In 1934, Dr. Harold Hind wrote his book entitled "The Brass
Band", which set out to inform the public about a musical activity
that he felt had received little attention until then. One of the
chapters dealt with how brass bands attend contests. It covers all
aspects from preperation to the dissection of the adjudicators remarks.
Some 70 years after it was written it remains amazingly topical.
Some things certainly have not changed!
Contesting Improves a Band.
“To contest or not to contest?” This question invariably
arises when discussing the future of any go-ahead band.
There have been several arguments advanced against contesting, chief
among them being the plea that the time devoted to working up a
test-piece could more profitably be employed in improving the general
repertoire of the band; but surely the same standard of excellence
should be aimed at in every item played by a band, whether test-piece
or programme work; it is the duty of the band towards its audience
to play every item well and not to spend the greater part of each
rehearsal on test-pieces, and thus cause half-rehearsed works to
be inflicted upon listeners.
Provided that a satisfactory balance is kept between general work
and contest work this argument against contesting is easily refuted.
Only by completing against neighbouring bands can the true level
of the attainments of a particular combination be ascertained. A
bandmaster may often say, “My band, the Wimble Silver Band,
is quite as good as the Womble Prize Band, but we have no time for
contests.” Perhaps if he pitted his “Wimbles”
against the “Wombles” he would receive a shock, for
many bands have found their first contest to be a humiliating experience,
their faults only becoming apparent (to them) by comparison with
Every band should make a point of contesting at one or more local
contests every year, for competition acts as an incentive to hard
work and also serves to show whether or not progress is being made.
It is also an advantage to compete at events further afield, for
“dark horses” in the opposition will lead to even greater
When deciding to enter, bands should make a list of all the contests
which are held within reasonable distance of their headquarters.
They should then strike off those which will interfere with engagements
or with special programme rehearsals. Then the grade of the contests
must be considered. Those of which the test-piece are either far
beyond the present capabilities of the band, or too easy, should
be left alone; particularly in the later case, for it is unfair
to bands of lesser attainments.
A definite scheme of rehearsals should be drawn up and the professional
conductor, if the band engages one, should be acquainted with the
fact as early as possible. Professional tuition is especially valuable
on such occasions, and if possible this advantage should be made
use of. Bandmasters know the shortcomings of their players, and
are often tempted to be lenient with them, but a professional conductor
will have no feeling of partiality and can often get more out of
the inefficient player than can the conductor. Furthermore, a professional
conductor has often been able to obtain a more thorough training
than falls to the lot of the average bandmaster, and the value of
such training becomes most obvious at a contest.
If possible, the work should be started before the professional
conductor is called in, so that the “notes are known,”
thus obviating a good deal of preliminary work on his part.
The parts, wherever possible, should be mounted on cards. The vagaries
of the English climate may be the cause of a band having to play
in a strong wind, and no amount of clothes pegs, cardholders not
string will keep the copies perfectly steady, whereas stiff cardboard
can be securely held by the clips. If there is an awkward “turnover”
and an extra page of the part cannot be obtained, it is of advantage
to write the first line of the following page at the bottom of the
page in question, so that the actual turning over need not take
place until a more favourable moment.
At rehearsals, pencils should be in evidence, and everything to
which the conductor calls special attention should be marked at
the time, and afterwards outlined in red ink, for such visual methods
will save the necessity of repeating injunctions at subsequent rehearsals,
a frequent waste of time.
The Contest Day.
On the contest day itself, a final rehearsal should be arranged.
This should take the form of a straight “run through”
just as if the judge were listening. On arrival at the contest ground,
care should be taken that the instruments are placed out of harm’s
way. It may be thought that this is so obvious as not to need mentioning,
but at a recent contest a bass was trodden on by a spectator an
a valve completely put out of action.
When the band goes on the platform to play, the player should watch
for any special instruction from the conductor as to the placing
of their seats. A strong wind or the proximity of the judge’s
tent to the band, may necessitate the band being placed in perhaps
a slightly different position from usual. The copies should be firmly
fixed to the music desks, and, if the wind is strong, the desks
themselves should be weighted or otherwise secured against mishap.
Another matter, apparently trivial, but one which has been overlooked
with serious results, is the necessity of seeing that the movable
upright bar of the stand is securely fastened. The writer recently
witnessed a mishap, which seriously affected a band’s chances.
During a slow movement the euphonium desk dropped about two feet,
so that the copy was below the level of the player’s eyes,
resulting in several bars of important work being missed.
While awaiting the whistle, the players should be warming their
instruments and moistening their lips. Dryness accounts for many
poor starts. The first note should be well prepared, particularly
if a pianissimo opening be required, and no traces of nervousness
should be apparent. If anything goes wrong, if a soloist misses
a lead, if a wrong entry is made, or if any other mishap occurs,
the remainder of the band should continue playing as if nothing
had happened, for no danger of a breakdown must take place.
Before and after playing, the band should listen to other bands
in the same and other sections. The faults and virtues of other
bands themselves constitute a good lesson.
Some judges merely read out their awards, but many give a few introductory
remarks on the playing in general, and instance particular faults,
often at the same time giving valuable hints and useful advice,
and although the bands are anxious to hear the result, yet patient
attention to these remarks will result in useful knowledge being
gained. The decision of the adjudicator should be received with
true sporting feeling. Many bands will, of course, be disappointed;
nevertheless, they should remember that all decisions are given
in good faith, and in that light they should be received.
Sometimes the decision of the judge is not a popular one, but it
must always be borne in mind that he, with the score in front of
him, is in really a much more favourable position to judge than
the member of the audience who has merely a cornet copy. A well-known
band may evoke great applause, or a band from a nearby town may
bring a great crowd of supporters who will clap heartily when their
band has finished playing, but that will not influence the judge.
Furthermore, a band may have a fine conductor whose work with the
band may have popular appeal (to the eye) and thus bias that particular
band in the eyes of the public, but the judge will base his decision
on the playing alone. A comparatively unknown band may have worked
specially had at a test-piece and render it with a warmth that is
perhaps lacking in the performance of better known band, and as
the present-day judges want something more than mere accuracy and
technique, such a band as the former may possibly win a contest
by virtue of a “pleasing” rendering.
The adjudicator’s written remarks should be carefully read.
The best time to do this is not immediately after the contest, when
disappointment is often present in the minds of unsuccessful bands,
but after a few days, when the heat of the fray is over. If the
band is competing again on the same test piece, the notes may help
to avoid losing marks for the same faults on a second occasion.
If the same test piece is not to be used again, the value of the
comments is not diminished, for the faults are often general faults,
rather than particular to any one test piece.
Dr. Harold Hind
Dr. Harold Hind F.T.C.L., F.G.S.M., L.R.A.M., A.R.C.M.
Harold Hind was the first Principal of the City of Cardiff College
of Music and Drama, which he helped create in 1949. Today, it is
known as the Welsh College of Music and Drama. He retired as it's
Principal in 1959.
He was a well known adjudicating figure in the brass band world
before and after the Second World War, having been a judge at the
British Open Championships on 16 occassions from 1938 to 1959 and
at the National Championships of Great Britain in 1933 as well as
the Spring Belle Vue Contests.
He was the author of several books, including "The Brass Band",
"The School Brass Band Book" as well as writing articles
on both brass and military bands for the then Grove's Dictionary
of Music and Musicians.
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