2006 North American Brass Band Championships - Championship Section retrospective

5-Apr-2006

4BR looks back at the playing at the Championship Section Contest as Columbus conquered the New World once again.


The Championship Section at the NABBA Championships took place for the first time in the Stem Concert Hall on the campus of Indiana University Southeast.  The hall was a bit small, which in some ways was nice as most of the bands had good audience to perform to.  However, the theatre was very live in acoustic and this may have been to the detriment of a few bands.

Before the contest, the Brass Band of Columbus took some inspiration from one of the adjudicators, Ray Farr, knowing that his band, Reg Vardy had recently won the Northern Areas of the Great Britain Brass Band Regional Championships off the number1 draw.  Therefore the band was determined to come out and provide a musical performance that would set the bar quite high (and that they did). 

Columbus
Head for the Mountains! - Brass Band Columbus tackle Gregson's work on their way to victory

They opened the contest making a bold statement with some fine balance and warm sounds during the introduction to Robert Redhead's Quintessence.  The cornet section showed their depth with tight playing in the front row and there was also some very fine play by their back row cornets as well.  They finished with the test piece, Of Men and Mountains (Gregson) and whilst there were perhaps a few loose moments, they really brought out the musical shape of lines in the piece with a warm sound and good dynamic flow.

The Illinois Brass Band took to the stage next and whilst the band has improved greatly from their NABBA and U.S. Open performances two years ago, they still were not quite up for the challenge.  Harrison's Dream (Graham) may have been a bit too ambitious a choice for them to take on in addition to Of Men and Mountains at this stage in their development but at least it appears new MD Ryan Nelson has them on the right track.

Coming in second place, the James Madison University Brass Band was making their debut in the Championship Section and they made quite an impression with the adjudicators and audience.  Opening with the test piece, JMUBB was very clean and showed some fine technique.  However, at times the cornet section was a bit harsh and the band as a whole could have made more of the softer dynamics.  Their own choice, Paganini Variations (Wilby), also showed some fantastic precision and clarity.  However, once again, the band played at times too loud and covered some of their fine soloists.

The Fountain City Brass Band had to once again come away wondering what they would need to do to get a result.  They began with a bit of a pacey rendition of the test piece and whilst they held things very tight for most of the piece, bits of it did get ragged towards the end.  There was also some fine flugel playing from their soloist prize winner Doug Reneau. 

Fountain City
Blitz! - Fountain City go all out on the attack

Blitz (Bourgeois) was quite stunning however, featuring fantastic soloists throughout the band. It was very clean and in-tune and the band showed much more control with their loud dynamics today than they had at the U.S. Open where they were criticized by both the adjudicators and the 4BR team who was out there covering the event last year.   The only issue to take fault with may have been some inconsistencies in tone as lines were passed back and forth between sections. Whilst their 3rd place result must have been disappointing, they can take some comfort that they were only 0.4 points behind the winners. If they can just crack the flaw of trying to blow too hard too often they will surely become the band to beat here in future years.

Keith Wilkinson led the Brass Band of the Western Reserve to the fourth spot.  Whilst the fast sections were quite tight and the band featured a nice horn section, things unraveled a bit in the middle slow section with some blips from the featured soloists.  The band then took on the British area test piece Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Graham).  The opening and its reprise did not quite attain the appropriate effect, but once the piece got moving it was very exciting.  Once again the horns featured with their rips and some very dynamic crescendos brought musicality to the performance.  Perhaps one of the highlights of the contest however was the fine play of their solo trombone and bass trombone in their respective features.  This was certainly another fine performance on the day and good own choice selection from a band making real progress.

Chicago Brass Band was the penultimate band in both the draw and placing and their Of Men and Mountains was not a strong performance.  Whilst soprano Guy Clark was on top form on the day, pitch, clarity and individual blips from others hindered the musical message MD Colin Holman was certainly trying to deliver. 

