Woodwind & Brasswind Contributing Writer - Tony Guerrero
When you hold your trumpet in your hand, you may not realize that you're really holding much more than just a musical instrument – you're holding a part of world history. The trumpet has been around for thousands of years and has played a crucial role in nearly every civilization on earth.
The earliest known metal trumpets date back to at least 1500BC and earlier. Bronze and Silver trumpets were found in the grave of King Tut in Egypt, and other ancient examples have been unearthed in China, Scandinavia, Asia and South America. We can also rightly assume that, as most "inventions" have their predecessors, people have been blowing into objects to create sound for much longer than that. Some early civilizations would blow into a conch shell or an animal horn (known as a "shofar") to make sound.
These early examples were not originally intended for music as we know it, but primarily for use in military and religious exercises. Scholars of history have noted its use in many of the major turning points of history, from landmark battles to societal rituals. It is noted in historical records and in major religious writings. In fact, in medieval times, the trumpeters were considered such a vital part of a military unit that they were highly guarded, since they were necessary for relaying instructions to troops over wide distances.
Today, the simple "bugle" is still found in military use, although more as a nod to tradition than for actual military use.
The Middle Ages and the Renaissance brought improvements to both the art of metal making and to the design of the instrument, which made it more useful for actual music creation. Early "natural trumpets" did not include valves, and this could only produce a certain number of notes. Changing keys meant you had to change certain pipes on the horn. The natural trumpet had its heyday during the Baroque era, but there has been somewhat of resurgence in its popularity in recent years (search for “natural trumpet” on YouTube to find many examples of players performing on the instrument).
During the Classical and Romantic periods, the natural trumpet began to take a back seat simply because of its limited note vocabulary. It wasn't until the 1800s, really, that the improvements in the instrument – primarily keys and eventually valves – led to its use a chromatic instrument. Once it was capable of playing any note required by the composer, it reclaimed its place as a primary featured instrument.
The Twentieth Century brought with it the concept of "Pop Music". While there had always been popular music, it wasn’t until the era of sound recordings that songs could spread like wildfire and become "hits". Early recording practices were crude and many instruments did not translate well. The clear focused sound of the trumpet, however, recorded well and became a standout on many early recordings. The allowed virtuosos players like jazz musician Louis Armstrong to bring the trumpet to the forefront of popular music. This trend continued for decades. Every era has had its star trumpeters, most prevalent during the 1930s and 1940s. Louis Armstrong
(30s), Harry James (40s), Dizzy Gillespie
(40s), Miles Davis
(50s), Herb Alpert (60s), Chuck Mangione
(70s), and so many more, found their way to stardom as trumpeters.
Today, the trumpet continues to be a vital instrument and is used in nearly every style of music, from classical to rock to jazz, and in the traditional music of many countries. Remember, your horn is much more that a pipe to blow through for sound – it has been a clarion call throughout history, and has had a major role in the music of the world for centuries!