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ARTICLES

 

Rehearsals

Harold HindIn 1934, Dr. Harold Hind wrote his book entitled "The Brass Band", which set out to inform the public about a musical activity that he felt had received little attention until then. We have already printed his thoughts on attending contests, so this time we print his thoughts on rehersals.

Just like the previous article, some 70 years after it was written, some things certainly have not changed!


REHEARSALS

Full Rehearsals Essential.

The progress of a band can to a great extent be measured by the nature of its rehearsals. A rehearsal must be of such a nature as to promote enthusiasm on the part of the bands, and this can only be accomplished by practices full of interest to every player. Many bands are able to secure only one rehearsal each week; others, more fortunate, are able to obtain two or more, but it is far better to manage one at which all can be present, than two or three attended by only a portion of the band. The rehearsal night (or nights) should be fixed so that players can look on these times as “booked” dates which must be kept free from other engagements.

It is essential to the success of a bandmaster’s work that he should, as far as possible, always have a full band present, and that the performance for which the band is specifically rehearsing should not call for a much larger or smaller number of players then that attending the practice. Otherwise the balance of parts will suffer. Of course, it is understood that most engagements call for a full band, but on those occasions when some parsimonious fete committee decides that a band (?) of twelve or fourteen players shall suffice, it is expedient that a band of the same strength should attend the final rehearsal for such an event, in order that the bandmaster and players may gauge the strength at which they are to play, and also that missing parts may be “cued” in some other player’s copy.

The time of rehearsal should not be a “flexible” one. If 7.30 is the time of starting, then all players should be in their places by 7.25 with stands erected, music distributed, and instruments in tune. It is not conducive to success if the first number is played by half the band, the remainder filing in during the next ten minutes and either hanging about until the piece is finished or pushing amongst those playing and generally disturbing them. The question of an interval is open to dispute. If it means that the ten minutes is stretched to fifteen or twenty, then it should be abolished, but if the conductor can be certain that when he is ready to restart in ten minutes’ time every player will be ready, then the break is a welcome one.

At every practice the players should sit in the corresponding places to those used at a performance. It is disconcerting for a conductor to look over to where his third cornet players usually sit only to find that they are sitting somewhere else, the chairs they are occupying perhaps being more suitably situated for conversation with a friend.

The Rehearsal Itself.

The copies should be distributed before the rehearsal by the librarian who should have been told by the bandmaster at the previous rehearsal what he wishes to practise. Too frequently the music to be given out is selected on the night itself and the librarian has hurriedly to search for the copies, or, what is often the case, to look whether they are in the cupboard, borrowed by another band, or left at his home after a previous engagement.

Each practice should, as far as possible, include some new work or one not rehearsed for some time previously. Nothing is more monotonous than to attend a rehearsal where the same music, or the same type of music, reappears week after week. When concentrating upon some special work, whether it be a test-piece or some specially difficult number, it may be necessary to spend the major portion of the time upon it, but even then a short time should be found to run through something fresh as a contrast.

Many bands begin with a march, usually the result of the bandmaster’s remark: “Give out some march to begin with.” In his mind it serves the twofold purpose of employing the time until the late-comers arrive, and of enabling the band to “settle down” before more serious work. Yet in most cases it is a waste of time, the five or ten minutes devoted to it being far more usefully employed if spent in rehearsing some short movement of a delicate nature. It requires a great exercise of skill on the part of the players to start straight off on such a piece as the Largo from the “New World” Symphony, in which the band has to open pianissimo, whereas any collection of “blowers” can pump out a march. Starting a rehearsal with such a piece forms very valuable training indeed. The whole aim is to employ the time most profitably, and without waste, and the playing of marches, except, of course, new ones, should be avoided.


The Conductor’s Work.


