2007 North American Brass Band Championships - Retrospective: Honors Section


Central Ohio Brass Band make the most of Elfland and Connotations to claim victory, as the up and coming bands in the Honors Section show that they are all heading in the right direction.

Central Ohio Brass Band President, Chris Dekay and MD, Jessica Sneeringer raise the bands first banner in 15 years.

The Honors Section, as a group, demonstrated the fact that the rising tide of American brass banding is indeed lifting the level of all contesting ships. This is evidenced by the fact that at least three of the bands played as their own choice piece compositions that were Championship Section test pieces only a few short years ago.
The afternoon began with the defending champion, the New England Brass Band.  Their performance was strong in many ways, with spirited and musical readings of the test item and Robert Redhead's ‘Isaiah 40'.  They set the bar high for the afternoon.  The band will continue to improve with the soloists working hard to match each other's intensity and with stronger playing by the middle instruments, (Horn 1-2 and Baritone 1-2), which were frequently lost in the tutti sound of the band.
Next up was the Georgia Brass Band, making their first appearance in the Honors Section this year, after winning the Challenge Section in their first time at NABBA last year.  This is definitely a band on the rise, with good soloists and a refined sound.  On occasions the inherent dark quality of their own choice, Eric Ball's ‘Resurgam', was spoiled by intonation problems.  On the plus side, the band played with great dynamics, intensifying the dramatic effect of both the Ball and test piece.
Third in the order was the Prairie Brass Band.  After a bumpy beginning, ‘Un Vie de Matelot' settled in with some strong playing by the group's soprano player.  This piece was much different in character from most of what was played throughout the day by the other bands.  The entire performance was generally clean and accurate.  There was some wonderfully dynamic playing by the percussion section, but it was not always matched by the rest of the band, who often seemed to play it safe dynamically.
The Cincinnati Brass Band opened up with an energetic playing of the test piece, displaying excellent dynamic range.  The cornets often led the charge in the tutti sound, and could have used a bit more backing from the rest of the band.  The band navigated their choice piece, Gregson's ‘Connotations', quite well, only occasionally losing continuity of tempo on some of the repeated sixteenth note (sorry, semiquaver!) figures that get passed around from section to section and give all bands fits.  This was a difficult program, and although it showed a bit at the end, strongly played.

COBB euphoniums and baritones find there way through Connotations

The Central Ohio Brass Band was looking to improve on last year's result, and certainly accomplished their goal.  The second band to play ‘Connotations' as their own choice, they got things started well with a very strong reading of this difficult piece.  Excellent technical and musical playing was only intermittently blemished with some intonation problems, as well as some rhythmic insecurity in places, with the band not always arriving at the downbeat exactly together.  The test item was very well played, with very good attention to musical nuance.  During the devilish fugue/scherzo section some of the independent voices were lost from time to time.  Overall though strong playing and good soloists.
The Triangle Brass Band was next to take the stage.  This is a very musical ensemble, with very sensitive playing and a beautiful, dark sound on ‘Resurgam', which fitted the style and character of the group quite well. 

We shall rise again: Triangle head for the prizes on Resurgam

The test piece, ‘The King of Elfland's Daughter', was more of a stretch for this ensemble on this day.  Their more reserved style, which served them well with Eric Ball, made this piece, which takes an aggressive approach, difficult for them.   There were many times where Rodney Newton's score called for fortissimo or more, but the band just did not seem up to it.  As a result, both in the tutti and soloistic sections, much of the music's heroic nature was not fully realized.
The Princeton Brass Band ended the afternoon's music making with great energy.  The loud end of the musical spectrum was certainly their strong suit on this day, and the band frequently showed off their aggressive approach to playing in the Newton test piece.  These ears would have appreciated the ensemble paying equal attention to the sections marks mp or less, which were not played nearly softly enough, making the loud sections less impressive than they might have been.  Philip Sparke's ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud' was a good choice for Princeton, since it called often for energetic, Candide-esque playing, which is the band's strength.  They must, however, temper their enthusiasm so it does not allow them to overblow and become sloppy, as it did frequently during this performance.
The Honors section was thoroughly enjoyable, with strength from top to bottom.  I feel it will not be long before some of these excellent ensembles will be ready to consider joining the ranks of the Championship bands.
Tim Jameson


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