In praise of higher understanding
George Charles raised some good points in his e-mail about the English National Contest, including interest in the adjudication system for own-choice test pieces.
I think it only fair to try and give an answer as best as I can, since he has more or less asked directly.
Is there a system?
Is Rococo Variations easier than Audivi Media Nocte?
As I said in my summing up at the end of the contest, it is a question of examining all the technical elements, along with the musical elements of a performance and comparing these standards.
The order of merit is determined by the most satisfactory whole. Which performance stands out and says, 'Choose me above the others today'?
It appears that, on the day, Dionysus outshone Apollo in the (unseeing) eyes of the adjudicators, but at the same time it should be remembered that some of the simplest ‘Apollonian’ music was actually contained within 'Revelation'.
I know as a performer that the hardest things are very often the simplest.
'Rococo Variations' is very much ‘about’ refinement and beauty, whereas 'Audivi Media Nocte' is more ‘about’ drama and excitement.
I also know, from my experience as a conductor at own-choice test pieces that adjudicators often have the temerity to disagree with my own unerring sense of judgement!
That is their prerogative and my chagrin, but as George suggests, it is good to know the reasons why.
The fact is that an own-choice contest will always throw up its own set of dichotomies, but it does at least present a wonderful musical feast for aficionados to listen to and debate - what a pity more weren’t there to partake.
The debate is old and will continue, so I close with my own (rather free) translation of the 19th century German folk poem, Lob des hohen Verstandes or 'In Praise of Higher Understanding':
Once upon a time, in a wooded vale,
The Cuckoo and the Nightingale
Decided to see who could sing the best
By staging a public musical contest.
Whoever won would surely gain
Wealth and kudos - even fame.
The Cuckoo said, “If it’s OK,
I’d like to nominate the judge right away,
And just to make sure everyone is mollified,
I suggest the Donkey, because he’s so well qualified.
You see, he has the biggest ears,
And therefore can hear the best amongst his peers”.
Then off they flew to perform to the adjudicator,
Who said he’d abide by the rules of his calculator.
He told them to get straight on with the singing,
So the Nightingale started, and appeared to be winning,
But the Donkey brayed, “I’m all in a tizzy,
It’s all too complicated and making me dizzy!”
EE-AW, EE-AW! You’re doing my head in!
What is this music – is it something you might tread in?
Then the Cuckoo sang – his song had no hieroglyphs.
It was simple, direct - just thirds, fourths and higher fifths.
The Donkey was pleased – this was more up his street.
“OK, that’s enough, my judgement is complete.
You have sung well enough, my dear Nightingale,
But Cuckoo, your talent is off my sliding scale!
You keep such good rhythm, right on the beat,
My high intellect considers it a truly great feat.
Therefore, though it may cost me more than a dinner,
I solemnly declare that you are the winner!”
How to win a modern brass band contest?
In answer to George Charles and 'How to win a Modern Brass Band' - this is how it usually happens:
1. You have a great band of players
2. You have a first class conductor
3. You make the score come alive employing all means possible within the rules
It's simple really!
How to win a modern brass band contest?
After sitting through both sections on Saturday at the English Nationals at Preston I feel compelled to stimulate the old debate of how to manipulate the score to achieve maybe what is not the intent of the composer.
The use of mutes and other articles to cheat away from the score is rife in some bands, and along with facing the wrong way to hide your quiet playing, is a joke.
Why can't it be a level playing field, all play what is written, all use same mutes and do not use tea towels, old mattresses or anything else draped over the bell end to deaden the sound.
Also, although the playing level was very high on Saturday and two fine performances clinched it on the day for Black Dyke, I am interested on how the adjudicators - Wormald and Roberts differentiate between different pieces to judge the performing bands?
Do they have a system of how difficult a piece is and correlate this to how well it is played? Is Rococo Variations easier than Audivi Media Nocte?
