Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

Hello all,

I’ve been interested in Irish (and/or in Gaelic) music for some time now - (for some time now, I’ve been playing the penny whistle) - and I have recently developed an interest in playing the trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn (also known as the flugel horn).

But now I’m wondering… Do you suppose that an instrument (like one of the horns that I’ve mentioned above) could perhaps be used for playing (or for accompanying) Irish/Gaelic music?

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uk44emjBGrQ


So it *can* be done - in your own band or in the privacy of your own home. Would a trumpet be welcomed into a session? Probably not, no matter how well you play it. I imagine not even Neil Yates (the only person, to my knowledge, that has made any kind of name for himself playing Irish trad on a brass* instrument) would join in a session with his trumpet - he very likely has a more ‘traditional’ instrument for that purpose.

I’m not sure what you mean by ‘accompanying’. The kind of accompaniment that a brass instrument could provide (sustained harmony notes, countermelody, bass ‘vamping’) is not something that is really called for in traditional music - much less on an instrument that has the capacity to overpower all other instruments (There is a good reason why there are *brass bands*, in which all members play brass instruments - and why a symphony orchestra may have 30 violins but only 3-6 trumpets.) Again, if you have your own band, you are free to use whatever instrumentation you like, and to use clever arranging (and/or amplification) to balance the volume. But in a session… I’ll let others give their views.

*I use the term ‘brass’ in its strict musical sense, i.e. not including saxophones (which have occasionally been used in Irish traditional music for a century or more.)

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

I SO don’t like that clip!!!

I play trumpet (but NOT in Irish sessions) and flute/whistle/bones/bodhran (IN Irish sessions and in a band) and don’t think trumpet is a good sound for "our" music. It would tend to dominate, even more that the concertina players(!) and would be kinda hard to play in our normal keys of D and G (assuming a Bb trumpet). That being said, my normal trumpet is a C trumpet, which would be easier to play in D and G and could be muted enough to blend. I honestly don’t think the sound is "right" anyway, though.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

Lunasa uses horns in "Otherworld" specifically on "Dr Gilbert’s"

I know it’s not Irish, but La Bottine Souriante uses horns also

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

There have been a number of discussions of this kind of thing over the years. My favourite is still https://thesession.org/discussions/1917. A certain sound is preferred for Irish sessions and if you are used to listening to Irish music you know what it is when you hear it. It’s hard to make rules for it and perhaps better not to make rules for it but it’s difficult to imagine anyone managing to fit a brass instrument to the sound.

They can fit into French music very well and some kinds of English music (Morris and also the East Anglian based style known as English Country Music) but some of the horns, especially the trumpet have another problem. Mediaeval music had it nicely defined by dividing instruments into haute (loud and suitable for playing out of doors) and basse (quiet and suitable for playing indoors). The trumpet is definitely haute - so unless your session is in the garden it is better to leave it at home.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

What’s Bogtrumpet’s opinion?!

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

You are very right Trish, but not in an ordinary pub session please? I LOVE Brass Monkey, but in their right place - English Ceilidh dancing. 🙂

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

At the Racket. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZBgY9fplCU

Josie McDermott was an accomplished sax player. True, not a trumpet, and I never heard him, but I’m sure he could pay Irish trad on his sax.
Michel Bonhomie, French (Breton?) maker of interesting wooden flutes, a great fluter himself, also plays C melody sax. In sessions.
What about those Irish bands from the 20s and 30s. Didn’t they ever use horns?

I liked that last clip a lot, but I don’t think of it as Irish, as in "playing Irish music?"

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

Ok, Ebor: agree with that!

There is a wonderful clarinet player from Stonehaven, Ken Muir, who comes to a lot of Scottish festivals and sessions: honestly a real asset to any session as he is a truly sympathetic and empathetic player. Even now accepted in Bluegrass sessions where initially they said "clarinet is not Bluegrass"!

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

So that first clip is, for me, as though somebody had painted a picture of a purple moose, and then asked, what do you think of my moose? And maybe it’s a great moose, and sure anybody has the right to paint a moose whatever color they want. But somebody else might say, but moose aren’t purple. They’re brown. But somebody else yet could say, maybe you’ve just never seen a purple moose.

