2009 Australian Band Championships - Retrospective: Overview and A Grade

17-Apr-2009

A general overview of the Australian National Championships and A Grade Brass events.


Overview

Another National Championships has come and gone with barely little time to assess, discuss and reflect upon what has become the dominant event on the contesting calendar for both brass and concert bands.

Brass and Concert Bands

The concept of combining both the brass and concert bands at the same time is a logistical nightmare that still makes little sense to us.  It is a concept that once again, needs an intensive review.

Catering for the needs of 66 bands and its individual performers in the one competition is an immense task needing resources beyond the scope our current system.

Schedule

Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects for both performers and listeners was the lack of a daily time structure for events.  Other than a start time for the day, players and bands were given the responsibility to monitor when they would be required to play.  Whilst this gave the organisers some relief from the worry about whether or not the day was progressing 'on time', the amount of confusion, anxiety, doubt and generally 'hanging around wondering' for the players and bands was hugely unsettling.

Previous models which have worked, provided at the very least, a start time for each event.  So the event may start later, but never earlier.

Having a published start time for the Champion of Champion events may have also given the public some indication of where to be when.  Maybe then, the best players in the country may have had a chance to perform to an audience of more than 20 people.

Venue

The Seymour Centre was accoustically superb - an outstanding plus for the championships without a doubt.

Organisation

No one doubts nor wants to belittle the enormous amount of unpaid time and effort put in by the organisers of such a major production.  However, there is also an enormous amount of unpaid time and effort put in by the bands, players, and MD's.  It is appreciated that everyone is doing their very best - but sometimes the very best just isn't good enough.

Australian Championships in previous years have produced a detailed list of the basics of how to run a contest, including aspects such as scheduling, stage protocol for presenters, and minor details like arranging transport to and from the venue for the Chief Adjudicator.  It is not difficult to follow this list of basics we would have thought, however, we do understand stand that relying on voluntary help often doesn't allow for the training time nor is there any guarantee of competence.

The atmosphere of commraderie and friendship was strong.  People generally forgive and forget the problems which occur, simply because they focus on the positives of contesting.  This is a good thing as we are supposed to enjoy our hobbies.  But, it could be o so much better with just a little more forethought, effective direction and decision making.

Location

Unfortunately, Sydney is not a contest friendly city.  Its pure size and concentration of population make it logistically difficult to allow for social celebration and general community interaction which is sought by so many.  

Adjudicators

The effort to choose the best people possible for the job was evident here.  The two Chief Adjudicators, Professor David King and James Curnow were outstanding in every way.

Gala Concert

The gala concert attracted a near capacity audience who persevered the extreme lateness (the concert finish after 11pm) to hear two bands who were both effectively the best in Australia.

The Australian Army Band took to the stage first, and were followed by Gunnedah Juniors.  This youth band, according to some, stole the show.  Earlier in the day, the band won its 8th Junior Championship in a row, with Professor David King declaring its standard to be up there with the best youth bands in the world.  We would believe this.

It was around 930pm when the newly formed National Australia Brass walked on stage.  The 47 piece ensemble directed by David King performed substantial works including Psyche - a commissioned work for NAB by Ludovic Neurohr.  As expected, the quality of this ensemble and its direction was of the highest level.

The outstanding player of the evening was International Tenor Horn artist, Sheona White.  Sheona's sound is unique, and her performance artistry is stylish - she is the master of tenor horn.


A GRADE

Launceston 2004 was the last time a band other than Brisbane Excelsior has won the A Grade Championship.

With XLCR not here in 2009, the door was wide open.  At the end of the two days of competition, after some inconsistent performances across the 4 events - hymn, test, own choice and stage march - Gunnedah (Jason Katsikaris) emerged as outright winners and claiming the all important wins in both the Test and Own Choice (Harmony Music).

Interestingly, it was a surprise to us that Gunnedah weren't well clear after the first day, and similarly that they were well clear on the second day.
 
Perhaps somewhat disappointing, was how many of the better sounding bands from the Test sounded tired & did not perform as well in the Own Choice & conversely, how many of the bands who struggled on 'the Dove', presented themselves much more convincingly in the Own Choice.
 
This may have been due to 'the Dove' being too difficult for the lower bands & also having substantially drained the resources of the better bands to get anywhere near it?
 
Furthermore, it was very interesting that overall the standard of the best playing on the Own Choice seemed lower than the Test & yet the standard of the worst playing was much higher.
 
This latter point is reflected in the marking, with the score going as low as 179 on 'the Dove', compared to 188 in the Own Choice.
 
However, this point is not bourne out at the top end, with Gunnedah's winning score only one point lower on Sunday.
 
Looking at the relative performances of the top two bands, at the end of the Test they ended up with equal points & after the Own Choice, Gunnedah were 4 points clear.

This bands performance in the Test, Dove Descending, was the best of the weekend, and it was suitably rewarded being 2 clear points ahead of the second placed performance by Kew Band Melbourne.  Gunnedah sounded (and looked) tired in the Own Choice and Stage March, but at the end of the day, the band were still considered good enough to win.

Gunnedah were 4th in the Hymn and Stage March, and when all events were added, were 4 points ahead of the next closest band - Kew Band Melbourne (Mark Ford).

Kew Band Melbourne (KBM) were second overall, and not too far behind Gunndah. In a choice many considered a risk, KBM chose to perform a hymn tune written by Mike Fitzpatrick entitled Genevan Psalter - a dedication to the Black Saturday Victorian Bushfire victims. However, the risk paid off, with the band gaining 1st place with its performance of this particular piece.

