2008 West of England Regional Championship - Retrospective: Third Section

12-Mar-2008

The Dark Side of the Moon really tested the large field on the weekend, but lots of the competitors found the journey into space much to their liking - especially the winners.


Verwood Concert Brass
All tuned up - Verwood Concert Brass

Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ proved to be an excellent test for the bands in the West of England Third Section on Sunday - ‘test’ being the operative word in every sense. The winning bands whilst those who had inconsistencies in quality were simply not rewarded – and rightly so. 

Perhaps the area of the piece which found most bands out was the opening to letter A. Simple figures of a G to a C from trombone, baritone and flugel at piano were more often than not an awful introduction to the piece, with many players getting dynamics, articulation and style completely wrong, turning what is a simple introductory figure into a major minus-point for their band.

Tuning problems

Tuning was also a major problem in almost every performance (no band emerged completely unscathed). Often, it was not so much evident on individual notes (although the far too common problem of sharp Fs and Gs on euphoniums was running rampant, as it had done the previous day in the Fourth Section), but the forcing notes out of tune when playing quick crescendo figures, caused by simple overblowing. Sometimes it really did make you wince!

These problems should really be sorted out in the bandroom, as the piece itself is not the most technically difficult, and has so many opportunities for bands to shine, only requiring a little bit of thought on the part of MDs.

Positives

However, there were also positives on the day, with many players excelling themselves in their various solo and sectional contributions, and several extremely talented young players (particularly in the various percussion sections competing).

In common with the Fourth Section, the checking and compilation of results took a very short while, and the hall was full to bursting for the announcement of the results, decided upon by adjudicators Peter Roberts and Rob Wiffin.
 
After the expected dig at Chelsea’s defeat by Barnsley in the FA Cup (well, who could blame him after all – after the result in the rugby this correspondent was more than pleased on the day as well!), Peter Roberts took to the microphone and gave an honest appraisal of the overall standard, saying that if bands had had a few more weeks of rehearsal more might have reached the required standard to play this piece successfully.

Pete also identified several specific areas of the score where conductors had not judged the dynamic gradation properly – one example being four bars before D, where a four bar diminuendo was often over in only one bar! Several more examples like this were given, but comments such as these are useful, and the listeners in the hall will all be able to take something from them.

Deserved win

Verwood Concert Brass
thoroughly deserved their win, giving what was possibly the most complete performance of the day – a reading that one could simply sit back and listen to.

Everything tripped along nicely from beginning to end, although the sound did get a bit feisty in some of the louder passages, particularly from the bottom end of the band! A minor complaint though, as the basses did play beautifully as a section in the quieter passages.

Heading towards the end of the piece, the band balance was just right, with just enough bite to keep things exciting, but the end could have been given even more to match up to the great sense of fervour created in the last section. Verwood were very worthy winners on the day, and will represent the West of England was pride in Harrogate.

Steady start

Bath Spa
started their performance steadily, but the reading grew in stature very quickly to become very impressive indeed – enough the give the band the second qualification spot. The MD gave his players excellent encouragement, and there was an excellent young percussionist whose efforts did augment the band’s playing remarkably. Bath’s soprano and flugel players also stood out, and if the few chinks in their armour can be remedied come Nationals time the band will go to Harrogate with a sense of confidence they can perform to a very good standard.

Pendennis Brass (Falmouth) will have been very pleased to gain third place with a solid performance with some really nice shapes and effects created by the MD.

However, there were also a lot of times when tuning and hesitant entries got the better of the players – the top register in particular did sound a touch strained sometimes. The band’s soprano player was excellent throughout (especially at the beginning), and Pendennis will gain much confidence from this result.

Unlucky

Heyl Town
can possibly count themselves a touch unlucky to have come in fourth place, as they gave a performance of great merit. Heyl opened with an interesting choice of mutes on the cornets that gave a very atmospheric feel, and on the whole this continued throughout the piece. There was some dodgy tuning from the cornets in places, but the run up to the end of the piece had great drive (aided by some very rhythmic quavers from the middle of the band at V) and all soloists performed very well indeed. Maybe disappointed at fourth place, but this band does have a lot to offer.

