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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!

13 thoughts on “From Euph to Baritone — early musings

    • Author gravatar

      Wonderful – a convert!
      Welcome to the world of the most quietly exquisite instrument in the brass world! I do hope you have already joined GOB (The Guild of Baritonists).
      Please reconsider your plan vis a vis the 4th valve, much as I accept the issues of alternative possibilities, there is a temptingly inappropriate mindset that starts to think of the Baritone as a small euphonium rather than a baritone horn.
      I am, however, delighted at your immediate recognition of the beautiful tonal possibilities, with while new futures yet to be explored.
      I, for one, will follow your journey with great interest!
      Professor John Morahan, founder member of GOB

      • Author gravatar

        Hi John – thanks for this. there’s no danger of me thinking of the baritone as a smaller euph. As a composer I am always looking for differentiating tonal features, and two euphs is quite enough for any band! I wasn’t aware of the GOB — is it really a thing? If so, how do I join? Many thanks, Mike

    • Author gravatar

      I shall read this with interest Mike as I too have just moved onto 2nd Baritone from BBb Bass. I’m also finding the modern written parts are surprisingly high. Currently playing on a Geneva Cardinal with a trigger that I keep pressing for a 4th valve by mistake.
      Good luck on your journey.

      • Author gravatar

        Hi Mike – thanks for this. I didn’t know you could get a baritone with a trigger. That might be a good option going forward, though I have to say the tuning on the Yamaha Neo I have is very good, generally speaking.

    • Author gravatar

      Hi Mike, my serious Baritone playing days are long gone – player for 49 years( 30 years Baritone) and 30 years as a conductor – retired in Feb. 2020 at the NW Areas just before the 1st lockdown. I totally enjoyed the sound and versatility of the Baritone horn, and yes, I always viewed myself as part of the “extended” horn section. The Euphonium is a tenor tuba and because the Baritones sit , usually, with the Euph’s, a lot of folks see them as poor cousins and the graveyard for failed Euph players. WRONG. A lot of technical skill and ability is required because very often you will play parts akin to a solo cornet player. Also, if you can’t get “that sound”, then you are on the wrong instrument. When I was playing seriously in the 1990’s and at the top of my game, I loved the diversity of test piece challenges for Baritone and my favourite pieces and most successful contest results were playing the following, incredibly well written parts.
      Un vie de matelot – Robert Farndon.
      English heritage – George Lloyd.
      Spectrum – Gilbert Vinter.
      Salute to youth – Gilbert Vinter.
      Land of the long white cloud – Phillip Sparke.
      Tournament for brass – Eric Ball
      Rhapsody in brass – Dean Goffin.
      Tam ‘o shanter’s ride – Denis Wright.
      To name but a few. Great memories. Enjoy your time to come on the best instrument in the band!

      • Author gravatar

        Hi John, thanks for this. You’ve named some of my favourite brass band composers in that list, so I’ll keep an eye out for those pieces. I definitely see myself as the link between horns and euphs and, as such, I spend as much of my time ‘tracking’ what the horns are doing and ‘locking in’ with them as I do playing harmonies or unison lines with the euphs.

    • Author gravatar

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    • Author gravatar

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