2009 English National Championship - Within Blue Empires


You've seen the masterclass - now read all about PLC's whale inspired music.

Within Blue Empires - Paul Lovatt-Cooper

“Within Blue Empires” was commissioned by Graham Taylor and is dedicated to his son, Colin and the Coalburn Silver Band.

The concept behind the piece began when Graham encountered and experienced whales up close for the first time whilst he was on holiday off the coast of Canada. Graham who immediately fell in love with the mammal, created a story that focuses on whales and the sea which he required bringing to life through a musical score.

The music, composed by Paul Lovatt-Cooper follows this programmatic story that focuses on both the whale and the blue empires it exists in. 

The story follows aspects of the life of whales which includes unique characteristics such as feeding, spouting, breaching and the relationship between the mother and her young calf.

Whale theme

The piece “Within Blue Empires” is based around a leitmotif (or leading motif) - the theme for the whale itself. At different points within this piece of music you will hear the whale theme which is a 4-bar melodic motif in ¾ time. The leitmotif or whale theme is first heard in its original form at bar 23 and is featured throughout the music at different parts of the story.

During the piece the leitmotif or theme has been transformed by appearing inverted (upside down), retrograde (reversed) or as retrograde inversion (back to front and upside down). To give three examples, in bar 8 of the piece in the solo horn the leitmotif is heard in retrograde, the baritone solo at bar 174 is in retrograde inversion and the E flat Bass cadenza at bar 293 the theme appears as an inversion. 

There are many other occasions where the music encounters these thematic devices which complement the music and the story.


The story for “Within Blue Empires” is divided into several sections. As the music is programmatic the performers and listeners can imagine their own story or follow the imagination of both Graham Taylor and Paul Lovatt-Cooper:

The Deep

This is the opening of the work which starts with the lone voice of the Calf represented by the baritone. Here we hear the percussion imitating the deep blue sea as the young whale swims gracefully in the water, symbolized by the flowing quaver and semi quaver passages in the band. 

The original story states: 
“Quiet/eerie start, the calf in the dark cold murky deep depths of the ocean gently moving in a graceful gliding motion”. We hear the calf’s theme (which is the whales theme in retrograde) represented by the smaller instruments, first the baritone, then the horn and then the bass trombone."

Mother and Calf

At bar 17 the mother appears (represented by the E flat bass) and calls after her calf. We revisit the same thematic material heard at the opening from the calf and as they join together you hear the original whale theme for the first time in its entirety at bar 22. They swim gracefully together as schools of fish (muted cornets) swim amongst them and the accompanying chords in the middle of the band symbolize the deep blue waters. 

The story quotes:
“…with a gentle soft harmonious slow melody (rising and falling), depicting the two swimming close together (sheltering the calf from danger) and almost talking to each other - all at harmony and peace.”

The accel at bar 31 and key change at bar 33 highlights a change in momentum within the ocean as more sea animals emerge, heard by the legato semiquaver lines accompanied by the solid bass line in the timpani. This section builds in momentum changing colour and volume taking us into the next section.

Prepare to Set Sail

At bar 47 the music bursts out of the water as the story takes us onto land. One thing that is an integral part of the sea and oceans is the huge fishing and shipping industries that are so important to many countries and cultures. This section of the music focuses on the busy ports and harbours where you find bustling activity from sailors and ships as they prepare to set sail. 

The one genre of music that is associated with the sea, sailors and the sailing industry is the sea shanty. Prepare to Set Sail is composed as an original sea shanty and highlights the human element of life with the seas and the oceans. At bar 51 the sea shanty starts in the solo euphonium and is passed around the various members of the band. 

With its mixture of triplets, running semiquavers and syncopation the varying subjects of the shanty gives players from the soprano cornet all the way down to the B flat bass the opportunity to demonstrate their technical ability. The music passes the various thematic motifs around the ensemble and builds in texture to bar 113 where we hear the celebrated sea shanty in all its glory.


At bar 123 the music dives back into the murky depths of the ocean as tension in the sea heightens. 

The story highlights the whales feeding:
“Where the whale rises from the deep releasing a cloud of bubbles to the surface to trap and confuse its prey - a shoal of fish. Confusion sets in amongst the fish - it then rises stealthily and purposefully to the surface - open mouthed on its back it gorges on the shoal of fish above. At the surface flocks of seagulls scavenge in a frenzy on the surprise meal.”

