The very best, elite level soprano players have a chameleon-like ability to both blend and fuse their sound, whilst being blessed with techniques (breath control and support as well as good embouchures) that are hewn out of granite.
However, there are few nowadays (and we know there are always exceptions) that do not appreciate the extra well-designed help that is available to them.
We wanted to find out if different designs do make an appreciable difference, so we recently got our hands on a trio of soprano mouthpieces models from Alliance Brass – the UK based company that has endorsees and signature product lines from the likes of Richard Marshall, David Childs, Philip Cobb, Les Neish and Owen Farr, and gave them to our tame soprano cornet test driver…
Their soprano cornet mouthpieces come in the S model (WAGR21-S), the S model (WAGR21 S ) and the Bert Van Thienen signature model (WAGR-BV6T).
For those of you who are technically minded these are the specifics:
S model (WAGR21-S):
Cup Diameter: 16.25mm
S+ model (WAGR21 S ):
Cup Diameter: 16.50mm
Bert Van Thienen signature model (WAGR-BVT):
Cup Diameter: 16.25mm
How do they differ?
That really depends on the player in question, and to what they are looking to achieve.
Cosmetically, the S model and S are near identical – the only give away being the identity stamp below the rim. The BVT (designed with the input of the renowned Belgian soprano cornet star) however is shaped with an elegant taper. All can be purchased either in silver or with a silver body and gold rim. The BVT is also available in all gold.
The essential difference is in the size of the cup diameter and especially the depth. All are wide rimmed at 5.30mm.
In comparison to other popular models from different manufacturers: The Denis Wick S is 16.00mm in cup diameter (as is the Denis Wick Heritage series S) – although backbore and throat characteristics differ, whilst the Vincent Bach 7E is 16.20mm and the 17C is 15.10mm with slightly different backbore and throat characteristics.
Sound & Range:
On the lips of a highly experienced soprano cornet player (and we did give them a couple of weeks to try them out) the different characteristics of the three mouthpieces can be clearly heard
The S model is the everyman workhorse – producing a full, bright, but certainly not a strident tonality throughout the range. It does the job that it is intended to do without fuss, enabling an experienced player to blend as well as project.
It does the job that it is intended to do without fuss, enabling an experienced player to blend as well as project (4BR)
Its main strength enables you to sit on top of a cornet section or ensemble whilst also allowing a touch of individuality in solo passages.
This is not a ‘screamer’ – far from it, but it is more than capable (given a solid technique to back it up) of reaching for the stars.
The deeper S does give a darker, fuller tone without losing its sheen. Its strength was obvious when playing older repertoire – the type when an occasional top C was a worthy challenge, not a repeatable necessity (‘Pageantry’ for instance).
For slow melody, lyrical playing it comes into its own – perfect for instance for a ‘Demelza’ type solo (4BR)
Again, it enables the player with strong stamina and well honed technique to blend easily with the solo cornets, although you can still ‘sit on top’ of a band without having to exhaust yourself.
On the other hand, the BVT is tailor-made for the modern day blockbusters – its shallow cup giving a sparkling brightness to the sound, especially at the extremities of the range (and we are talking about the writing that requires more than a single ledger line above the stave).
It still does a solid job in the mid range, but its obvious strengths lie higher up the scale. Mr Van Thienen knows his stuff and has helped provide a mouthpiece with that extra cutting edge. You could cut through cast iron with this if you so wished, but with careful tempering you can add such a polished sheen to a section sound.
Top class players can of course do all sorts of things with their playing, but a mouthpiece that enables them to maintain flexibility is a must: Playing the soprano isn’t all about whacking it out at full blast. You must be able to do the dainty filigree stuff without sounding strangled, or the mid range solo work without sounding like a cornet player in camouflage.
All three do this within their given parameters – none restricts range, tonality or volume – or drains stamina in the process, whilst there are no problems with intonation.
Personal preference will of course have a great deal to do with this, but all three mouthpieces have broad cushioned rims (5.30mm) that are aimed to help those both with thin lips and those who tend to play with pressure.
They are superbly manufactured, so the finish is smooth and even and there are no chamfered edges that cut into the embouchure.
Given the increasingly important role played by the soprano in the modern brass band, and the demands which are now placed upon a player, having the right tools for a specific job is a must.
This trio certainly aids your ability to cover all bases – from the everyday workload to mid range lyrical solos and the high altitude fly by wire stuff. And with the basic design characteristics (wide cushioned rim and cup diameter) very much the same, the mouthpieces feel comfortable and familiar on the chops.
For everyday playing the S model is ideal – giving all the classic soprano charcteristics you could wish for, whilst the S is an ideal tool to assist in lyrical solo work, extensive mid-range repertoire. It does give a fuller, darker sound. The BVT is the laser – superb at the top end high-wire stuff, but still flexible enough to blend and colour – if treated with respect.
Soprano player born with a blue moon in their eyes and live and let die attitude will love it.
If you are serious about your soprano playing and you want to develop different characteristics to your playing, trying out different mouthpiece designs can certainly meet your ambitions – and this trio from Alliance does just that.
All mouthpieces come in boxes with protective leather pouches.