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2004 Midlands Regional Championships - Retrospective

Third Section
Sunday 7th March

Test Piece: Vizcaya – Gilbert Vinter
Adjudicator: Malcolm Brownbill


Nationally the music for this section always seemed to pose the stern challenge to bands and conductors. It contained not only some of the most tuneful and listenable opening themes but also problematic cross rhythms, demanding solo work and upper register technique to challenge throughout the piece. Malcolm Brownbill was an ideal choice to judge this section having taken contest winning bands in performances of this work. This made him more than familiar with the musical arguments the MD’s and players had to bridge to pull off a winning performance.

Number one draw proved a good omen on this weekend. Stamford Brass under Gary Wyatt were awarded one of the three places in Harrogate, taking runners-up slot in the Third Section. A safe opening characterised the playing as they progressed steadily up to a nice cadenza. At [Q] the safe lid was lifted and the musical interpretation went up a notch.

Avonbank Evesham under Alan McCrae finished 11th. The opening section of linked melodies went quite well and a brisk ‘Fete’ was defined but the later sections were certainly not as clean and must have lost a few points.

Third up and 3rd place. Another prize wining performance coming from very early in the draw. West Mercia Constabulary, with Howard Gibbs in charge, took the opening melodies at a very steady tempo however the tricky quaver patterns at [P] not really together. Otherwise this was a simply stated account and it courted favour with the adjudicator.

Bakewell Silver (Mark Wilcockson) were awarded 14th place. A good opening simply exploded into the ‘Fete Basque’ and this resulted with some jagged sounds. The baritone player played very well in a performance that rounded out well following that troubled playing.

Daventry Brass suffered with early nerves but settled to produce some good rhythmic playing. Paul Northey gave clear direction but the piece lost cohesion [W] before it finished well overall. Despite our confidence in their ability, in our predictions, 10th place on the day was probably a fair return.

Fairfield (Buxton) gave the piece a good opening and delivered very full chords. The piece continued well until [F] which was unfortunately quite edgy. The ‘fete’ was good but by [W] there was quite a loss in balance before a very marked presto. The band would be disappointed with 13th but in fairness they didn’t quite match the higher placed performances.

Drawn number seven Whitwell Brass conducted by Ken Vernon finished in 16th place. The solid opening sections to [H] were undone when some not too strong music followed from the ‘fete’. The percussion was bold for mf but the overall moments of good playing couldn’t compensate.

The 7th place taken by Malvern Hills & District (Mike Wells) from half way in the draw was full value. The opening was well described but the percussion were a little troubled by the demanding writing. [H] was given a lot of rubato and they had good close out to the piece. We fancied the band to take a place in the top six and they weren’t very far off and fulfilling our pre match expectations.

Shirland Welfare Training were quite simply excellent and it would be superfluous to add much further. They responded wonderfully to Marie Smith’s lead and were very clean overall from start to finish. A fully deserved win – there can be no quibbles with the result here. A quick look at their record at the Regionals and they may well be contesting in Section Two in March 2005. They will travel to the Finals looking for another National victory, and they will be one of the favourites if they play like this.

Graham Jacklin guided Leics. Coop Snibston, Charnwood to 6th place as the bottom half of the draw unfolded. Bold at the start, [B] was smooth with much of the music taken at bright tempo. In soloist terms the euphonium had a really good day and the overall ensemble sound captured the spirit of the music very nicely.

One of the most noticeable factors in this section was the choice of tempi. The opening (circa 88) & [F] ‘not slower than 96’ were rarely adopted and many were much under these tempo markings. Malcolm Brownbill, from the stage, told bands that he wasn’t a slave to the metronome and did give latitude if the music was well described and flowing but even he had checked the speed on a number of occasions just to satisfy himself that he wasn’t criticising unfairly.

Phoenix West Midlands under David Bishop-Rowe were one of the very few bands that actually followed the composer’s tempo instructions at [F]. 5th was a deserved result but we thought that they might have been given one of the places in the National Finals. A good opening and very bright playing was perhaps offset by a bit of hard paying at [Q] and this might have been the costly moment.

One of our predictions for a place Long Eaton Silver steered by Sharon Stansfield returned our faith in them and took the 4th place. Solid at [B] and neatly smooth through [E] they let a little untidy phrasing in at [P] but pushed on thereafter with lots of commitment. It was a good show indeed.

Into the last third of the draw and 13th on stage were Shipston Town (Dennis Grant). This was not the band at their best unfortunately. Their reward was 17th overall and their tentative opening masked a good sound and they remained unsettled well into the piece. From [M] they certainly improved quite significantly but the adjudicator by this time had probably written quite a few comments and scratched off a few points.

In 9th place the City of Birmingham Band with James Cunningham were quite settled but the snare [E] was very strong for pp, whilst [H] brought some nice playing. From [N] onwards they went from strength to strength and a mid table place was about right.

Ratby Coop ‘Mid’ Band conducted by Geoff Newman are a solid and purposeful unit but they did not have a good day at this Regional Contest. They came 18th with a quite unsettled performance. Opening nerves got a hold and it wasn’t until [H-K] that the safest playing came through. [Q] was good but again the nerves took over and it all felt a little rushed from [U] to end.

A safe rather than spectacular performance then followed from City of Stoke (Michael Caveney). Letter [G] onward saw their strongest playing and the bass player did admirably well to cover the alternative second tenor drum part. They drew all to a fair conclusion but a 15th place was perhaps due in part to that unsettled beginning.

It was beginning to look like ‘nerves’ were going to be endemic with the latter performances and Syston (Graham Sutton) were no exception. 12th overall, they had a good opening before the nervy [G-K]. The music was well covered at [M] and the cornet lead went very well, but the edgy playing did affect the overall shape to the music.

WEM Jubilee (Roger Thorne) (it’s a place name rather than an acronym) were not very far off the actual prize-winners in our opinion and 8th could have been a touch higher for us. Slow but confident at the opening, [D] had good balance and was quite clean. Some nice percussion featured in the ‘fete basque’ but [P] was not quite as good in the difficult upper register musical interlude before they rounded out the music in style.

Nerves and tempo selection were the most influencing factors in this contest we felt. Daventry and WEM Jubilee our two top-tips finished in the mid-table but Long Eaton and particularly Shirland Miners Welfare, who comfortably won, saved our pundit from the sack. Ratby Coperative and Malvern Hills made up our top six but we didn’t get any return whilst our dark horse was very nearly the Phoenix from the flames.

It was a good old contest for us – Malcolm Brownbill knew exactly what he was looking for and as a result the performances that did well all had the same basic ingredients. Some may have quibbled, but that is what exactly what you want from a judge at this level (or any level for that matter) – consistency. Well done to the qualifiers for Harrogate and to Mr Brownbill – it would be nice to see him at the Finals as well.

© 4BarsRest

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