How I Got the Bug to build Serpents

~ 7/26/2008 ~

I was late taking up the Euphonium.  All through middle school, high school and college I played piano and saxophone.  When I took up the saxophone in middle school I wanted to play the baritone or trombone but my father was really taken with the saxophone and he won out.  Most of the records we had at home were jazz albums from the likes of John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderley, and Dave Brubeck.  After living and working in the Winston-Salem, NC area, with its tremendous Moravian band heritage, I decided to buy an old baritone and try to join in on the fun.  Playing a low brass instrument was a bug I had never gotten out of my system and I was finally going to do something about it.  I have been playing euphonium for about 6 years now and I am a member of the Twin City Tuba Band.

I work as a control system engineer for a consulting firm.  It was at a client's operation that I met Paul Horner and caught the Serpent Bug.  I have actually known Paul since 1993, the first year I moved to Winston-Salem, and we have become great friends.  Paul is an avid tubist and whenever we see each other we end up talking about tubas, euphoniums, or junk we have seen recently for sale on eBay.   I think it was late in 2003 that Paul declared he was going to make a serpent.  I didn't know what he was talking about.  He showed me a few pictures and I was intrigued, but not hooked. 

Shortly thereafter, Paul ordered a serpent bocal, receiver and mouthpiece from Keith Rogers who has continued to make the Christopher Monk Serpents since Monk's death in 1991.  Christopher Monk owned a Church Serpent made by Baudouin of Paris (c. 1820) that played quite well.  It was used for all the London Serpent Trio recordings and it was on this instrument that Monk based his design.  It is currently on loan to the Edinburg University Collection of Historical Musical Instruments.  For other interested builders, the university web page devoted to Monk's serpent has a very complete list of specifications.

In looking over all the information that Paul was accumulating for his project I was getting more interested.  Then one day, Paul brought in a copy of Douglas Yeo's 'Le Monde du Serpent'.  It was at that moment that I knew I wanted to make a serpent as well.  Of course, it would be a long time before I got my serpent started let alone completed.  Paul on the other hand worked tirelessly and completed his serpent in the summer of 2004.  It is made in one of the more traditional manners.  Paul's serpent is made in two halves with each half made from several smaller pieces of walnut. The pieces lay against each other with straddled seams like two courses of brick. It is covered in black cowhide. It is a work of playable art and is very impressive to see and hear. 

In august of that year, Paul and I drove to Charlotte to meet Paul Schmidt of the Serpent Website who was conveniently in town on business.  Paul Schmidt is pictured below playing Paul Horner's serpent which he declared was a good example of a Church Serpent.

Pictured above is Paul Horner, serpent builder extraordinaire, with his Squarpent.  The Squarpent is a design of Paul Schmidt. It is an inexpensive and quick project for any serpent enthusiast to build a serpent-like instrument.  At the time, not too many people had completed a Squarepent and Paul Schmidt was interested in seeing Paul Horner's version.  Great fun was had by all.