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Brass Magic

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours
SC Public Radio

For those of us who don’t play a brass instrument, watching brass players play always seems a bit like watching a magic show. We hear the French hornists, trumpeters, trombonists, and tuba players playing plenty of different notes, but the number of times they move their fingers—or in the case of trombonists their slides—doesn’t nearly add up to the number of notes. Not to mention the fact that where they put their fingers or slides doesn’t seem to bear any relation to which notes they’re playing, a mystery compounded by the fact that horns, trumpets, and tubas only have three keys to press, three valves. How do they do it? Well, they do it with their lips, and with their breath. With any one valve or combination of valves engaged, or with the slide in any one position, brass players can play whole series of different notes just by altering the shape of their lips and the pressure of their breath. Add up the various series, each series different, and the brass magicians have all the notes they need.

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

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Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.