An overview of brass banding in Australia - by Amanda Casagrande


Amanda Casagrande gives a personal overview of the current brass band scene in Australia, where size really does matter!

Amanda CasagrandeIt is often said that, generally, many who live in the UK and Europe, know very little about the brass banding scene in Australia. So here is a little snippet which will put things into some basic perspective.

The contesting scene

Each year Australia holds a National Championship over the five day Easter period.  Any band can compete provided it is affiliated/registered with its State Association - there is no qualification process. Bands from other countries are also welcome and New Zealand is often represented. In recent times, Japanese bands have shown interest with their first entry, in A Grade, at the 2003 Nationals.  Australia has a "come any come all" approach as long as the gradings of the competing bands are accurate.  The infusion of other bands from other countries has helped to lift the local standards to new heights.  Perhaps the 'colonial' nationals could be just another 'area' competition leading to the British Open or maybe just a good old fashion test match... now there's an idea - a test match the poms might have a chance at winning without Johnny Wilkinson!

The location of the Aussie nationals is moved every year with each of the States vying for the competition.  It is usually rotated on a reasonable basis between the States on the eastern seaboard and South Australia.  Given Western Australia and the Northern Territory are 7 hours from any where by 737 they tend to get a Nationals every now and again.

This year the Nationals were held in Launceston, Tasmania; last year, Newcastle (NSW) and next year Adelaide in South Australia will be the host city - a great opportunity to visit the Barossa Valley home to some of the finest wineries in the World!  Brisbane (Qld) will run the 2006 National Championships.  As you can appreciate, the logistics of getting a band to some of these destinations is not an easy task.  For example, a Brisbane band attended the Nationals in Launceston this year.  As there were no flights directly into Launceston, the band had a 2 hour flight from Brisbane to Melbourne, waited 1 hour, and then changed planes for another 1½ hour flight to Launceston.  One way, the band travelled for approximately 4½ hours!  The cost to the band to attend the contest came to around $25,000 or 11,000 pounds if you still talk the old King George - and that is certainly not with 5 star accommodation.  Sponsorships are few and far between!!    This scenario is common to many bands where players are also asked to contribute towards travelling and accommodation costs.  Imagine being a band from Cairns - the flight time alone from Cairns to Brisbane is 2 hours!

There are many bands that don't have the opportunity to attend the Nationals - more often than not, due to financial reasons.  As an alternative each of the 7 states in Australia [Tasmania (Tas), Victoria(Vic), New South Wales(NSW), Queensland(Qld), South Australia(SA), Western Australia(WA) and Northern Territory(NT)] holds its own State Championships each year - again, no qualification process but all bands are graded.

These competitions would be equivalent to the 'British Areas' with the exception that they stop at that point.  These competitions are usually held on a weekend.  Some States combine band and solo events on the same weekend (e.g. Qld) whilst other states (e.g. Vic and NSW) have separate weekends for the band and solo components. 
Therefore, it is possible for most bands to attend at least two major contests a year.  Some bands on occasions attend more.  For example, a band can attend the Nationals, their own State championships and the championships held in another state. 

Each of the States of Australia holds its State Championships in the same City each year except for Queensland where different cities host the contest.  Looking at the map of Qld helps to understand this structure.  Although Brisbane is the capital of Qld, geographically, it is not central.  The State of Qld holds its 'area championship' during the Easter break which happens to be the same time as the National Championships - except when the National Championships are held in Qld.  (Confused??  So are we at times!!!)  When this happens, the State Championships are then held at another time during the year.  The Qld Band Association has been looking at this issue for some time now as some Qld bands, if able and want to attend the Nationals, do then, not get the chance to compete in their own State Championships.  (Interesting Fact:   England fits into the area of Qld 24 times!!)  Within Qld, the idea is to have the State Championships move from city to city each year in order to give more geographically isolated bands opportunities to attend contests without the heavy financial burden of travel expenses year after year. 

Within each state there are also numerous zone/region/branch competitions held annually.

Australian Contesting Events & Music

Australia has a grading system where bands are graded according to their standard of musical performance, generally speaking.  The 'highest' grade being A Grade, then B Grade, C Grade, D Grade and Junior Grade.  (Junior bands may elect to compete in 'higher' grades if of an approved standard).  Each State governing body is responsible for authorising/approving  a band's grading which is reviewed (systems of review vary from State to State) regularly according to contesting results. 

