Rainford Bandroom and Village Hall
1st September 2002
The Conductors Day offered something for everyone - from topical
debate and the opportunity to meet with colleagues from over the
UK, to a quite thought-provoking afternoon in the company of Dr.
Held on Sunday 1st September the Conductors Day was the brainchild
of National Association of Brass Band Conductors P.R.O. Mal Brownbill
and in organising the event he hoped that the movement would be
the richer for providing an informal session with free and open
The attendees came, and it was really nice to see, from all sides
of the band movement:
Conductors and Officials of the N.A.B.B.C. including Chairman
Sydney Swancott, President Dr. Roy Newsome and editor of “The
Conductor” Jeffrey Turner; Organisers and officials including
Frank Hodges and Derek Atkinson; Conductors and Representatives
from bands across the movement including Kibworth, Yeovil, Burneside,
Haydock Tyldesley, Old Hall, Rainford, Southport S.A., Timperley,
Tyldesley, Pilling, Middleton, Trinity Girls, Poynton, Rivington
and Adlington, Sale and Chorley Youth (apologies for any omitted)
together with a number of players and enthusiasts.
The day started at 11am in the Rainford Bandroom and the matters
for discussion in this 2 hour session came directly from those in
attendance. They were varied and broadly covered a range of issues
• Planning and taking a successful rehearsal
• Stimulating home practice
• Band personnel and re-aligning players
• Socialisation and motivation
• Baton technique or not?
• Contest remarks - yes or no?
• Warm up at contests
Perhaps the most extended discussions were reserved for the final
Quite overwhelmingly the consensus was that written remarks were
expected and welcomed but as a constructive review rather than a
bland “well played” especially when a band comes a disappointing
14th out of 15. What seemed to be accepted and understood was that
points were an integral part of the judging process and came in
for little to no question, yet we see many contests moving away
from the notion of awarding points rather just giving the placings.
There was an interesting and full discussion relating to time being
allotted for tuning on stage (as in orchestras) immediately before
a contest performance. This subject absolutely divided the room
and if a vote had been taken I feel sure that it would have needed
a recount to verify the result.
Those in favour felt that it should be the subject of an experiment
and proper evaluation especially were there was lack of warm up
facilities or at venues were instruments were in the cold for a
period of time prior to playing. As those in favour argued “you
wouldn’t expect an orchestra to go on stage and play cold
– why expect it of a brass band before an important contest
In countering this three main points came through although not
surprisingly many points covered similar ground as discussions about
open /closed adjudication (with the exception of the time element
The question of abuse of the tuning period - one conductors requirement
of perhaps a minute would be another conductors need for two verses
of ‘Lloyd’ and an electronic tuner.
The subject of appeals and complaints from ‘conspiracy’
theorists “such and such a body played top Z flat so the adjudicator
knew which band they were”.
The time for the contest to reach its conclusion, especially if
further time was allowed for tuning after the setting up process.
One adjudicator felt that the tuning ‘noise’ would
prove too much of a distraction especially when trying to concentrate
on writing remarks etc.
No conclusion was drawn from this discussion, however Frank Hodges
offered to give the championship/1st section at the forthcoming
NWCABBA Fleetwood contest the option of tuning up to evaluate its
effectiveness. This would of course be subject to confirmation from
the organising body.
On the downside Jeffrey Turner editor of “The Conductor”
lacked the insight to see what the day was about as he laboured
the point to excess that the topics raised had been discussed in
back issues of the magazine and at various other seminars.
This was not the point of the day as many of the attendees were
prospective conductors or other interested parties (e.g. 4Barsrest)
not the just members of a sole body i.e. N.A.B.B.C. There was no
point, as he did, harping on about the benefits of being a member
or the content of previous N.A.B.B.C. events when a number of attendees
were not eligible for membership.
After a short lunch break the afternoon session saw an augmented
band of players primarily from Rainford Band supplemented with players
from Haydock Ogden Travel and guests Ian Brownbill on flugel and
bass trombonist Paul Warder from Leyland Band.
The fact of the matter is that to appreciate the session you would
have to have been there.
Actual playing by the band took only a fraction of the time in
this free flowing yet improvised session with Dr. King. Taking the
baton for only the briefest time he encouraged other conductors
to take the band to allow an explanation and expansion on the many
of the unique qualities of brass bands and music making.
His word artistry and philosophy on the visualisation of music,
judging success and failure, balance, tuning and conducting technique
were all well considered. That said I was actually part of the band
and I think I speak for all the players when I say that I would
have liked a bit more playing to do.
Giving a brief pen picture of himself David King then took a seat
with the back row cornets and listened as three conductors took
the Ray Steadman-Allen arrangement of the hymn ‘Holy Holy
Holy’. He encouraged them to direct without the use of a baton,
communicating with their body and facial expression the musical
journey they wanted the band to take.
As the discussion moved on to that of judging success and failure,
Dr. King was quite open in his view that contesting was the lifeblood
of the movement and that contesting lifted a band. On the subject
of failure his answer was quite simple – “don’t
quit, do your best and try to improve”. He felt that whilst
120 Hymns (the red book) was an excellent vehicle for training it
was not suitable for the contest stage. He felt that the arrangements
lacked breadth and were therefore unsuitable in creating the lush
sounds that would come from other arrangements.
Following a fourth conductor, this time taking the hymn ‘Jesus
Loves Me’, an extended and quite wide ranging talk ensued
which covered many subjects from psychology in music to the relationship
between mathematics and music and on to the influence of the Denis
Wick mouthpiece on the sound of a brass band.
Brian Johnson conductor of the Southport Salvation Army Band was
perhaps ‘rewarded’ with the most testing few minutes
in his conducting life. He was challenged in taking a piece of music
he knew exceptionally well, the march ‘Goldcrest’, without
baton or score and in a fixed position and yet convey to the band
the interpretation he wanted (and in truth he did exceptionally
well considering the pressure on him). I had the opportunity to
speak to him, with the benefit of hindsight, at the Bridgewater
Hall a week later and he joked that he was giving up conducting.
In truth he suggested it was probably one of the most personal thought
proving and yet ‘nerve wrecking’ experiences in his
In analysis David King spoke of his approach to marches “short
is short and long is long” – simple and obvious, but
did it work – oh yes.
It was a memorable day, well facilitated by Mal Brownbill, with
active participation from the attendees and two hours spent in the
presence of a most charismatic personality Dr. David King speaking
at length, with openness and honesty, about bands and banding. To
conclude and I paraphrase when he said, “it may be as simple
as just pushing air through a pipe but this technique and the sound
it produces can actually steal your soul”. I think I have
The day may have been an experiment but it would certainly qualify
as an undoubted success.