Anyway I didn’t dislike it, that trumpet playing the reel, but it seems like it fits better on jazz night than session night, to me. De gustibus non est disputandem.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

Your scientists* were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should

*EDIT to musicians

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

As a trumpeter myself, I will say learning some Irish dance tunes on trumpet can be a great range/flexibility exercise. No kidding. And bowed triplets / trebles on a fiddle can easily be imitated by triple-tonguing on trumpet.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

There is some trumpet on a few tracks of this record. He isn’t playing the tunes though, he is just playing along with them, and there is nothing Irish sounding about his contribution. That said, I enjoy it very much.
https://thesession.org/recordings/3799

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

I didn’t like the first track at all - just because the trumpet player was just about physically able to play it didn’t mean it was good - like the old saying about a dog walking on its hind legs.
La Bottine Souriante somehow made the brass section work
[and they did play Irish reels sometimes] but I prefer Quebecois when it’s just fiddle, feet and accordion. The Brass Monkey track was brilliant [what a great band] probably illustrates that brass fits far more comfortably into English trad than Irish.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

thanks Jeff- well it certainly made better listening than the first track!

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

A Scottish dance band (ignore the thumbnail photo!), but with an Irish tune on trumpet at 1:30 on this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzRHNSTYcB8 though I prefer the trumpet in other clips from the band on youtube.


In the original Brass Monkey line-up Howard Evans played more melody on trumpet than the guys do in that clip above. Here with two of the band https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-HBPqzRjJk There is also a long clip on youtube with him in Home Service.


I sat next to a trumpet player at big session at an English festival and he certainly expressed the tunes, including Irish ones played in an ’ English festival style’, in an interesting way. I had no trouble hearing myself on flute.

As a flute player I find listening to trumpeters play dance tunes gives food for thought about articulation.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

Honestly the examples posted here sound pretty good to me, it’s somewhat surprising that the trumpet can produce rolls which sound similar to flute. If a player put enough time into it and ignored all the idiotic ‘instrument snobbery’, I think it could be done.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

Idiotic instrument snobbery? What’s wrong with not liking something? It seems very fashionable nowadays, at least on the internet, to label anyone who doesn’t particularly like a soup of anything goes in their traditional music to be branded a snob.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

"A soup of anything goes"

A good analogy. I also get fed up with recipes and dishes from chefs who are too clever for their own good. Same applies to music in many instances. Of course, some dishes I enjoy but I don’t have to like them all.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

you could play tennis with a baseball bat, everything is possible…. but would you want to do that, it might get a bit boring after the initial laughter dies down.

"Instrument snobery", that’s a laugh in itself, all instruments are equal but some are more equal than others.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

Yes, but we fiddlers shouldn’t be snobbish ..

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

There was some trumpet playing on McGoldrick’s ‘Fused’ album I seem to remember. It worked very well imho.
Maybe not the ‘pure drop’ but if the playing is good and sympathetic…. why not?
I remember a session in Orkney years ago that featured quite a few non-trad instruments….the clarinet player was excellent.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

I’m a bit doubtful about some instruments. I remember playing Irish tunes at a festival session years ago when an English guy turned up and proceeded to play lots of jigs on a recorder. He was technically brilliant, but to me it just didn’t sound right - tunes played very fast but in a staccato style with none of the ornamentation that I would expect from a whistle.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

Yes - and Ken Muir is fantastic.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

I’m lartes - the person who posted the original post (i.e. the question) on this particular topic. I very much appreciate all of the interest that has been shown by you folks with regards to my original question, and I appreciate the fact that you all basically took me - and my rather unorthodox question - seriously.

Early on, one person asked what I meant by a trumpet-like instrument *accompanying* Irish music. Well, what I meant by that is basically for a trumpet/cornet/flugelhorn player to join in to what was being played in the session (or whatever) and for starters: to use a mute in their horn - so as not to "overpower" the volume of the other players in the Irish-type music that was being played. Also, I was basically thinking of slower-types of Irish-type music being played (such as airs, ect.)

I’m still pretty much of a neophyte with regards to penny whistle playing, and I have found that playing slower pieces such as airs, laments, and the like are more my speed (pun intended). <smile>

Some of you may be familiar with an old Irish hymn called "Be Thou My Vision" - which is played slowly, and which sounds good on a penny whistle (as well as on a trumpet-like instrument, I would suspect). I haven’t tried playing that particular hymn on my flugelhorn at this point, partly because I’m still learning the basics of flugelhorn playing, and also, because I play strictly by ear. And lastly, I guess that I just haven’t gotten around to playing that particular hymn on my flugelhorn…. (I do play it on my penny whistles, however…) I *have* been trying to play a couple of hymns on my flugelhorn, such as "A Mighty Fortress is our God," and "Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling" (the latter of which is one of my wife’s favorite old hymns).

