Greatest pickup line ever – “Is that an alto horn?”
A few months back I was complaining about the lack of women in brass. It’s true – most professional brass players are dudes. Since the birth of my daughter, I’ve begun to notice these things. This week however, I traveled to Buckinghamshire to work with blues musician Bo Walker on his latest project. The train ride was unseasonably warm, and I was hoping for something to distract me.
I know what you are thinking – the young woman in Exhibit A caught my eye. Sort of. Look at what she has parked at her feet. I suspected an alto horn case! Its not often you see people traveling with the lesser-played brass instruments (I bet you do not even know what a Alto horn is), and a female brass musician to boot. I am always asked if I my trombone is a bag of golf clubs…
Intrigued, I very politely (this being England) turned and asked her about it. Turns out her name is Wendy, and she was on the way to Chesham to visit family.
Americans and Canadians are better known for their openness with complete strangers on trains, so I was surprised (& appreciative) by Wendy’s candor. She comes from a brass-playing family with dad on the baritone horn/euphonium, her brother on trombone and her mom (or is it mum?) is a recent student of the alto horn. The family plays in the local brass band every Saturday.
Wendy wanted to play alto sax as a kid, but was wary of showing up with a (shhhh!!!) non-brass instrument in an all-brass-house. “Disinherited” is an outcome that comes to my mind, and if you ask me – rightly so. Joking! No seriously, it is possible to tune both a lawnmower and a saxophone. I just think It’s just easier to tune the lawnmower.
She said that she wanted to was thinking of taking sax lessons at her flat, but it would probably be too loud for her roommates. A dude sitting in the chair behind us (ok, bloke) chimed in and offered his two cents on the topic: “When I wuz in glazzzGOO, Oi picked up the bluudy bagpipe. Bettah play ’em saxerfone in ve flap than try feedin the cat whil’ workin’ ut on that bluudy thing”
Wendy is now a graphic designer and a professional Alto Horn Transport Specialist. Today she was on a top-secret mission to move this alto horn from a friends’ house to her mother’s.
I then popped the question. “Can I have a peek?” – she flipped open the case for me; the horn was in great condition.
It is beautifully taken-care of and showed signs of being recently shined. The leather strap may eventually corrode with use – a sign of a dedicated musician for sure. But wait there is more!
In the case there was also a mute! An alto horn is a comparatively obscure instrument and to find a mute in the case is a treasure. Back in the old days, the joke in the brass section used to go: “What defines the height of optimism?’ Answer: “An alto horn with a beeper!” or the more modern punchline “An alto horn with an unlimited texting plan”.
For those of you who do not know what a mute is, I am planning on expanding this topic in a future post. However, to get a sense of its function – there is an urban myth that the invention of the mute is owed to a disgruntled neighbor of famed trumped player Joseph Jean Baptist Laurent Arban (28 February 1825 – 9 April 1889) who knocked on the player’s door in 1887 and shoved an eggplant (aubergine) down the trumpet bell.
In this YouTube clip, you can get an idea of the sweetness of the alto horn:
Wendy from Chesham, thanks for the nice chat! Stay in touch!