- The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Brass Instruments ed. by Trevor Herbert, Arnold Myers, and John Wallace
Creating a work today that claims to be encyclopedic is a daunting task. In the age of instant access to online resources and the pervasive reach of Wikipedia, what purpose can an old-fashioned encyclopedia seek to fulfil? In the case of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Brass Instruments (part of an ongoing series of musical encyclopedias from CUP), the answer is evident after any casual conversation with [End Page 757] the average musicologist, organologist, or composer: their general level of awareness, experience, and confidence with brass instruments will normally be significantly lower than with other instrumental families. Brass instrumentalists are, of course, not entirely blameless in this situation; in the predecessor to this work, the Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments (Cambridge, 1997), Simon Wills refers to 'inward looking societies' of brass players that have created 'ghettos of interest' (p. 176). This new book is a powerful attempt to bridge this divide, a highly ambitious undertaking to cover the usage of brass instruments across the world from ancient times to the present day in one volume. That such a project even came to fruition is indeed impressive; however, much like its open-sourced competitor, the resulting publication has great responsibility thrust upon it.
The three editors chosen to compile (and, to a significant extent, write) this work are leading figures in their fields. While their homogeneity of background and experience does not detract from their expertise, it does necessitate an awareness of their limitations. One notable example is that of gender, a topic prominently raised by the editors themselves. Trevor Herbert includes a paragraph on the subject in his introduction, and his entry on the topic (co-authored with Helen Barlow, p. 187) provides historical context; however, the content of the book itself sadly fails to follow through on this. The all-male Editorial Advisory Board did ensure that a quarter of the contributors were women, yet only 7 per cent of articles were written by female authors. In the entire volume, reference is made to only one female composer (Liza Lim, who is mentioned in 'Australasia', p. 41, notably written by Fiona Richards), and debates regarding gendered instrumental writing (for example regarding singing while playing, as in 'Multiphonics', p. 285) are completely overlooked, suggesting that there is still a long way to go in order to overcome inherent gender bias in brass practice and pedagogy.
The editors have been significantly more successful in representing geographic diversity. Contributors from all corners of the world have been invited to share resources about traditions that are often overlooked outside of the most specialist ethnomusicological circles. An exhaustive list of vernacular instruments is also provided (p. 460) with a level of detail which often exceeds that given for some contemporary instruments of Western art music. Indeed, in some cases, greater detail on European performance traditions and instruments would have been welcome. Any English-language publication will automatically favour Anglophone traditions; however, it is worthy of note that there are, for example, extensive entries on Africa (Ignace de Keyser, p. 12), South America (Suzel Reily, p. 387), Russia (Edward Tarr and John Wallace, p. 344), and Japan (David G. Herbert, p. 226), but not on France, Germany, Italy, or Spain, each also with their own unique brass instrumental practices.
The common specialism of Herbert, Myers, and Wallace is historical organology and performance practice research, and so, unsurprisingly, entries covering the history of brass instruments and performance styles are impeccably researched and highly detailed. Mainstream brass instrumental practice across orchestras, bands, and soloists today tends to be somewhat conservative, focusing largely on monostylistic repertory with performance traditions inherited from the late Romantics of the early to mid-twentieth century. Detailed analysis of the historical contexts of, for example, the brass ensemble (Herbert and Wallace, p. 76), articulation (Herbert, p. 38), or bore shape and size (Myers, p. 72) are therefore an important...