2019 Area test piece discussion thread

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by CousinJack, Jan 24, 2019.

  1. nhrg

    nhrg Member

    Messages:
    37
    Great response from Moomin.
    It raises interesting questions about what the objectives of contesting are. Here's my MD perspective.

    Firstly on cheating:-
    It's a really good challenge as to whether swapping parts is cheating. I consider making bands play an incoherent arrangement cheating a fine composer like Holst though! I call the transplanting of parts to more able players or different instruments "gaming", maybe it's like using a nightwatchman in cricket. I used to play sop and front row - gaming comes naturally from those parts, "what's the point of 4 of us playing pp" "what's the point me on sop playing the same as front row for 8 bars - I need a rest!" And note that a Band I played in once drafted players in from abroad to play the key parts and many bands stand some of their players down to bring in better players who aren't regulars, this is worse than gaming in my view especially if those players are professionals.

    "isn’t one the original objectives of the piece (to test specific parts of the Band) deliberately defeated?" I don't see that the objective of a piece of music is to test specific parts of the Band. Composers don't write pieces to be tests, they write them to convey their musical ideas. So I consider it my goal to best convey those ideas to an audience. I don't see the purpose of a score to "test specific parts of the Band" and the composers I've spoken to don't see that. The purpose of the score is to organise the music to convey the ideas of the composer. The MD has to take the score and interpret it for the audience and hope that something of what the composer intended or a fresh interpretation of the composer's intention makes a connection with the audience. That's the beauty of performing music.

    I'm choosing to put some of the baritone parts onto trombone as I prefer the tonal quality of the trombone in this instance, it's more orchestral and it actually mirrors what Holst wrote on his original score. If this gets picked up and commented on and we're marked down I'll put it down to the adjudicator having more respect for Sydney Herbert than for one of Britain's greatest composers. What I'm hoping the adjudicator hears is an amazing well balanced tuneful ensemble for the section where I've done this that stands out from other bands. What I'll probably get is all the predictable complaints about tuning and intonation - which would be well justified!

    My objectives for a contest is to use contests as a process to improve the Band, that's in everyone's interest. So last year for Napoleon we didn't game the piece, each player had to play their own part and we all improved as a result. That met my original objective. We happened to come 2nd for our first outing in the third section - very satisfying! However this year, I'm content on gaming the piece as I don't see many improvement incentives from rehearsing and the arrangement is not a helpful one to improving the band so gaming the piece to ensure a more satisfying performance is what I'll do.

    I always tell the players the objective of the contest is to improve and to perform the piece to the best of our ability to delight the audience.
     
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  2. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

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    Exactly - you deal with what's within your control, and you take as gravy any good that comes to you from matters outside your control - which very definitely includes the subjective musical opinion of a third party, however discerning a pair of musical ears they may be. And it should be added that it is relatively common for there to be people performing on stage, wagging or playing, who know just as much about it all as the listening adjudicator - sometimes more, a lot more. I well remember finding an expression of bafflement in our comments on playing a transcription of a Berlioz overture, where we'd inserted a pair of tramlines - in line with longstanding orchestral performance practice (which prevents the echo from a climactic sffz swamping some sudden pp detail that follows it in a new segment) - "Why the pause?" was written. No idea if that cost us a placing or two - but that was a matter outside of our control that day. A judge more familiar with the original would not have raised an eyebrow.

    Band contesting is what it is - a challenge to be relished and enjoyed, used as an aid to band performance standard, an opportunity to catch up with old friends in other bands. It isn't fully objective, and so one must enter into it on the understanding that its conventions and idiosyncrasies can never be anywhere near fully codified. It isn't a matter of certainty - it's a matter of doing something that seems worthwhile to implement improvement by degrees. Like life, it's a messy thing with many overlaps and ambiguities.

    Did we satisfy with the answers to your questions, 2nd Tenor?
     
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  3. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    1,363
    Location:
    Chigley
    Thank you Gents.

