Comments ~ 2009: November


Lots more comments - from PLC's to Bavarian Stompers, muted responses and snobbish attitudes...

Public Image Ltd 

It may well be true that 'the public image of brass bands has always been one that is sepia tinted', and that 'there is a "jokey snobbery" in ... many symphony orchestras about brass bands and players who come from a banding background', however to state that 'the problem remains', as if this was a one-sided, endemic issue which somehow endangers the world of brass bands, is frankly absurd!

Take any orchestral brass section in this country and you will find current and ex-brass band players: Some of the finest and most respected orchestral players of the world began (and continue) playing in brass bands.

Taking the excellent example of Philip Cobb and the LSO raised in the editorial: A cornetist turned orchestral trumpeter, taking the recently vacated seat of perhaps the finest trumpet and cornet player of this or any other century, Maurice Murphy.

Hence, long standing and very recent proof that the brass band trained players are among the most respected and finest of all. I could cite many other examples.

Of course there is a 'jokey snobbery', just as there is between players who bridge the gap in any two styles of music.

However in my experience the brass banding community can, in some instances, give as good as they get in terms of 'musical snobbery', albeit what could be termed 'reverse snobbery', helped little by a banding world far more insular than that apparent 50 or so years ago, when many of these great figures (Norman Ashcroft, Philip Smith, Maurice Murphy et al) successfully forged paths in both genres, possessing the breadth of approach and musical sensitivity to bring the best of both worlds together - in other words, they were (and are) superb, open-minded musicians, regardless of genre!

Again, from my standpoint: Perhaps this alleged perception by many orchestral players stems from encounters with certain attitudes and cultivated stereotypes: The dogged brass bander refusing to acknowledge the existence of other genres, fighting against the apparent under-representation of bands - utterly failing to see that such under-representation is blown out of all proportion, and that the symphonic idiom has, and does, benefit hugely from the banding world, with which it is perfectly capable of co-existing.

To use your fitting phrase, an, 'insular, conservative and parochial' attitude - and a very unhealthy one.

Michael O'Farrell
West Yorkshire

Snobbish attitude
I too have witnessed this type of snobbery when entering a pupil (a trombone player) into a brass exam in the UK a few years ago
I explained to the examiner that the pupil was a brass band player, but would like his scales in concert pitch. 

I then explained that the pupil would prefer treble clef sight reading but made the examiner aware that the pupil read treble clef as concert pitch (i.e. C = Bb)
The retort was "Is that for when he plays proper music?"
Not wishing to "create waves" I ignored the remark for the sake of the pupil, but was surprised by the attitude of somebody that should have known better.
Mike Ward
Salisbury City Band

Better by a mile

After being a player for 60 years, and played all types of music, I would say that a top class brass band player would be a country mile ahead of any orchestral brass player in ability.

S. Lewis

Dying for a pee

As one who has come recently to brass banding, I see the major difference between brass bands and the rest of the musical tradition is that most musicians put the majority of their time and effort into practicing and playing pieces of music which can be presented at concerts, and which people will pay good money to come and listen to.

In contrast, brass bands seem to put most of their time and effort into short pieces of music, which are hard to play, difficult to listen to, and will in any case only be performed once, and that to a man in a closed box who is dying for a pee.

Perhaps we need to get out more, and to try reaching a wider audience.

Jim Pringle
Waterbeach Brass

Entertaining comments

Reading the latest contributions to your Comments Section was most entertaining. Two thoughts:
1. The predictability.

I suspect that if you rehashed the comments from a previous year (change names etc.), the result would be remarkably similar. That's why I only read them occasionally nowadays.
2. Mutes that shouldn't be inserted.
a) Not respecting the score? If the adjudicators couldn't tell that mutes were used then the score was truly respected. If they could tell the difference they must have decided that it was a valid method of respecting what the composer wanted.

b) Unfair on the other bands? That assumes that fairness in music competitions is a valid concept.
3. Adjudicators and musicians are human.

