2007 West of England Championship - Third Section retrospective

15-Mar-2007

The large field of 15 bands for the Third Section must have surely enjoyed getting to grips with Darrol Barry’s tricky, but very musical score.


However, with the exception of the winners and perhaps one or two others, enjoyment was one thing - playing the music in a coherent manner with an appreciation of the basics of good brass band playing, was revealed as quite another. 

There was so much to commend about the approach and execution of the winners Camborne B under the excellent direction of Alan Pope that you felt that all the other conductors should have been rounded up in the front two rows of the hall and made to watch and listen as the winning band delivered a quite excellent performance of the test piece. 

The command of the basics was exemplary and a joy to behold in a band with an average age of 12 years and 8 months. Yes – 12 years and 8 months.  Players with secure techniques, the ability to produce well rounded warm sounds, start notes without recourse to over accentuation and a neat and progressive sense of style were dotted all around the stands.   The principal players had a sense of confidence that belied their age (the principal cornet was just 15) and the sense of joy in their approach to the music was something else.

After they had played you knew you had heard the winners as it was a performance of a very high class, led by an MD who allowed the music to flow but who also kept a strict rein on the dynamics and tempi. We had them winners by 5 points or more after a excellently managed opening ‘Prelude' full of control and balance and a joyous ‘Jubilate' that did everything and more.

At the announcement of the results, adjudicator David Hirst said that it has been a privilege to listen to, and you couldn't have agreed more. This is some band in the making.

Joining them at Harrogate will be Wooton and District Silver under the direction of  Dennis Grant. They produced a very neat and tidy account that featured an excellent solo cornet and some warm and well balanced ensemble sounds right from the word go. It didn't quite have the sense of stylish control so evident in the winners, but nonetheless it was a performance of real merit and a great deal of credit must go to the MD who marshalled his resources with intelligence. It was obvious they had put the hard graft in here and it certainly paid dividends. It was a very good show. 

Just behind them in third place was Corsham who were the last band to take to the stage. Their cautious opening was well controlled but it just ended a little nervously before the ‘Jubilate'. Then they let go somewhat and it had a real sense of joyous fun about it, although there was control and balance and some neat playing from both soloists and the ensemble. 3rd place was a touch high for us, but it was nevertheless a performance of real promise for the future.

The remaining top six places were taken by Verwood Concert Brass, St Pinnock and Heyl Town all of whom may feel in some way that they possibly deserved to come higher than they eventually did.

Verwood started very well indeed and seemed to be on track to post a qualification performance. It just fell away thereafter with a few too many little blips and blobs, but overall it was a pretty good effort on a tricky test piece and well directed by David Johnson.

St Pinnock meanwhile also benefited from excellent direction from the talented Simon Dobson. This was a performance that we had in the prizes and pushing for a qualification place as it had balance and atmosphere in the ‘Prelude' allied to security, control and a real sense of fun in the ‘Jubilate'. It did get a touch scrappy towards the end but it was another performance of rich promise. 

Finally Heyl Town who we felt may just have done enough to pick up second spot after a super opening section gave way to a lovely sense of lightness and wit in the ‘Jubilate'. Derek Johnstone delivered a well constructed reading of the score whilst still maintaining a strict and tight rein on the dynamic balance and tempi whilst their principal cornet was a beacon of confidence and security under pressure too. They can count themselves a touch unlucky not to be heading to Harrogate.

After these top six the standard did drop away – at times substantially so and there were many performances that failed to meet either the technical or musical demands of a very transparent piece of writing for bands at this level. Too many MDs failed to realise that getting the basics right is 95% of the job in the Third Section and if some had spent more time concentrating on getting the tuning right them quite a few performances would have got off to such a better start in the exposed ‘Prelude'. Some intonation between the soprano and horn made you wince in pain.

Consistency once more played its part too with the likes of Denmead, AW Parker (Drybrook), Bugle and Downton unable to really keep their form right to the end of the piece. It was the opening 20 or so bars that really separated these bands from the top six, but once that was overcome they tended to get caught up in the fun and games of the ‘Jubilate' and the tempi raced away as a result. Scrappy playing and overblowing also robbed many of valuable points.

Denmead were very much the best of the pack and benefited from an excellent solo cornet player who was on top form. A good start promised much but just when it felt as if it would take off the errors crept in and the scrappy ensemble playing took the gloss off. The same applied to AW Parker (Drybrook) too, which started well and enjoyed an intelligent reading from the MD. It just lost control to end though and the final quarter of the piece was not of the same quality as the opening sections.

Bugle also started well, but soon after the intonation started to grate and it got untidy too often. A good ending benefited them though although that middle third of the piece was perhaps their undoing.  The same could also be said of Downton off the dreaded number 1 draw who produced a fair marker for the rest of the field to chase. It showed clearly that for the band to have come higher it needed to have much more consistency in balance and control of dynamics especially in the ‘Jubilate' which was a bit one paced and one level in volume.

After that the standard did fall away somewhat with each of the remaining five performances having moments of good balance, control and execution interspersed with scrappiness, poor intonation and lack of dynamic variance.

Pillowell got off to a cracking start but couldn't maintain their form thereafter. They did have a fine bass sound as a foundation but elsewhere it wasn't as good and as the stamina waned so too did their chances of coming any higher than they eventually did. So too Weston who improved as they went along, but who started from a pretty low level after an opening that didn't feel comfortable. Inconsistency was the key as when they played well they sounded balanced and in control, but when they lost concentration it all rather went out of the window.  

Bath Spa seemed nervous to start, not helped by a rather strange seating arrangement with the flugel, soprano and horn sat side by side.  It never quite settled from the word go and although they did have their moments in the ‘Jubilate' it never quite managed to bring the music to life.

Launceston also went for the sop and horn sat side by side and it seemed to work too. It just lost focus thereafter in the ‘Prelude' but a really well played ‘Jubilate' seemed to suggest that they were back on track and it came as something of a surprise that they eventually came as low as 14th. It deserved a better return.

Finally, Totnes who tried bravely to overcome a poor start but who found the piece a struggle both musically and technically. It had it moments in the ‘Jubilate' for sure, but too many errors and scrappy playing in the ensemble robbed them of the chance to make any sort of impression in the box.

Overall though even though many of the bands did struggle to met the demands of this test piece it was a contest made all the worthwhile by the playing of the winners. It will be hard to think of a performance as good as this from such a young band for many years to come.

Graham Bebb and Iwan Fox

 

4BR aplogies for not having any photos of this section on the weekend.

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