The fish, represented by the horns playing quintuplets sense danger impending, lead by the timpani. They start to dart around in panic heard in the rhythmic bursts from the cornets and echoed by the trombones as the whale rises from the deep. The tension builds as quintuplets transform to quaver triplets and the whale rising is represented by the powerful lower brass chords. 

At bar 135 the voracious whale (lower brass) devours the panicking fish (triplet cornets) as the survivors scurry around with more rhythmic bursts, this time played by the solo, 2nd and 3rd cornets echoed by the horns. The whale makes a second pass at the bait ball lead by the crescendo in the lower brass and panicking triplets emulate the fish as they try to flee in vain but are scoffed by the mammal.

Out at Sea

The music at this point (bar 151) moves away from the feeding whale and right out into their habitat, the deep blue ocean. This section of the music gives the opportunity for the performers to paint their own picture of the turbulent seas, crashing waves and harsh weather conditions that encompass the magnificent blue empires. 

Emphasizing the stormy waters are various soloists starting with the baritones at bar 174, percussion (bar 185), baritones and solo horn (bar 193), euphonium (bar 201), trombone (bar 209), solo cornet (bar 221), trombones (bar 230) and finally the flugal horn (bar 237). As the storms die down and brutal waves subside concurrently the music depicts this by leaving just the euphoniums and percussion playing a relentless rhythmic figure slowly dying away.

Calm Waters

As the fading euphoniums and percussion depict the dispersing storm the whale CD that accompanies this score (see performers notes) should be played, allowing it to fade in so that the various whale voices can be heard calling to each other. After a pause the whales are then joined by the music as a pedal note played in the horns accompanies a melody played in the cornets echoed by the muted back row. 

This beautiful passage of music and whale song exemplifies the amazing gentle nature of these wonderful creatures as they graze in calm waters illuminated by the glorious sunshine.

At the end of this passage the whale song gently fades away and is taken over by the muted cornets and horns as they play an aleatoric section symbolising the many varied sea life that live in harmony with the whales. Before the cadenza passages start the ensemble replicate the spouting that is customary for whales as the lower brass blow a burst of air through their instruments and the percussion portray the spray of water as it hits the sea's surface.

The cadenza section that follows is started by the whale (E flat bass) that plays an inversion of the leitmotif. This is then answered by the calf (solo cornet) who is then joined by another whale represented by the euphonium. 

This leads to a slow lyrical melody played by the solo cornet that is a development of the musical material first heard in the cornets at the opening of this section. As the music unfolds the whale (E flat bass) plays it's theme at bar 301 which is then reiterated by the whole ensemble in a majestic forte passage bringing this section of the story to a close.

The Breach

One of the most amazing things that whales enjoy and is unique to their species is breaching. This is when the whale swims deep down into the blue sea and then starts a great ascent up to the surface gathering in speed and momentum. The whale then bursts out of the water head first and then plummets back down on its back in a huge watery explosion. 

As the whales graze in the calm waters from the previous section the music takes us beneath the surface at bar 313 where we start deep down in the ocean as we follow a whale as it starts its journey towards a breach. The music starts very slow (44bpm) and gathers momentum towards the surface. 

The story continues: 
“The music then builds as the whale is rises vertically gathering speed and intensity and power. Gradually with all instruments joining in (slow at first) and getting faster as the whale climbs nearer and nearer the surface getting louder.

 The whale bursts out of the water as it breaches with sheer exultation of reaching the air/daylight-freedom. As the whale reaches the top of its climb-a pause - the music held momentarily in suspended animation then the climax being a enormous crash as the huge animal lands back into the water with the aftermath/maelstroem of all the water chaos/ and then it gradually settles down to ripples - everything roundabout in chaos - fleeing for their lives - the contrast of the power of the singular body creating so much havoc in a moment of fun!”

With the whale speeding towards the surface the music gets faster and builds in texture and colour. As the whale breaches out of the water there is a moment when the whale hangs in the air represented by a pause on a top C in the cornets (bar 321). As gravity takes hold the whale crashes back into the sea with a tumultuous E flat major chord at bar 322 demonstrating the awesome power and majesty of this fantastic mammal.


After the breach, the water subsides along with the music as everything calms down to leave just the whales on their own as they communicate through their singing (the pause at bar 332). We enjoy one last spout from the great beast at bar 334 which leads us into the finale.

The running demi-semiquavers emulate the ripples and bubbles in the water as the whales take off out into the ocean. Whales when sprinting can reach speeds of 30 mph (48.3 km/hr) and as they swim through the water this finale section emulates the speed and agility that the whales boast. 

