The Ohio Brass Arts Festival - Retrospective

9-Apr-2007

Over 250 brass and percussionist gathered to perform at the first Ohio Brass Arts Festival and God & Country weekend held in Columbus, OH, USA.


This year marked the inaugural Ohio Brass Arts Festival (OBAF)held in Columbus, Ohio, USA.  In past years, some of the area bands had performed joint concerts in which they would run through their championship program, but this would be the first year there was a formal event.

With only about 4 of the 10 bands in Columbus being competition bands, the Central Ohio Brass Band took the bull by the horns and decided to open up a new event to all groups.  One of the reasons was to create more variety for the audience.  Another was to increase interactions between bandsmen (to meet this ends, several social events were planned).  Lastly, it was thought that all of the bands, no matter what type of format of program they normally run, could learn a bit from each other, whether it be musically, or in how to entertain the audience.

God and Country

The weekend began with the annual God & Country Concert.  Each year the Columbus Division of the Salvation Army brings in a guest band or artist to share a concert with the Brass Band of Columbus.  This year it was the Pendel Brass and Singers from Pennsylvania/ Delaware that were featured

The concert began with the Brass Band of Columbus opening with the 633 Squadron March.  As is tradition, Columbus played the National Anthem for the audience to sing-a-long.

The Pendel Singers performed two numbers, Save the People and Floodgates before Columbus performed the heart of their program.  Columbus performed a fine rendition of the Curnow march Espirit.  The showed good pulse and dynamic contrast.

The first major work Columbus would perform was An American Elegy arranged by their director Tim Jameson.  The piece was originally written in the wake of the tragedy at Columbine several years ago, and the band were able to draw the very emotions of sadness and yet hope from the score. The BBC concluded their portion of the concert with a solid performance of the Salvation Army work Glorifico Aeternum.

Pendel Brass then took the stage and performed several serious Salvation Army pieces: I've decided to Follow Jesus, Faithful Forever and Give Me Jesus.  The band may not have had quite the polish of Columbus, but played very well with a good brass band sound.  The band is made up of many younger players that will surely continue to please audiences for many years to come.

Pendel then changed the pace a bit by playing Richards' arrangement of I Will Follow Him.  There was not only fine section play by the trombones, but each soloist did an admirable job as well.

The Pendel Singers Returned to the fore to perform the vocal trio Right Now.  This had all the makings of a fine trio, but sadly one of the soloist microphones was not working and balance was thrown off.  The group persevered through the difficulties and still had a fine performance.

Eric Ball's The Prayer of St. Francis led into the Scripture presentation.  Pendel Brass then performed the final piece of their set, another Eric Ball work, The Triumph of Peace.

While the bands reset the stage for several combined numbers, Richard Pfeiffer Jr. was presented the God and Country Music Award.  Judge Pfeiffer has been a long-standing board member for the Brass Band of Columbus and the God and Country Committee. He shared a quick story of how his love for music is so strong that he quit his instrument in his youth to make the musical world better.  Since then he has been a wonderful advocate to brass banding in the community.

The united bands of Columbus and Pendel then performed some repertoire with a western feel, including the march Spirit of the West (Bright) and Western Fantasy (Mills).  Vocalist, Captain Margaret Davis then concluded the concert portion of the even by singing God Bless America.  It was really a fantastic vocal performance with tasteful accompaniment by the massed bands.

The benediction was God be with You performed by both bands and the singers.  The Pendel Brass left their seats on stage and played the end of the piece in the audience from memory, quite an exciting finale.

Saturday Night Social Events

Following the concert there was a dinner event at the Winking Lizard Tavern.  Most of the guest clinicians were there to mingle with festival participants and guests.  A good number of the bands were represented, although the hosts (Central Ohio Brass Band) had the largest contingent. 

The schedule had to be rearranged a bit due to the Ohio State University men's basketball team's appearance in the National Semifinals, so the musical entertainment (provided by Twisted Steel) was moved from the Cocktail hour to halftime and post game. Twisted Steel was not only appreciated by the Festival Party, but also by the rest of the Tavern as the managers decided to open all the doors.

Following Twisted Steels performance, a brass band pub quiz followed.  There were four rounds of trivia including Ohio Brass Banding, North American Brass Banding, UK brass banding and Salvation Army Brass Banding.  The heavily favored Paul Droste took the top prize, even though he missed a question about himself (He had been the winning conductor of the championship section 10 times, but had forgotten his one victory with Ohio Collegiate Brass).  Prizes were awarded throughout the various rounds and to the top three finishers and then the bands retired early for the festival the next day.