Denmead Brass has a very good MD in John Hill, but on the day the band produced a workmanlike performance that could have benefited with a lot more classiness. Letter B took a few bars to settle, and many moments of magic were lost by some careless playing and sounds.

The trombone player was one of the most secure of the day, the band’s flugel player had a great sound, and the baritone section contributed to many parts of the performance, but that extra sparkle would have been required for a qualification spot.

Solid

Bugle Silver
played off the number two draw, and gave a solid performance that fully deserved the 6th placing. Everything flowed nicely, the cornet solo at M-N was excellently played, and the ending had some moments of real excitement. It possibly rocked a little at letter L, but got back together very quickly – so well done for a solid result off an early draw.

Outside top six

Pillowell Silver
finished in 7th place, which to be honest was a tad lucky. The band sat in an interesting formation for what 4BR are good reasons, but which made not a lot of difference to the band’s sound. The band’s main strength was an excellent cornet soloist, who was one of the best on the day, but awful tuning in places and wrong entries did detract rather a lot from the overall effect, with the timpani part rocking horribly at one point – nail biting stuff! It was great to hear such a fine cornet sound though.

Corsham benefited from having one of the best trombone sections which did add the tightness in rhythm necessary in several places in the score, and the band’s bass end sounded excellent.

Unfortunately Corsham were a touch light in terms of numbers of personnel, which in itself did not make a huge difference, but some poor glockenspiel playing and a hesitant opening (in common with so many others, it has to be said) can only have counted against the band. Euphonium and flugel had good sounds, and 8th place was just about bang on the mark.

Hesitant

Hesitant entries and very poor tuning marred many parts of Wotton and District Silver’s shot at the title, which was a shame as the band on the whole produced a very nice sound, with some excellent rhythmic playing. The performance did get much better towards the end, and the quick tempo chosen did work quite well, but the poor opening third of the piece did count against them, and they had to be content with 9th.

The last band to play was St. Stythians, who produced a steady performance to come home in 10th place. The choice of cornet mutes at the beginning of the piece was excellent, and the principal euphonium was about as solid as they came. But, in common with so many other bands, a combination of poor entries and players seeming to choose different tempos than the rest of the band on occasion resulted in a placing that was not as high as the band would have hoped for.

Weston Brass’ soloists perhaps didn’t play to form, as the nice musical pictures being created by the band were not enough to tip the scales in their favour due to the number of individual errors. The middle and lower band made some lovely sounds in the accompaniment in many places, but the reason for the cornets turning out to face the audience remains a mystery – tricks like this rarely work in a contesting situation. 11th for Weston on the day – but a solid band is there waiting to emerge.

Number 1

Sidmouth Town
, playing off the dreaded number one spot, had just a few too many blips and blobs throughout their reading to warrant a higher placing, but did have some nice soloists, in the form of the cornet, euphonium, horn and flugel. The bass end also gave a solid foundation with a good line, but the cornets were almost inaudible at the beginning of the piece, and generally a lot of technical details did not come through. The 12th place they finally received was a fair reflection on the day.

The dusters placed over the cornets at the beginning of Launceston Town’s effort did catch the eye, but unfortunately didn’t seem to make any audible difference to what was a hesitant start by the whole band. The trombone and cornet sections did make a huge effort towards the end, but the performance was lacklustre in many places unfortunately, and 13th place cannot be really complained about.

Office day

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best day at the office for A W Parker (Drybrook) on this occasion. The combination of bad tuning and a blatant wrong note from the cornet soloist (E natural instead of flat) cannot have helped, and the rhythmic passages from trombones at the end were not at all accurate. There were some nice moments, but the band will have to put a better show on than this next year in order to move up the placings.

In common with the other sections of this particular ‘Area’ contest, one cannot fault the superb organisation of the event, and even with each band specifying exact percussion and seating requirements, hardly any time seemed to pass between one band leaving and another taking to the stage.

The contest did have a wide range of varying standards, but was nevertheless an enjoyable one to experience, aided in no small measure by a test piece that is great to listen to and, undoubtedly, to perform.

Rob Richardson

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