    The impression that I’m getting is that the ‘cheating’ (I use that description for want if a better expression) is more viewed as ‘gamesmanship’ instead. A way of achieving the ends through bending of rules and even crossing them too but with the hope of either no or inconsequential retribution. Now here is the chance element and the risk that a Band takes, a ‘transgression’ or ‘deviation’ might or might not be noticed (first risk factor), should it be noticed then it might or might not attract a penalty (second risk factor) and finally any attracted penalty might or might not be significant (third risk factor). So the situation is, to some extent, a lottery, however if the Adjudicators’ have known attitudes that are also well understood by the Band then the gamble could be more of a calculated risk.

    I suppose that a mid section Band might have the logic that if they were to play a piece as written then their likely result would be outside the (say) top three. However, if they take some calculated risks instead then they will either get a top three result or, if the results displease the Adjudicators, be out of the prizes as before. So, so long as such a Band isn’t going to be pushed down a section by a poor result they have nothing much to loose and all to gain, yes?

    Would that about sum things up?

    Dave, it seems that our posts cross in their creation. Your and nhrg’s attitudes are ones that would encourage me to have a go at Contesting. It appears to me that for you two it’s not all about the result on the day but rather instead about what was gained on the journey.
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2019
  4. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

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    Absolutely it's about getting there rather than what happens in the results. It is to my mind near insane to care deeply about exact results on the day. Which doesn't mean that a bad result doesn't sting, especially when undeserved. And certainly doesn't mean that you can't celebrate a good one! But you need to cultivate a kind of I-care-about-this-bit-but-not-about-this-other-bit mental facility.

    I'm not sure I'd think of rewriting as either cheating or gamesmanship. It's just part of the game, and you can play that part of the game well or otherwise - it's a vital part of the contesting MD's skillset to know what to do with it to customise the piece to your band's strengths rather than its weaknesses. You certainly see more of it in the higher sections.
     
  5. CousinJack

    CousinJack New Member

    Messages:
    7
    Location:
    Greenwich/Mullion
    I'm somewhat amazed that I missed the fact there is a missing section in the Chaconne - I've listened to the original version many many times since I knew I would be playing it at the areas so I'll listen out for it at rehearsal tomorrow night!

    Regarding re-scoring sections of a test piece I am fairly certain that it is generally accepted by the AoBBA - although I can't find a source for that on their website after 5 minutes of skimming. That would put them more in line with those of us (composers/conductors/adjudicators/band geeks/any musician really) who prefer the best performance of a score, as opposed to those of us who prefer the most accurate performance of a score. Of course these things aren't mutually exclusive (I imagine it more like a spectrum) and indeed there are some who think of those ideals are the same! When I played Napoleon on the Alps with my old band our MD also didn't re-score anything and we also placed well, being awarded 6th (not quite as well mind!). Philip Harper's recent pieces have all been very well scored and the only re-scoring the MD did was take the 2nd baritone part during a euph solo and give it to the spare euph. This was purely down to the 2nd baritone's (*cough*my*cough*) ability. However, when we played Dan Price's Darkwood at the areas the year before the MD was much more liberal with his re-scoring. That came down to a mixture of different section's level of ability and trying to 'improve' some of the scoring. That MD does have a Master's in composing so I believe he was more than capable of re-scoring sections to improve the band's performance, and indeed I also feel that, as a composer, I am free to mess with a piece (dynamics, tempi, some re-scoring). This might be because I am open to my own work receiving the same treatment. I think it's part of banding - sometimes a piece just isn't coming off well so an MD may feel forced to re-score sections - and I am definitely all for conductors who avoid it and show they can still get good results.

