2008 Butlins Mineworkers Championships - Retrospective: Third Section

23-Jan-2008

In what was overall a disappointing contest it was Shirebrook MW who made the most of Ewald's 'Symphony for Brass'.


Shirebrook Band
Hold onto the silverware: Shirebrook's rep has her hands full 
Picture: John Stirzaker


If there was a major disappointment on the weekend then the Third Section contest that preceded the Championship bands set work on the Saturday morning was it. 

The reasons were simple: The test piece was just too hard for the bands to play well, whilst not enough MDs were up to the mark to help their bands make the most of their resources.

A couple of the contenders in the 11 band field did get close to making a good fist of Victor Ewald’s ‘Symphony for Brass’, but they were very much in the minority. Time and time again we heard bands struggle with balance, tempi, tuning and dynamics – the essential requisites in fact on a piece that was transcribed from its original quintet format by Michael Hopkinson.

Not progressed

A few years ago this work caused enough problems for bands in the Second Section and this contest provided the proof, if proof was really needed, that in the intervening period the standard of banding in the Third Section has not progressed to meet its fairly basic musical and technical challenges.  

Sitting through the 11 bands on the day was hard work – and for the decent sized audience and the two judges, Roger Webster and David Horsfield, it must have been the same too. 

In retrospect it is even harder to find much to commend about the overall standard of the contest other than to congratulate the winners and prize winners, for whilst the bands and conductors must surely have put in the hours of hard slog on the work there was no denying that the end result was a competition that was of a poor overall quality.

Evidence

The evidence on hearing the bands here is that Third Section banding is much closer in standard to the Fourth Section than it is to the Second Section.

We are constantly told that encouragement is the key at this level – well so it is, but it cannot be used blindly to mask the very real problems that come with MDs who cannot understand the need to get the very basic building blocks in place first, then try and put on the finishing touches. Get the tuning, balance and the notes right and you are in with a chance – it’s not rocket science, just basic good band training. 

Help

Neither does it help when conductors are unable, or unwilling to get their heads out of the score to offer some sort of support to their players on stage. Leaving young players in particular to flounder when a quick smile or nod of encouragement would do them the world of good isn’t that difficult to do surely?

At times it was truly depressing to both listen and watch some of the performances unfold. 

In the event, the winners were Shirebrook Miners Welfare conducted by Mark Wilcockson who delivered a decent enough performance to take the title and the £1,500 first prize.

Although a little nervous in places there was a consistency in approach from start to finish (although there was one heck of a nasty moment in the final section when wrong entries threatened to scupper their chances). Overall it was OK – nothing more, nothing less, with the odd touch of quality provided by the flugel horn and some solid ensemble work at the louder end of the dynamic spectrum in particular. We didn’t have it down as a winner though. 

Dubious honour

That dubious honour (talk about the kiss of death) went to Matlock under the direction of Roger Jepson, resplendent in the best cut suit of the weekend.

We felt this was the one performance that really had the sense of style as well as the essential basic ingredients in place to make the music come to life. There was a fairly high error count that may have cost them valuable points and some tuning issues, but overall it was that stylish approach, the balance between melodic lines and ensemble security that stood out for us.

The execution may not have met the high expectations at times but for us it was a comfortable winner – what do we know though, and Matlock came away with a disappointing 5th place.

Pushed all the way

The band that for the judges pushed Shirebrook all the way was Heyl Town conducted by Derek Johnston. Last year’s winners didn’t quite produce that form on this occasion, but their colourful account always set the music ahead of the technical challenges throughout – and it very nearly came off.

There were also some neat touches from the flame haired young lady on principal cornet that also caught the ear and a rousing finale showed the band off to its best effect – strong and purposeful with some blossoming talent in the ranks.

West Yorkshire Police’s performance was one that grew in stature and authority as it went on – the final two sections in particular where by far the best playing. Gary Clegg allowed time and space for his players to respond, but poor tuning and balance problems especially in the opening sections of the work scupperred their chances of taking the title.  

Fourth spot was eventually taken by Hitchin Band directed by Martin Hurrell, who wielded what looked like the biggest baton of the whole weekend in his hand.

Theirs was a performance where the individual parts were perhaps better executed than the whole ensemble contribution – there was some splendid solo playing to note, whilst the band at times was ragged and out of tune. Some good percussion also enhanced the playing in the later sections and a strong finish perhaps just gave them the nod over their rivals.

Tuning

With Matlock rather surprisingly coming in fifth place, sixth spot was taken by Stantonbury Brass conducted by Alan Jenkin. It says much of the overall standard of playing on the day that a performance that started with tuning so horrendously wayward as to make you wonder if the cornet section was playing in the right key, was able in the end to come ahead of five other bands.

It did – and that was that, and although there were occasions when the playing did emerge from the depths of mediocrity, they were only fleeting.

Rockingham drew the short straw to play number 1, and after a robust account of the National Anthem (and no, old Brenda wasn’t there enjoying the sea air and candy floss) they proceeded to give a pretty decent account of the test piece that although never quite feeling totally comfortable, nevertheless had more plus points than minus ones. 

We in fact had them in 3rd spot behind Matlock and Heyl at the end of the day, so it was another case of the 4BR being well off the mark!

Polish

Meanwhile Kirkby Colliery Welfare opted to try and either show polish or try and muffle poor tuning by taking to the stage with a plethora of yellow dusters.  Whatever the reason and intention, it didn’t work.

Stephen Berrill tried to give the music time and space, but when the basic tuning of the band was so bad, the dusters became an irrelevance. It did recover here and there, but that basic problem led to all the good work coming to grief as time and again the tuning made your spine straighten like a frightened cat.

The same problems arose with Pemberton B Band, although they did have the best percussion section of the day on show, including a very precise side drum player. When the band played in their comfort zone it was OK, but once the ensemble had to drop the dynamic level the problems arose and tuning and balance went walkabout.  

Nurtured

Like Kirkby, Pemberton have plenty of good players in the ranks, but they need to be nurtured by getting the basic right first.

So too the bands that took up the bottom two positions in the prize list.

Dunston got off to a very unfortunate start as an errant cornet entry pulled things out of kilter and it took a long while for the performance to get back on track. It did have its moments thereafter, but moments they were, although a quality bit of flugel horn work didn’t go unnoticed and the final two sections of the test piece was their best playing by far.

Finally Dronfield CMW who put in a brave effort on a piece that was right at the far edge of their overall capabilities. It didn’t help perhaps that the percussion seemed to be on a different planet at times, but they battled on with a neat flugel horn player and brave sop adding touches of quality. Overall though they couldn’t have a complaint about the final result.

Disappointment

4BR was looking forward to the Third Section contest but in the event it was a real disappointment. We had Matlock as our winner with Heyl and Rockingham making up the top three and the eventual winners in fourth spot – after that it was a bit of a free for all. The all important decision though was taken by the two men in the box.

The winners won’t mind (and won’t take any notice we are sure of our remarks) and neither will any of the other bands if they can improve on their performances here in time for the regional championships where the set work should make for easier playing – and listening.


Iwan Fox

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