Test music for each contest is announced sometimes up to 6 months before.  For the National Championships, bands in general, prepare and play a set test selection, an own choice test selection, an own choice sacred item and own choice stage march.  That's a fair amount of music for a band to play at this level where all the points count but…….I guess you don't want to spend 20k of the bands hard earned funds and travel to the moon and back just to play one number.  They breed em tough here in the back blocks of civilization. The test and sacred item are played on the first day, the own choice test and stage march on the next day.  There is a similar system for State Championships although this does vary from State to State. 

The test selections for the Nationals 2004 were:

A Grade:  Chivalry (Martin Ellerby)
B Grade:  Suite Gothique (Leon Boellmann arr. Eric Ball)
C Grade:  Chorale and Toccata (Stephen Bulla)
D Grade:  Legend in Brass (James Curnow)
Junior A Grade: Images for Brass (Stephen Bulla)
Junior B Grade: Island Music (Stuart Johnson)
12 bands competed in the A Grade section - 1 from Brisbane (yep - only 1, the Qld Championships were on the same weekend!), 3 from New South Wales, 4 from Victoria, 2 from South Australia, 1 from Tasmania and 1 from New Zealand.  Eight bands competed in B Grade, six in C Grade, seven in D Grade and five Junior Bands in total.  Examples of own choice selections were Tallis Variations (Sparke), Montage (Graham), Cambridge Variations and Whitsun Wakes (Ball). 

Some of the hymn tunes chosen were The Old 100th (Bourgeois arr Fernie), Crimond (arr. Richards), and I Know Thou Art Mine (Ballantine) whilst stage marches included Praise (Heaton), ORB (Anderson) and The Australasian (Rimmer).

Presently, National rules state that an own choice selection can not be more than 18 minutes duration.  This was sought to be changed this year by way of a resolution at national level by the State of Qld, however, the motion was defeated.  This means, of course, that we are unable to tackle modern compositions such as Concerto Grosso, Dove Descending and many others. 

At National contest level, soloists have the opportunity to compete in an event specific to their instrument - both at the Junior and the Senior level.  The music for these events is a set test piece.  The winners of each instrument then compete against each other for the overall Junior Champion of Champions and/or Open Champion of Champions - music is own choice for this event. There is also an ensemble event where the music is own choice, and percussion events.   A similar structure exists for State Championships.

This year (2004) the set solo test music for the open solos was:

Eb Soprano:   Variations on a Welsh Theme (Kneale)
Bb Cornet:   Concertpiece Op. 12 (Brandt)
Flugel Horn:   Song and Dance (Sparke)
Eb Tenor Horn:  Higgy Jig (Richards)
Baritone:   Anna Karenina (Johnston)
Euphonium:   Pantomime (Sparke)
Tenor Trombone:  Sonata in F Major (Corelli)
Bass Trombone:  After the Moon Goes Down (Woodcock)
Eb Bass:   Tuba Concerto (1st Movement) (Gregson)
Bb Bass:   Grand Concerto (Grafe)
Mallet Percussion:  Concerto for Vibrophone&Orchestra (Rosauro)
Side/Snare Drum:  Three Means to an End (Schinstine)
Timpani:   Prelude and Waltz (Carroll)
Multi Percussion:  The Love of L'Histoire (DeLancey)

One of the most favourite events for all bands is the Parade of Bands (if you believe that you will believe anything) Yes, that's right - a street march competition.  All bands have to participate to be eligible for the main stage competition.  What's the connection you ask?  Well I still don't know given they always choose a route where there aren't any pubs.  There are also events for concert bands and concert band instruments.

I hope that this global outlook paints a picture for you the readers at 4BR so that future articles have some form of relativity for you.

Amanda Casagrande

Coming soon: What are your ex-pats up to?

There has been quite a few bandsman from the UK move to Australia in recent years.  We will look at how they have settled into Australia and the banding scene down here.  We will here from the likes of Steve Ridler (ex Brighouse), Peter Younghusband (ex Leyland), Samantha McIntyre (ex CWS), Roger Webster (ex Black Dyke... we wish!... and I bet you all thought he was just over here for a tour) and others...


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