Ohio Brass Arts Festival (sponsored by Colonial Music)

Sunday's event began with some entertainment by the trade stands provided by a COBB cornet trio, signaling the start of the festival.

The first group to perform in the auditorium was the TBDBITL Active Band.  TBDBITL Active Band is one of three groups that are a part of the TBDBITL Alumni Club (the other two being the Hyperactive band and the Reunion Band).  All of the members of TBDBITL are former members of the Ohio State University Marching Band.

TBDBITL is not a contesting band and does not conform strictly to British Brass Band instrumentation.  There are soprano cornets, trumpets and cornets, flugelhorns, tenor horns and mellophones, trombones and bass trombones, a wide array of euphoniums, British baritones and American baritones, sousaphones and tubas as well as percussion in this group that numbered about 70.  They also rehearse only once every fortnight and are more likely to do parades than concerts, but worked hard to prepare for this event.

After officially opening OBAF with the National Anthem, TBDBITL played a mixed program of Ohio State University themed songs and other concert pieces.  Two of the "non-OSU" pieces they performed were the march Bombasto and Parade of the Charioteers from "Ben Hur." Their featured soloist on the day was Diana Herak, who also shares the first baritone seat in the Brass Band of Columbus, who performed Mirror Lake. 

Mirror Lake was originally written for TBDBITL conductor Dr. Paul Droste, but was recently arranged for brass band by Benjamin Tubb.  After the festival Droste was quick to praise his daughter Diana and say she can now share "ownership" of the solo with him.

The band also performed a couple of other Ohio State themed songs including How Firm Thy Friendship (based on the Alma Mater Carmen Ohio), the Beautiful Ohio Waltz and Le Regiment de Sambre et Meuse (better known as the Script Ohio song).

Twisted Steel was one of the featured ensembles throughout the day and during this first break performed a cracking edition of Russlan and Ludmilla as well as the very sweet and lovely Benediction (Stevens).

Next up were the hosts, the Central Ohio Brass Band, which performed their program for the upcoming North American Brass Band Championships.  Rodney Newton's King of Elfland's daughter is the set piece for the Honors Section.  The band is really getting a good big sound at the moment but will have to use the next two weeks to refine many of the smaller details.

During the next break a new ensemble from the Brass Band of Columbus, called BBC2 performed a Latin Medley.  Much like Twisted Steel, BBC2 were another crowd pleaser; twice the audience erupted into applause during the pauses.  However, as with COBB, they will need to polish up their performance a good deal before the Brass Ensemble Championships at NABBA.

For their second performance in two days in Ohio, the Pendel Brass took the stage.  Pendel played a completely different program than the day before, which was surely appreciated by audience members who had been at the God & Country.  It was also great to hear the group stretch themselves by playing outside of the Salvation Army literature as they opened with the challenging arrangement of The Incredibles.

The band then returned to their element with Heartbeat (Ballantine).  The piece not only showed off the fine Salvation Army sound of the band, but also some lovely cornet playing.  Pendel's bandmaster Harold Burgmayer, penned the arrangement for their next piece entitle A Night at the Opera.  The piece included several opera classics including Marriage of Figaro, Carmen, Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral, and the Gallop from William Tell.

Before handing over the stage to the Central Ohio Youth Band (COYB) the band played Gates's arrangement of He Reigns.  It never quite got the Children of Sanchez feel going properly, but was appreciated by the audience none-the-less.

COYB got the audience tapping their foot with their opener Keep Me Praising.  There was some lovely balance and blend as the band performed William Hime's arrangement of Nicea.  This youth group will still have to work on pitch issues but is on the right path with a true brass band sound.

COYB really hit stride with, Temple Vision (Cordner), their final number before Pendel Brass rejoined them on the stage. Pendel and COYB began their combined portion with the bolero I Have Decided to Follow Jesus (Himes).  The combined band has an excellent full sound, with neither dynamics nor intonation suffering from the larger group.

The combined band then showed their lyrical strengths with My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose.  Closing out the Salvation Army portion of the festival the combined bands had a very stately rendition of Stateside (Graham)

There was a break from banding as audience members were invited to attend one of two master classes.  Dr. Dan King talked about the differences in playing cornet and trumpet, which is very important when trying to help brass bands along in a country dominated by wind bands and orchestras.  He traced the roots of the instruments back and explained how they are truly different instruments and require different mindsets.

