2009 Butlins Mineworkers Championships - Lower Section test piece reviews


There are a quartet of fine works being used at Skegness on the weekend in the lower sections - from the Crusades to the noble Dukkha truth via Haydock and Hostile Skies...

GranthamFirst Section:
Hostile Skies – Richard Grantham

The work opens dramatically with a short statement of the main thematic material before it quickly develops into a heroic theme. A more subdued melodic interlude treated canonically, reflects on the underlying danger of military flight but this is soon pushed aside as the main theme asserts itself once more.

A slow mournful section follows which reflects on absent comrades lost in action. However, a sense of hope is never far from the minds of those involved in conflict and a solo trombone issues a ”call to arms” which begins a build up of excitement as we once more take to the skies. The main theme defiantly returns in a blaze of colour.

A busy fugue-like passage, based on elements of the main theme is interspersed with hymn-like fragments signifying the tension between stoic resolve and danger which as at the heart of the work. The material goes through a number of metamorphoses before a triumphant and joyful finale resolves many of the melodic and rhythmic tensions. Hope is fully restored and the work ends with a truly ecstatic victory fly-past.

Hostile Skies pays tribute to the countless number of men and women pilots who have risked their lives to protect others. It is also a celebration of flight itself which like music, is a result of mankind’s unlimited imagination and desire. 

The test piece can be purchased through Just Music:

Second Section:
Crusade – Rieks van der Velde

Crusade was written for the 2006 Gouden Spiker Festival (Brass Band 3rd section) and in2007 the piece was the set work at the North American Brass Band Championships in the Challenge Section.

The crusades were a series of military campaigns that took place during the 11th through 13th centuries. Originally, they were Roman Catholic endeavours to recapture Jerusalem from the Muslims, but developed into territorial wars.

Besides the recapture of Jerusalem important aims were to keep the Islamic power outside of Europe, to reunite the Byzantine (oriental) Christians with the Roman Catholic church and to extend of the European sphere of influence to the east. The best-known crusade is that of 1096, which was organised after an appeal of pope Urban II (“God wills it.”) and was commanded by Godfrey of Bouillon. After that another 8 crusades were organised.

Crusade describes the journey of a young crusader, who leaves his home to fight for his religion, but of course also to seek adventure and fame. In a metaphorical sense however, it can also be considered as describing life in general.

The work opens with an Intrada, in which the composer, Rieks van der Velde, introduces the opening notes of the main theme (the melody of psalm 24) in a playful manner.

We meet the hero of this tale as he bids his family farewell. Of course he goes through some difficult moments here, but adventure calls and soon he and his comrades are on their way. In a cheerful mood he rides onwards, dreaming of distant countries, chivalrous fighting and precious treasures.

The journey proves to be a chain of exuberant and more sedate moments. While bravura and spunk prevail, surely all that glisters is not gold. Memories of the quiet life at home come up.

Moreover, not everything that crosses his path meets his highly elevated expectations. Worse still: from time to time he is confronted with considerable setbacks.

Gradually the naivety of the young man makes place for a more serious mood. In the exuberant passages dissonant creep in. In the sedate parts the mood changes from inner peace into bitterness and finally in dismay. The reality of the battlefield affects him deeply. 

After a period of mourning and religious contemplation he goes through a phase that seems like an inner battle between optimism and disillusionment. Gradually he learns to accept life as it is.

The work finishes in a triumphant march based on the hymn-tune. Optimism has eventually obtained the upper hand and as a purified and vigorous man the knight returns in triumph!

Although Crusade was composed almost completely in minor keys, Rieks van der Velde has succeeded in giving the piece an optimistic character. It is as if he wants to show us that we can make out for ourselves how to experience the so called certain facts. 

The test piece can be purchased through Just Music:

Third Section:
Haydock Variations - Stuart Pullin

Haydock Variations was commissioned by the Valley Brass (Haydock) Band in 1999 and was premiered by massed bands at a joint concert with the Marple Band in 2000. It was also part of a submission for the degree of MA in Composition at the University of Salford, for which the composer gained a distinction. 

Valley Brass are a third section national graded band with a vibrant and successful youth training scheme that has seen their under 16’s band win the National Youth Championships twice and the British Open Youth title in 2006.

The form of Haydock Variations is a double set of variations. The first theme is stated in the opening bars and the second theme derived from the accompaniment to the first (bars 9 - 12). The variations on the themes return in the final marziale section. 

The test piece can be purchased through Just Music:

SparkeFourth Section:
Four Noble Truths – Philip Sparke

The Four Noble Truths was commissioned by the Dutch National Brass Band Championships for their 2003 competition. 

The Four Noble Truths are the most basic expression of the teaching of Buddha and therefore still form the guidelines for Buddhists to this day. They concern themselves with Dukkha, which has no exact translation but can mean suffering, stress or sadness etc.

Dukkha — The Noble Truth of Dukkha.
The First Noble Truth describes the different types of stress we all experience — birth, aging, desire, change and death all bring us different type of stress.

Samudaya — The Noble Truth of the Origins of Dukkha .
The Second Noble Truth describes those parts of our lives that induce stress — feeling craving, desire, ignorance and a wish to achieve short-term rather than long-term pleasure are all self-inflicted origins of stress. 

Nirodha — The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Dukkha. 
The Third Noble Truth tells us how we can eliminate stress from our lives by eliminating those aspects of our lives which induce stress. 

Magga — The Noble Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Dukkha. 
The Fourth Noble truth gives us a description of eight disciplines which can help us eliminate the origins of stress from our lives. 

It can be seen from these over-simplified definitions, that the Four Noble Truths fall into two pairs, the first two describing the origins of stress and the second two describing how we can reduce stress. To reflect this,the four movements of this work are also combined into two pairs — two quick movements and two slow movements.

The test piece can be purchased through Just Music:



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