The Fanfare Trumpet

Given our background in supplying some of the world’s finest marching bands, we thought we would take the opportunity to share some information about the fanfare trumpet.

The History of the Fanfare Trumpet

Ancient Rome

Fanfare trumpets can be traced as far back as ancient Rome. They were known as Roman tubas, from the Latin “tubus” which means tube. Very different to tubas as we know them today! These instruments were used as a military signal trumpet to give order to soldiers, as well as for parades and funerals. The musicians playing the were known as “tubicines“. They usually played them pointing either upwards or pointing down towards the ground, with one hand. These instruments were straight, approximately 4 feet long, and usually made from bronze with a detachable mouthpiece.

A mosaic of musicians playing a Roman tuba, a pipe organ, and a pair of cornua.
A mosaic of musicians playing a Roman tuba, a pipe organ, and a pair of cornua.

Iran, Korea and China

Fanfare trumpet-like instruments also existed in Iran (the karnay), Korea (the nabal) and China (the laba). In Iran, the karnay is considered a national instrument, and is also used in Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The Nabal, the only Korean instrument made of brass.
The Nabal, the only Korean instrument made of brass.

The Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, natural trumpets would sound fanfares to mark important holidays or ceremonial events. they would also act as timekeepers in various towns, and announce special events. Fanfare trumpets were incorporated into mounted bands in the 12th century, which were tasked with motivating mounted troops in battle, as well as on parade. The natural chromatic is the oldest type of fanfare trumpet still used today. This instrument was first used in the cavalry branches of the European military in the 17th century.

The Aida Trumpets

Before the 1930’s, one-valved trumpets called “Aida” trumpets made by Hawkes & Son were used for fanfares. These instruments were designed by Ricordi and made by Orsi for Verdi’s opera in 1836. However, they were of limited use…

Lt Col Hector Adkins, the Senior Director of Music at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, found “Aida” trumpets to be unbalanced when supporting a banner. So, he designed a set of 3-valved chromatic fanfare trumpets, where the majority of the valve tubing was put towards the back of the instrument.

Herb Poole, an instrument builder and member of the COC Orchestra, shows off the Aida trumpets he built for the new production of Verdi’s Aida at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Coronation Fanfare Trumpets

On 1st April 1938, Atkins signed an agreement with Geoffrey Hawkes relating to the design of the 3-valved chromatic fanfare trumpets. This was witnessed at Kneller Hall by the then Adjutant. These trumpets came in various pitches and were made by Boosey & Hawkes for the Coronation of George VI. They were often referred to as “Coronation Trumpets”. They were sold under the Boosey & Hawkes and Besson brands until 1999. Between 1938 and 1959, Boosey and Hawkes made 492 of these 3-valved instruments. They were supplied across the world to announce the arrival of Heads of State and dignitaries.

Today, most military bands use valved chromatic trumpets, developed in the 1930s. These instruments allow musicians to play all notes of the chromatic scale.

The Band of the Household Cavalry playing Smith-Watkins fanfare trumpets
The Band of the Household Cavalry playing Smith-Watkins herald fanfare trumpets

Fanfare Trumpets in the British Forces Today

All British military bands are able to produce a fanfare team of around 7 players, using the four sizes of fanfare trumpets in common use today. For example, the British army uses 4 Bb trumpets, 2 Bb tenor fanfares and a Bb bass fanfare. The bands of the Royal Air Force have a similar arrangement whilst the Royal Marine Bands add a soprano fanfare to give a brighter sound.

London Fanfare Trumpets demonstrating a team of 7 players

Made to Order

There are several occasions in history where fanfare trumpets have been made to order.

Fanfare Trumpets for Aida

Verdi’s opera, Aida, was to include replicas of the trumpets found in the burial chamber of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun. These trumpets are considered to be the oldest operational trumpets in the world. However, Verdi was not impressed by their soft sound, and the key they were in. As a result, he asked instrument makers to create a longer instrument with a valve, so that he could include dull arpeggios in his composition. They are used for playing the “Grand March” of the opera “Aida”. Traditionally they are straight with only one valve, with both B-natural pitch and A♭-pitch models being used together. Opera houses still commission these specialist instruments today!

Ministry of Defence

The Ministry of Defence has commissioned fanfare trumpets to be made for special events. Such occasions have included The 2012 Olympic Games and various Royal Weddings.

The fanfare trumpets of the Central Band of the Royal Air Force preparing for the wedding of Prince William and The Duchess of Cambridge

Playing a Fanfare Trumpet

Due to being a largely uninterrupted straight tube, unlike trumpet and cornets, fanfare trumpets are rather loud. To the player, it may seem quieter, but they need to remember that they are a metre away from the end of the instrument! Fanfare trumpeters can find themselves performing in various locations, including on cathedral balconies, castle walls or “in the God’s” of a theatre.

You need to stand with your feet a hip’s width apart, with your feet firmly planted, because the weight of the instrument is spread across the entire length of the instrument. More weight is added when you hang a banner, which is often very intricate and hand-stitched!

To order your Fanfare Trumpet from the British Band Instrument Company, please contact us here.

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