Is it better to play a, what is on the surface, a difficult piece not very well, or choose a one with hidden styles and play it very well?
I would very much like a reply on how they judged this aspect.
Was this the right set of results yesterday?
I don't think so.
Did all bands play fair and square and abide by the composers instructions? I don’t think so either.
Maybe we should an on-stage referee who ensures fair play takes place. Don't move chairs, play the right mutes and refrain from hanging upholstery from the instrument.
Maybe then we should see fair play on the contest stage.
Great bands and music - pity about the organisation
If 4BR wonders why the English National Championship is facing an uncertain future, then the contest last weekend in Preston told you everything you needed to know.
Great music and great bands, but the organisation and presentation were simply embarrassing.
The compere Sally Coleman was out of her depth, providing no information on the pieces, at times not even mentioning the composer’s names.
Where were the band reps and David Read and Nigel Boddice at the results?
No wonder the bands and their supporters don’t want to come to a contest when even the judges can’t be bothered to put in an appearance to explain themselves.
I really take exception to the June 2012 comments of Peter Richardson.
Unlike Mr Henderson, I take a genuine interest in the activities and travels of those within a movement that depends on growth and expansion into new markets for its survivability.
Amongst others in his letter, Mr Henderson mentions “Mr N who is leading a workshop for children”, by sheer coincidence, I’m sure, Les Neish has been an integral part of the work taking place with children in Scotland for a number of years.
Through inspiring workshops and constructive adjudication, Les has helped the SBBA to fuel growth to a point where the number of youth bands now exceeds the contesting bands.
My own band, Whitburn, was lucky enough to secure Les’ services for our own children’s workshop, an event that is still talked about by the young players and I can assure Mr Henderson, we took all the steps to promote this event ourselves.
I’m more than a little confused why Mr Henderson continues to read these self-imposed sources of boredom and frustration but I’m sure there are plenty other people who enjoy reading about the growth of the band movement.
News and news
"There is...a clear distinction between what genuine news is and what is blatant self-promotion", says Peter Richardson, on the subject of news items about individuals in the band world. Unfortunately, he doesn't really tell us what that distinction is.
I looked at the last 100 news items which appeared in the 4BR news column as at 20th June.
Of these, 44 concerned the activities of bands of all grades, on subjects as diverse as new players, new conductors, forthcoming tours, concerts planned and concerts played, awards and much more.
I'd be willing to bet folding money that all these items were unsolicited. Are all these bands also guilty of 'blatant self-promotion'?
Only five of the 100 news items were about individuals, of which (I would say) three were about people sufficiently well-known to have been of general interest (Brett Baker, Paul Lovatt-Cooper and Simon Dobson). Well, I found them interesting anyway.
If you don't like 4BR's news output, you don't have to read it.
Other brass band news outlets, as they say, are available.
The curse of self publicity
After becoming more and more frustrated with the growing number of self-publicising press releases on your site of late I felt I had to write and comment.
Maybe I am alone on this one, but I’m terribly bored with the self-publicity of some individuals through ‘news releases’ recently.
Week by week I am seeing ‘Mr L is racking up the airmiles’, ‘Mr N is leading a workshop for young children’, ‘Mr D is going on a working holiday but has worked with these groups recently and they’re saying how great he was’, ‘Mr M is making his 10th trip to Japan this year’ etc etc etc.
Often the only thing missing was whether they had chicken or fish on the plane or what the traffic was like on the M6 on the way to the gig.
The reality is that conducting different groups, trips abroad and leading workshops/teaching is a daily occurrence for a huge number of brass players all over the world and the vast majority of them don’t feel the need to publicise it is this is them simply making a living.
In the bigger picture, we are in the 21st century and frequent air travel is common place for anyone in middle management upwards in every sector, so where does this fascination with ‘racking up the air miles’ come from?
Presumably 4barsrest does not solicit these stories and that the information is sent to you by these people. If I am wrong, why not solicit another bunch of busy professionals musicians? You don't want to be accused of bias now do you?