Contests are effective ways of developing players. Fairness is irrelevant. Enjoy the successes, work on the weaknesses. Have fun - get a life! (Yes, I know - that's very difficult for brass band people).
Peter Hartley

50 year old mutes

Regarding the use of mutes at this year’s National contest.

Most people seem to have forgotten that 50 years ago exactly Black Dyke won the same contest (Le Roi d’Y’s), which has been given an iconic status as the finest performance of a test piece.

In the opening bars the back row cornets are muted, but not the horns. Major Willcocks had the horns using trombone mutes just for those two bars and nothing has ever been said about that.

John Clay

A Bavarian Stomper...

Your long missive on 4BR seems to infer that Pontins is going down the pan.

Even more to the point that the Bavarian Stompers are a prime culprit!

Don’t try to blame the shortcomings of a holiday camp on an act that you, the brass band fraternity, have continued to re-book for many years. We are only hired hands.

OK, so you have all seen us many times over, so whose fault is that then? We are not to blame for the bar not being crammed at 11:30pm. It’s a sign of the times.

As for being middle-aged, none of us is getting any younger.

However, as you well know, most young cabaret bands are quite content to use sequencers and DAT machines as accompaniment to their act We are live musicians.

Is that what you want – kidology? I am a great advocate of live music and the discipline it imposes.

So from the Bavarian Stompers -  keep blowing.  I’ll keep squeezing, Dick will certainly keep blowing, Denis will keep hitting and Gary will keep running about keeping the girls happy.
Frank Chislett
The Bavarian Stompers

Brass of Praise

I have just watched Songs of Praise tonight on Remembrance Sunday, and have just heard some of the finest trumpet playing around!

It included Maurice Murphy-who seems to be a regular performer on this programme, and also some very fine army musicians from some unnamed Military bands.

It was a veritable feast of brass playing, and was a real joy to listen to.

So there you have it-for some fine mainstream brass playing you now only have to turn onto Songs of Praise on BBC1, Sundays around 5pm.

Tom Stone

Where are you all?

Where were the other bandsmen?

In reply to this observation I think the answer could be that, as well as the expense of competing etc., the members of each band would have had to purchase a ticket to listen to a limited number of the other bands.

The playing order would, of course, have an effect on their availability. Gone are the days when competitors could enjoy other performances for free.

Barbara Robinson

A question of serious music

I must agree with Mr. Dafydd Sills Jones in his assertion that banding needs to keep its cutting edge as sharp as possible with a renewed commitment to serious brass band music.

The 1980’s and 90’s saw contributions to the test piece repertoire at the top section finals from highly respected composers such as Robert Simpson, John McCabe, Derek Bourgeois and Elgar Howarth amongst others, as well as the enormous contributions of the three doyens of brass band composition, Philip Wilby, Peter Graham and Phillip Sparke.

However, we also need to question the reluctance of the organisers of our top contests to commission with a few exceptions, those whose compositional credentials stretch beyond the brass band.

Is there a perception that band audiences, or indeed players and conductors, are no longer able to cope with the intellectual rigour provided by composers who are already established in the wider musical world or younger composers who write in a more challenging style than we are becoming used to?

Competition pieces at the highest level of banding should provide opportunities for development of musical styles and musicianship far beyond the mere shallow shovelling of ever more meaningless reams of notes.

A re-affirmed commitment to commissioning composers with highly regarded credentials from the wider musical world who can provide this within the framework of the brass Band test piece should be looked at anew if we are to bequeath a continued legacy of quality music to the generations to come.

Contest organisers quite rightly have an eye on attracting the paying public but there now seems to me to be a real danger of ‘dumbing down’ towards almost film music or light music genres in an attempt to generate audiences for competitions.

Perhaps we have to look instead at moving to more suitable compact halls which truly reflect the current appeal of the movement to the paying public  – but that is for another discussion.

Does the movement need to set up a panel of senior composers to put forward the credentials of their younger colleagues for consideration; some of whom I understand are already diverting their attention to genres with a more enlightened outlook?

In all our endless petty squabbling about adjudicators, results and the like the one central thing which we do this crazy hobby for is often sidelined - the music.