Helen Tyler performed the other master class.  Helen focused on being a good ensemble player.  She worked with a small volunteer ensemble on breathing together, as well as dynamic contrast.  She then applied the same advice to herself as she treated the audience to a few baritone solos.  There was a brief question and answer session, which was much appreciated by the audience, as many of them had never talked to a bandsman from Britain.

After opening with the Fox Fanfare, Scioto Valley Brass and Percussion Company set off on a musical and visual journey for the "Ark of Befuddlement."  The journey required the help of movie heroes to find the mythical Ark.  First the band began with the theme from Blazing Saddles, which include quite a strong vocal solo from one of the band members.

Their journey then required the help of 007 to defeat the evil Ernst Stavro Blofeld, as the band performed the James Bond Collection.  Of course Bond had to pause to enjoy his Martini.  Whilst the band had been playing rather well, the action on stage stole the show a bit until Star Wars.  Darth Vader made an appearance, lightsaber and all, but the wide intervals in Star Wars which are often a fracfest for many bands, was handled by Scioto Valley with excellent precision.

The band then put in a solid performance of Midway March (lots of John Williams today) before a 5˝ foot Pink Panther took the stage accompanied by a trombone solo…or was it the other way around?  They closed their progamme by playing Raiders of the Lost Ark and having Indiana Jones rescue the coveted Ark.  What a disappointment it must have been for Indy when he opened the Ark raised the contents and revealed to the audience none other than a…tenor horn.

Twisted Steel returned to the stage again and performed their NABBA ensemble work Consequences, which woke up the first few rows with their loud rips played with well balanced an in-tune precision.  They then closed with their crowd-pleasing favourite, Billy Tell.

The Brass Band of Columbus opened their performance with the only repeat piece from the day before Curnow's march Espirit.  The band has had their hands full as of late preparing 3 different programme's one for God & Country, one for the Ohio Brass Arts Festival and many new works for their Baritone CD recording they had Tuesday Night, all on only one rehearsal a week.

Dan King stepped up to the challenge with the deceptively difficult new piece The Big Apple (Tubb).  He navigated almost flawlessly through all of the odd intervals to make the piece sound much easier than it is.

Columbus then performed their major work for the day, Jupiter (arr. Roberts).  It was a fine performance showing of the brilliance and yet sensitivity of the band.  The band then showed off the fine arranging skills of their Assistant MD, Bryan Stevens, with his new brass band setting of Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.

Helen Tyler took the stage and performed the treacherous First Movement of the Concerto for Baritone (Mealor) with the band.  The band were just able to keep up with Helen in spite of the fact they only shared about 10 minutes of rehearsal together earlier in the afternoon.  Perhaps the band were trying to impress Helen next as they performed the Foden's standard Hora Staccato.  Columbus's cornet section may not have reached the breakneck tempo of the Foden's band but had a very clean performance (and from memory).

Closing their portion of the afternoon, Columbus then played a new arrangement by Musical Director Tim Jameson, of Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.  The horns were featured and were up for the challenge.

For the ensemble finale of the day Twisted Steel shared the limelight with BBC2 as they performed Řysteain Baadsvik's Fnugg Blue. The crowd thoroughly enjoyed the piece even though one of the tuba soloists, Jamey Mitchell, forgot to play 8 counts of the lip beat section, bless his heart.

Brass Band of the Western Reserve closed the festival by performing their contest programme for the upcoming North American Championships.  Of course, this programme included the set work, Philip Sparke's Dances and Alleluias and then their own choice piece.  The band received a very favourable response from the audience after their own choice piece.  How exciting was it to see the audience appreciate a fine performance after a 5+ hour day. 

There could not have been a much more appropriate way to end the Festival than with a Sousa March and the band sent the audience home tapping their toes to the sound of the Liberty Bell.

Sunday Night Social Events

The Ohio Brass Arts Festival were fortunate to have Fado Irish pub sponsor food after the festival. About 60-70 OBAF participants and guests that venture to the pub were treated to some fine food (they may have bought a beverage or two as well) and entertainment provided by BBC2.  The ensemble pulled out the Irish pad and played a variety of gigs, airs and Irish tunes to please the customers before closing down the festival weekend.

It appears a good time were had by just about all participants and spectators in an area that has one of the best brass band traditions in the States.  Organizers have told us there have already been requests to return from many of the participating groups and about a half-dozen inquiries from other groups that were unable to attend this year, so it appears the Festival is headed in the right direction.

Pat Herak

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