My guess is if you do, many of them won't feel they have anything of interest to say, even though they probably do more interesting things than the aforementioned.
I know that you have a constant challenge of providing up to date news and I respect much of the work you do keeping the banding world informed.
There is however, a clear distinction between what genuine news is and what is blatant self promotion.
I am sure that to those starstruck people who don’t realise that these activities are undertaken by countless brass players every day this 'news' will be most impressive but given the denoutment often amounts to nothing more than ‘this person is great and you/your ensemble could experience this greatness too’ can’t you label these stories ‘Advert’?
This is what you do for commercial organisations who advertise how 'great' they are but with the appropriate heading and without the pretence.
I just hope these individuals pay a little extra than the £30 per year for a standard 4barsrest Professional Card for this level of publicity.
Player loyalty - the historical perspective
I am always interested in putting a historical perspective on current issues.
The main argument is, of course, that unless you know your past you are unable to know, or understand, the future: This applies to player loyalties.
From the start of the brass band movement players, as they became more skilled, have moved around. Of course, many bands had rules to manage this.
In November, 1897,for example, Cleckheaton Christian Bretheren Brass Band, reinstated a player on the condition that he never, 'go to Cleckheaton Victoria Band Again.' (Kirklees Archives ref KC131) Helmshore Brass Band's minute books are more telling.
They hold the names and addresses of around twenty players and how much they would play for, ranging from a few shillings to over a pound. (Accrington Local Studies library, 1899-1911).
What stands out is that this band, as well as others,Todmorden Old Brass Band, for example, were employing players to perform at contests. The journals of the time did not approve, but that made no difference.
To earn up to an extra pound a week from playing in this period made a huge difference to a working person's income.
Lines were blurred between working class and middle class income, extra money could enhance players status within domestic and work spheres.
In short, for some, loyalty was given up over ambition.
So, everything that happens in the movement today can be traced back to the past, it is important to realise this.
Stephen Etheridge GLCM MA
Well done Ivor
I can't express my delight enough hearing about the award of a thoroughly deserved M.B.E. to Ivor Stevenson.
He is without doubt one of the hardest working and committed bandsmen I and many others have had the pleasure to know.
He has worked relentlessly over the years to bring quality banding to his wonderful part of the world.
All his efforts in Armagh (and there have been many!!) have crossed borders, faiths, age groups and political divides.
When you read the awards lists and see so many people picking up gongs because they made a few quid, it without doubt restores your faith in the system when a truly unsung hero and his family can be recognised in this way.
Well done Ivor.
Contest - a French wind experience
Just competed in a National Wind Band Contest in France and thought you might be interested in contesting French style!
Firstly it was pre drawn so we were given a time to appear. We arrived at venue and unpacked the instruments into a room at the back of an empty hall. Stands were put up and seats arranged still in an empty hall.
We then proceeded to warm up with a ‘Fantasy on Coventry Carol’ which was not part of our 45 minute programme. During this warm up the SEVEN adjudicators took their places at tables in front of the band.
We were allotted a set time to warm up and tune the band and during tuning the conductor even turned around and greeted some of the adjudicators that he knew! Also, during this warm up period people filed into the hall in time for the scheduled performance. The hall was eventually at least 3/4 full.
We played, the adjudicators applauded and then they walked off to a room at the back of the hall. The band started packing up and whilst doing so an official came and led the conductor away to the adjudicator’s room where he was given verbal impressions of the performance.
As we were very slowly crawling out of the venue car park we passed another competing band who had obviously listened to our performance - they started applauding us with shouts of 'Bravo Bravo'!!!!
Back to base where we were staging an evening concert we later received the written adjudication and the news that we had won the contest!
Contesting here could not be further removed from contesting in the UK that's for sure! Finally, there was no registration although during the performance I did notice one the adjudicators counting the number of players around the stands.