The bandmaster’s aim to utilise the available time to full advantage can best be ensured by self-preparation. He should have all tempi firmly fixed in his mind, and he should have studied each work in detail so that he can anticipate possible difficulties. He can interest the band in any new work to be performed, by giving them a few biographical details of the composer, or some information of the circumstances under which the composition was written. If it is a descriptive work, the various “illustrations” should be instanced. (Other details concerning these matters will be considered later.)

A new work is always a source of interest to a band, and in order to sustain that interest, a conductor should endeavour to minimise the number of stoppages in the course of a work. For the first encounter he should run straight through a piece in order that the members should thus become acquainted with its general structure. During this preliminary canter he should make mental notes of passages which seem to give the band trouble, difficulties of execution, unbalanced parts, and so on, but he should not stop the band. Let the fist time through be a continuous performance with out a single stoppage, unless, of course, something radically wrong-missed repeat, unobserved change of key-takes place.

At the end of this first acquaintance the conductor will find that the men, if “real musicians,” will be turning back to certain passages giving them individual difficulty and just running them over. He should encourage them to do this. Nothing is of greater use to the succeeding rehearsals of that work and nothing more gladdening to the heart of the keen bandmaster.

Before taking the work through a second time the conductor should rehearse difficult sections, e.g. “Let us try from letter G to letter H,” or “I should like to hear the horns playing the passage from E to F,” etc. Having done this he can proceed with the second rehearsal, and it will be found that difficulties gradually disappear. He should stop the band for general errors, if necessary, but where a glance, an enquiring eye, a shake of the head or even a spoken word can call attention to an individual blunder, it is a waste of time to stop the band for the sake of one player. If at the third time the same mistake occurs, then the bandmaster should see if there is a misprint in the part. By this time the piece should be “shaping” well, and it will be of advantage to leave it until the next meeting to enable players to practise florid passages which they have not hitherto been able to accomplish.

This work should be immediately followed by a partly known composition of entirely different character, preferably one which requires less concentration, for nothing is more fatiguing than to spend the whole time laboriously studying a new work.


Detailed Preparation.

Usually in the repertoire of a band is a number of compositions which need detailed preparation. They consist of difficult works, not hitherto attempted by the band, and of test-pieces for contest work. The procedure is similar in each case and special attention is given to contest preparation.

It is of fundamental importance that every note of the test-piece should be accurate. It may be thought that this statement is unnecessary and that no band would ever enter a contest with such a requirement neglected, but the writer has often come across such instances. The only way to obviate this is for the bandmaster to go through every part with the players concerned, particularly watching the players on the “inside” parts. Sectional rehearsals are very useful at this stage, the various families of instruments being taken together. This will enable the conductor to discover any inaccuracies of rendering and any misprints in the parts.

If the full complement of players is not available it may be necessary to have certain parts cued in, but this must be done with care and with proper attention to balance.

At a recent contest the test-piece was a brass band selection with a section written for horns, baritones, euphonium, and basses, all the cornets resting. The solo-cornet-conductor copy had the harmony printed on a stave above the cornet part proper, but, as is usual in such copies, the harmony was written without regard to the proper octave. An over zealous cornet rendered the top line of the harmony with ludicrous effect, for the part was isolated an octave above the solo horn.


Full Score Essential.

No conductor should ever undertake to prepare a band for a contest without a full score. In cases where no score is published the conductor should write one from the parts, thereby learning much more about them than would be obtained by a dozen times “reading through” the score. The solo-cornet-conductor part will not give sufficient detail, especially with regard to harmonic structure.


Atmosphere.

If the work is a tone poem, overture, or of similar type, the “atmosphere” must be ensured. It is of little use giving the same interpretation to work entitled “Off the Coast of Norway” as would be given to one entitled “Italian Rhapsody.” If the work takes the form of a suite, the proper character of each movement should be sought. If the test-piece is an operative selection, each section must receive proper treatment. Usually slow movements of solo type alternate with brisk tutti movements. The vocal score should be consulted and the words written in on the band score and also (this is most important) in the parts of all soloists. This will prevent incorrect phrasing, for the soloists will naturally take breath at appropriate places as indicated by the sense of the words. Where possible the original orchestral score should be studied.

