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2003 Scottish Open Championship

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Sunday 30th November
Test Piece: Paganini Variations (Wilby)
Adjudicators: Dr. Robert Childs, Ian Brownbill, Stephen Roberts

Over the years the Scots have been great innovators. They can boast some notable firsts in many fields, such as engineering, sport and even exploring, whilst their very own brass band championships pre date the National Finals themselves by five years, starting way back in 1895.

However, the Scots, like their fellow Celts the Welsh, can be a very parochial people though, and whilst the likes of Mungo Park and James Watt found fame further a field, it is fair to say that sometimes the Scots have only been happiest when they are safely ensconced behind Hadrians Wall. Great travellers they are not (just look what happens when their football team leaves home, whilst Mungo Park himself ended up dead in West Africa). The truly great Scottish achievements it seemed were invariably only found in Scotland itself.

That may explain why it has taken them so long in producing a thoroughly first class brass band contest that can attract the best bands from all over the UK to make the trip north in search of a top class title and plenty of cash. The European Championships have been held here twice before, although not particularly memorably it must be said, and whilst the Scottish Brass Band Association can boast over 83 member bands, the Scottish banding movement in general never quite set the agenda in terms of progressive forward thinking. Just like the Welsh, it was run for far too long by well-minded people with a very narrow outlook and even narrower ambition. The prudent Presbyterianism, so ingrained in many aspects of the Scottish psyche, held Scottish banding back for far too many years.

This has all changed though with the new guard who now are in charge at the Scottish Brass Band Association, from the new President Alan McLaren down. There now seems a wind of progressive change running through the movement North of the border, a wind that has enabled great strides to be taken in producing events that capture the imagination not only of the general banding movement, but also of the general public. Next year, Glasgow hosts the European Championships for a third time, but this time it is a cultural event that has been planned in advance in such a way that it could set a new blue print for the contest as a whole in the 21st Century, whilst on Sunday, the inaugural Scottish Open Brass Band Championships take place at the 2004 European venue at the superb Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Scotland is innovating again.

The Scottish Open in fact serves three purposes for the Scottish Association. Firstly it gives them the opportunity to run a top class brass band event with generous pot of prize money to attract some of the best bands in the country. Secondly, it is organised in such a way that it becomes something of a Festival, as it also incorporates the Scottish Youth Brass Championships and a Gala Concert, whilst thirdly, it serves as a “dry run” for next years European Championships. What works here this weekend can be enhanced, whilst what doesn’t can be amended and improved in time for the cream of European banding come next May. This is why the 2003 Scottish Open Brass Band Championships are so important.

The organisers have taken note of what works is the best contests around Europe and have tried to amalgamate them together here. The venue is as good as any; the prize fund is generous (especially for the Scots!); the test piece and adjudicators were chosen with direct involvement of the competing bands; a sectionalised pre draw has been made to assist the bands; 2 guest players are allowed per band (including those from rival competitors) and very innovatively, the judges have issued a statement intended to assist bands in their preparation, so that they can have some idea of what three men are looking out for. In addition the three men chosen for the task of picking the winners are a welcome selection indeed, with Dr. Robert Childs, the MD of the BAYV Cory band joined by Ian Brownbill, formerly the MD of the Haydock Band and a player with vast top section experience, and Stephen Roberts, who proved a very enlightened and forthright judge at this year’s British Open. All in all, it adds up to a pretty impress package.

The adjudicator’s statement reads as follows, and will also be of interest to the audience, who always welcome some idea of what the judges are looking for so that they can temper their own personal selections that take their fancy. “The adjudicators have no specific agenda, but will listen to each performance as carefully and objectively as possible. It is felt that any “answers” for a winning performance can only be found from within the composer’s score. Therefore the adjudicator’s will look for an outstanding combination of musical artistry and technical merit which, in their opinion, best reflects the intentions of the composer.”
As the set work is one of the most popular and accessible test pieces of the last twenty years or more – Philip Wilby’s “Paganini Variations”, it should make for a full hall enjoying a cracking piece played by some fine bands.

The winners themselves will come from a group of 15 bands that include the runners up at the National Championships, the British Open, Spennymoor Brass in Concert, The Grand Shield and Pontins, as well both British Open and 2003 European contenders. There are eight bands from Scotland, two from Wales, two from Lancashire, two from Yorkshire and one from the North East, and whilst there has been some degree of disappointment that Fodens Richardson pulled out of the contest at a fairly late date, there is still a very strong line up in the form of Besses o’ th’ Barn (Steve Sykes), Bo’ness and Carriden (Ian Davey), Broxburn Public (Bruce Wallace), BTM (David Stowell), Fishburn (Graham O’Connor), Hepworth (Mark Bentham), Kingdom Brass (Archie Hutchison), Kirkintilloch (Frank Renton), Newtongrange (David Hirst), Scottish Co-op (Russell Gray), Sellers International (Philip McCann), Tredegar (Richard Evans), Unison Kinneil (Allan Ramsey) and Whitburn (Andrew Duncan).

They will be playing for a top prize of £3000, whilst the runners up will get £2000, third place, £1000, fourth place £750, fifth £500 and sixth £250. The winning conductor will also receive a commemorative Quaich (a drinking cup we are told), whilst the best instrumentalist will receive £100 and the 4Barsrest.com trophy. The announcement of the results should take place around 5.30pm after the audience has enjoyed a short concert by the British Euphonium Ensemble.

It all starts at 9.30am in the superb acoustics of the Royal Concert Hall, whilst the Gala Concert which will feature the bands of West Lothian Schools, Kirkintilloch and Unison Kinneil as well as Gregor Stewart, the current Scottish Solo Champion, Richard Kidd, the current Junior Solo Champion, the House of Edgar Shotts and Dykehead Pipe Band and Inverclyde Youth Choir will start at 7.30pm.

Meanwhile over at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, the Scottish Youth Brass Band Championships will take place. There are three sections – Premier, Community and Development, and 14 bands will take part. The Premier Section will be adjudicated by Bryan Allen and Gordon Evans, the Community Section by Bryan alone and the Development Section by Charles Keenan.

The competing bands in the Premier section are Aberdeen City Youth (Eric Kidd) and Moray Concert Brass (Glenn Munroe). The Community Section will feature Auchinleck Academy (Stephen Boyd), Campbeltown Brass Youth (Katrina Barr), CIS Youth Concert Brass (Craig Anderson), Queensferry High School (Gareth Ross) and St. David’s High School (John Dickson). The Development section will be contested by Campbeltown Brass Juniors (Katrina Barr), Clydebank Burgh Youth (Gareth Bowman and Lorraine Murray – Carstairs), Irvine and Dreghorn Youth (Claire Drennan), Jedforest Junior (Cameron Mabon), Loanhead brass Roots (Alan Fernie) and Perthshire Youth Brass (George Annan).

A great weekend then for all the bands, players and hopefully the audience as well. Glasgow is an exciting place to visit, the organisers have pushed the boat out to try and make it a success, and they have been confident enough to book the hall for next year and 2005. Lets hope the inaugural Scottish Open is therefore a great success.

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