2007 London & Southern Counties Regional Championship - Third Section retrospective

22-Mar-2007

The bands that won through in the Third Section needed three main virtues - tuning, rhythm and the conqeuring of nerves - something the qualifiers did to a tee.


In his excellent pre-results summing up to the bands and with the audience listening intently in the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage, Philip Harper eloquently explained that there were two key factors that had informed his conclusions on the final positions of the bands in the Third Section; namely tuning and rhythm.

Epsom
Salt shaker: Epsom's representataive shakes on it with Philip Harper 

In fact it is these two elements that have been critical to every Third Section band's performance throughout this year's regional contests, although there is one further factor that has played a vital part  - and that is nerves.

Any band, whether third section or higher, that is going to pull off a first rate performance of Darrol Barry's ‘Prelude and Jubilate' needs it in abundance. Much has been said about the entry of the solo baritone at the beginning of ‘Isaiah 40' and by no means all of the Championship Section bands at this year's round of contests have pulled it off. Yet the opening of Barry's piece, laced as it is with quiet, exposed muted soprano and horn octaves, subtle chords from the trombones and ensuing lonely solo work could test the contest nerve of many a band of considerably higher ability than third section level.

It has to be said that none of the bands here succeeded in emerging from those opening pages of the score completely unscathed in terms of tuning or ensemble. On a rhythmic level maintaining the momentum through the myriad of time changes that are something of a musical minefield in the Jubilate also proved tough and although several bands negotiated the second movement well, some fell victim to a lack of impetus and drive that allowed things to fall a little flat.

So did this have a detrimental effect on the contest as a whole? The answer is a very resounding no. True the bands did not find it easy but that's what a test piece is all about and it made for both interesting listening and an exceptionally open contest in which there were several bands in our opinion that could have vied for the two qualification places on offer.

In the event it was Epsom and Ewell Silver, playing off a late number fourteen draw, that took the title with a performance that got inside the atmosphere of the music and whilst not tuning issues free, demonstrated flashes of real musicality from the players. The intonation issues were mainly confined to those perilous opening bars and as the band settled so did the tuning with the basses coming off particularly well; there were few bands that were able to demonstrate a bass section as tuneful as Epsom's on the day.

A well chosen tempo in the Jubilate ensured that the semi quavers in the cornets could be heard with clarity and the playing had good verve and spirit through to the end. Philip Harper mentioned that he had no problem choosing the winners and although we felt it to be a little closer than that Epsom and Ewell deservedly capitalised on their fourth place last year.

Thundersley Brass won the Fourth section in emphatic fashion last year and despite debuting in the third section in Stevenage this year lived up to our prediction as the dark horse with an appropriately storming performance to earn them the runner up spot and a trip to Harrogate for the second consecutive year. Taking to the stage at number six, Thundersley was the first band of the day to successfully co-ordinate the opening notes on soprano and horn and whilst again not free from tuning blemishes the music flowed with real style.

This band are no wall flowers and although there were big sounds in the Jubilate the volume might just have been a little too heavy at times. There was no shortage of excitement though with good individual contributions from cornet and euphonium and plenty of the rhythmic momentum that not every band managed to capture. We had them band in second place also and this is a band on the march with no doubts.

In third place, Littleport gave something of a performance of two halves. A tentative start seemed to unsettle the band and the opening movement didn't quite create an atmosphere. By the Jubilate however the band seemed to find a new lease of life and although tuning still affected the second movement's slower interlude, the close had plenty of renewed spirit.

The opening movement could well have scuppered the band's chances although Philip Harper clearly felt that the Jubilate retrieved matters sufficiently to earn the band a very creditable result. It was that opening movement though that ultimately cost Littleport a trip to Harrogate.

BAE Systems were another band that got off to a shaky start with the first note not sounding and a few nerves around the stands. It was immediately obvious though that this band possesses a good sound and in the Jubilate the players really sounded like they were enjoying things. There were occasional inaccuracies in the cornets but the solo cornet in the Jubilate's slow interlude was supremely stylish and although it just lost a little impetus towards the close this was a performance fully deserving of its fourth place.

Playing off the number one draw, Croydon Brass did well to hang on in there to gain the fifth spot ahead of Stantonbury Brass. A slightly uncomfortable opening settled as the dynamics grew but although individual contributions were all there, issues of tuning still tended to dog the Prelude.

Again there was much to commend on an individual basis in the Jubilate including a secure and musical solo cornet, although the tempo in the quicker music had a tendency to rock as the rhythmic patterns were not always steadily maintained. Overall though Croydon's was a commendable performance that laid down an early marker for the other bands to follow.

For our money Stantonbury Brass can count itself as the unluckiest band of the day. A relatively early draw of number four saw our pre contest favourites turn in a performance of considerable style, despite being one of a number of bands that only fielded three in the bass section.

True, there was the odd tuning blemish but the music flowed with ease and with some experienced players around the band individual contributions in the Prelude, notably from soprano, came off well. Although the tempo and rhythm just wobbled slightly at the opening of the Jubilate, the band's conductor shaped the music particularly well and all things considered we would have had Stantonbury in our top three.

In seventh, eighth and ninth positions respectively, EPB Brass, Brighton and Hove City Brass and Waterbeach all gave performances that were commendable in parts whilst not quite managing to maintain the standard throughout. For EPB it was last band on and maybe the presence of a good number of people in the hall added to the nerves. As a result the Prelude didn't quite get going although the Jubilate was brighter with just the odd rhythmic insecurity.

Along with Thundersley, Brighton and Hove was one of the only bands that got the first note on soprano and horn together and the dynamics in the Prelude were both wide ranging and well observed. A good tempo for the Jubilate worked well although it was tuning and just a few too many blemishes that marred what in many ways was a good performance. It was a similar story for Waterbeach although for a band that is seeing its first year in the third section following promotion, their's was a respectable ninth place from the number nine draw.

Like Stantonbury, St Sebastian Wokingham might have been a little disappointed with their tenth place, the band giving an atmospheric account of the Prelude even if individual sections could have been a little more fluid. The Jubilate was played with real confidence though, well directed from the middle and with full but not forced sounds. In not dissimilar fashion Fulham were more than good enough for their eleventh place, the band overcoming early nerves but perhaps losing out in Philip Harper's adjudication due to that first movement.

Hangleton and Woodbridge Excelsior's early drawers resulted in twelfth and thirteenth places and of the two Hangleton opened the Prelude in the more convincing fashion although the Jubilate was just a little too laboured rhythmically. For Woodbridge there were some good individual efforts (all credit here to the young lad playing the second trombone part on baritone, no mean feat at the opening) but the performance, as a whole didn't quite succeed in maintaining any real consistency.

For LGB Brass and Bradwell Silver it was largely problems with tuning that made life difficult but for LBG in particular the result will be a big disappointment after achieving the runner up spot last year. Bradwell had some very young players around the stands and it is to be hoped that they will be back all the stronger next year.

A piece that the bands did not find easy to get to grips with then, but one that thanks to Darrol Barry's characteristically melodious style, must have given a good deal of pleasure in rehearsal. Epsom and Ewell and Thundersley Brass will no doubt relish the opportunity of doing it all again in Harrogate come the autumn. 


Christopher Thomas.

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