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Conductors Day:

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. David King.

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 discussion.

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 two items.
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 performance”.

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 of course).

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 conducting career.

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 to agree.

The day may have been an experiment but it would certainly qualify as an undoubted success.

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