2015: August

Sandy Smith hits the right soapbox spot, more ringers, a Grimey first is questioned and the Australians look for support in Scotland as we head towards the British Open.

Bang on the button Sandy

I read with great interest the recent article by Sandy Smith - and oh boy, how right he is.
What superb and down to earth comments: I was brought up, like many others within a local village band (Delph) and progressed over the years taking in playing experiences with top shelf bands playing lovely (and difficult) music rather than a 25 piece technical exercise these days lasting for a dreaded 15 or so minutes- how exciting!  Not!
My own life as a composer and arranger with items which I produced in the late 1990's were recorded by Brighouse on to a sampler CD for my company. Whilst not commercially successful, the band under David Hirst did a wonderful job of making music for which I am eternally grateful and privileged.
Whilst I appreciate and do not doubt in any way the skills and musicianship of our composers and players , it makes me wonder whether bands would include one or two of these test pieces of wizardry in their audiences in the park, theatre or where ever Joe Public is present.
I shall be in Cheltenham supporting a band in my capacity as both a tour sponsor and Vice-President next month and I am genuinely dreading to have to endure so many performances of a certain piece of music trying to pick out the music rather than technical exactitude from a certain section of the band.
As Sandy states; a musical cul-de-sac is already present. Let there be no doubt about that.
Competition should be fun and healthy in what is part of someone's beloved hobby and I do not disagree that standards should be set but not to the stage where it puts both performers and listeners off.

That is just one reason, among others, why I packed it all in. Am I the only one?
Bring back Berlioz and Resurgam to name but two.
Bob Harwood

Illiterate and shallow

Couldn't agree more with Sandy. 

The essential problem is that a large part of the brass band ‘movement’ consists of people who are musically illiterate and shallow. 

That's fine - let them enjoy themselves. 

Trying to change them is a bit like trying to change a Big Band fan stuck in the 1940s - hard work and maybe pointless. 

I'd like to see someone organising rehearsal brass bands for those of us who only want to play quality stuff. 

I'd travel far (and practise) for a once-a-month full band bash at McCabe, Pickard and co, and daring arrangements like ‘Daphnis’.

It would be great to continue to play at a good level and have an excuse for avoiding contesting.

Peter Hartley 
(via 4BR Facebook page)

Spot on

Spot on...no more to be said! 

Except.....how and who will set about changing the situation?

Clifford Bradley 
(via 4BR Facebook page)

Brilliant stuff

Brilliant stuff from Sandy.

Mark Webster 
(via 4BR Facebook page)

Full agreement

I just wanted to say how much I agreed with your article on 4BR. 

We're living through a 'golden age' of British music with so many good composers out there who could provide brass bands with an outstanding contemporary repertoire in all kinds of styles and musical languages. 

But that isn't what we're getting. (And you neatly explained why I'll probably never write a test-piece!)

David Lancaster 
(via Sandy Smith's Facebook page)


I've just read your article and enjoyed every point you made. 

I find the prescribed conservative thinking extremely frustrating and it's good that a leading figure such as yourself has and will continue to highlight the issues.

Richard Jones 
(via Sandy Smith's Facebook page)

Diversity would be healthy

He's maybe right in that things are a bit formulaic and more diversity would be healthy. 

Although... I'm not particularly opposed to performers going walkies for some more stage presence dependant on what it is. 

Although making references to orchestral performances is a bit dodgy as they’re currently being looked at to see what can be improved, offstage and instruments at different places eg, balconies is something that's been used for a long time. 

Also, I wonder if it's cheaper to pay someone to copy and paste Bruckner/Rimski-Korsakov/Tchaikovsky? 

I think it's maybe part of a much wider issue of brass band repertory that could be discussed.

Thomas Brown 
(via Sandy Smith's Facebook page)

The usual ringers...

As we look forward to the 'elite' contest season the question of ringers will, no doubt, raise its head again!

It has become somewhat of a game to spot them as they take the stage.

I am a strong advocate of strict registration rules and not the ridiculous situation we now have where 'star' players are parachuted in as a means to grab the trophy and cash. No other competitive event is allowed such flexibility! 

I would be interested in one statistic post RAH. How many players in the ranks of bands at the Open and/or the National turn up at the subsequent rehearsals and concerts? 

Or will the usual suspects be absent and looking for their next mercenary job?

Robert Barnes

Grimethorpe not the first

I refer to the recent comment by Grimethorpe on 4BR that they are the first British brass band to perform in Tasmania.

I wish to inform you that this is factually incorrect. 

