Association of Brass Band Adjudicators - AGM & Test Piece workshop


4BR was in Cleakheaton to see the men in the box for 2008 put three of the regional test pieces under the microscope.

It's not often that the eyes and ears of the brass band world are focussed on the salubrious surroundoings of the Cleakheaton Sports and Welfare Club. 

However, in a year where the spotlight of quality and innovation will increasingly be focussed on the brass band movement, the Association of Brass Band Adjudicators held their AGM on Sunday  30th December where a healthy turn out of nearly 40 members from far and wide came to elect their representative officers for the forthcoming year as well as take part in a Regional test piece workshop led expertly by Dr Roy Newsome.

Putting the players through their paces: Dr Newsome leads Marsden through one of the set works

The Millennium has brought new challenges, aims and objectives to various component elements of the banding world and ABBA faces a future where their role is seen as integral to its overall well being.  It is a challenge that ABBA states it is determined to meet.

The formalities of the day saw the re-election of the principal officers: Derek Broadbent was returned as Chairman, whilst Colin Hardy, Brian Buckley and Malcolm Brownbill accepted the opportunity to continue as Treasurer, Secretary and Public Relations Officer respectively.

Over the past few years there has been a welcome openness about ABBA as they seek to enhance their own levels of professional competence, and the organisation has a long established programme of active discussion, participation and debate amongst its membership.  

Eyes down, look in: Dr Newsome leads the judges through the workshop

ABBA had invited Marsden Silver Ossett Brewery Band to act as their ‘guinea pigs’ as they looked at the 2008 Area test pieces in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th sections. It proved to be an interesting occasion.

The main aim as set out by Dr Newsome was not just to be able to become more familiar with the pieces themselves, but to gain through discussion, similar ideas about the interpretative side of the music that could be employed through consistent analysis in the box at the Regional contests.

With the regions rather shoehorned in 2008, this should provide welcome news to the ears of competing bands and conductors, although as there was no analysis of the Championship or First Section set work under the same conditions, those bands may well reserve judgement for the time being.

Rodney Newton’s ‘Four Cities Symphony’ was the first under the spotlight with Marsden, conducted by Dr Newsome, performing extended excerpts of each of its movements. Members were then asked for their thoughts – not of Marsden’s performance, but of the potential problems for competing bands that they identified in the score.   The same process was employed for the other set works.

Open and shut case: Some of the delegates ponder the scores

The open debate touched upon style (the main melodic lines in particular), tempi (the relationship between that found in the opening two movements) and the thorny old topic of percussion (or the lack of it at times at this level) with the general consensus suggesting that consistency of approach and execution were the main ingredients that were required – although Dr Newsome added the lovely tongue in cheek remark that it didn’t mean that anyone should award first prize to the band that was consistently awful in all four movements of the piece!

The same process on Paul Lovatt – Cooper’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and Kenneth Downie’s ‘Three Part Invention’ also raised a number of cogent points about the ability of players at these levels to perform quite intricate percussion parts on instruments that many may not be familiar with. Allowing the percussionists time before the contest to have access to the set ups on stage was one particularly sensible idea aired, and it was clear that percussion could well play a pivotal role between success or failure on this, and the other works analysed on the day.

However, there were times when the focus of discussion meandered onto territory that clearly did not come under ABBA’s remit – such as percussion numbers and brass players helping out by playing percussion parts, although a number of pertinent points were raised and discussed too.

It was agreed that a statement in regard to percussion would be published by the ABBA Executive to try and clarify their position on the matter in time for the Regionals – something that perhaps may muddy the waters even further and was surely not needed. In addition, the analysis of the pieces was not helped by the fact that due to illness Marsden could only field the one percussionist on the day, so many of the tuned and effect parts were missing.

ABBA provided proof scores of two of the works used on the day, but the question still arose – if the judges themselves really want to improve their skills then why hadn’t enough of them invested in an early Xmas present for themselves of the scores for all the regional works?  If you are to get anything out of an event such as this then surely you should come prepared? The majority did it must be said – others, worryingly, did not.

Dyke duo: Two former Black Dyke men (Messers Wadsworth and Parkes) pick up points

The continued open approach to test piece analysis by ABBA (the workshop was open to all interested parties) is one that is both welcomed and rewarding.   Although it will not of course give any conductor the secret formula to winning their respective contest will have given them solid food for thought.

It has also provided the judges with the opportunity to discuss the pieces in question with the added bonus of hearing it ‘live’, allowing them to ultimately provide a much more consistent approach and interpretation about how they go about their decision making. 

Encouragingly, a large number of quite detailed points were made on each of the test pieces, with a generally broad agreement over major issues raised – something that should allow for that element of consistency to be shown throughout the regions.

That may still not make everyone happy come the announcement of the results of course, but it does show that ABBA is prepared to invest time in ensuring that its members enter the boxes from Torquay to Dundee well prepared – and no one can ask for more than that.

Iwan Fox


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