Copper in the Arts

December 2018

Trumpets, Weird and Wonderful Showcases the Art of Brass Instruments

By Robyn Jasko

The Morris Museum, in partnership with the National Music Museum of Vermillion, SD, recently debuted the exhibit Trumpets, Weird and Wonderful: Treasures from the National Music Museum, featuring 44 fascinating instruments from five continents, on view through March 17.

The exhibit marks a first for these rare instruments on loan from the National Music Museum’s Joe R. and Joella F. Utley Collection of Brass Instruments; most of them have never been on public exhibit.

trumpet.jpgAndy Taylor, Uncle Sam, B-flat Trumpet, 1996.

Photograph courtesy of the National Music Museum.

With works spanning from the late 17th to the late 20th centuries, the instruments give viewers a comprehensive glimpse into the rich audible and visual variety of musical instruments in which sound is generated by buzzing the lips, sometimes called brasswinds. Broadly defined, trumpets come in many different forms and sizes and can be made of many different materials: animal horn, bone, conch, wood, and metal, mainly brass.

“The wonderful exhibition was curated by Sabine Klaus, curator of the Utley Collection. It showcases some of the most wonderful and, yes, weird, trumpets from the Joe and Joella Utley Collection. The exhibition displays a wide range of trumpets ranging from shofar, conch-shell trumpets and many other non-Western instruments through to unusual jazzophones and other more contemporary trumpets,” Remarked Jeffrey Nussbaum, the president and founder of the Historic Brass Society, after a recent visit. “On display were a natural trumpet by Haas and another by Kodisch and they certainly represent masterpieces of the trumpet maker’s art. Unusual and transitional instruments with mixed valve systems were on display along with a number of keyed bugles and beautiful cornets.”

Horns and trumpets have been in use as signaling instruments since prehistoric times. They play a role in ceremony and religion in many cultures. For centuries they have had a leading function in the military and the hunt. They are not only musical instruments but also objects of artistic expression, often with hidden meaning.

“This is an exhibit for us all,” says Cleveland Johnson, Executive Director of the Morris Museum. “If a bugle playing ‘taps’ has you tearing up at a veteran’s funeral, you’ll discover amazing new dimensions to that simple, dignified instrument. If the call of the shofar holds religious meaning for you, you’ll discover how brasswind instruments contribute to ritual ceremonies around the world. If you’ve ever marched in a band or heard a great jazz trumpeter, you’ll discover the engineering history that led to our modern trumpet. Maybe you just love Ricola cough drops and have never seen an ‘alphorn’ close up.”

Museum visitors can access video stations throughout the galleries to virtually experience the signs and sounds of these rare brass instruments, many in their original context and country of use. A special kid’s station traces the history of trumpet playing back to early human civilization. Many of the instruments are beautifully ornate. The exhibit allows the visitor to discover almost-hidden symbols, ranging from expressions of power to religious belief.

Guest curator Dr. Sabine Klaus, Curator of Brass at the National Music Museum states, "The question that guided me in preparing this exhibition was how do form and decoration inform us about an instrument's function and use, and ultimately its sound?"

A highlight of the show are five highly decorative brass trumpets by Andy Taylor in Norwich, England, which were commissioned by the collector Joe R. Utley and especially created for the Utley Collection, celebrate the trumpet as art.


Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Rd., Morristown, NJ, (973) 971-3700

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