    A minor point on composers and writing test pieces: the vast majority of the time composers are, and indeed have to be, aware of the technical difficulty of their piece. This isn't just brass band music, this is for everything. So in the brass band would most composers, when writing an extended piece in particular, will almost certainly be thinking about what section their music fits into. Either this is by starting out saying "I'm gonna write a third section test piece" or by writing a piece then saying "okay this is generally playable by a first section band, oh but this section could be a little easier." A lot of test pieces come out of commissions either from a contest or a band to be used at a contest (e.g. Fraternity, Music of the Spheres, Prague) or from a band to celebrate an event (e.g. Mermaid of Zennor and Napoleon on the Alps, both written for youth bands; Rise of the Pheonix and Darkwood, both written for bands for some anniversary or something) so in these cases the piece is certainly written for that level of difficulty. Even if a piece isn't a commission a composer has to be aware of the difficulty because if they're gonna spend 100s of hours writing something they want to guarantee a publisher will pick it up and/or bands will buy and play it out at contests and/or it is selected as a set test for a major contest. Even if we ignore brass band contests, a composer has to be aware of how much rehearsal or recording time they have and write accordingly. If I were commissioned by an amateur orchestra to write a 10 minute concert opener but they tell me they might have an hour of rehearsal time on it I won't be writing anything complicated - musically or technically - but if I had the same commission from the LSO with two days of rehearsal I would feel much less pressure to write something simpler. At the minute I am mostly writing 5 minute or so pieces for conservatoire ensembles with not much rehearsal time and barely enough time to do two takes so I try to take all this into account. My music, and indeed the vast majority of composer's music, doesn't suffer because these kinds of constraints actually help the creative process. Not trying to start a heated debate on the artistic merits of writing like this just trying to share my opinions on this!
     
  6. nhrg

    nhrg Member

    Messages:
    37
    I don't see re-scoring parts as a risk to the result. Adding music from the original score into the arrangement is a risk. It's worth taking as I'm more passionate about putting in an amazing performance that improves the band through the rehearsal process than the result. For me it's about musical integrity. You win contests in the 3rd section on the basics like tuning, intonation, playing together and dynamics, the interpretation is diminished in the final count if those aren't right. I do indeed subscribe to the journey being more important than the result.
     
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  7. GER

    GER Active Member

    Messages:
    186
    I couldn't agree more, surely a contest is not only a test of the players, but also a test of the conductors ability to read, interpret and if called for enhance the score, this is one of the main reasons I love contesting-no matter where you are placed the band and the conductor should be better for the experience. If the adjudicator agrees with your interpretation so much the better.
    I don't think they have an option-how could you possibly police it? The only way I can think is for each member of the band to have his part scrutinised before going onto the contest stage, a logistical nightmare!. Even then most, if not all musicians could memorise a part, most of us know the piece inside out (and are hearing it in our sleep :):)) by the time the contest comes around. There are also the bands who are not fortunate to have a full compliment of players, last year at the areas, there was one band in our section that had only 14 players, in those circumstances re-scoring is not a luxury, it's a necessity.
     
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  8. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

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    1,957
    Location:
    Oxfordshire
    MoominDave, I played EEb bass for a band from the Oxford area a few years ago at Butlins (High Peak in 2012?) and neither of the EEb basses were comfortable playing a solo passage that went a bit high, the 2nd Euph put it in and, if I remember correctly, the adjudicator (Steve Sykes) said "well done EEb bass"

    :)
     
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  9. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

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    A point well made and illustrated.

    The original score could have had that part for either of the Euphoniums but instead it was written for, and so likely intended to test, the Eb Basses. Though the Adjudicator thought it had happen the test of the Eb Basses didn’t actually take place (it had been got around) and so credit for the positive result was incorrectly awarded.

    Whatever, I suppose the same option to ‘adjust’ is open to all the Bands on the day. If they’re caught out by the Adjudicator, well his decision is final and that’s the risk you take. If done well it’s probably a pragmatic decision by the players and MD and less of a risk than mucking things up whilst attempting to do something that’s either simply too hard or just too difficult to reliably deliver.
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2019
  10. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

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    Oh yes, I remember that! I thought it was a bit tonally risky myself when we did it but the fact that it was totally fine shows how even somewhat coarse shades of tonal difference are often not picked up by good listeners who are focussed on a task other than checking for tonal swaps. Our best ever Butlins result, that one. Think it was a certainty of intonation thing with the EEb bass high register - checking back in my emails, the other EEb was Steve Sizeland, who's well capable of playing solo up there.

    And there the comments are in my emails, 7 years on...
    Steve Sykes <excerpted>: "(11) a super b.trom / Eb tuba duet. "
    Well, I have to reprint that, don't I...
     
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