreme case I heard of, a frog! but no such luck — this instrument was as clean as a whistle. The valves move like a geriatric sloth, but I’m working on that.
The second thing I’ve noticed is how very different the character of baritone parts are from those of their bigger cousin, the euphonium. Even though the instrument gives a strong clue as to its register, many composers seem to view the first baritone part as an extra tenor part. I’ve noticed that, in the two rehearsals I’ve so far done, the first baritone part rarely goes to the lower half of the stave. The smaller bore size and mouthpiece make this an easy enough task, but I do wonder about the waste of a beautiful sonority. I think the low range of the baritone can be a beautifully rich sound, and it’s a shame it doesn’t get used more.
Last weekend at the Nationals I sat through nineteen performances of Bruce Broughton’s ‘Heroes’ which, as you may know, has a beautiful, extended baritone solo. Now THAT’S how to write for baritone, I thought to myself, as I made a mental note to follow Bruce’s example and squeeze every last ounce of drama and lyricism from this beautiful instrument.
So, now begins my voyage of discovery into the hitherto unknown world of the baritone. From now on I’ll post the occasional blog on my progress into the dark side of becoming a baritone player — watch this space!