Letter from America - A view from across the pond


Ralph Pearce was a welcome visitor to the Royal Albert Hall this year, and the former music teacher now in charge of musical matters for the Salvation Army in Arizona brought his keen eye and well informed views to bear on the contest.

Not having visited the Nationals since 1998 it was with some enthusiastic anticipation that I approached the RAH on Saturday 28th. 

I duly bought my program and score and then hoped to follow the music when the lights were dimmed.  Did no-one think to let the hall authorities know that following the study score is an integral part of contest attendance?  The print of the study score was already small enough to make those of us of more advancing years squint but then it occurred to me that we were being made to empathize with Hector Berlioz who spent many nights in the Catacombs of Paris.  By the time the second band played normal service had been resumed.

As has already been mentioned my 8 year absence has meant that most of my contest following has occurred on-line and through the pages of British Bandsman and Brass Band World. I had read of a gap between the very best Championship sections and what were referred to in this Web site as "Cup of Tea" bands.  My impression was more of a gaping chasm not only in terms of technique but also of sheer class and musicality. 

Black and Decker schools

The best bands produced sounds that were impressive in terms of the depth and richness of their sonorities.  Many other bands seemed to have a Shakespearian style of playing "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".  I was also disappointed to hear how many trombone sections were students at what I thought was the purely American "Black and Decker School" of playing - rip and rough-cut.  It was also a matter of some surprise to hear this so called "easy" test piece bringing many bands down to earth.  Certainly we were able to find out in 12 and a half minutes which were the best bands.  Some bands revealed their short-comings in considerably less time than that.  Th eupshot of this being that we were able to leave the hall before dark.

Simply breathtaking

Having said all of that it must be stated that even the weakest bands played at a higher level than would be heard at a similar event almost anywhere else in the world.  The leading bands played at a level that was simply breathtaking.  With such professional standards of playing it was a shame to see the parochial way in which we were subjected to the closing exercises.  We wanted to hear the results, not various officials repeating what could be read in the programme by the literate audience.  Why we were constantly informed by speakers that "you don't want to listen to me" yet were forced to endure more of their ramblings was a mystery.  If the adjudicators are advised by their association not to speak, can an organization not be found to prevent sponsors and organizers from indulging in soporific perorations?

For what it's worth my top six were -
1. Grimethorpe Colliery (UK Coal)
3. Black Dyke
4. Fodens Richardson
5. YBS
6. Fairey

Since the adjudicators don't have to explain themselves, then neither do I.

Other complaints though!

1.  Regular readers of this site would be amazed and the vast amount of food in the 4barsRest box -  none of which was offered to transatlantic visitors might I add!

2.  It is probably good practice for the ushers to prevent entry into the hall and boxes whilst the bands are playing, but it would be nice if they were available to allow entry into the boxes between bands.

3.  As a tea-totaller I cannot comment on the price of beer; all I can say is that for the price of a bag of sea salt crisps only one-third full by the way I can purchase 6 litres of petrol here in the USA.

In all seriousness it was encouraging to see the hall pleasingly full and that many bandsmen came into the hall to hear the performances of other bands. 

The most pleasing thing I saw was one band, no names, excitedly lining up on the  steps at the South Side of the RAH for a picture commemorating their visit to the top of the banding world.  Perhaps that's what it's really about.

Ralph E. Pearce


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