Now and Then
David Read is regarded as one of the leading brass band contest adjudicators.
He is also a man with huge experience as both a player and educationalist. Here
he gives us some thought about the band scene of today, and of a few years ago.
my article for 4BarsRest some months ago entitled, "50/60's Revisited",
I thought it might be interesting to put some flesh on the bones, to comment on
the many changes that have taken place, and to draw some comparisons with banding
I am often asked the question, "Are brass bands better now than
they have ever been?". I can only comment on the last 60 years! It is a difficult
question to answer, for instance, is David Beckham a better footballer than Stanley
As far as bands are concerned, I believe they are. There are some
wonderful players today and the technical skills of players are much better than
ever before, they play better in tune, their range is greater, they have better
teachers, higher education is available to many more young people and so on and
so on! Having said all that, we produced Maurice Murphy over 60 years ago and
he is still a wonderful player!
Could the players of my generation play
the extremely difficult test pieces of today? Who knows! We never had them to
play, but what I do know is that when I hear bands of today playing the older
test pieces I have to say I think we played them at least as good!
has been a tremendous change in the repertoire since I started playing in 1943.
The concert programmes them consisted mainly of operatic selections, marches,
waltzes, overtures, musical comedies, light novelty numbers and of course solos.
of the concert work was on bandstands in the parks, the music contained tunes
and melodies easy on the ear to the listener, so we were well equipped to play
the generally tuneful passages in the earlier top section test pieces eg. Comedy,
Downland Suite, Resurgam, Festival Music, Variations on a Ninth, Kensington Concerto
There were also many Slow Melody and Quartet Contests held in those
days, and I remember as a boy competing at three such contests, held only a few
miles apart one Saturday afternoon in South Yorkshire where I lived.
average entry at these events would be 30/40 in the Junior Sections, 60/70 in
the Seniors and 15/20 in the Quartet Section. I know of all the arguments and
criticisms from the purists on how restricted the music was, with its predominance
of Victorian ballads such The Holy City, The Lost Chord, Nirvana and Angus MacDonald
etc! and the quartets were similarly restricted where items such as Euryanthe,
Concordia, Presiosa and O Harmony were the norm. This is one of the reasons why
I asked Gilbert Vinter if he would consider writing some new compositions, but
I still think these contests were a great training ground, particularly for younger
players, and invaluable for learning how to phrase, develop the sound and generally
to keep in good performing practice.
In the mid sixties we had to cope with
the change to concert pitch, when instrument manufacturers announced that no more
sharp pitch instruments would be produced. Those that could afford to do so were
able to buy new instruments, whilst others converted their existing instruments
with slides, lowering the pitch by nearly a semitone, and bringing us in line
with the orchestras and military bands.
An advantage today is the improvement
in the quality of the instruments, especially with their added features. For instance
there is no excuse for a cornet player to produce a low C sharp, out of tune,
with the availability of the trigger on the third valve slide, (I know that a
trigger is useless in the hands of someone who does not know how to use it, or
does not listen when playing!). Players of my generation had to set the slides
the best way they could.
A euphonium player said to me recently that euphonium
players today have no difficulty playing the high D in Lalo's "King of Y's",
unlike in 1959 when it was used as a test piece at the Royal Albert Hall. I reminded
him that in 1959 high D was equivalent to high Eb today!
In my day we had
fewer changes in personnel (and full rehearsals), and as I understand it some
players today are lucky if they know who is going to sit beside them at the next
contest! A number of Championship bands today gain from the availability of full
time music students (usually of Grade 8+ standard before they get to college),
and when they leave, others take their place!
Two further changes are the
number of ladies in bands - in fact, many bands would not survive without them
and I can remember a time when so few were playing you could name them! And secondly,
the acceptance of percussion in contests - in my first twenty-five years of contesting
this was not allowed.
Finally, as an adjudicator, I have heard some wonderful
and unforgettable performances and two that spring to mind immediately are the
Black Dyke Mills Band performance of "Cloudcatcher Fells" conducted
by Peter Parkes and more recently "
.Dove Descending" by Yorkshire
Building Society conducted by David King (there are many more), but I also have
to say that in 1950 I felt the same way about Fairey Aviation Works Band conducted
by Harry Mortimer playing "Resurgam" at Belle Vue and in 1962, Manchester
CWS conducted by Alex Mortimer playing "Force of Destiny" at the Royal
I hope this short article has been of some interest to your
younger and older readers alike and as I write this at the beginning of another
century I will end with a Latin quotation "Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur
in ilis" - "Times change and we change with them", although not
as quickly as younger people wish!
I look back because I am in a position
to be able to do so, (kind people call it experience!) however, the fact that
I am communicating through the "net" should tell you that I am not quite
the dinosaur you may think, and I hope on another occasion to write about the
state of banding today and how I see the future.
Copyright David Read.
David Read was born in Wales and did his Military service
with the Regimental Band of the Welsh Guards. His playing career came to fruition
with the Askern Colliery Band, followed by a spell with Carlton Main Frickley
Colliery. He later joined the Munn and Feltons Band (later named GUS) later becoming
Principal Cornet. During his time with the band, GUS became National Champions
on four occasions and World Champions once.
He was also assistant principal
cornet for the Virtuosi Band of Great Britain and Kings of Brass and was three
times Champion Cornet Player of Great Britain and once outright Solo Champion.
He was also a member of the famous GUS quartet that with John Berryman, John Cobley
and Trevor Groom who on a number of occasion were British Quartet Champions.
has been an educationalist as Senior Instrumental Teacher for Cambridge Area Education
Authority, and in 1983 was honoured by the Worshipful Company of Musicians and
in 1996 by receiving the English Masters Dedicated Service Award.
perhaps the most highly respected brass band contest adjudicator currently on
the banding circuit, who's written comments are constructive and detailed and
who has an acute ear for musical shape as well as technical clarity.
importantly he is seen as a "safe" adjudicator in the eyes of the bandsmen
themselves, in that he invariably gets the vast majority of decisions concerning
the prizewinners correct. This has been further emphasised by the bands themselves
voting him as their first choice to judge them at the All England Masters for
the past few years. He has officiated at all the major brass band contests both
in the UK and abroad and has been in "the box" at the last seven National
Championship Finals at the Royal Albert Hall and retired this year as Chairman
of the Association of Brass Band Adjudicators.