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Musical Explorations with the Rogers Mouthpiece

by Craig Kridel

While we are uncertain what prospects the Rogers mouthpiece will offer tubists and euphoniumists, the original purpose of developing the mouthpiece was to afford modern low brass players the opportunity to enjoy playing chamber music of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This 8-9 part music—harmoniemusik—often included a serpent and/or bass horn as a blended line with the bassoons. Modern low brass players have much to learn from performing this repertoire; however, the music is, quite frankly, destroyed when performed on a euphonium or tuba. The Rogers mouthpiece, creating a “Rogers euphonium,” permits the player to blend with bassoons and to provide the support that those instruments originally needed. 

When I first described the Rogers mouthpiece to my colleague Dr. Ronald Davis of the University of South Carolina,  his reaction was quite enthusiastic and his comments became those quoted in the description of the project:  “now I can finally play the Haydn Divertimento and other chamber ensemble works from the early 1800s.”  Davis’ reaction was what we had wished—the mouthpiece was seen not as a tool to obtain an extra gig but, rather, a chance for the experienced (as well as neophyte) low brass player to enter new worlds of musical repertoire.

Ron Davis proved to be the perfect “test case” for this project. He is a performing artist of the highest caliber, a beloved and effective pedagogue, a distinguished scholar in his role with the preparation of the Tuba Source Book,  and former archivist and long-time member of the International Tuba and Euphonium Association. Further, in 1989, Ron participated in the First International Serpent Festival and had the opportunity to meet Christopher Monk, attend Alan Lumsden’s world premiere of the Proctor Serpent Concerto, and discuss aspects of the history of the tuba with Clifford Bevan. Ron’s view of the serpent did not become overly serious that weekend (in fact, he performed on a plastic great bass serpent—the American anaconda—and later played with the United Serpents Grande Band, 26 serpentists performing at the USC football game for 70,000 fans). Yet, his respect for the instrument increased from that occasion and his curiosity grew. He was one of the first owners of Douglas Yeo’s recording, Le Monde du Serpent, and he has continued to adopt an historical perspective when teaching and playing the tuba.

As Ron was planning his upcoming faculty recital for the autumn, I provided him with a Rogers mouthpiece and a copy of Sarastro Press’s Divertimento No. 1 in B flat (Chorale St. Antoni, Hob. II/46; FJH-1d) attributed to Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809); edited by Douglas Yeo for 2 oboes, 3 bassoons, 2 horns, and serpent. I knew that Ron would not call colleagues and slap up the music for a one time rehearsal. As an academic and educator, he approached the use of the Rogers mouthpiece as an opportunity to consider the role of low brass in early 19th century chamber music and to re-access the nature of sound—of the euphonium, the serpent, and the Rogers euphonium. As a way to introduce this project to the modern brass player, we present Ron Davis’s thoughts and reflections and an excerpt from his autumn 2010 performance of the Haydn Divertimento.

During the course of the next few years, Berlioz Historical Brass will be inviting a number of individuals to describe their approach and experience with the Rogers mouthpiece. We have unleashed an interesting aesthetic issue: how does one conceive of a mouthpiece that offers “acoustical sampling,” and what does this mean for the nature of historical performance and authentic sound. The use of the Rogers mouthpiece will be determined by its owners. Berlioz Historical Brass looks forward to what will emerge.

February 2011








Using the Rogers Mouthpiece:
Thoughts and Reflections after the First Public Performance

by Dr. Ronald Davis, Professor of Tuba
University of South Carolina

to hear the 2nd movement of the Haydn Divertimento as performed by Ron Davis on a Rogers euphonium

In preparing for the performance of the Haydn Divertimento, I spent time listening to Douglas Yeo’s serpent playing on his Le Monde du Serpent CD, practicing my Harding serpent for tonal reference and switching to the Rogers euphonium for comparison. What was apparent from the beginning was the difference between the serpent sound coming from down in front of me and the Rogers euphonium sound right next to my right ear. This automatically gives the Rogers euphonium more projection than the serpent, and led directly to my first concern, balance.  I am more capable of playing louder on the Rogers euphonium than I am on the serpent, so just how loud should I be within an ensemble?  Looking back I see that my original conception of the role of the serpent was slightly misdirected in that I was striving for a soloist’s sound.

Craig Kridel listened to a rehearsal and offered several perspectives that cleared many of the issues. I came to realize the following:
• Whereas modern instruments are solo voices, the serpent is a blending voice. I did not have to become a soloist to use this equipment.
• Instead of thinking of the serpent as an ancestor to the tuba, I should view the instrument as did performers and composers of the time—as the low voice of the bassoon section. The musicians playing the serpent would most likely have been bassoonists, not brass players. The serpent as the lowest sounding voice in the bassoon section would support the weaker pitches of period instruments, and its unique tone quality added resonance and projection to the entire section.
• The most helpful piece of information of all: when it comes to how loudly to play the Rogers euphonium, simply balance and blend with the lowest bassoon. That was the comment that brought everything into focus and lifted all my concerns about balance.  Simply sit back, be an equal stand partner with the lowest bassoon, and enjoy making music. The mouthpiece will do all the work.

The low brass player will discover a new sensation when playing historical music with this mouthpiece: greatly diminished airflow. Tubists are conditioned to move great quantities of wind in a short span of time. With the Rogers euphonium I found that even after playing long phrases, both the third bassoonist and I needed to exhale.

During my recital demonstration I performed the first ten measures of the Haydn Divertimento in ensemble with my Harding serpent. With my limited experience on the church serpent I knew I was having obvious issues with pitch center and intonation.  The same measures on the Rogers euphonium were vastly superior. I am capable of playing the entire Divertimento on serpent; however, I know that my complete focus of attention would be on wrestling with the instrument. With this Rogers euphonium I was able to focus completely on the music. It was truly a delight.

One person who was very enthusiastic about this performance was Dr. Peter Kolkay, our professor of bassoon. The bassoon/serpent combination is an important piece of history for his instrument, but the music is rarely performed precisely because of the serpent issue.  The Rogers euphonium introduces possibilities for others besides low brass players.
November 2010










Please know that Berlioz Historical Brass receives no commission from the sale of Rogers mouthpieces. Ours efforts serve to invite and introduce low brass players to the historical brass repertoire.

The Rogers mouthpiece is priced at $85 (with $5.00 shipping and handling) and may be ordered from J.c. Sherman at www.jcsherman.net/rogers-serpent-mouthpieces

For those players who wish to explore harmoniemusik repertoire, please visit our listing of Berlioz Historical Brass-sponsored music editions. Go to Music commissioned by Berlioz Historical Brass and Harmoniemusik.



The Rogers Mouthpiece—commissioned by Craig Kridel after discussions with Christopher Monk, Keith Rogers, and Steven Silverstein, designed by Douglas Yeo, and produced by J.c. Sherman—offers today's players of the euphonium and baritone horn the ability to produce the historical sound of the serpent.

exploring the role of early 19th century brass

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