HBS conference recap

Earlier this week, the Historic Brass Conference presented a virtual conference that was organized by Sandy Coffin, an American trumpeter and copyeditor, getting her doctorate in Scotland. The theme was “Pond Life: Crosscurrents over the Atlantic.” Over three days there were 21 presentations, a keynote address, a memorial session, an award ceremony, and a live performance.

Sandy Coffin hosted the Zoom conference on her computer while streaming the pre-recorded presentation videos. Although I am now the Vice President/President-elect of the HBS, my job was pretty easy. I watched all the presentations on Zoom and followed the chats. I was a “moderator,” along with two others–Joanna Hersey, the HBS Secretary, and professor of tuba at University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and John Wallace, professor emeritus at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and a great trumpet/cornet player.

Most presentations lasted about 20 minutes with about 10 minutes of live discussion with the presenter. I would be “spotlighted” with the person who just presented, and I would ask questions that came up in the chat from the viewers. If there were no questions, then I would pose a question of my own. This was a little daunting, because I almost always needed to fill in some time with a question of my own, but I enjoyed the the “hands on” experience of watching the presentations and coming up with good questions.

For this conference, thanks go to: Sandy Coffin, John Wallace, Clair Tomalin (video editing), Sarah Deters at St Cecilia’s Hall for donating the space an ad coordinating everything on site, and the New York State Council on the Arts (funding support), Bryan Proksch for website posting, HBS President Jeff Nussbaum and Bradley Strauchen.

Here are some of my favorite highlights from the conference:

  • Learning about the significant contributions to horn playing over the last three hundred years by people of color
  • How the horn of Mozart’s horn soloist, Josef Leutgeb, probably sounded (focused and articulate)
  • I learned what the alto, tenor and bass versions of the cornet sound like, and that a cornet quartet is probably the most beautiful and homogenous-sounding brass groups
  • I learned that there were hundreds of pieces (especially waltzes) written specifically for keyed trumpet.
  • That the natural baroque trumpet can correct intonation in other historically-possible ways than lip-bending by use of a slide, mutes, hand-stopping
  • That historic brass instruments can improvise and jam spontaneously (the HBS now has a jazz theme song, by the way)
  • How significant British jazz was during the 20th century
  • Several digital (and non-digital) places to look for historic literature
  • How Herbert Barr and George Eskdale became the two pillars of British orchestral trumpet schools (and how the brass band tradition became an important contribution to the style)
  • How the traditional Swedish cornets look (rotary instruments with very little bell flare) and sound (gorgeously mellow). Bonus: the A-flat piccolo Swedish cornet is the most beautiful-sounding piccolo brass instrument ever
  • I learned that J.F. Bellon wrote the first brass quintets from 1848-50 and that A. Mimart’s quintets was right behind
  • That New Zealand composer, Douglas Lilburn wrote an amazing brass quartet in 1957 (specifying C trumpet, not B-flat!)


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