We must put some thought into where contest pieces at the top level should be heading if we are to keep young musicians who are serious about their music making involved in brass bands.

Sandy Smith

Playing or conducting skills

You report that Malcolm Brownbill at the recent British Open Quartet Championships, said that he hoped that, ‘the skills that are essential to becoming a good musician by quartet playing are not los’.
When, as you report in the very next paragraph, that the winning quartet required a conductor to direct their performance, I fear that some of those skills, if not already lost, are at least not being allowed to develop.  

Perhaps conductors should be banned from quartet contests in future?
Jim Yelland

A question of incompetence

A very interesting article that raises some questions:

Can you define an incompetent Adjudicator?

The band that wins the competition are not going to say that the adjudicator was incompetent! Musical taste is a very personal subject and asking someone to critique a performance will mean that the outcome can and will be challenged. 

How do you 'train' an adjudicator? What will they need to learn to achieve the level of competency required?

Who is going to train them? Who is going to assess them to see that they have achieved the required level of expertise?

What is the 'Pass mark' going to be? My point is that competitions are only one aspect of our musical world and that music is not a competition!

You cannot 'measure' music because it is so open to interpretation.

 Look at the world of art and for example the entries for the Turner prize-sharks in tanks, the fourth plinth in Trafalgar square-how do you judge?
Andrew Hill
Denmead Brass 

Please strive for accuracy 

As one of the main channels of information for the brass band public it is surely incumbent on 4BR to strive for accuracy in that information. 

Yet in, it seems, all of your references to the title of the test piece at last Saturday's National Championship final you have consistently and erroneously named it Torchbearers, which is the pluralistic title of the march written by Eric Ball for a large session of Salvation Army officer cadets, whereas the test piece is called, singularly, The Torchbearer.
Peter Graham has made it clear that he was attracted to the idea of an Eric Ball tribute, based upon the theme in the trio of Torchbearers, but that the title of the new work signifies that Eric Ball was a 'torchbearer' in his own right as a fantastic and important composer. 

Hence the more personal title than the one you have astonishingly so persistently misquoted, even in your somewhat carping Test Piece Review and the contest results and comments.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions about the music, but you should at least get a simple fact like the title right!
Anthony Leggett  

National reflections 

Hi-here are some of my reflections and questions regarding this weekends Nationals final:
1) It was really good to see the Royal Albert Hall nearly half full this Saturday, but where were the majority of the competing bandsman when not playing or rehearsing?

It never ceases to amaze me that so many of the band players do not (want to) listen to the other bands. I myself sat through 18 performances of  ‘The Torchbearer’ and was much the wiser for it.
2) The trade stands were good-as usual this year -but why oh why do they have to exhibit in hidden basement rooms or rooms that would be banned for factory farming of chickens and eggs?
3) Nothing beats for me the Royal Marine band service-but why though just have the fanfare Trumpeters to perform for the whole of 30 seconds!! 

Also the cost of hiring them must be huge! Far better that maybe they also become part of the pre results concert surely!
4) The Torch bearers. This piece was an excellent example of how to write in the style of another composer. It was full of many examples of Eric Balls technique and style and also  of the era he wrote in.

Thank you and congratulations to Peter Graham.
The question I next ask will I am sure horrify the majority of those who attended the Nationals

Why when Eric Ball produced so many masterpieces himself did we have to sit through a pastiche of his style, when we could have equally as well sat through the real thing?

Journey into Freedom, High Peak, Kensington Concerto -all neglected masterpieces, and all of which exhibit the styles of playing and composition that we never hear now and are subsequently -as a movement, the worse for it! There you are I have said it and I am not sorry!!
5) Poor Garry Cutt. Poor Fodens!  Another extremely musical and well thought out performance-confined to the dust. It does make you wonder if these qualities are out of date and out of fashion now!
I love the National Competition. I have been attending it since the 1970's and I shall be there at Gateshead in November, the Regionals next year and also the British Open-but we do need to keep the product fresh, alive and in good health-this is the spirit in which I write.
Congratulations Black Dyke and commiserations to Cory - your concert was great.

