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Attending Contests

Harold HindIn 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 other contestants.

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 striving.


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 Music.

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.

The Decision.

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

Harold HindDr. 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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