Thursday, October 29, 2015

Instrument Zoo: Cornetto

One of my favorite instruments in the world is the cornetto. The duck-billed platypus of the early music world, the cornetto is half woodwind, half brass. Fingerings of a woodwind with the mouthpiece like a brass instrument. Click here to check out the wiki page. The cornetto player can create the most hauntingly beautiful sounds imaginable. However, the path to this beauty is a steep one, up a mountain and through the woods without a trail kind of steep. The sounds I created during my brief stint with the cornetto resembled more a beginning trumpet player, on a bad day.

When I first heard the sounds of a cornetto, I was immediately intrigued. What kind of instrument sounds like buttery brass? At that point in my early music career, I had only played bass double reeds, and I was just venturing out into the world of higher double reeds, recorders, bagpipes, etc. I was totally game to try everything, I was hooked, trying to find my next early music fix. However, the cornetto with the embouchure of a brass instrument, made me nervous. However, the beauty of the sound still beckoned to me. So several years later, I was a little more comfortable with sounding like crap on any given instrument, and I was able to borrow a cornetto. So I made the leap.

Well, this time, it looked like I bit off more than I can chew. I started out on a few minutes a day, buzzing the mouthpiece, trying to figure out for the first time in my life what a brass embouchure was exactly. The mouthpiece of the cornetto is particularly tiny, making the sound production even more tenuous than a modern brass instrument. I started to slowly figure out how to make a proper sound, but it was slow going. Two steps forward, one step back. I started to realize how much practice it was going to take to make even a decent sound. I already double on many different instruments, and adding yet another embouchure to practice I realized was more than what I could do. Sadly, I admitted defeat.

So, now I leave the cornetto playing to the pros, and try to be happy with just be an appreciator of the cornetto. Recently I had the pleasure of playing in a gig where the cornetto players, three of them, were standing right behind me in our performance. What an amazing sound, and I was able to enjoy bathing in their buttery sound. Here in Europe, cornetto is also a certain kind of ice cream cone, and one of the players had managed to find a tiny cornetto ice cream cone pin, and had attached it to the lapel of his suit. Perfect. I will leave you now with one of my favorite pieces of all time, which of course features the dulcet tones of a great cornetto player.

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