4BR Talking Point - What is entertainment?


Composer Andy Scott gives his personal opinion on the tricky question of brass band entertainment.

Andy ScottI'm writing this a week or so after Foden’s Band won the Brass Band competition 'Brass in Concert 2009', at the Sage in Gateshead.
As Composer in Residence with Foden’s I've had the pleasure of working with these fine musicians in rehearsals, recordings and concert. Earlier this year Bram Tovey recommended to Foden’'s that they approach me to discuss and devise a programme for 'Brass in Concert'.

Different ideas

Chairman of Foden’s John Barber and I spent quite a while working through different ideas, which were then discussed and tweaked with the Foden's Band Committee, before settling on a programme with the title 'Space Invaders'.
Addressing the 'entertainment' part of the equation, it seemed that no band had previously played a continuous programme that was accompanied by a specially made DVD, so rather than having interruptions for announcements before/after each piece of music (which is all a bit predictable), it was more like a 'show', with numbers linking together.

Video footage

Several pieces were linked by video footage from the great Patrick Moore, talking about different planets and enhancing the whole 'space' theme of the programme. Mr Moore kindly agreed to let me film him at his home on the South Coast.

Bram from above

At the same time Bram Tovey (one the biggest names in the Brass Band & wider music world, and Guest Conductor with Foden's Band) agreed to be filmed at home in Canada, narrating the Lemn Sissay poem 'My Mountain Top', around which I wrote parts for Brass Quartet and Solo Euphonium, a piece that would feature Glyn Williams at the Sage.

The original version of 'My Mountain Top' (words by Lemn, music by myself) has been recorded by David Thornton, Scherzo Brass, and most recently on 'Salt of the Earth', the stunning debut solo CD from Foden's Les Neish.
Bit of fun

There was a bit of fun in the programme with a clever arrangement of 'Star Trek' by Gareth Westwood, accompanied by a spoof  'Star Trek' title sequence and the programme ended with the fantastic writing of Philip Sparke. 

4BR commented;
'For Fodens, the band’s Composer in Residence Andy Scott is a man with the originality to take band music into new territory and his My Mountain Top & Space Invaders, were central to the success of Fodens imaginative and highly visual space themed winning programme'.
So, a lot of thought, a lot of hard work, World Premieres of new compositions and arrangements. 
Fodens line up

Played best

Foden's won 'Brass in Concert' because they played the best on the day, not because of the 'entertainment' side of the contest. The choice of music is a vehicle that enables a quality band such as Fodens to realise this. Thank heavens that the marking system credits quality of performance over 'entertainment', ironic, as a first class performance is entertainment in itself.
I still consider myself a relative newcomer to the Brass Band world, who has been given an amazing opportunity of being able to work with Fodens Band.

By the same token, I'm an experienced musician; as a saxophonist, touring and recording since 1985 with the Apollo Saxophone Quartet (and commissioning over 100 works), working with the Halle, RLPO, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Orchestras, new music groups such as Psappha, and numerous big bands, latin, jazz and funk groups.

As a self-taught composer; winning a British Composer Award in 2006, and receiving commissions from all sorts of classical, contemporary and jazz soloists and ensembles.

What is puzzling me is how the Brass Band world interprets the word 'entertainment'? 

I fully respect the decision of the adjudicators to give marks to Foden's Band for the 'entertainment' side of the 'Brass in Concert' event that put them effectively in 5th or 6th place.

Entertainment judges: Chris Wormald & Alan Fernie

As pointed out before, it was the quality of playing that won them this particular award. Having not been able to attend a 'Brass in Concert' event, maybe the judges (and audience?) prefer to see elaborate choreography, or an MD singing a song? or players dancing?

Each to their own I guess?!

From my personal point of view (and I wouldn't be presumptuous enough to think that I necessarily represent Foden's point of view) the response to the 'Space Invaders' programme presented by Foden's Band at 'Brass in Concert' leaves me slightly baffled.

I fully accept that it's not what the judges may consider 'entertainment', even though there was a good level of innovation involved with the specially commissioned DVD and World Premieres of compositions and arrangements, but by the same token I don't accept some approaches that they do consider entertaining as 'entertainment'!

Space theme


Maybe I'm a killjoy with no sense of humour? 

Ultimately though for me it's all about the music, the relationship between the composers and the performers. Again, thank heavens that 'Brass in Concert' award a possible 200 points for quality of performance and only 60 points for 'entertainment'.
In the last day or two I've read comments from Pete Meechan & Simon Dobson, both fine composers (good luck at the BCA Simon!) on the 4BR web site that raise vital questions about the existing and future repertoire of Brass Bands. 

Also recently added to this discussion is an article by Sandy Smith. 4BR seems to be the online focal point for all matters Brass Band as far as I can see.

So what is 'entertainment'? For a competition such as 'Brass in Concert' is it innovation, stylistic experimentation, or maybe different sections of the band putting on a little dance?

It leaves me feeling how I could possibly help Foden's Band put together a programme for its title defence at 'Brass in Concert' 2010? It's not sour grapes because Foden's won this year, it's a genuine question?!

The X Factor? What is entertainment?

Maybe I'll stick to writing and arranging and leave the 'X Factor' to others?
I count myself fortunate to be associated with a Band that has such high musical standards, who regularly undertakes adventurous concerts and recordings (please refer to RNCM Festival of Brass in January 2009 as one example), and who embraces innovation.

Congratulations to Garry Cutt and Foden's Band for a splendid performance at 'Brass in Concert' 2009, and thank you for your support!
Andy Scott

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