Top Ten: Soprano Players
The Top 10 Soprano Players of All Time
Weve cast our eye over the best cornet players, the best
euphonium players, the best trombone and even the best Bb bass players
of all time, so it had to be about time that we had a look at those
who make a pact with the Devil himself and play the soprano cornet.
No one in their right mind would choose at the outset of their career
to play the soprano cornet it is the one instrument that
doesnt lend itself to be mastered easily, and the thought
of young children turning purple, suffering migraines and having
to wear a surgical truss before puberty in the cause of helping
their band is possibly too much to bear. It is said that the soprano
is an instrument that should only be given to those with lips like
car bumpers, brains the size of a dinosaur and balls the size of
a Grand National winner true or not, there is little doubt
that those who have truly mastered the black arts of the soprano
are touched either by madness or genius and there is a very
fine line between the two.
Weve gone back in history then to check out the greats
and have come up with a top 10 who we think would grace any band
in the world. See if you agree or disagree with us and let 4BR know
The undisputed holder of the title. Peter Roberts is a phenomenon
a player who is the master of his craft and a man who has
pushed the boundaries of soprano playing to new heights. Even today,
aged just past 50 he remains head and shoulders above his rivals
an unparalleled soloist and breathtaking band player - the
true superstar of the instrument.
From Grimethorpe Juniors in the early 1960s, through to the
senior outfit, with spells at Dodworth and Sellers and finally to
his current amazing Indian Summer at Yorkshire Building Society
he remains the sop player everyone else must measured against. A
truly unique talent and the greatest soprano player to put
instrument to lip on Planet Banding.
The man who was the titleholder before the advent of Peter Roberts.
Charlie Cook was the star soprano cornet player with the brilliant
Fodens Band from 1933 onwards, and like Roberts was head and shoulders
above his contempories.
Very much his own man Cook had a cast iron technique
and beautiful sweet tone that set him apart from his rivals. His
range was superb and his playing relationship with Harry Mortimer
became a thing of legend. Bram Gay called him an incredible
..an octave stop for the cornet section.
Cook defined soprano playing pre war and post war and even after
his death aged 86 in 1997, his reputation, as one of the true greats
If ever there was a man born to be a soprano player, then Brian
Evans was it. Stories, myths and legends about the man abound, yet
one fact is undisputed Brian Evans was a truly great soprano
Picked out at short notice from the 2nd cornet bench to play sop
for Alex Mortimer and CWS Manchester in 1961 he established himself
as the best player of his generation on pieces such as Variations
on a Ninth, Benvenuto Cellini and Diadem
of Gold. In addition he established the soprano as a true
solo instrument with his technique, nerve and sound and his talents
saw him headhunted by all the best bands in the land.
Brighouse, CWS, Fairey, Dyke he did it all and has the tee
shirt to prove it. A worthy podium place.
If you thought Brian Evans was born to be a soprano player, then
the Welshman Emlyn Bryant was born, bred and raised from the cradle
to become the romantics choice of how a sop player should
be. A man who very nearly sold his musical soul to the Devil himself
in return to be able to play like an angel.
Bryant took over the sop chair at Faireys from the fine Ernie
Wedgewood in the early 1950s and established himself as virtuoso
player of extravagant gifts. His playing mirrored his personality
and at times his brilliance outshone the great players that were
in the bands of Faireys and Munn and Feltons at the
time. Harry Mortimer even wondered about his sanity.
A man who brought great pleasure to everyone who ever met him and
heard him play. He died tragically back home in the Rhondda Valleys
some years ago.
The romantics choice as the inheritor of the classic attributes
of the soprano players craft a perfect tone, breathtaking
technique, range and musicianship that demands to be appreciated
A boy prodigy, his performances on both concert and contest stage
over the past 25 years have been simply outstanding. For Faireys,
Desford, Leyland and now Fodens he remains a quite superbly gifted
He somehow belongs to a bygone age of finesse, touch and style
a John McEnroe against the power and bludgeon of todays Greg
A bit of a surprise choice you may think especially as Martin
Winter is first and foremost a trumpet player of real stature and
cornet player of world class abilities, but those of us who have
had the pleasure of hearing him play the soprano would have little
doubt in placing him high on our all time list.