The demi-semiquavers pass through various sections of the band and the music gathers momentum as we chase the whales through the ocean. The finale changes key rapidly and frequently as the music builds in tension we also experience changing time signatures and wide dynamic contrasts as we try to catch up with the majestic creatures.

We finally unite with the whales again at bar 425 as we reach our climax to the piece where the whale theme is played for a final time in all its majesty at fortissimo and in glorious B flat major. Before the piece concludes we enjoy a moment of reflection of how gentle this fabulous beast is (bar 437) as the music drops down to piano. 

The music grows in stature and concludes by playing a plagal cadence finishing on a colossal B flat major chord bringing the music to a fitting conclusion.

“Within Blue Empires” is an exciting modern score that pushes the boundaries of brass band music both technically and musically. It takes both the listener and performer on a unique journey with one of the most extraordinary creatures we share this planet with. Whether performing, listening or conducting this piece I hope it brings you great enjoyment.

Performance Notes

As this piece of music has been composed to a programmatic brief, each performance of this work should do its outmost to tell the story. A convincing performance will pay attention to detail such as dynamics, articulation, phrasing and tempo. Every individual part in this piece is equally important and a good balance in ensemble playing is vital. This includes the percussion as they have a vital role in adding colour to the music.

Euphonium and Percussion fade

The euphonium and percussion parts at bar 256 should play their designated two-bar phrase as indicated. The performers should repeat them over and over again gradually fading to nothing as the whale track gets louder. At the conductors discretion the euphoniums and percussion should be directed to stop when they are virtually inaudible.

Performing the Whale CD

As the euphonium and percussion parts gradually fade away the whale CD track (operated by the third cornet player) should gradually fade in as directed by the conductor. When the whale track is at optimum volume the euphonium and percussion parts should fade to nothing and then indicated to stop by the conductor.

During the pause at bar 256 the whale track should be heard on its own for around 18-30 seconds (at the conductor’s discretion) so that the right atmosphere in the performance is generated. After that pause then the conductor should cue the horn entry at bar 257 and continue with the music as indicated in the score.

The dynamic of the whale track when played on its own should be quite loud (mf). However, this is marked in the score as ‘add lib’ as the balance between the track and the ensemble should be so that both can be heard equally. If the whale track is too loud when the rest of the ensemble plays the conductor may want to direct the whale track to be turned down and vice-versa if the ensemble plays too loud and the whale track cannot be heard enough. 

The 3rd cornet player should stay with the CD machine until indicated to ensure that the balance of the track with the ensemble is at the conductor’s direction

At bar 288 the whale track is instructed to slowly fade down al niente and come to a stop after the 'spouting' from the lower brass. Once the track has come to stop the player operating it can return to their place. However, at bar 322 the player needs to return to the machine to fade the track back in at bar 327 and to play the track as indicated in the score similar to that of before. The fade out this time should be done over the first several bars of the finale section at bar 333.

Performing the Spouting

The whale spouting appears twice in the score at bar 289 and at bar 334. When the whale ‘spouts’ it blows water out of its blow hole with ferocity as it relaxes at the waters surface.

To emulate this, players are instructed to remove their mouthpiece from the instrument, turn their mouthpieces around and blow a burst of air through the thin end of the mouthpiece through the mouthpiece and through the instrument. The best effect has been found if you hold the mouthpiece around one inch away from the mouthpiece shaft of the instrument and blow. However, players are welcome to experiment with different ways of creating that loud burst of air to replicate the spouting.

The role the percussion has to play with the spouting effect is vital as they represent the water that spurts out of the whales blow hole. The cymbal crescendo roll represents the water shooting up into the air so the roll should be intense and quick and then the cymbal should be left to ring. The mark tree plays after the cymbal roll and represents the water falling back on the seas surface. The mark tree should be left to ring for a while and then slowly damped by the player.

Aleatoric section

At bar 288 the cornets and horns are given a group of notes to play. They simply play the group of notes in any order using any rhythms. The only stipulation is that they play only the notes allocated, they play them legato and at the marked dynamic –piano with their allocated mutes.

At bar 292 the notes change slightly and this should be cued by the conductor. At bar 293 (rehearsal letter T) the players go back to playing their parts as normal. 

As stated in the programme notes this section in the music represents “…the many varied sea life that live in harmony with the whales”.


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