Life is like a trumpet - if you don’t put anything into it, you won’t get anything out of it - William Christoper Handy
Music makes the world go round. It fills every moment of every day with joy and helps us to smile when we’re faced with moments of great adversity.
It’s the tool that we use for universal communication and surpasses and breaks through any and all language barriers. While the instruments we use to play music are many and varied, one of the most soulful and emotive is the trumpet.
Whether it’s part of a joyful jazz ensemble, helping to create the frantic energy of ska, leading a brass band, sounding reveille, or helping to provide solace for mourners as they goodbye to loved ones, the trumpet is an integral part of our musical history and evolution.
The What, The When And The How - The History Of The Trumpet
The exact date when the first trumpet was made and played is unknown, but early variations of the trumpet were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb, which would make the trumpet at least three thousand years old.
This time frame coincides with the biblical references that highlight the role the instrument played in the destruction of Jericho.
While the earliest known examples of the trumpet bear very little resemblance to the instrument that we know today, the valveless trumpet persisted well into the middle ages and beyond and has recently undergone a surprising renaissance.
In fact, the word ‘trumpet’, a fusion of French and old English that means “long, tube-like musical instrument’ wasn’t used until the fourteenth century and was later co-opted to describe the instrument that we recognize today as the modern trumpet.
It wasn’t until eighteen eighteen that the first valved trumpet, the instrument that most of us would recognize as being a trumpet appeared. Invented by a German musician called Heinrich David Stolzel, it was regarded, at the time of its invention, as being a marvel of the musical age.
The trumpet, while having undergone some subtle changes since it debuted, has altered very little in the last two centuries. Arguably this is because it has reached the pinnacle of its evolution and is widely regarded as being an example of musical perfection.
This then begs the question, how do you create perfection? How do you make a trumpet?
Making A Trumpet
Contrary to popular belief, even though it is a brass instrument, a trumpet isn’t forged from a single piece of alloy.
It’s made from three separate pieces of brass, all of which require an incredible amount of skill to make.
The Main Tube
The main tube of a trumpet is possibly the most important part of the instrument, as it allows the air to pass through the trumpet and is just as responsible for creating the music the instrument makes as the musicians who play it.
Constructed from a single piece of machinable and workable brass, in order for it to be shaped, the tube has to be heated to a temperature that allows it to become malleable.
Ideally, that temperature should be at least one thousand degrees Fahrenheit, at which point the tube can be shaped either by hand or using a hydraulic bend, that shapes the brass tube according to a set plan that is closely monitored and controlled by a computer.
In some instances, the tube can be shaped by a high-pressure water system, but the heating and bending method is still the most widely used one.
Times have changed and precision engineering is now guided by computers, which allow even the smallest and most traditional trumpet makers to accurately cut and shape valve housings.
The housings are cut from heavy tubing, before both ends are then threaded, one of which will be connected to the main tube of the trumpet and the other to the valve knuckle that will hold the valves piston in place.
Having accurately drilled the correct sized holes in the valve housings, the pistons, along with their supporting knuckles are lowered into said housings, before the knuckles are firmly fixed to the housings, holding the valves in place.
The wide end of a trumpet is commonly called the bell, and, like the main tube, it is shaped from a single piece of brass by heating it to the required temperature and then following an incredibly detailed and accurate pattern.
Traditionally, the bell of a trumpet would have been shaped by hand by a metal worker or a blacksmith, but computer-aided design and hydraulic presses have taken over that role, and it is now incredibly rare to see any trumpet bell being shaped by hand.
Once the bell has been shaped, and the separate parts of the trumpet are ready before they can be assembled, they all have to be cleaned, usually, in an acid bath. This makes sure that they are free from dust and any loose metal debris.
Once the three parts of the trumpet have been thoroughly cleaned they can then be soldered together.
If any of the joining edges of the valve assembly, the main tube, or the bell aren’t completely clean, the solder that’s supposed to hold them together won't be able to unite them, and the whole process will have to be started all over again.
Providing the leading areas are clean, once the three parts of the trumpet have been assembled correctly, the trumpet is left to cool, which gives the soldered edges time to harden and fully fuse together.
After it’s cooled, the trumpet can then be electroplated, before being sent off for the final stage of the assembly process, where it is cleaned and polished.
Wait a minute, did we say that was the final stage of the process? We did, didn’t we?
We forgot the last and most crucial detail. When the trumpet has been cleaned and polished, the last, and one of the most important parts of the trumpet can be added. The mouthpiece.
After all, if there’s no mouthpiece, the trumpet can’t be played. And with the mouthpiece in place, the trumpet is finally ready to make incredible music.