2009 Norwegian National Championships - Postcard from Bergen

11-Feb-2009

Its all about the generation game in Norway - and they haven't thought of getting Bruce Forsyth involved either...


Norwegian banding has renewed itself once again. This was third generation brass banding at the Grieghallen in Bergen in 2009.

The first generation set up these championships in 1979 and nurtured its development; the second saw it flower into one of the finest events anywhere in the banding world. The third is now planning its future prosperity with an ambition that would have made its founding fathers proud. 

Not stopped yet

In just 30 years these championships have become the best run, best organised, most vibrant, most secure, most enlightening series of contests anywhere in the banding world.  And they haven’t stopped yet.

This year there was live internet streaming via the main Norwegian broadcasting channel, national television coverage, pages of local, regional and national press coverage, a record number of bands, halls full of supporters and listeners, a feeling of fun, youthfulness and community. It was startling.

The Norwegians enjoy their banding – from the warm and informal atmosphere of the post contest dinner for officials, dignitaries, judges and guests, to the free for all celebrations of the Brass Night.

Open and welcome

The contests themselves are open, welcoming and ambitious – a relaxed competitiveness that speaks of inclusion rather than exclusion.

Judges are picked from varying musical fields, the entertainment at the Gala Concert has something for everyone (especially if you liked ABBA this year, courtesy of Eikanger Bjorsvik and Reid Gilje), and the hall was full to the brim to hear the results being announced.

It is hard to find fault.

Baton of responsibility

The baton of responsibility has been passed to the new generation, who in turn fully respect what their predecessors achieved and ensure the history of the event is not forgotten. They then set out their own progressive agenda for the future.

It is the same with the bands themselves too.

Eikanger’s 11th victory was achieved by their own third generation of performers. 

Eikanger generations

The first were the band that won here under the likes of Helge Haukas and Ray Farr, before flowering into a truly great ensemble under the inspiration of Howard Snell - leaving their mark on history with their double European success.

The second was the band that followed – eclipsed at first in contesting terms, but one that blossomed as an artistic entity through its continued connection with Snell, Howarth and others. Their own musical foundation stones were firmly embedded in the form of Reid Gilje, Frode Rydland - the contesting superstructure taken over by Nicholas Childs.

Now that band has been supplanted by the newest generation.

Gone

Gone are the likes Tormod Flaten, Jana Westervik, Gary Peterson and Martin Winter amongst others (although some will be back we are sure). Now we have the likes of Henning Anundsen on principal cornet – a performer of cool artistry.  Some of the former generation remain in place, such as the ageless trombone section, but there is no denying that this is very much a new band.

Eikanger are not alone however. Both Manger and Stavager in particular are bands that are replenished by new blood. Stavanger no longer has the likes of Espen Westbye and Odin Hagen or cornet, whilst Manger also fielded new ‘caps’ throughout their band too.

That may account for the impression that overall the standard of performances at the Elite level were a notch or two below what we have heard in recent years, but the sense of potential yet unfulfilled was frightening.  The best is yet to come, especially if the likes of Oslo, Molde, Ila and Krohnengen continue to improve as they have.

Rejuvenation

Elsewhere the sense of rejuvenation – new faces in the Band Federation and NMF, (who graciously accepted the 4BR Special Award), real competitiveness in the lower divisions (except the Fourth it must be said) is palpable. What these championships will be likes in say a decade’s time is anyone’s guess.

Not that they have got it all quite right though.

Openness

The amazing sense of openness in the Fourth Division meant that this year it became something of an anomaly. Bjorsvik Brass, a band of ‘veteran’ players from the Eikanger organisation, walked away with the contest. Under Russell Gray they won by 8 points playing ‘Journey into Freedom’ with the help of Messer’s Winter, Flaten and Hansen in the ranks. It was brilliant, but totally wrong.

The packed audience loved it (especially as Martin Winter had just come from the hospital earlier in the day after the birth of his son to conduct two bands and play soprano cornet), but everyone knew that it was a hollow victory – although it was not the band’s fault.

Right steps

By the organisers sticking too conservatively to the rulebook, the band had to play in the Fourth Division even though they really wished to perform in the First. If the Norwegians are to ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen again, eventually demoralising up and coming young bands in the process, then the right steps should be taken. 

Everyone wants to ensure older generations of players are still actively involved in banding in some form, but it must be done realistically.  Perhaps the advent of a Fifth Division for such bands may be an idea worth exploring?

Still, that is for another time – and perhaps an even newer generation.

Iwan Fox

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