In 1988 I organised a tour of Australia by Chalk Farm Salvation Army Band (London UK - Bandmaster Michael Clack) which included a concert in Hobart as well as concerts in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Newcastle and Canberra.

Robert Turner

Aussies in need of support

We are an Australian supporter group who are travelling to Glasgow to support the Australian Davis Cup team in September.

We are looking for Australians living in the UK who can play trumpet, trombone or similar for our section of the crowd.
Warren Livingston

The stats tell a different story

I read your recent article on ‘Prescription Pad Junkies’ with interest. 

However, I felt it did not reflect my experience of own choice contests in the slightest, so I visited the www.brassbandresults website to try and collect some data.

I looked at own choice contests held in Britain this year, and excluded those in which every band played the area piece for their section - not much ‘own choice’ about those, I'm sure you'd agree. 

This left only three contests - a small selection, I admit, but representative nonetheless: These were the contests held at Holme Valley, Weston-super-Mare and Merthyr Tydfil.

Accounting for two sections at Holme Valley, and four sections at each of the other two contests, ten different pieces were awarded first prize. 

Of these, Eric Ball, Michael Ball, Kenneth Downie, Percy Fletcher, Peter Graham, Bertrand Moren and Philip Wilby are all represented once each, while Philip Sparke accounts for three winning pieces. 

As every single one of these composers was active before the turn of the century - several of them well before - I fail to see your point regarding a change in taste when it comes to such contests.

You bemoan the lack of works by Eric Ball, Sparke or Wilby, even as these account for 50% of winning test pieces this year. ‘Paganini Variations’, which you mention by name as a piece falling out fashion, gave Verwood Concert Brass their victory at Weston.

The only name featuring on both your list of ‘modern’ composers, and mine of contest winners, is Peter Graham. 

The piece of his which has won a contest this year is ‘Dimensions’ - for Newport Borough Brass, also at Weston - which was written in 1983: Hardly ‘modern’ at all. 

The likes of Doss, de Meij, Giske or Waespi make no appearance whatsoever.

So marked is the contrast between your article and the reality that is actually seen at contests that I think we are in grave danger of quite the opposite problem. 

They are undoubtedly classics, and phenomenal pieces of music to boot, but if we allow ‘Tallis Variations’, ‘Festival Music’ and ‘Labour and Love’ to win contests until the end of time, we will achieve no progress whatsoever. 

That, far more than an imagined preference for flashy European test pieces, will ensure a fall in standards and enjoyment in our movement.

Will Wilkins
Otterbourne Brass

Clarity of thinking needed

Congratulations on another excellent article on a current brass band issue.

I feel that there are a number of concerns for MDs that organisers and particularly adjudicators could help with.

Many of the 'big' modern test pieces are certainly in the aspirational category for First/Championship bands. I think this is a good thing as it should raise standards and has added some wonderful repertoire to the brass band catalogue. 

For many regional contests, however, it can mean that MDs can feel they are at a disadvantage if they don't have a percussionist waving a hose around his or her head!

Percussion has always been an issue as not all bands have the instruments or players to work with in rehearsal and have to 'fit it in' close to performance. The question is whether adjudicators are more impressed with a piece that needs a marimba or crotales than one that doesn't.

In the rarefied atmosphere of the elite bands it has become truly exotic, as clearly exemplified with the recent Europeans, where bands were almost expected to perform a bespoke tour-de-force to be taken seriously. 

It also makes the closed adjudication redundant if a band plays a new piece by Peter Graham, say. 

The standard of composition and performance is truly elite but it does risk losing contact with the rest of the banding movement.

In the ordinary world of higher level regional banding I think that some clarity is needed from adjudicators. 

I have listened to one of the audio adjudications that was so insightful, but the well-informed comments were based on a detailed knowledge of the piece being played. 

How does an adjudicator assess a piece that they have never heard or conducted before and how can they then compare it with a piece that is very well-known that they may have specific expectations of?

In Own Choice contests there is always a balance between 'level of difficulty' and 'quality of performance'. 

Greater openness from ABBA on this issue would be a great help. 

In my opinion MDs should be encouraged to play some of the truly great pieces in the 'back catalogue' of brass bands without fear of being penalised by an unfair comparison with newer works that may have yet to find their place in the contesting hierarchy.
Paul McCann

Walk out

I have just read your article ‘Prescription Pad Junkies’ and I honestly believe it is the best and most accurate of its kind I have ever, ever seen.

So well put together, factual and relevant...I sincerely hope it hits the spot with those responsible. 

