In 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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Dr. 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
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