2009 Scottish Regional Championship - Third Section - retrospective

26-Mar-2009

The Third Section set the whole standard for the championships on the weekend - and a good one it was too, especially from the bands heading to Harrogate.


COALBURN
Coalburn success - All smiles as Coalburn take the Third Section title
www.brassbandphotography.com

The Third Section in Scotland was the opening contest of the weekend, and gave a pretty clear indication of the standard to be expected over the two days – good quality playing from the winners, but quite a significant drop in standard the further down the results table.

Enjoyable afternoon

Both adjudicators, Allan Ramsay and Peter Bassano, agreed that they had an enjoyable afternoon, but did note that the unfriendly hall acoustic and some poor intonation in many performances had marred some of their listening enjoyment.

For the majority of neutrals, Coalburn Silver was the clear winner.

Under MD Gareth Bowman, their performance managed to achieve a level of consistency over all three movements of ‘The Once and Future King’ that avoided many of the tuning pitfalls that other bands simply waded into.

A solid opening movement led to some very warm bass and middle band sounds in the central section of the piece, which also benefited from confident soprano playing. The final movement had a great quality of sound, free from any overblowing, and the only slight negative being the lack of drive in some places which could have increased the excitement factor even more.

Scottish Saltaire

However, this was a very well rehearsed ensemble with a talented MD (who was also to be seen conducting in the Fourth Section later on in the day), and 4BR will be following them with interest as they compete for the National title in Harrogate. On this form they will uphold the honour of the Scottish Saltaire with a great deal of confidence.

Nice reading

Dunfermline Town
gave a very nice reading of the test piece to book their place to Harrogate.

Dunfermline are a compact sounding band, and all the important parts in the atmospheric score were brought out by MD David Neil, with the band’s soprano player on tremendous form in the solo passages.

There were a few errors and moments of bad tuning, but overall this was a very solid rendition of the piece that had pace and drive, complimented by an MD who really understood the score.

Nearly

Drawn straight after Dunfermline, Renfrew Burgh gave a performance that 4BR thought may well have come in the priceless qualification places. Although the tuning in the cornet section was not the best throughout all three movements, the MD gave the reading so much drive and excitement, and all the soloists played very well, with particular praise due to the soprano and trombone players.

The band’s percussion team were excellent throughout, and if it had not been for the tuning problems Renfrew may have now been looking at a trip to North Yorkshire later on in the year.

Errant problems

Fourth place went to St. David’s Brass, who was cruising possibly to Harrogate up until the last movement, when a host of errant problems counted against them. 

There was some nicely balanced ensemble work in the first movement, and some lovely playing from the band’s principal cornet in the second, but even though the finale was very exciting, too many instances of sloppy rhythmic playing did detract. In common with several other bands on the day, the percussion team at St. David’s were excellent. It was very close to being a qualifier.

Pretty solid

Buckhaven & Methil Miners Brass
were the unfortunate band to draw number one at the start of the day’s proceedings, and this may have unsettled them slightly as the opening fanfares of the piece were not entirely secure. Nothing really sparkled for Buckhaven throughout their performance, which was a shame as the playing was generally pretty solid.

Some of the dynamics were marked up to ensure the parts went in, which did cause a lack of dynamic variance, and the lack of dynamic contrast and drive resulted in the whole reading sounding somewhat flat. Buckhaven do have some great players though, in particular an excellent baritone soloist. 5th was a fair return.

Interpretation

Eoin Tonner took Dundee Instrumental (St. Margaret’s) into 6th place with a reading that was notable for the quality of MD’s interpretation rather than the playing itself.

The conductor made the best use of his resources, creating some lovely shapes in each of the three movements, but the overall standard was never going to be enough to trouble the higher placed bands.

Dundee also had a great baritone player in the ranks, but the overall playing standard will need to improve to ensure a higher placing next year, as 6th place was a fair enough return.

More consistency

Had Irvine and Dreghorn played with more consistency then they could well have come higher than 7th. The first movement featured some very confident playing with excellent percussion effects, but some wayward tuning did spoil the picture.

The second movement was the weakest - with many a nervous moment (but with a lovely conclusion), and by the time the exciting third movement came, Irvine’s shot at the title had passed. The ending was excellently handled, but although 7th place may have been a bit harsh, the band did not play consistently enough to warrant a qualification spot for Harrogate.

Surprise

When Bon-Accord Silver ‘B’ took the stage, the audience was surprised to see the cornet and trombone sections standing for the first movement. The question must be asked why they did it, as it made no difference to the band’s sound whatsoever, and resulted in a long gap between the first and second movements, which the adjudicators must have noticed.

This was a pity, as the band played well in many places, and the tuning was spot on even at the quieter end of the dynamic scale. The trombone player made a lovely sound and MD Bruce Wallace gave great direction to his players, but unfortunate instances of bad tuning (especially in the top Gs in the euphonium line – notoriously bad notes!) and some sloppy percussion work meant that 8th is what Bon-Accord’s performance was finally adjudged to be worth. It could well have been so much better if less risks had been taken.

Touch higher

4BR thought that MacTaggart Scott Loanhead could have maybe finished a touch higher up the table, but it was not to be, as they ended in 9th place.

The opening sections were overblown, but the second movement saw an improvement in the band’s sound, with the muted trombones being some of the best of the day.

Confident first and second baritone playing was good to hear in the third movement, but looseness in the ensemble meant that even a very good ending could not prevent MacTaggart being consigned to the lower end of the final table.

Shape the playing

Tayport Instrumental
benefited from a good MD in Frank Culross, who tried to shape the playing as best he could, but there were far too many inconsistencies throughout, and generally sloppy playing took away any musicality that was trying to be created.

The band made a good sound at the louder dynamics, but some lines did sound a touch forced, and even a nice trombone soloist and decent 7/8 feel in the last movement could not prevent Tayport from finishing in an eventual 10th place.

Shame

Turriff Silver
did not benefit musically, as the tempi chosen by the MD in each of the three movements was allowed to slow down quite considerably, with play almost coming to a halt in the third movement it seemed.

This was a shame, as Turriff is a better band than this, and has a decent cornet section and good euphonium, trombone and horn players. The bass section also gave a nice haunting feel to the melody in the second movement, and if Turriff had benefited from better flow, they would surely not have finished up in 11th and last place.

Accidentals

One thing that was noticeable in so many bands was the failure of players and MDs to correctly observe accidentals, which are all clearly marked.

The rule that accidentals carry through the bar was utterly disregarded in many performances. How conductors missed these blatant mistakes is simply a mystery.

Much has been written about how much players in the Third Section have enjoyed this test piece, and how it is perfectly suited to this level - so nothing more needs to be said on that subject.

In conclusion, the standard was not too bad at all, but there were too many bands in desperate need of training in the basics of playing – tight ensemble, nice sounds and good tuning.

Hopefully, MDs will go away and work on these facets of playing with their bands in order to present a stronger challenge in 2010.

Robert Richardson

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