I have to say I have walked out of contests when subjected to such works attempted by bands that couldn't get near them. I guess they felt obliged to go with the flow or lose points or favour.

A truly wonderful article and sincere congratulations.

Gordon Higginbottom

Right on the money

Don't always agree with everything you write but this (‘Prescription Pad Junkies’) is right on the money!

Same goes for solos - especially euph!! 

Listening on you-tube I very often switch off after a minute or two of mind numbing tuneless technical exercises.

Rob Burnett

Sitting on the fence?

I like your editorial about competitive fairness, and you make several valid points. 

However, with regard to brass band competitions, you seem very reluctant to say what exactly you are complaining about. 

You do not normally hold back in your comments, but in this instance seem to be “going all around the houses” without actually defining the nature of your complaints.

Is this about the obvious abuses of the player registration rules, and the apparent ease with which some players are able to transfer their allegiance from one band to another at the drop of a hat, or, is it about the seeming preference being offered to one or two bands with regard to the draw for order of play at an unnamed competition?

Do you not think that now might be a good time to “get off the fence” and give an honest and informed opinion on what is wrong and what should be done about the perceived unfairness to which you refer.

Christy Smith

Why no Proms again?

Yet again the Proms season features no brass band performing on the Albert Hall stage.

I find it hard to believe that yet again we are not being entitled to see or hear a ‘top class’ brass band.

In the past I have protested to the Proms Committee without much success and looks as though the future is bleak regarding this matter unless attitudes change drastically.

When we say ‘Classical Music’ does that not mean a really wide scope of musical genre’s rather than a set pattern of much of the same. 

I put it to the Proms Committee that they are totally biased towards the brass band and will say that their way of thinking that a brass band cannot be a worthy entertainment medium for the top class stage is still on their agenda.

Brass Bands still have a reputation in many minds of not being a professional outfit with which to serve the public’s ears, and to this day should I dare mention ‘cloth caps & hobnailed boots’ syndrome. 

I say that this totally snobbish attitude has been around for centuries set up by the elite classes that want nothing to do with the middle to lower class societies which in fact they took part in creating.

If it was not the working classes that helped the industrial revolution then we would possibly have had no brass band movement at all.

The elite used the mining industry to enslave those who would work the pits in such dangerous conditions and the communities around gave them social stability until it was all taken away by a certain prime minister who tried to destroy their way of life .

The ‘modern’ brass band can today cope with all genres of music - from pop to jazz to film music -and many fantastic arrangements of traditional classics let alone many thousands of test pieces that also can make great listening material.

So I ask why has the Brass Band always got to take a cheap back seat and not a front comfortable seat in first class which it deserves after all the efforts of thousands of people involved in the movement.

I say to the Proms Committee get your heads out of the sand and open up the ‘classical music’ scene so the brass band can feel an inclusive and integral part of the rich and varied classical scene.

Paul Boast

Can anyone help?

Could you help please I'm trying to find a recording of Stephen Roberts ‘The Snaring of the Sun’, 

Can anyone point me in the right direction?

John Milgate

Luton Brass Band - Masterclass with David Daws

Wednesday 27 September • St Augustine's Church, Luton LU3 2JR

South Yorkshire Police -

Saturday 30 September • Sheffield Catherdral. Church Street. Sheffield. S1 1HA

Epping Forest Band - Thundersley Brass Band

Saturday 30 September • Salvation Army Hall, Hadleigh, Essex SS7 20F

Friary Brass Band - guest soloist Tom Smith

Saturday 30 September • Trinity Methodist Church. Brewery Road. Woking GU21 4LH

Contest: Bolsover Festival of Brass

Saturday 30 September • Shirebrook Academy, Common Lane, Shirebrook. Derbyshire NG20 8QF

Harlow Brass Band

September 29 • Seeking a MUSICAL DIRECTOR - We are a friendly, non-contesting band who play to a good standard. We hold our own Spring and Christmas concerts and provide entertainment at various local events throughout the year.

East of England Co-op Band

September 27 • We are looking for an Eb or Bb bass player to fill a vacancy due to a player's relocation. We are a friendly and ambitious Championship section band who rehearse in Ipswich, Suffolk on a Monday evening. We have a healthy concert and contest diary.

Uppermill Band

September 27 • EXCITING TIMES AHEAD AS WE START A NEW CHAPTER. Following a period of rebuilding and the appointment of our new MD JAMES GARLICK, we require a PERCUSSIONIST to complete our team. We are a hardworking and committed team.

Michael Bennett

BSc, RNCM (Perf)
Performer, Composer, Arranger, Teacher


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