2005 World Brass Band Championships - Postcard from Kerkrade


Pat Herak was on duty for 4BR at the World Championships in Kerkrade and he cast his all seeing American eye on an event that boasted bands, beer and horse meat sausages!

In 1949 the Carlton Main Frickley Band (with David Read the respected judge amongst them as a young player) visited Holland for a music festival in which they won first prize. 

According to Mr. Read's autobiography, "The feeling of goodwill generated at the concert (in Kerkrade) was such that afterwards a committee was formed to organize a music festival." 

Two years later was the inaugural Kerkrade World Music Festival that has taken place roughly every four years since.  So here we are 54 years later for the first World Championships for Brass Band's (even though Travelsphere/GUS/Rigid Containers will claim to be the 1971 World Champions). 

This contest is different as there were bands from 3 of the 7 continents…pity one of the many Japanese bands wasn't able to attend nor one from Africa (ie Cape Town Concert Brass) nor a South American Band (ie Playa Ancha Corps Band from Chile or Brass Band del Ecuador!), nor an Antarctic band for that matter (as they have been known to be so good they ‘ice' the competition).  Regardless, this justification of three continents was mentioned several times throughout the weekend.

So where does Kerkrade fit on the map?  There are direct flights from London Stansted, or you can fly through Amsterdam via KLM from many airports.  I know of many a bandsmen who diverted their trip through Amsterdam for some reason (even though they still had "coffee" houses in Kerkrade).  Kerkrade is in the little area of the Netherlands by Belgium and Germany.  In fact, the train station was closer to Germany than the Rodahal (not that it was more than a 10 minute walk from Rodahal to the train station). 

It is a lovely small town enthralled in the World Music Competition.  Nearly every shop window had at least a poster advertising the WMC and in many cases an entire musical display!!  As you walked through the town centre there was live music everywhere as well as the outdoor cafes, beer stands and other take-aways -  My personal favourite was the Reibekuchen (maybe you know them as potato pancakes)!!  Whilst Jacques Chirac is not fond of the British cuisine, I must say a band contest that has horsemeat sausages instead of curry and kebabs turns me off a bit.
My most important advice to English speaking travellers on the continent is to learn the language.  I make it a point to know how to order a large beer with small head (foam) in several languages before approaching a beer stand…German: ‘großes Bier mit kleine schaum', Dutch: ‘groot bier met klein schuim', French: ‘grande bière avec petite mousse' and Italian: ‘grande birra con piccolo scuma'

One never can be too prepared!!  In all seriousness, because Kerkade is so close to the confluence of three nations (Germany, Belgium and Holland), it is difficult to go very far without finding somebody who speaks English and everybody is so friendly and helpful.

So armed with my thirst for brass banding I hit the Rodahal to listen to some bands.  There was much talk before the event about how the very top bands weren't there (namely BAYV, Dyke, YBS & Co-op) so this couldn't possibly live up to the title World Championships, but I think they were wrong. 

The level of playing in each section was tops.  Listening to the Second Section was like listening to First Section bands, listening to First Section bands was like listening to Championship Section bands, etc…  The chosen repertoire was also both fascinating and fantastic.  In each section some of the best new and older test pieces were played and there were even several chosen pieces commissioned just for the day.

One of the commissioned works (albeit as a set piece) was Philip Wilby's "Music for a Moving Image" and when played well it is very entertaining.  Although I didn't hear anybody play it poorly on the day, I can see how if it were played badly the piece would sound disastrous.  Whilst I suppose this isn't much different than many other test pieces, I think it is especially true with this piece.  What I like about it is that it really tests the ensemble.  Melodies and counter melodies are traded back and forth between different parts and only a good ensemble will be able to keep the flow.  There are also some nice solo passages and effects used throughout the piece.  One of the effects that caught my eye was using a bow to play the vibes.  Overall then, I think this test piece really has a future. 

The winners of each section no doubt did play brilliantly, but there will always be questions about what own choice programming it takes to win or what the adjudicators are looking for when there are so many good bands and they can't all finish first.  For instance, in the Championship Section bands that played orchestral transcriptions in their programme finished an average of 6.5 points below those who played solely music written for brass band (then again, they may just not have played as well since their test piece average was 2.5 points lower than the same crowd).  Whilst somebody once said "There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics," I'm sure these facts will help create further debates.

Another debate that could rekindle is ‘How much does a band play just to make fantastic music and how much do they play for the adjudicators?' 

With many of the UK bands being favourites, one couldn't help but notice British bands finished first in the sections (1st and 3rd) that had the 2/3 British & Colonial jury that included Jim Curnow and David Read, whilst in the two sections (Championship and 2nd) that had all an all European jury the UK bands finished near or at the bottom of the table. 

I still think the best bands won, but it could be debated that when you get bands playing at such a high level and the biggest difference in their performance is sound and style, who is really to say what the best is?

So what is the future of the World Championships?  Anybody that was there can see that it was run very well.  There was a very modern and professional atmosphere that I have never seen before from the fanfare preceding the contest controller to the large screens displaying the band names, band performance times and even results after they were announced.  The venue was acceptable and they are hoping to renovate it.  The town is lovely and the bands that participated did a fantastic job.  In some ways it's a shame there can't be another World Brass Band Championships next year to build off of the momentum from this year's. 

However, by planning to have it in four years it will hopefully give the organisers an opportunity to get more countries involved, sort out the selection process to decide who gets invited and find a way to raise more financial support so that nobody turns down their bids.  Whilst the future for this World Cup of Brass Banding is uncertain, given the atmosphere, high level of playing and brilliant music that has come out of it I hope it continues.

Pat Herak


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