We liked the band's rendition of its Own Choice (Isaiah 40), but the man who counts did not, awarding the band 192 points - 6 points behind first place.

After these two bands, the next three places were always going to be very close, given the high level of inconsistencies produced by the bands across the four disciplines.

City of Holroyd were third overall - and how happy were they!? The decision to engage Nigel Weeks as guest MD paid off, with the band playing as it has never played before. Its Own Choice item Between the Moon and Mexico did have its moments where the piece was technically beyond the band in places.  Musically though, this band played with renewed emotion and confidence. Second in the Own Choice, and fourth in the Test, Hymn and Stage March were enough to give Holroyd a narrow 2 point margin behind 2nd placed Kew.

In fourth place, were Warringah Concert Brass (John Saunders). Warringah had a bad day in on the Test (5th) but were clearly in the front runners in the Own Choice playing Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and were suitably rewarded with 3rd place.  An added bonus was a convincing performance in the Stage March (The Cossack), which won them this event.

The much anticipated appearance of the newly formed MPV Brass was an interesting one. Its best result was 3rd in the Test. The band came 5th in the Hymn and Stage March, and 7th in the Own Choice (Music of the Spheres). MD Matt van Emmerik may be disappointed with the final result - the future potential of this band is enormous. With more time, the players in this band should come to musically understand some of the finer aspects of the brass band genre, which is new to many. When this happens, and if the band can maintain some consistency of personnel within the ranks, MPV should become a force difficult to stop.

In 6th place came Brisbane Brass (Jon Cristodoulides) who would be thrilled with this result.  It was a high score of 47 points in the Hymn Tune which boosted BB's points enough to put them into this midway placing.  An obviously well chosen Own Choice (The Essence of Time) achieved equal 4th place whilst the band did struggle with the demands of the Test, coming in in equal 7th place.

Another band to be delighted with its placing would be Footscray-Yarraville (Phillipa Edwards) who were struggling before the contest to get a complete band.  Particularly pleasing is its equal 4th placing in the Own Choice, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

Most interesting was the treatment of Waratah's performances by the adjudicator. Warwick Tyrrell's interpretation of the test may have been punished by Professor King for being over-indulgent, which, at times, did present a highly distorted picture of the score.  If this is the case, then the punishment was indeed severe, placing the band below others which to us, were not nearly as competent in their performance.

On day one, Waratah was possibly the best sounding band at the lower dynamic levels & one of the very few bands other than Gunnedah, to actually produce some special sounding moments.  This highlight was recognised in the Hymn were Waratah came equal 2nd.

However, the band did not sound nearly as convincing in its Own Choice, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.  Ultimately, Waratah came 8th overall - not their best result in recent years.

Sydney band Willoughby (Andy Snell) were in ninth position, behind Waratah by only one point. Its best result came in the Hymn Tune (equal 3rd), with the Test, Own Choice (Rococo Variations) and Stage March showing general inconsistencies.

Darebin City Brass - Preston (Danny Deilkens) band were placed 10th. On Alderley Edge was its Own Choice, which was the bands best performance for the weekend.

South Brisbane Federal with new recruit MD Mareika Gray in front held its head high and came in 11th overall. This is a very young, inexperienced band who showed obvious signs of enjoying themselves on stage which in itself was refreshing to see. Sounds was well chosen Own Choice with the band playing at its best on the second day of competition.

Equal 11th were St Marys Band Club (Paul Terracini) and Boroondara Brass (Danny van Bergen).  This was a disappointing result for St Mary's who were heavily penalised in the Test piece.  Its Own Choice (Dreams) was a much clearer indication of the bands true potential.

Newcomers to the grade, Boroondara Brass, played exceedingly well in its Own Choice (Earthquake) relative to its performance in the Test Selection and were 12 points 'better' on the second day.  The percussion section in particular, was a highlight of the performances in the Own Choice.

In final position were Tasmanian band Glenorchy.  It is true the band has seen better days, but some comfort can be found in the improvement in the bands performance on the second day in its Own Choice, Harmony Music.

There needs to be careful consideration by the bands who struggled with the chosen Test Dove Descending, as to whether or not the band/s (and MD's) should remain in A Grade.  Relegation to B Grade may be ultimately more beneficial.

Own Choice

Professor David King made it clear in his remarks that suitability of choice was high on his agenda for grading performances.

The general concept of trying to find the tastiest of 14 fruits when they're all apples is one thing (& still has much to do with personal choice), however, if you then try to pick the best fruit when you're comparing apples, oranges, banana's & kiwi's the decision becomes less objective and more subjective.
 
Accordingly, we found ourselves looking for performances that obviously met/or got close to the technical requirements of the piece, had affinity with & showed real enjoyment of the music, contained energy/life & conveyed a sense of purpose in the playing & overall, made convincing musical arguments.
 
It's hard to say there was any performance that really convinced or got us going on any worthwhile level & therefore, we were back to trying to select the least bad fruit. And bottom line, the final decision can be no definitive right or wrong, only opinion.
 
Professor David King's remarks echoed this thought when he said that ultimately, these results were his 'testimony' of the proceedings.  This testimony is the one that counts, and we don't know of anyone better qualified to pass judgement.

With the overall general standard being generally quite disappointing, we were left wanting more - looking for that musical/emotional fulfulling performance.

Amanda Casagrande
(in collaboration with an independent consultant)
 

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