Ohio Brass Arts Festival - Retrospective

9-Jul-2008

Pat Herak was in Ohio to enjoy the 2008 OBAF - with plenty of highlights on offer too.


The 2008 Ohio Brass Arts Festival began on Thursday, June 12th at Weigel Hall on the campus of The Ohio State University. 

There was quite an ominous start to the Festival itself with a torrential downpour that left many glad that was too warm for a repeat of the blizzard that postponed the Festival from it’s original March date.

For those that arrived early, the Seymour Tower Brass (a quartet of members from the Central Ohio Brass Band) provided music in the lobby preceding the evening’s main event.  The lobby music was a nice touch as it gave many of the spectators a way to settle into Weigel Hall after dodging the rain.

Main attraction

Fountain CityThe main attraction of the evening was the current NABBA and U.S. Open Champions, Fountain City Brass Band from Kansas City.  The band took at most four notes to grab the audience’s attention with Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s 'Where Eagles Sing'.  It was quite obvious this band was a class act and would provide a great show.

The band continued with the hymn 'In Perfect Piece' (Downie) before a virtuosic performance of the duet 'Brillante'  (Graham) performed by euphoniums Lee Harrelson and Nate Gay.  The soloists were so very tight (in spite of all the difficult runs) and had such a uniform concept of sound…it was pure joy.

The band ended the first half with quality performances of 'Gaelforce' (featuring some fine flugel playing) and 'Reunion and Finale' from Gettysburg. 

One nice thing about a brass festival rather than a contest is there is no real need for the audience to get too nit picky with the performances; there is no clip note count; everybody is there to enjoy the concert.  

That being said, if one were being critical of the concert, there was very little (if anything) that could be found with the first half performance, which is incredibly remarkable considering FCBB had just completed a 12 hour bus ride from Kansas City to Columbus!

Big blows

The second half began with two big blows, 'Festmusik der Stadt Wein' (not in a tribute to the 2008 Euros), and 'Tchaikovsky 4.'  Principal cornet, Alan Wegner then took the stage for what was quite a moving rendition of 'She'.  It is sometimes the simplest of melodies played by such a fine player that can really inspire others.

After the march 'O.R.B'., the band performed 'I Will Follow Him' featuring the flugel, Matt Vangiel,  and trombone section.

Tight

FCBB had a very tight performance of two excerpts from 'West Side Story' before their swinging finale of 'Kansas City'.  Interestingly, Fountain City places their kit player in the void in front of the MD, and it seems to work really well, as it helps holds the ensemble together.  A few of the percussionists I talked to over the weekend mentioned how they liked that formation (and a few of the tuba and trombone players I talked to over the weekend also said how nice it would be not to have the percussionists banging away in their ear.)

Encore

As encore, the band performed Harrelson’s arrangement of Cantina Band ala 'Sing, Sing, Sing'.  4BR very much enjoyed this arrangement at last year’s U.S. Open and it was a fantastic finish to a fantastic concert.


Ohio Brass Arts Festival – Educational Event

Day two of the Ohio Brass Arts Festival was held at the Chapel at Worthington Woods, one of the local Salvation Army corps.

The evening opened with an interesting lecture/discussion led by Dr. Paul Droste (MD of the Ohio Brass Band coming to the UK in a few weeks).  After reviewing the initial formation of brass bands, the wind band “victory” over brass bands in the States (led by Sousa), and the recent resurgence of the brass band genre in the U.S. and Canada, the question was posed to the audience… “What next?”

Call to arms

It was quite inspiring…almost a call to arms.  We have several organizations and events in North America, (NABBA, U.S.Open, GABBF, OBAF, Hannaford Festival, Northwest BBF, etc…) The question was posed, “So how do we keep it going?”  Many in the UK probably can’t comprehend how distance is such an issue in North America, so there was a nice dialogue of potential solutions many of which involved various ways to bring bandsmen (rather than bands together).

The Chapel at Worthington Woods (CAWW) Band (the host Salvation Army Band), under the direction of Keith Wilkinson, then performed a short concert.  

Like many Salvation Army corps bands, they were a tad smaller than a full brass band, but the size suited the live hall quite well.  The CAWW Band’s lovely timbre was highlighted in their finale, a quite moving performance of 'Perfect Peace'.

At this point in the evening, all were welcomed to grab their instruments and sight read through new brass band repertoire under the direction of several of the Columbus area musical directors.  Music was generously donated by Pennine Music Publications, Elms Music and Curnow Music.  At the conclusion of each piece a name was drawn from the participants and that person walked away with a new piece of music for there band.

Several dozen people remained in the audience for this impromptu concert and the band (numbering about 3 dozen) read rather well.  The band also read through the three finalists for the OBAF composition contest, and the winner, 'Battleaxe' (Darrol Barry) was announced.  Jagrins Music Publications help sponsor the composition contest and will be publishing the three finalists from August.

