A “brass quintet” consists of two trumpets, French horn, trombone, and tuba. I attended a concert by a brass quintet the other day, and I was struck by a big difference, visually, between a brass quintet concert and, say, a string quartet concert. When you watch a string quartet, you see lots of movement – arms, hands, fingers, instruments. But at a brass quintet concert the only thing you see moving much at all is the slide of the trombone. And the reason is that most of what brass players do is done with the lips, and it’s invisible to us. The trumpet, horn, and tuba usually just have three or four keys, or valves, and even with just one key depressed the player can play a whole series of different notes just by varying lip shape and air pressure. It’s also just with the lips and air pressure, invisibly, that brass players change volume and tone color. So, lots going on in brass playing, but not always a lot to see.
A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.