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On Brass

– how brass became what it is –

For 60 years, I have been combining my love of brass music with my love of engineering. I have studied extensively in ancient as well as historical brass, and hope that this blog can shed an interesting light on how the world of brass music came to be what it is.

Dr Peter Holmes, PhD


What is a Natural trumpet?

In many ways, the term ‘natural trumpet’ is a bit strange as it doesn’t refer to a trumpet which grows in the soil or is dug up from the ground but just one which has no devices on it such as valves or slides or fingerholes. In general, the term has gained most...

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When is a Lur not a Lur

When the great, curved Bronze-Age horns were found in Scandinavia and the Baltic Region, no-one knew how old they were or what they might have been called. This was in the days before C. J. Thomsen developed the idea of the three-age system, calling periods, the Stone...

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Enjoying the Craic:The Irish Horns

One of the highlights of the Bronze-Age brass is the Irish Horns, over one hundred instruments which were found all over Ireland. They’ve been turning up for over a hundred years, popping up out of bogs unexpectedly. None have been dug up in organised excavations so...

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Spain’s Unique Iron-Age Brass

Although instruments throughout the Iron-Age world differed, there was considerable similarity both in instrument form and usage. This was not so in the Celto-Iberian cultural area.   Although no actual instruments have survived, the iconography tells a...

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Who Studies Ancient Brass Instruments?

Well, lots of people, really. However, it’s music archaeologists who study all aspects of music in the ancient world. As there have been no direct study courses in music archaeology until very recent times, such scholars who call themselves ‘music archaeologists’ come...

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When the Air goes Round and Round

Today there are, in the main, just two brass  instruments in which the air goes round in circles, the French horn and the Sousaphone although others, such as cornets have, in the past, been made in this way. A little earlier,  the cor de chasse (horn of the chase) or...

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What is the Natural Harmonic Series?

This is the range of notes played on any brass instrument when no valves, slides or finger-holes are utilised. It’s terrifically important for ancient and historical brass instruments as it effectively controls what can be played on them. As any brass player knows,...

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Spreading Brass on your Toast

The bronze lurs are among the most-characteristic instruments from the Late Bronze Age in northern Europe. They were found in Scandinavia and around the Baltic, the largest number have been found in Denmark. Because of the large number found there, Denmark has adopted...

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What's in a name: Cornu?

The name cornu (plural cornua) appears in Roman literature, describing their instrument which encircled the player. Such instruments are depicted in Etruscan, Roman and native European iconography. The earliest depictions come from Etruscan sources but no large cornua...

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When Louis Met Me

When I started playing the cornet, my two heroes were Louis Armstrong and Eddie Calvert. Louis Armstrong toured Britain in 1956, and I saw an advert in the Derbyshire Times telling about the tour. I scrounged the money (not easy at that time) and eventually amassed...

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The Oldest Brass Instrument?

There’s quite a bit of talk about which is the oldest brass instrument around but, for my money, it terms of continuous tradition, it’s the instruments of the first Australians. Their instrument, which we might refer to as the didgeridoo have many different names...

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Why is iconography relevant?

The term iconography refers to all manner of illustrations and we rely on these to fill in information about instruments when the physical remains are either lacking or fragmentary. Iconography appears in all sorts of forms, as reliefs, as paintings, on coins and even...

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What’s in a name: Lituus?

The term ‘lituus’ is one applied to a ‘J’-shaped instrument used by the Romans. Its overall form was very similar to an implement used by the augur, an important person who foretold the future from the flights of birds or the entrails of a sacrificed animal. The...

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