A superb faultless technique, pure tone and innate musicality, he
has performed on soprano on both the concert and contest stage to
amazing effect. Some years ago he played the immensely difficult
solo Syrinx by Debussy arranged by Howard Snell, that
was simply awe inspiring, whilst he has also performed on the contest
stage with Brighouse and Fodens to scintillating effect.
Check out some of the earlier Fodens CD releases to see what we
mean. One heck of a player.
7. Tommy Waterman
Perhaps the most fondly remembered soprano player of all time. Waterman
was at Black Dyke for the period 1951 to 1968 a period in
which the band from Queensbury won two Opens and four National Championships.
A superb player who was dogged throughout his life by ill health,
Waterman only had one lung yet made his mark as both a band player
and soloist an amazing achievement given that he had to play
behind the likes of Willie Lang, Maurice Murphy and James Shepherd.
He died aged just 39 from emphysema a tall, thin, lovely
man who could in the words of Geoffrey Whitham, play as strong
or as sweet as you like.
The most decorated soprano player in the history of the brass band
movement? Crockford has been a truly top class soprano player ever
since he first made his mark with Black Dyke near on twenty years
A product of the 1980s school of power players his immense
abilities have sometimes been much maligned by critics. A cast iron
technique, solid sound and a nerve that reminded you of the attributes
of a pawnbrokers sign, he has always given true value for money
for whomever he has played for.
Now with Williams Fairey he has revealed further facets to his playing
that will show his class for many more years to come. You dont
get to win all those baubles without being very, very good indeed.
9. Bernard Buddy Burns
A contemporary of the great Charlie Cook, Burns was the soprano
cornet player at Black Dyke from 1934 to 1951, in an era that saw
Dyke move from being a hard sounding band under the likes of William
Halliwell to a softer sounding outfit under Harry Mortimer.
During his tenure in the sop chair, Burns made a name for himself
as being perhaps the very opposite to Cook bold with a huge
sound, not a soloist or virtuoso but as Geoffrey Whitham recalls,
one hell of a player in his own right and as safe as houses.
It says a lot of the man that during his period, Dyke won the Open
in 1935 and the hat trick at the Nationals from 1947 1949
on "Freedom", "On the Cornish Coast" and "Comedy"
all with big and important sop parts.
A name that nearly everyone out there wont possibly know of,
but you would have to be older than the Queen Mother to possibly
have heard him play.
Brooks was the soprano cornet player of the Fodens Motor Works Band
in the days of William Rimmer and played with the band that won
the British Open in 1909 and 1915 and then the Double
of Open and Nationals in 1910, when the test pieces were Acis
and Galatea and Gems of Schubert.
Brooks came to Fodens from the excellent Lindley band of the day,
and had a reputation as one of the finest slow melody players on
the huge solo circuit in the North of England at the time. He was
so good a player that when the great soprano player Arthur Webb
of the Houghton Main Band wanted to join Fodens, he was forced to
accept the position of solo horn in stead of the sop seat he wanted.
He played with the band until the Great War and possibly just beyond.
Perhaps the first True Great.
Thats out top 10 then. Peter Roberts is without doubt in
our mind, the finest soprano player of all time, whilst the likes
of Charlie Cook, Emlyn Bryant and Brian Evans were the greatest
players of their generations. Alan Wycherley and Kevin Crockford
are the modern contemporaries who push Peter Roberts the closest,
whilst Tommy Waterman and Buddy Burns pushed Cook and Evans equally
as hard in their time. Joseph Brooks is perhaps the player who started
things all off and Martin Winter is the player who could be the
greatest ever if only he wasnt even better on the cornet
Who are your choices though? Let us know and tell us why by dropping
us a line