As much of this information should be communicated to the bands as will assist in their intelligent interpretation of the parts. In the case of a tone poem it is essential that they should know what particular episode or characteristic they are depicting. Nevertheless, it is quite unnecessary to overdo this.


Contest Rehearsals.

Every rehearsal, except sectional ones, should be attended by every member of the band, for practices with several absentees are not only of very little use, but are disheartening alike to conductor and band. The balance must be satisfactory, and this cannot be obtained with absentees, however few. It is a good plan to devote the first practices each to one particular section of the test-piece after a few preliminary “runs through” of the whole. The writer has found that the majority of contesting bands begin well, but many fall away later on. Allowing for fatigue, etc., this fault may be due to the fact that the beginning of the test-piece has been well rehearsed but that time has not permitted so much attention to be devoted to the later sections. Why not begin half-way through the piece at several of the rehearsals?

There must be no experimenting with the tempi during rehearsals. To say “ I think that ought to go a little quicker” is a confession of weakness on the part of the conductor, who, before the first rehearsal, should definitely have made up his mind about this important feature. Of course it is permissible to play technically difficult movements more slowly during the initial stages, gradually speeding up as the contest approaches, but the exact tempo should all the time have been in the conductor’s mind.

Solos should have their proper treatment, any counter-melodies or special harmonic figures in the accompaniment being played with care. All such figures should be “elastic,” i.e., they should coincide with any slight rallentando or accelerando on the part of the soloist. It is here that balance plays such an important part, especially if the solo is given to some instrument other than the solo cornet. The writer has frequently to deduct marks for bad balance in such instances, the solo euphonium or horn being overwhelmed by a heavy accompaniment, or a counter melody being played more loudly than the occasion demands.

All marks of expression must be observed to a nicety, the difference between “f” and “ff” being shown. All crescendi and diminuendi must be well graduated. Every movement has a point of climax, usually towards the end. This must be discovered by the conductor and well brought out by the band.

As the time of contest draws near, the time devoted to the test-piece should be increased. It is surprising how small points, previously overlooked, become apparent as time goes on. If it is gramophone, by wireless, or, best of all, at an actual contest, many things will be noticed, several ideas will be picked up, and such as commend themselves to the conductor may be adopted. Special attention should be directed towards and joining up of the various sections, particularly where modulation takes place, in order to ensure that no break of continuity occurs, unless, of course, one is intended by the composer or arranger.

A monotonous rendering must be avoided. If any section seems to drag it must be speeded up, unless the fault lies with the accompaniment which can often impart a laboured effect to a movement. This can be obviated by practising without the melody instruments, when any slackness in the inner parts can be remedied. Sometimes the fault is due to the basses, who often retard the time by sluggish playing.

Finally, test-pieces should be so well rehearsed that slips are highly improbable, and bands must expect to be penalised when slips occur in contest performances.


Harold HindDr. Harold Hind F.T.C.L., F.G.S.M., L.R.A.M., A.R.C.M.

Harold Hind was the first Principal of the City of Cardiff College of Music and Drama, which he helped create in 1949. Today, it is known as the Welsh College of Music and Drama. He retired as it's Principal in 1959.

He was a well known adjudicating figure in the brass band world before and after the Second World War, having been a judge at the British Open Championships on 16 occassions from 1938 to 1959 and at the National Championships of Great Britain in 1933 as well as the Spring Belle Vue Contests.

He was the author of several books, including "The Brass Band", "The School Brass Band Book" as well as writing articles on both brass and military bands for the then Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians.


The book "The Brass Band" was first published by Boosey and Hawkes in 1934 with a second edition printed in 1952. It was dedicated to his friend Walter Reynolds and the foreword was by Frank Wright.

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