After a small reception hosted by the Chapel at Worthington Woods, many head to the Winking Lizard Tavern fro entertainment by BBC2 (an octet made up of members of the Brass Band of Columbus).  The humor and variety from this small ensemble kept the pub entertained.  There were vocal solos, audience participation (on auxiliary percussion), some fiddle playing and even a cowbell solo as the group played 'Don’t Fear the Reaper'.


Ohio Brass Arts Festival – Main Event

TBDBITL
All the right notes and letters - TBDBITL Band on full flow

Saturday’s Main Event began with a clinic teaching some of the ins-and-outs of the Sibelius Music Software presented by Dr. Jay Dorfman.  A small, but interested audience learned about scanning music, arranging for brass band as well as the Scorch application.

The opening band was the TBDBITL Active Band.  TBDBITL is not a traditional British-style brass band.  The band numbered about 75 players and had a variety of brass instruments including, trumpets and cornets, tenor horns and mellophones, tubas and sousaphones, baritones, euphoniums and everything in-between.

Variety

The band’s program showed just as much variety with traditional brass band repertoire, some music written for marching band, and some specifically for the ensemble.  The standard of the band was not exceptional, but given the large size of the group they managed to play quite well together and had a very audience-friendly program.

The Junior Varsity All-Star Brass Band was next.  This group is composed primarily of 13-16 year old secondary students from various schools in nearby counties.  Their program was a bit ambitious as performed two substantial works (Music from Kantara, Downie and Music from the 16th Century, arr. Fernie).

They settled in a bit more on their final two pieces 'You’ve got a friend in Me', arr. Van der Velede, and 1'2th Street Rag', arr. Aho/Jackson.  These lighter works perhaps suited the ensemble a bit more given the fact that all of the students had been out of school and were already in summer mode.

Reward

ColumbusThe Brass Band of Columbus was third on the day and featured the winner BBC (Brass Band of Columbus) Young Artists Competition, Julia Ware (euphonium) performing 'My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose'.  The opportunity to solo with Columbus was part of her reward for winning the competition and she held her own quite nicely with the group.

Following a very effective performance of 'Lux Aurumque,' Columbus then performed a 16-minute version of 'Carmina Burana'.  The abridge suite captured most of the themes from the opera, was played quite well and supported the idea that audiences can enjoy “serious” music.

What started off as a bit thin of a crowd started to noticeably dwindle after the Brass Band of Columbus left the stage; Perhaps many left for lunch (not to return), perhaps they left to enjoy the beautiful weather outdoors (would would’ve thought the festival would be hurt by bad weather the first time (snow) and then good weather for the Redux).

Chapel Brass returned to the Ohio Brass Arts Festival (having changed their name from Central Ohio Youth Band to reflect the “experience” of the membership).  Likewise, their sound has developed quite nicely and matured well into an adult band and their performance of Last Amen (Graham) was a testament to this fact.

Several awards were presented to members of Chapel Brass.  There were three student scholarship winners (to help further their education in music) and their musical director, Keith Wilkinson, was recognized with the 2008 God & Country Award.

Great things

One of the great things about the Ohio Brass Arts Festival is the variety of groups performing.  The Scioto Valley Brass & Percussion Company was certainly a change of pace.  Decked out in their hippie garb, the SVBP performed Brassapooloza: a tribute to the 60’s and 70’s.

The 60’s & 70’s them led to a Dating Game skit in which three potentional suitors (Art Garfunkel, the Swedish Chef and Desparado) tried to win over the heart of Eleanor Rigby.  Props abounded with a cardboard cut out of the magic bus, a tree for hugging and various others.  It was an act one really had to see to believe, as a mere listen would not do it justice.

The senior of the two youth bands, All-Star Brass & Percussion, were the penultimate band.  They (like the junior band) had quite a challenging program with Chorale and Toccata (Bulla) and Diogenes (Haan), both test piece level pieces for youth.  Fortunately, they began with a fanfare and march to ease the youth into the program, and it went a bit more smoothly (as expected by the older group).

They also performed 'Batman' (perhaps in a bit of homage to the new movie out this summer), which as a candid criticism against the festival organizers was not a wise move given that the Central Ohio Brass Band played it in the next set.

High Voltage

Before the final band was a quick break from brass.  The Groveport Madison High School Percussion Ensemble was featured with a song called “High Voltage.”  The 6-student percussionist, played along with recorded accompaniment in a pitch-black hall.  Black lights shown on the drum sticks to create an excellent visual effect to accompany fine playing.

The host Central Ohio Brass Band closed the day’s event.  Sadly, the audience had thinned out quite a bit by this time and so most missed one of the best performances of the weekend.  The band pulled from two newer additions to the brass band repertoire 'Hymn of the Highlands' (Sparke) and 'Windows of the World' (Graham), both played very well.  

Two fine soloists also represent the band Steve Bigley (euphonium) and Sean Maloney (Eb bass) with 'Watching the Wheat' and 'Badinage' respectively.

The second year of the festival may not have had gone perfect, but given that it was a Redux of sorts, the participating bands have to be encouraged that there is another class event in North America (and so close to the majority of the constituency).

Pat Herak

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