The need for the brass band to fully encompass their potential did not come directly from the suppliers, but from the new breed of brass band composers. The likes of Edward Gregson, Elgar Howarth, Derek Bourgeois and John McCabe wrote new test pieces that explored timbres and effects that until the 1970's were alien to the brass band, whilst the raft of talented arrangers such as Howard Snell and Ray Farr explored new colours through their fantastic transcriptions of orchestral works. The brass band may have had better instruments to play on and produced a larger sound but it was still one that that was essentially monochrome in tonal characteristic, and the mute was the ideal tool to bring a whole new world of kaleidoscopic colour to us.
The development in the last 20 years has been startling, but where as the instruments of the brass band that can cross over to the worlds of the wind ensemble and orchestra have been catered for splendidly, those traditional instruments that remain forever rooted in the banding sphere have been somewhat left alone. The soprano cornet and the baritone are two examples.
Thankfully this has now been addressed by the suppliers of mutes and the latest sees Denis Wick produce a specialist Eb Soprano Cornet adjustable Cup Mute. This is a specialist mute that has the added advantage that it can be adjusted to give the desired sound that is appropriate to the ensemble it needs to be played against. The sound of a Cup Mute is unique - less strident and hard and giving a more subtle sound colour to the instrument. For a soprano player this is important as invariably the soprano line is placed at the top of any chord structure and can sound over bearing if care is not taken.
The fibre cup mute can also be a problem tool as it is more easily damaged and more susceptible to problems of intonation in either humid or dry atmospheres. In addition, their construction is usually different to those used by the rest of the cornet section (who tend to use metal cup mutes) so matching the sounds of nine cornet players to one soprano can be difficult to marry successfully. This Denis Wick Mute is therefore designed to bridge that difference as it is essentially the same construction (high purity aluminium which has been bright silver anodised added to matt black finish) and employs the adjustable cup which allows the player to change both the volume and the timbre of his playing to match those around him.
The cup size itself matches the bell size of the modern soprano cornet (we tried it on both a Schilke and Courtois) whilst the length of the main structure allows it to fit snugly in to the bell of the instrument.
Care of course must be taken with the corks, which come post production without being filed. Sticking the mute into the end of an expensive sop without filing down is a sure fire way to damage your instrument, the mute and you reputation a player as it will make your sound awful and invariably out of tune. File the ends down with care so that the mute fits perfectly into the instrument so that the adjustable cup can be used both in a fully "closed" and "open" mode.
The build quality of the mute is excellent - there is a feel to it of high quality and the cup fits tightly to the main stem, yet moves smoothly and without any of those embarrassing squeaks that can spoil a perfect section of pianissimo playing from the band. The bell rim has a protective cover of rubber, whilst the top of the main stem also has the felt cover to stop scratches to the inside of your instrument. It looks and feels the business.
The same must also be said when played. Intonation can be a bug bear of soprano mutes, but the Denis Wick gave us no problems at all throughout the range. If the player produces a consistent column of air the mute will reflect this with a pure response. There is no distortion of sound even at both ends of the dynamic spectrum and the mute loses none of its essential cup mute characteristics. Tuning in the top end of the register (which can sound flat with a fibre mute) is not apparent here.
The adjustable cup is the bonus though. Used judiciously it can really enhance the quality of your playing and helps the soprano player who finds playing high and quiet muted work something of a nightmare (that would just about include everyone in the Soprano Cornet Playing Society!). Pull the cup closer to the bell and you can produce a quality piano or pianissimo sound whilst pushing more air through the instrument. It is a great safety net to have when the contest nerves are fluttering in your stomach! The cup is also broad enough to be able to be stuffed with a few bits of cotton wool as well - just in case you need extra help to deaden your sound (and it still retains the quality of the sound).
Denis Wick has produced a fine addition to the mute range here with this adjustable Cup Mute. The quality of the construction is excellent (it feels like it was made to do the job intended) and care has been taken about the design. The cup itself has been tailored to fit the bell of the instrument and is snugly adjustable. Even when extended or closed to its optimum the sound you produce isn't distorted and allows the advanced player to experiment to ensure they enhance rather than detract from the overall balance of the cornet section or a solo line.
Finally, the hard worked, underpaid and under appreciated soprano player has the chance to shine with a tool of the trade that makes them feel valued.
Iwan Fox, Besson Musical Instruments Limited