2008 Brass in Concert Championship - On the YBS trail

19-Nov-2008

Malcolm Wood was given the task to track the YBS Band as they prepared for Brass in Concert. This is what he found out about preparing for the world's most prestigious brass band entertainment contest.


YBS
Things are looking up: YBS after their Brass in Concert performance
Picture: Ian Clowes


We always try and do something a little different at 4BR with our various features, and for our Brass in Concert coverage, it was decided by the 4BR Editor that it would be a good idea to follow a band in the run-up to the contest and be with them on contest day itself. 

Having just featured YBS as our 'Band in the Spotlight' in October, it seemed appropriate therefore to link up with the band for Brass in Concert and to follow them on their trip to The Sage.

Therefore, the week before the contest I was sent to attend rehearsals at the band's base in Huddersfield, sit in and observe, and generally get a feel for what goes on in trying to put together a programme for the world’s premier brass band entertainment contest.


Monday night rehearsal: 10th November

The YBS Band is a friendly bunch, and with a week to go they were most definitely up for their appearance at the contest.  The atmosphere was vibrant and upbeat and all the players knew they would be putting in the work over the next few days, fine tuning their performance with the ultimate aim of peaking on the Sunday itself.

As expected, the programme of music and running order had been finalised but deciding on the repertoire to be played had not been the easiest one for MD Morgan Griffiths.

As I discovered, the original plan was for Benjamin Tubb to compose repertoire for the band, but with his departure the whole concept of the programme had to be looked at again.

It therefore remained a challenge to produce a programme that showcased the strengths of the band, entertained the audience and made the right impression on the judges. 

With so many prizes up for grabs, the MD was also conscious of finding music that ticked all the boxes and gave the band as many opportunities that were possible, to be successful.

So in recent weeks, various pieces of music had been used in rehearsal, rejected or accepted, monitored and rehearsed, improved upon and moulded to just what was needed. 

Monday night was the last real chance to change anything – and they didn’t – testament I felt of a band wanting to pull together. There was still plenty to do, but the foundations were in place and there was a sense of expectancy and no little confidence too – although ambitions were realistic.

The Programme

The programme that had been chosen was the ‘Goldcrest’ march, followed by the cornet solo, ‘A Time for Peace’, featuring Iain Culross, the band's Principal Cornet.

Then came the breezy ‘Gopak’ and ‘76 Trombones’ with ‘Sparkling Diamonds’ leading into the ‘Finale’ from the Shostakovich ‘Fifth Symphony.’

This was very much a traditional programme and as it turned out, the most traditional of the twelve contenders on the day.

I will be honest enough to admit that I had not heard the programme in its entirety at this point, with Monday's rehearsal concentrating on two or three of the pieces only, including the trombone feature, ‘76 Trombones’ and the ‘Fifth Symphony’ finale. 

However, the message from the middle was based around reminders about the character of the music and clarity of sound, and by the end of the night there was a sense that there had been significant progress made.

Come the end of rehearsal around 10pm, these points had been driven home.


YBS backstage
Last minute wait: YBS wait to take to the stage at The Sage
Picture: Ian Clowes


Thursday night rehearsal: 13th November

On Tuesday the band had a night off.

Wednesday they were back in the bandroom and on Thursday, 4BR caught up with them again when they rehearsed at Brighouse High School.

Things had moved on a great deal in the past couple of days I felt, and there was a real sense of enthusiasm about the night’s rehearsal.

The different ambiance of the hall (as opposed to the bandroom) was noticeable right from the off as Morgan put his troops through their paces.

A lot of time was spent on the opening march where attention was paid to the dynamics and the singing, with an emphasis on the vocal articulation.

If you are going to make a mark then make it early was the message, and by the time it had been run through once or twice there was a noticeable sparkle about it.

This led into ‘A Time for Peace’ where the focus for the night was on the accompaniment.  Again, the MDs insistence on making the most of small detail paid dividends as the ensemble started to compliment the excellent soloist. 

With the MD really running on full gas, the tempo of the rehearsal rose significantly and the response from the band was very good. The instruction that 'Gopak' should dance and be lively was reinforced before the band turned its attention to '76 Trombones.' 

For the trumpet feature, ‘Sparkling Diamonds’, time was spent on choreography, leaving just enough time to be spent putting in some hard graft on the finale.

Two hours had flown by without a break, and the standard of playing had been taken up a notch or two once more. Top class banding is a demanding business I thought to myself – no quarter asked or given if you want to be successful at the highest level.

