ABBA AGM Discussions - Malcolm Wood talks us though the day


Malcolm Wood was at the recent Association of Brass Band Adjudicators AGM to hear the views of Martin Ellerby, Simone Rebello and Iwan Fox as they put their points across to the men in the boxes.

Association of Brass Band Adjudicators AGM
BFBB Headquarters
Sunday 9th January

Along with colleagues from the Banding media, 4BR was invited to eaves drop on discussions and presentations by Simone Rebello Martin Ellerby and Iwan Fox at the ABBA AGM in Barnsley on 9th January.

Once the obligatory Association AGM business had been dealt with, it was the turn of Simone, Martin and Iwan to share their views and thoughts on a variety of subjects.  All of the discussions and presentations had one objective in mind: To continue and develop the knowledge of the adjudicators and give them a greater understanding of (in these cases) three separate topics.  All of the assembled were eager to learn, share their thoughts, and debate things in an open and positive manner.

Simone Rebello needs no introduction of course.  The talented percussionist asked the question ‘Am I Too Loud?' for her slot during the day and the discussion relating to the contest scene was an eye-opening experience.  The issues covered included:

  • The importance of percussion now within bands and how this has evolved in recent years.
  • The positioning of percussion on the stage enabling to enhance the performance of a band as opposed to over powering it and affecting judges thoughts on what they had listened too.
  • Thought to be given before a test piece is chosen as to how much extra percussion a band may have to invest in for one performance.
  • In relation to the above, the challenges that go into finding an extra player for a contest performance for a specific percussion part.
  • When looking at test pieces, the consultation of someone such as Simone in advance who can give a good insight into how these points can be considered and that expertise benefiting players and adjudicators.
  • Acoustics of the hall and a band preparing properly beforehand by rehearsing in a venue as close to the acoustic as possible.
  • Dynamics of percussion and the importance that the conductor plays

When the adjudicator is in the box though, they are listening to what they hear and being guided by what is in the score, but with these points being raised, greater understanding and clear thought was achieved.  It was acknowledged that percussion played well enhances a performance, along with the fact that a percussion section can literally ‘take a band out' should it want to.

Acknowledgement and praise was given to Ray Payne amongst others who help bands on contest days, relieving unforeseen problems.  Simone's thoughts and the discussion that unfolded will have provided plenty of food for thought.

Martin Ellerby gave ‘The Composers Viewpoint'.  This was fascinating stuff and a real insight into this particular composers mind as to various aspects of a test piece and how adjudicators reach the decisions they do

Martin in the main answered questions from Dr Newsome that he had given thought to in advance of the day.  These included:

  • What is meant by Interpretation?
  • Is Interpretation sole domain of the conductor?
  • Playing Quality – How Key Is It?
  • How Do You View the swapping of parts and use of mutes?
  • Tempo markings?
  • Is it important that a test piece is audience friendly?
  • Would He adjudicate?
  • How did Martin feel about the numbers of adjudicators at contests?
  • Any effect on you through criticism of your music?
  • How Do You View the future of contesting? 

Martin Ellerby held court for an hour and as you'd expect from the questions above, the responses were certainly in-depth and interesting.  Martin stressed the point that a test piece is ‘a template for interpretation' and speaking about ‘Tristan Encounters' and ‘Chivalry', that he is delighted when an MD finds something in the score that enhances a performance, but not overly happy when the interpretation of a piece is taken to extreme limits, and what is written comes across as not as he intended it to sound.

MDs were encouraged not to destroy works and in Martin's case, take note of his ‘performance notes' in the scores provided.  The composer acknowledged that nerves happen, splits are made, but they're not major issues for him, nor is swapping of parts and the use of mutes.

With regards to ‘Tempo Markings' Martin reiterated the point that a ‘test piece is a template for interpretation' but it should be ‘musical and soul convincing'.

Issues such as audience friendly test pieces, would he adjudicate, numbers of judges at contests, effects of criticism for his music and the future of contesting were all answered honestly, fairly and in respect of whom the composer was sat amongst.

Martin thoroughly understands the point on test pieces being ‘audience friendly'' and that it plays a big part for bands when rehearsing and listening, but the music matters too.  Three judges would be his ideal number at contests, but ‘understands fully financial constraints can restrict it'.  Martin made the point that ‘rational decisions on music will be taken long after he's gone' and he didn't understand the hype that is attached before, during and after a contest.

Martin believes that he doesn't have the experience and is sufficiently qualified to judge at contests, but the thought of composers such as Messrs Ellerby, Dr Michael Ball, and Philip Sparke brought more than a chuckle round the room as to what the outcome of a contest would be.

The future of contesting does concern Martin Ellerby and he would like to hear more original works for band, (again acknowledging finances are a constraint) than we do at present. Martin's contribution to the afternoon was such that he could have easily gone on for longer. 

The final discussion points of the day were made by 4BR's Iwan Fox.

Along with Anthony Banwell, Iwan has made 4BR one of the most important voices in the banding world through the modern medium that none of us can now not be without; the internet.

No surprises then that Iwan's chosen area was ‘The Beneficial Use of the Internet' to the movement as a whole of which ‘ABBA' is very much a part.

Iwan gave a historical background as to how long it has taken in days gone by for news and information to reach people and now through the touch of a button on a computer, that information is instantaneous.

The internet has moved the media goalposts and means that (in Iwan's opinion) some of the more traditional methods that we in banding are used to are now becoming outdated and ineffective. 

Iwan believes that everybody in banding has to work together to succeed.  That means the banding media, players, conductors, administrators, promoters and judges.  Technology has to be embraced and in a world where the public now has more choice, more money and less time to spend on working out what and why brass bands do what they do. 

From ABBA's perspective, it was suggested that the organisation can become a leading of exponent of using the new technology not only to help its own members but the movement as a whole. 

By producing regular articles, discussion papers, having debate, getting people to understand what you do and why you do it can only be beneficial.

The opportunity is there in advance of competitions, to give indications of what the judges will be looking for (valuable in the lower sections for sure) and understanding of the score.  By doing these things, competitors can have a template to use as a foundation in contest preparation.

Iwan also said that through the internet the opportunity is there for judges to give further analysis after contests based on their written remarks along with reflections of the overall approaches and standards, plus and minus points, even explanations of what is meant by such phrases on judging comments such as ‘Organic Growth'

The introduction of an archive of written remarks would also be a step forward. Accessible for members for training purposes, to see trends, create consistency in approach to certain major works, allowing competitors to see how the judges arrived at their decisions, these are things that can only benefit everybody, players, conductors and adjudicators.

Iwan very much hopes that the internet and the various opportunities that it can will bring will get everybody working together enabling the movement to flourish in the twenty first Century.

One thing is for sure, the three people invited to the AGM gave those in attendance plenty of food for thought and this can only be good for the movement long term. 

Thanks to Dr Roy Newsome and Malcolm Brownbill for the invitation that gave an indication to some of the issues important to them at the moment.


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