There could not have been a more uplifting statement of joyful intent for the UK brass band movement to have produced than that shown at Cheltenham on Saturday morning.
From first note until last, sixteen bands brought a collective sense of competitive determination to their return to the contesting stage that was as compelling in its vitality and endeavour as it was as heartening in its enthusiasm and raw emotion.
Feel good factor
It was a wonderful advert for the beneficial feel-good factor that live music making produces in performers and listeners alike — and how it had been so sorely missed.
The outstanding winner may well have been Tewit Silver conducted by Martin Hall, but what was equally impressive was the overall contest quality on the substantial challenge posed by Philip Sparke's 'Kaleidoscope: Five Variations on the Brugg Song' set-work.
That then made the North of England champion's second successive National title (they won the Fourth Section in pre-Covid 2019) even more remarkable.
Given the emotions that would have surely fueled the adrenaline before taking to the stage, theirs was a stunning display of cold-headed technical poise and musical composure.
The judges were in no doubt either, as their written remarks later showed.
"An almost flawless performance", wrote Glyn Williams. "Very much to commend and some great contributions for all", added Alan Bourne. Mark Wilkinson summed things up by stating; "This was a very musical performance with care taken in dynamics and balances. Very classy soloists, well directed by MD!"
Few if any who heard them stamp their credentials off the number 6 draw would have disagreed, despite a passionate late surge challenge from the Welsh representative Beaumaris and a considered exploration of the variant intricacies of the score from podium finishers Raunds Temperance just before the mid-point break.
It wasn't enough though to overhaul a clear winner.
Tewit's communal display of self-confidence was unarguable.
Inspired by the approach of their smiling MD it seemed to act like an infusion to each section he made eye contact with — from the super 'Best Instrumentalist' award winner Owen James on cornet right through to the great percussion team.
Thereafter there was so much to admire about the playing; rich tonality and balance, musical nuance and precision excitement that came through flowing musicality. It was a cracking performance.
Beaumaris and Raunds in their contrasting ways displayed the same confident solo and ensemble virtues that fully deserved their reward (aided by the excellent direction of their MDs), although with a few more hints of discomfort, whilst there was also much to enjoy from the other top-six finishers.
An exciting account from Lostock Hall Memorial ended fourth, the brio of Stamford Brass saw them take fifth, and the determination of Hazel Grove (who set the musical tone for the whole weekend off the number 1 draw) was sixth.
Bang on the money
Before the announcement of the results Alan Bourne gave a brief, encouraging analysis of what was heard in the box.
It wasn't a synopsis of needless platitudes either; his congratulations encompassing all the performances being bang on the money.
Not one failed to deliver — some better than others of course — but all emerged with huge credit for their efforts as the MDs used a great deal of musical common sense to shape accounts that sought the joyful nature of the writing.
Every band will have taken something from the experience — especially the clear indication of their communal determination to prosper in future on what is sure to be a very changed competitive musical landscape around the country.
Speaking to a representative from Olney Band after he collected their remarks spoke volumes, as he revealed it was only the second time in their history that they had competed at the finals.
"Nothing was going to stop us missing it,"he said. "It's just been great being back playing together again."
There may have been a tinge of disappointment for some bands on the day, given their results, but you suspect on this occasion it won't have lasted too long, as the likes of Lofthouse 2000, Usk, Ocean Brass and Kippax could have easily have come in another order.
Pilling Jubilee, Chichester, Poole Borough, Langholm, Gosport and Olney all emerged with great credit too for performances that had inconsistencies of execution but which were based on admirable musical intentions.
For Tewit Musical Director Martin Hall the success also reconfirmed his own passion and enthusiasm for the banding movement as well as for his remarkable set of players.
Just before the announcement of the result he told 4BR; "Whatever happens today I'm so proud of them all. It's been such a hard 18 months since we last really played together and you did question whether we would be back.
The passion of the players in the band certainly helped me — and their commitment to rehearsals at such a difficult time for so many of them and their families has been simply incredible.
I'm sure every other band will be feeling the same today; so proud and so fortunate to be able to share the passion of making music together again. If we win great — but what a feeling just to be back!"
A little later the passion, enthusiasm and quite a few tears of joy were to be witnessed in full as he clutched the trophy in his hands surrounded by his players and supporters. It was such a heartening sight.
As was the contest itself.
The passion of the players in the band certainly helped me — and their commitment to rehearsals at such a difficult time for so many of them and their families has been simply incredibleMartin Hall
Saturday 18th September
Test Piece: Kaleidoscope (Philip Sparke)
Adjudicators: Alan Bourne, Mark Wilkinson, Glyn Williams
1. Tewit Silver (Martin Hall)
2. Beaumaris (Clive Zwanswiniski)
3. Raunds Temperance (Jonathan Pippen)
4. Lostock Hall Memorial (Ryan Broad)
5. Stamford Brass (Julian Bright)
6. Hazel Grove (Nigel Beasley)
7. Lofthouse 2000 (Lee Whitworth)
8. Usk (James Jones)
9. Ocean Brass (Martin Humphries)
10. Kippax (Stephen Tighe)
11. Pilling Jubilee Silver (Steve Hartley)
12. Chichester City (Alfie Hughes)
13. Poole Borough (Lloyd Bartlett)
14. Langholm Town (Chris Shanks)
15. Gosport Solent (Rich Sharp)
16. Olney (Phil Devine)
Withdrawn: East Riding of Yorkshire (Frank Hoyland)
Best Instrumentalist: Owen James (Solo cornet) — Tewit Silver