That just left time for a full run through of the programme before wrapping up for the evening.

Anyone who thinks it’s easy to play in a top band should come to a rehearsal like this – its an eye opener to say the least.  It would be fair to say Morgan Griffiths didn't pull any punches in reminding the band what was required on the night and at the contest itself. 


Friday night rehearsal: 14th November

Back in the bandroom and with a reminder that the contest is all about enjoying themselves. What? A top level contest such as Brass in Concert?

Whatever pressures you feel under, you must always look as if you are enjoying the experience Morgan said. Therefore it was time to party as the players turned their attentions to ‘76 Trombones’ and making sure the 'ad-hoc' percussion parts blended in as required – with appropriate smiles!

With Morgan feeling comfortable with the trombone feature, the next part of the rehearsal focused on the accompaniment for the cornet solo. 

Reminders were given about listening to each other and not just playing individual parts, and a quick and effective tuning session brought a greater degree of focus to the proceedings.

Finally, the Shostakovich, and without draining the lips too much, various parts of the piece were checked to make sure the message about tempo, energy and the drive of the music were taken on board.

A shorter rehearsal tonight – a sign of things moving in the right direction I felt.


Saturday rehearsal: 15th November

On the Saturday the band took the opportunity to go over the road and use what was formerly the Sellers International rehearsal room. 

The hard work had been done, and this rehearsal was nothing more than brushing up on the tiniest of details and making sure everybody knew what they were doing and when - no stone being left unturned.

This led to a full run through where a lot of the points that had been hammered home time and time again in the preceding few weeks really started to bear fruit.

The rehearsal finished with a general feeling of satisfaction, and I felt that the mood in the YBS camp was upbeat – a reflection of what had been evident all week.


YBS on stage
Trumpet trio: YBS try the trumpet voluntary route
Picture: Ian Clowes


Sunday: Contest day

The day of the contest finally arrived.  Those who were travelling on the band bus met at the band's HQ at 9.30am and with a pick up en-route, everybody met up at David Long's school in Bishop Auckland around Noon for a light blow and pep talk.

No time for any changes now and everybody was upbeat, happy and looking forward to going on stage.

The outcome of all the hard work put in by YBS was down to the judges.


The Performance

Having arrived at The Sage, it was a case of leaving the band to prepare, as I took the chance to listen to a couple of rival bands beforehand.

To be honest, the march, ‘Goldcrest’, really came together as well as they could have expected, with the band responding not just to Morgan's direction but all the points that had been made during the week. It seemed to be a cracking start.

Iain Culross was excellent and produced a quite sublime performance, aided by some really good accompaniment I felt. The MDs words had been taken on board.

On the day, Khachaturian's ‘Gopak’ just didn't have the energetic edge that had been performed in rehearsals, and the band don't need reminding that things went slightly wrong in ‘76 Trombones’ Little details mean a lot – it was a lesson learnt.

The trumpet feature 'Sparkling Diamonds' very nearly came off, but from where I was sat the band really found its feet with the finisher, the finale from Shostakovich's 'Fifth Symphony'. 

In retrospect the performance just needed that consistency that the MD and the band knew it required.  The opening pieces and ending were nailed but if things had clicked in the middle, the result for this listener especially, could have been very different.


Morgan Griffiths
Job done: MD Morgan Griffith reflects on all the hard work
Picture: Ian Clowes


The band's view

That said, YBS were still a very happy bunch and fully aware that given what they had been through in the past few months there was plenty to be proud about.

The MD made a point of congratulating his players and there was a genuine feeling that this was a stepping stone to a return to better days.

With the results announced, the band headed home, and whilst the 12th place was not what they wanted, that team spirit and atmosphere remained strong and as upbeat. With the dust settling on the day, I also took the chance to speak to a couple of the players, alongside David Long and Morgan Griffiths.

All were totally honest and open to me about the performance – highlighting the things that went wrong as well as went right. 

What was obvious to me was that there is a real fire in the belly to build on from the weekend.  The team spirit in the band is absolutely tremendous  (and there will no doubt be a few cynics out there who think that is being said just because they've been featured on 4BR – it really is true) and with a fine blend of youth and experience the future of the YBS Band seems very secure.

The result wasn't what they wanted of course, but having spent five days in the company of a great bunch of people, I think we could be reporting on better times ahead for one of the most famous names in banding.

On behalf of 4BR, my thanks go to Morgan Griffiths, Dave Long and everybody in the band for their hospitality and help. 

Malcolm Wood

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