Having received all the judges comments now the one thing that struck me was how much emphasis was placed on the MUSICALITY and EMOTION of the performance by the Band/Soloists rather than the TECHNICAL perspective of the performance.
From little acorns
Dear Sir, with regard to Andy Wyatt's comment about competing bands in the Nationals having to provide proof of a youth policy not being practical I have one question.
He says there are many champion section bands that started out as youth bands . Perhaps he can name some . In any case why should that prevent them from having a youth policy? From small acorns mighty trees grow.
Bands and the Law
What a great article and fascinating reading.
Thanks for the insight and story.
I am coming to the Nationals and looking forward to a great contest.
The final word
In respect to the recent correspondence from John Sullivan to Grimethorpe Colliery Band.
We have replied in full to his enquires and questions, and given what we consider to be a full and frank explanation of our position in regard to recruitment and equal opportunities.
Although all private correspondence remains so between both parties, we can state that we are grateful for him contacting us directly, and we hope this matter can now be put to rest.
Correspondance on this matter is now closed
Listening to 4BR?
Your latest editorial makes for interesting reading as always.
Well done to Kapitol Promotions for taking a modern approach to the choice of music for the National Finals, and also Brass in Concert and the Spring Festival in Blackpool with the proposed changes to their rules and draws.
Dare one say it, but haven’t they all finally woken up to the arguments put forward by 4BR over the past few years.
All that is left is for open adjudication and restructuring of the sections in the UK.
Well done lads - keep up the pressure for change.
Brass bands and Andre Rieu
Just imagine it! A brass band concert pulling audiences like Andre Rieu and the audience getting as much enjoyment as it does from the Johan Strauss Orchestra. There is no earthly reason why not!
Surely there is more than one band in Britain capable of a professional performance comparable if not excelling that of the JSO. They would not have to confine themselves to waltzes ad-nausea or lavish sets. In fact they would need to steer well clear of that music.
The dour repertoires that are normally associated with brass bands will not suffice. The bus conductor uniforms would also have to go and there is no reason why tails and crinoline dresses could not be worn.
Individual bands may be hard pressed to muster the same numbers of gorgeous women but assembling a composite band from those of a sufficiently high performance standard should overcome that problem if it is in fact a problem.
All that may be necessary is to get potential audiences to wake up, sit up, take notice and recognise that brass bands can produce that sort of quality show. The MD would not need to be as charismatic as Andre, but there would need to be an MC that was.
I attended a concert by Brighouse & Rastrick at the Sheffield Town Hall in 2004 that had an MC who brought the house down and had the audience rolling with laughter. I had never seen the likes of him before or since, but maybe that is only because there has been a lack of thinking outside the box.
The sight of the audience spilling out onto the street singing with such gusto ‘Cieleto Lindo’ as was the case at the Rieu concert in Mexico City a few years ago would do wonders for the public appreciation of brass bands.
Great one on five choice
I usually make it to the National Finals every five years it therefore appears that I have chosen the right to come this year with the choice of Howard Snell's kaleidoscopic arrangement of ‘Daphis & Chloe’.
I am looking forward to it and will be a great contest. I dabble a little in classical music and I must admit I have not heard this bit of music – so some homework to do.
However, I have enjoyed all the test pieces that I have heard on my trips and usually all the editorials on 4barsrest are spot on with their appreciation of them too. It will therefore be interesting how the bands cope with this new venture.
I am all for innovation, and one I would like to see would be progressive digital scoring by the adjudicators!
Political irony - I think not
In respect to Iwan Fox’s concert review of Tredegar Town Band at Bedwellty Park recently.
This article was perhaps laced with irony though it certainly did not come across as such.
I found it to be in very poor taste indeed. One does not expect to read more partisan politicking than band content in a review on your website.
One last try...
I would like to return thanks to Mr Fletcher. I am glad he found both Ms Sucher and my letters 'funny'.