Tom Stone

Thanks Peter, but the mutes?

Congratulations and gratitude to Peter Graham for providing such a beautiful and inspirational piece of music and to the bands that provided such worthy performances. 

During 50 years of involvement in brass banding I have seldom had such a marvellous day of musical enjoyment.

This enjoyment was, however, slightly spoiled by some bands' use of mutes, unauthorised by the score, perhaps intended to help attain pp quality and balance in bars 8 to 13 and in the pp passage from bar 241 - most obviously in the winning performance.

Some may accuse me of being pedantic, but there really is no need for bands of the highest quality to resort to such a tawdry tactic that runs counter to the integrity of the score and the composer's intention.

This issue apart, congratulations to Black Dyke and to all the competing bands for giving us a fabulous day of music making.
Ian Bartram 

Masterly Graham 

What I wanted to say was, that this year's National Final Championship Section test piece (Peter Graham's masterly tribute to Eric Ball) has really made my week!

Though I couldn't attend the contest I must have listened to is as often as many of the people who were fortunate enough to hear it live: thank you BBC Listen to the Band.

Anyone who hasn't yet heard it, I'd urge you to go to LTTB's page on the BBC Radio 2 site and hear it while you can!
Ian Dunning 

Making hay

I hear that Black Dyke (National Champions 2009) have recorded ‘Torchbearer’ on the Monday following the National Championships

Bet that took some organising in 2 days!
Among other things, the saying 'make hay while the sun shines' springs to mind (£££'s)!
N. Hall 

National issues

Although I don't appear to be the first to comment about the National Finals on Saturday I feel there are a few issues, which require answering irrespective of the final result. 

I also agree with the majority of observers that inviting the composer to attend a rehearsal prior to the final is asking for trouble but when Black Dyke used mutes to allow them to play quiet why didn't Professor Graham issue an errata to allow if required other bands to use mutes?

This, in my opinion sends the wrong message to up an coming players that if you have a problem playing quiet that you should opt for the easy option and pop a mute in.

Whilst I enjoyed many performances in addition to Dyke, such as Cory and Foden's, I also heard Dyke last week at Rhyl where they played the Torchbearers and in my opinion played it better than on Saturday.

Had that performance of been judged I'm sure there would have been less speculation and controversy that currently.

Many years ago I always understood that world premieres meant just that, and public performance was not allowed to the paying public.

Maybe times have changed!

Irrespective of the result and the gossip, these top bands are a role model to many players and should exude the right qualities off and on the stage and as the great Maurice Murphy once commented "if the conductor wants it quieter then I just don't blow as loud".

Well done to all the bands and to Professor Graham on a great piece.

Simon Greene 


Can anyone out there clarify the protocol regarding the public performance of a newly commissioned piece, eg. a test piece?
Jayne Brindley 

Top 10 cornet players

Looking at the 10 best Cornet players of all time is there a hall of fame category and if there is I believe Ken Smith should be at the top of the list. 

His dedication to music / especially his teachings should be recognized and documented; I don’t think there is any professional musician or beginner that could not learn a thing or two from this man.
I have had the privilege seeing ken Smith 1st hand as teacher, player and conductor, and I don’t believe there is anyone more committed to perfection.
If there is anyone that’s interested in finding out what Ken has been up to, yes he still into music let me know and I will give you the heads up.
Fraser Smith 

Brush rolls

Having spoken with my colleague Chris Bradley who teaches percussion students at Huddersfield University, he explained that it is a different kind of 'roll'.

With sticks they rebound on the skin creating the double stroke roll effect that we are used to but with brushes you can only get a single impact or single stroke roll because they are soft and don't rebound.

So it will be a single stroke roll, rather than the double stroke one that you will get from a brush roll. Hope that helps.

PS. Does anyone know why the 2nd horn part in Labour and Love is split into 2 parts and what we're supposed to do about it in the 3rd section?

Stephen Bradnum

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