2008 North American Brass Band Championships - Retrospective: Honors Section

4-Apr-2008

There was a great deal to enjoy in the Honors Section with a number of classy performances battling it out for thetop 'honor' itself.


In past few years, the Honors Section has often run concurrently with the Championship Section.  This year, with half of the Championship Section out of the way, the main hall belonged to the Honors Section bands - and they all showed they deserved the spotlight. 

Good performance

Drawing number one, Princeton opened with the set piece ‘Journey into Freedom’. The solid introduction already led us to believe this band had improved and was on the right track and the great bass sound really provided a foundation for the rest of the band. If there were any gripes for us, some of the slow passages perhaps lacked precision, but it was a good performance.

‘Connotations’ was their own choice, and even if they wanted another go at the opening it may not have helped as there were the same splits in the reprise. 

Once again, the band had a fine bass end sound, really giving it an overall balance and solid foundation. The infamous sixteenth note passage challenged the band and was not quite even but Princeton really held solid in the fanfare sections. However, as the piece concluded, perhaps fatigue set in as tuning wobbled a bit and the dynamic contrast diminished.

Overall though this was a much improved band and solid performances that would ultimately lead them to third place.

Two conductors 

Interestingly, Central Ohio Brass Band (COBB) went into the contest with two conductors.  However, when your second conductor, Paul Droste, happens to have over 10 NABBA Championships under his belt that is not necessarily a bad thing.

The band chose a great opener in ‘Dundonnell’ in which they kept the tempo bright and pulled it off quite effectively. Their regular MD, Jessica Sneeringer, and their solo trombone provided the effective extra percussion and it immediately set the bar for the rest of the afternoon.

The set piece ‘Journey Into Freedom’ really showed off the fine sound of this band.  It was obvious they tried to explore the musical lines in the piece and event though the end may have dropped off a bit as adrenaline wore off, perhaps leaving the door open for another band to pip them.

Unlike most bands, COBB chose to play three pieces, concluding with ‘Circius’ and it rounded off an ambitious own-choice program that they pulled off quite well. It also contained some great euphonium playing as well as an exciting finish. As for the percussion section…there were only two of them for ‘Journey Into Freedom’ and ‘Circius’ and wow! - did they get around. There must be something in the water in Columbus when it comes to percussion!

Time to settle

Prairie opened with ‘Voyage of Discovery’ and it seemed to take them a while to settle in. The middle of the band (horns, baris, euphs) really showed through in this piece though and although there were a few style issues, as some sections seemed more pecked rather than light in execution.

‘Journey Into Freedom’ provided a bit of a challenge for the band and it was a pity that a really good start was wasted when some solo errors began to domino and distracted from the performance.

A few too many errors and lack of cohesion would put them in last place - quite a disappointing result for a much better band than that, but the adjudicators had to go with what they heard on the day.

Contender

Drawing fourth was Cincinnati. From the opening phrase of the set piece we thought this band would be a contender.  There were very few (if any errors), but perhaps the adjudicators found nothing particularly exciting either.

‘Rejoice, The Lord is King’ featured stark contrasts of styles (strong fanfare to delicate filigree in only a few measures).  The big ending was pulled off quite effectively and although Cincinnati could feel a bit disappointed with their result (fifth), there really was not much to distinguish third, fourth and fifth place on the day.

Stunning

Georgia’s
rendition of ‘Journey Into Freedom’ was stunning. They produced a quite remarkable dark sound (middle & bottom of the band), whist their technique was virtually flawless.  This was a performance that could have held it’s own anywhere.

Georgia could do with a mulligan on the opening of ‘Endeavour’ as there were a few blips that did detract.  However, they showed real maturity and did not falter again and went on to show that they were a real class act with a good sound that left little doubt that they would take the title this year.  Should they choose to move up to Championship next year, quite a few bands will need to watch out as they have the full package.

Late draw

Often bands think a late draw is an advantage.  In this case, being last on stage may have hindered New England. ‘Journey Into Freedom’ was well played, but on a day when every band played it rather well, it would need something more to stand out.

New England closed with ‘Variations on Laudete Dominum’ and produced a nice performance where you could feel the hymn sing out.  However, in choosing a lower section test piece they didn’t quite show off their technical abilities to the full.

Overall

Overall, many of the bands chose to do the set work first as the last thing any band wanted was to become fatigued during the set piece. Given the technical demands of the piece, and the fact that it is weighted 60% of the total score, those that put it early in the program seemed to reap rewards. 

Princeton was a huge surprise on the day.  Not so much as far the result, but in their improvement.  This is quite a new band, and we’re sure they will be encouraged by the result and likely to provide a real threat next year.

Furthermore, the respect COBB and Georgia have for each other is almost unheard of in many brass band circles and especially in the UK. 

Both last and this year, Georgia and COBB listened to each other during the contest and then shared the same pub after the contest. Rather than approach the post-contest festivities with the “we wuz robbed” attitude, the past two years each band has been the first to congratulate the other (as Georgia/COBB finished 1/2 this year and 2/1 last year).

If the rest of the brass band movement could take their lead, there would be so much greater focus on music than all the other distractions, which might just be what brass bands need.

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