I too had a wry smile when I saw that yet again the questions about female membership in the senior band (or lack of) are not answered. So, I will try again:
Why are there no permanent female members in the current Grimethorpe Colliery Band? Why has female involvement been virtually nonexistent in its long history?
Having been a member of the band for 13 years I am sure he would be well placed to answer this particular question.
Just in case he doesn't want to answer on the band's behalf (let's face it, who in the band would want to stick their neck out with this one?) I have taken his advice and emailed the band directly - I will await a response with interest.
No Grimethorpe shame
Can I just say a big thank you to Ms Sucher and Mr Sullivan (ref Grimethorpe issue).
I have yet to decide whether the former’s claim there is a 'grimethorpe issue' is funnier than whether the several paragraphs of stone throwing and point scoring included in the latter’s letter counts as irony. I'll have a think.
My thanks is reserved for their keeping whoever reads this page updated on the goings on at Grimethorpe. I myself was shocked, and unaware of the apparent happenings there, from women’s membership, to equal opportunities policies, to active discrimination.
I suppose only having been a member for 13 years, I may not have uncovered all of these things.
What I do know is detailed below, and I am absolutely not speaking for the band in any way, so please do not take my words as any sort of official comment. It is not.
I know that the band is and has committed to trying to provide a high quality education project for all, regardless of gender, race and disability. For anyone to suggest that the professional teachers (all band members) tutoring on the project hold any prejudices would be refuted in the strongest terms.
I know that there are 70+ girls and boys that are excited about working as part of the project this weekend, for no cost, and a band that is proud and excited to be working with them.
I know there is no 'problem' between the band and any individual from the band’s point of view. I also know that if anyone wants to discuss anything through traditional means of communicating (phone/email/website) first, rather than shouting ill-informed opinions from banding’s equivalent of hyde park corner, they would be made most welcome and may find out a few things.
I include both famous conductors, and those seeking to discredit his achievements in that.
Finally, I know that from the many positive comments the band has received, the applications received, the interest from audiences across the country, and from the vast majority of people who do not see the membership of Grimethorpe itself as a precluding factor for this educational event, the project will be a success.
It is a shame that one or two people are sullying, whether by accident or design, what will be a project that will benefit lots of individual bands, music centres and the banding movement, for ends that are unrelated to that of education in my view.
Thanks to the press
On behalf of the European Brass Band Association - and personally - I would like to express my sincere thanks to all band press for your insightful comments and coverage of this year’s EBBC in Rotterdam.
You play a key role in the events reputation and people’s knowledge - and that the audiences and the European brass band family understand the impact, quality, level and the ripple effects of the event - and what it takes to host it.
Thanks for all your support, wide coverage, excellent pictures and reviews – and most of all: Thank you for challenging the organization and EBBA.
We all need that.
Thank you – again.
Youth development a National key
It has been suggested in these comments pages that before a band is permitted to enter the Nationals, they should prove that they have some form of youth training/development policy.
I personally agree with the spirit of this suggestion but in practice it is completely unworkable.
How far down the food chain does this go?
There are multiple examples of bands from the Championship section downwards that either are or started out as a training band for another band. Should these bands be exempt from such policies?
If so then who decides? And at what point would they no longer be considered exempt?
In certain areas it would be difficult or impossible to start a youth band anyway owing to local demographic, geographic or proximity to local exceptional brass talent factories like Wardle High School and Smithills High School.
It wouldn't be fair to ban brass bands under those circumstances either.
The right move for Evans
Taken from your soprano cornet rankings
In the information on Brian Evans you mention that Brian was plucked from the 2nd cornet position. I think you may find that he was on repiano when Alex Mortimer moved him.
His CD sleeve was edited by Brian and this was a fact he printed.
May I suggest the write up is amended to this correction?
I was Brian's partner for the last twenty years of his life. Brian would have been honoured to be listed next to Emlyn Bryant who was his childhood hero.