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2017 Spring Festival
Grand Shield preview and prediction

4BR Editor Iwan Fox takes closer look at the challenge that awaits the bands on Stephen Roberts' 'Reflections on Swan Lake' — and tries to pick two British Open qualifying lead roles...

SWAN
The perfect reflection on a Swan Lake...

20 bands just one step away from the British Open: 20 bands faced with one heck of a test of their balletic poise, precision, stylistic wit and stamina.  

‘Reflections on Swan Lake’ isn’t just a thoroughly demanding set-work that bands need to be mastered to gain one of the two qualification places to Symphony Hall, but also something of a musical metaphor for the challenge that they all face in trying.

Fig rolls

Beauty as well as success comes at a cost: It is no coincidence that the toes of a prima ballerina looked like fig rolls and the thighs of male dancer are hewn out of braided steel.  There is no substitute for the hours of hard graft that has been undertaken to make things look easy.

Beauty as well as success comes at a cost: It is no coincidence that the toes of a prima ballerina looked like fig rolls and the thighs of male dancer are hewn out of braided steel4BR

Poetic fantasy

It will be the same here on Stephen Roberts’ poetic fantasy - one that cleverly draws an ornate parallel to Tchaikovsky’s original score by loose reflective reference to the storyline.  This is all about good and evil - the ‘pure’ qualities of melody up against the darker elements of virtuosity:  Tension and antagonism - all ‘pas de deux’ and passion, men in tights and skinny women on tippy-toes.  

bALLET
Tights and toes...

Critics have been a bit sniffy about the musical merits of ‘Reflections on Swan Lake’, but it certainly did its job at the Open a couple of years ago.

Ballerina's toes

It will take a high quality, very well prepared band to float serenely away from the Winter Gardens with the Grand Shield tucked neatly under its wing - and also one that has the underwater engine torque of an old farm tractor to power it.

the deceptive opening testing nerves from the off, whilst the stylistic nuances encapsulate everything from a czardas and bolero to a waltz and a triumphal swagger march4BR

Compact tests

The compact individual tests come thick and fast - the deceptive opening testing nerves from the off, whilst the stylistic nuances encapsulate everything from a czardas and bolero to a waltz and a triumphal swagger march. There is sweetness and light as well bombast and bluff grandeur, filigree delicacy contrasting with thumping brashness. At the end of it all, lips will feel like a ballerina’s toes (despite the small cut in the score).  

wINNIKNG sMILES
2016 Champion: Carlton Main Frickley Colliery

As for a winner?

There are some hefty challengers taking to the boards, with no less than four Area champions and a further four London finalists. There are also a brace of Cheltenham First Section qualifiers.

Two bands that are desperate to arabesque their way from the faded glory of the Golden Mile are Virtuosi GUS and Whitburn, with the Scots attempting to escape for a seventh successive year.

Two bands that are desperate to arabesque their way from the faded glory of the Golden Mile are Virtuosi GUS and Whitburn4BR

They have come close in recent times, but not close enough. However, with Prof Nicholas Childs at the helm and boosted by an excellent victory at the Scottish Championships they could be the pre-contest favourites. Meanwhile, Virtuosi GUS has already claimed the Butlins and Midlands Area titles - so will be keen to make it a hat-trick of major silverware.

Whitburn
Can the seventh time by lucky for Whitburn?

Despite the well-deserved success, you suspect either of them will be quite happy with a second place finish to their name.

Fine form

Two others also in fine form are Hammonds Saltaire - especially after their runner-up finish at the Yorkshire Area, and Woodfalls, who claimed the West of England title. Both are looking to make a quick return to Symphony Hall after British Open relegation last year.

Elsewhere, the increasingly impressive NASUWT Riverside upset the Area form book in the North of England, whilst London qualifiers Reg Vardy (winners here in 2011), Tongwynlais Temperance (with three top-six finishes in the last five years) and Thoresby Colliery (promoted from the Senior Cup) will also be keen to secure qualification.

Two others also in fine form are Hammonds Saltaire - especially after their runner-up finish at the Yorkshire Area, and Woodfalls, who claimed the West of England title4BR

Others to look out for could well be the solid north-west pairing of Ashton under Lyne and Wingates alongside Yorkshire rivals and 2012 winners Hepworth.

Dark Horses

Dark horses abound - from the likes of First Section Cheltenham qualifiers Rainford (who could create history if they win by claiming the Trophy, Cup and Shield in consecutive years), Pemberton Old Wigan DW and Unite the Union, to West of England contenders Aldbourne (5th last year) and Camborne.

Wales also sends a trio of hard working performers in Burry Port, Llywdcoed (who won on this piece at a recent Welsh League contest) and Northop Silver, whilst Scotland also has former winners Kirkintilloch coming back to form. 

Iwan Fox


4BR Prediction:

A hard one to call, but the two bands that stand out on form are Virtuosi GUS and Whitburn, whilst Woodfalls and Hammonds Saltaire could well be snapping at their heels.  

Reg Vardy and Hepworth have the pedigree and experience, whilst it wouldn’t be the Grand Shield without a surprise inclusion or two in the results table - so watch out for the likes of Rainford or Thoresby perhaps making a mark. 

1. Virtuosi GUS
2. Whitburn
3. Woodfalls
4. Hammonds Saltaire
5. Reg Vardy
6. Hepworth

Dark Horses: Rainford & Thoresby Colliery 



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Darren R. Hawken

PGdip, BMus(hons) PGCE, dipABRSM, LRSM
Conductor, Arranger, Teacher, Adjudicator, Band Trainer