Serpent Playing

What's a serpent?

Here's a picture of me playing one. [me playing serpent]

Here's an older picture of me playing one. Click on it to see the group I was playing with (size 35579): [me playing serpent]

There's another picture of my serpent, wearing its custom-designed scarf, on my knitting page. . Pictures of the groups I play in in action are on the Cantabile Renaissance Band page and The West Gallery Quire page.

And here's what I sound like playing the Dies Irae. (size 327680)

Only half a dozen people in the world perform on serpent as a solo instrument, and I'm not one of them. But there are singers who fight to sit next to me when I play with a chorus. Here's the last verseHarvest Home. What you hear on the bass line is a serpent, baroque bass racket, cello, and 3 or 4 singers.

The serpent is an ancestor of the tuba. You can also think of it as the 16th century equivalent of a bass guitar. (The tuba is the 19th century equivalent of the bass guitar.) It was invented at the end of the 16th century when they were writing music where the bass line is really important. However since bass singers don't always sing louder than other singers, they wanted something that would bring the line out. It has a mouthpiece like a trombone or tuba, but the length of the vibrating air column is changed by finger holes like the recorder. If it were straight, it would be 8 feet long, and nobody's fingers would be able to reach the holes; hence the shape and the name.

Here's a postcard a friend brought me from London. (size 79624): [The Sharp Family]. Clearly an important source of information about how amateurs were playing music in late eighteenth century England.

Currently Practicing

Scheduled Performances

Serpent Links

Here's the serpent picture on the web that looks the most like mine: Serpent in Edinborough Museum of Musical Instruments

This is the world wide web answer to the question, "Where did you get your serpent?"


This is the most inclusive serpent page I know about.

Paul Schmidt's serpent page

And here's one answer to the question, "Where do you learn to play the serpent?" CURSO Y FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL DE MUSICA ANTIGUA DE DAROCA

The picture above of me playing the serpent was taken at the festival in 1997. [me playing ophicleide (size 15890)]

Here's a picture of me trying out the ophicleide at the festival in 1998. [me playing tuba at the Hatch Shell]

Another answer is to learn to play the tuba. I downloaded one from the internet last spring, and played with the Harvard Summer School Band this summer.

The first place I had a chance to hear really good serpent playing was at the 1995 International Historic Brass Symposium. This is an article I wrote about it.

Another question is "Where do you play?" Here are some answers:

Last modified: 2005-06-12 08:41, 2007

Laura Conrad
Last modified: Fri Aug 28 11:53:30 EDT 2009