I listened to a few of the trumpet pieces that were shared here in our discussion on this topic, and I was amazed to hear the trumpet being played for a faster kind of Irish-type piece: such as for a jig or whatever. Apparently, this is done by means of rapidly triple-tonguing on the mouthpiece of the trumpet, and also, by very rapidly playing the individual notes on the trumpet - with very fast fingering being done on the valve keys. So - apparently, this kind of playing *can* be done on a trumpet-like instrument: by somebody who is skilled enough to do it. (I was quite surprised by that.)

I admit that trumpet-like instruments would most likely never actually sound very "trad" with regards to playing "serious"Irish-type music. So therefore, I appreciate a number of you who actually gave this question of mine some thoughtful consideration. Thank you very much for your input in this regard.

—- lartes

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

La Bottine Souriante succeeds the same way Blood, Sweat and Tears did; they have grafted a jazz brass section to another musical style. In the case of BS&T it was rock and roll; with La Bottine, it is Quebecois trad. With the exception of the sax, you do not hear the other brass playing the trad melodies. What they do works well because each instrument focuses on a role in the ensemble that suits it.
Even in the best hands, trad melodies become mushy on a brass instrument, it is difficult to articulate cleanly, and the instruments do not lend themselves to the types of ornamentation that mark trad music. It can be done, but the results to my ear are more a circus act than musical performance.
And most of the bands that blend trad and brass use electronic amplification to balance things out. Bringing a brass instrument to your local session is like walking in with highland pipes—the normal balance of the session is out the window.
On slower tunes and airs, yes a brass instrument can sound quite pretty. But dance tunes? Not so much.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

Re: the clip of the Gallowglass ceili band. I think it can truly be said: Never before in the history of Scottish music has so little fun been had by so many. The clip put me in mind of those You Tubes of the Trooping of the Colour, but in the rain.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

Ha-Ha! But the band is from N Ireland, the dancing and dresses are Irish. Bluebell Polka was Jimmy Shand’s greatest hit, give you that, but written by one F Stanley.
And sax is "reed" rather than "brass" albeit also classed as a horn…….
And the button accordion player smiled twice! Medal required!

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

I’d have to say, I didn’t like the first clip either.

This on the saxophone works for me though, but it’s a milder sounding instrument, that doesn’t sound that out of place to me. I quite like this clip - in fact, the whole thing’s worth a listen…

Starts at 7:23

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGgul-4HJYg&t=186s

Posted by .

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

that’s lovely playing she really makes the sax sound as if it should be playing Irish music! unfortunately couldn’t catch her name amongst Phil Cunningham, Tim Edey and all the other guest musos - and the notes on Youtube are all in Spanish! [or is it Galician?]

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

@christy taylor:
The notes are in Spanish.

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

I agree with AlBrown that brass-type instruments might very well sound pretty with slower-type tunes (such as with airs and the like), but I suppose that they really don’t fit with faster dance-type tunes.

I was surprised however, to see (and to hear) instruments such as the trumpet being used successfully for playing faster type Irish tunes. (But I wonder… [thinking of something that AlBrown said] is this just some kind of a "circus act?") However, when the brass-type instruments (such as the trumpet) were managing to play the faster-type Irish-sounding tunes, they were playing all on their own (as I recall) - without any accompaniment whatsoever from any "trad"-type instruments.

By the way, I just today received a new cornet that I had ordered online, and I wonder whether or not I would be able to play a certain beautiful Irish-type tune (an air?) called "Cape Clear" on it… (?) (Has anyone here ever heard the tune "Cape Clear" being played? It’s really a beautiful tune [IMO].) A while back, I was in the process of trying to master "Cape Clear" on the penny whistle, and I didn’t quite "get there" with regards to my being able to play it yet. (Remember, I play strictly by ear - and I don’t read music. So first, I have to fully know the tune that I am trying to play *by heart*!) :|

—- lartes

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

Hello again,

On my last post on this topic (just a few minutes ago), I mentioned a beautiful slow Irish air called "Cape Clear."

Well, just for your listening pleasure, I went and looked up the tune on YouTube, and here is what I found. "Cape Clear" being played on the penny whistle:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hU-akvdRvJ8


I hope that you will enjoy it as much as I have! <smile>

—- lartes

Re: Can horns (like the trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn) be used for playing Irish music?

I think you will find that most of those brass players who play in folk bands are actually classical brass musicians and have all the various techniques described above, triple-tonguing, etc, well under their belts as they will have been required to do this sort of stuff in the showpiece classical solos: thinking especially of the trumpeter. Howard Evans, who also played in The London Symphony Orchestra, in "Brass Monkey" here, as well as percussionist, trombonist and moothie player, Martin Brinsford, who honed his skills in the orchestral setting too.