Chicago
Left and Right: Chicago make sure Masquerade reaches all parts of the hall

Masquerade (Wilby) started a bit franticly but the band recovered to have some dramatic dynamic swells and they were also spot on with the organ effect created by the muted brass.  They finished both pieces very strongly.  Overall, it was a bit disappointing given some of the fine performances they have had in the past however, and they may have a little more work to do to catch up the leading bands here in the next few years.

Coming in 5th place was Atlantic Brass Band.  The first movement of Pageantry featured a very balanced, crisp cornet sound from the front and back rows, whilst the difficult second movement started a bit shaky, but it wasn't long until they made some fantastic music from difficult writing.  By the time the third movement came around it was quite apparent this band had one of the finest ‘proper' brass band timbres of the day. 

Atlantic
Pageantry: Atlantic opt for some English history to make their mark

There was a fine cornet solo to start the movement and their horn section featured nicely and although things did get a bit ragged at the faster tempo, it settled in quite well.  At this point we had them second, but untidy and weary end to their performance marred with clips dropped them out of contention.   Even the strong finish to the Gregson could not salvage them a top spot. It seemed as if they might have left their best performance of the test piece back in the practice room.

The result for this contest seems absurdly close with four bands 0.4 points apart on a scale of 300 points (In fact, the last 3 years have been decided by less than a point).  However, it would seem this is what happens when adjudicators are separated and not allowed to interact.  They each form their own opinions and award their own scores without reaching a consensus.  The winner is found by averaging points awarded against a criteria system.  In fact, after each band the adjudicators seal up their envelope of comments and it is taken to the control room.  In this case, there were three different adjudicators and three different top bands chosen. This lack of consensus may frustrate some of the bands that did not win, but isn't it a more accurate reflection of what really happens at a brass band contest?  Isn't it typical for many of the audience members have different opinions of who should have won and many a band member spout the slogan "We wuz robbed!" 

However, unlike many of the contests in the UK that disguise the divergent thoughts by the consensus of adjudicators' opinions, this contest just averages them together.  Which is better?  Perhaps this discussion should be taken up elsewhere, as perhaps it would be a futile effort to answer an unanswerable question here.  Regardless, it made for an exciting and very competitive contest.

Pat Herak
"Pat Herak" <pherak@insight.rr.com>


"Band of the Contest" for the 2006 NABBA Championships

In the spirit of recent Skysports or BBC's Team of the Week, we offer our "Band of the Contest" from the performances of the top bands. 

Front Row – Atlantic Brass Band had a fantastic combination in the front row.  Between the beautiful cornet sound of Bryan Appelby-Wineberg and the fantastic technique of Arthur Myers (he did quite a nice job with Movement III of Pageantry) these co-principals lead the way and showed it could be done together and unselfishly.

Back Row – Columbus's back row may have been the big difference maker for them.  They really added the depth need to pull off both the test piece and Quintessence.

Horns – Once again Atlantic BB is featured.  Arthur Henry captained the horn section.  With his wonderful tone, the former Salvation Army bandsmen helped lead the section to a solid middle of the band sound.

Euphoniums – Fountain City had not only the most technically capable baritone and euphonium section on the day, but the soloist sounds of Lee Harrelson and Will Hess were smooth as silk.

Trombones – Brass Band of the Western Reserve picked a good piece (Journey to the Centre of the Earth) to feature their fine solo and bass trombone players.

Basses – Once again the technique of the Fountain City Band was impeccable as every note was clear in their two pieces.

Percussion – James Madison almost didn't even have to show up Saturday to earn the best percussion section as they had swept all the solo and ensemble prizes from Friday…but they did, and they played splendidly.

Musical Director – There were many fantastic conductors and interpretations on the day, but considering the fact that Brass Band of Columbus took home the prize and that their new MD has only been in front of the band about 6 months, the prize has to go to Tim Jameson.  He has really stretched the dynamics of the BBC and was determined to make an impression.

Pat Herak

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