From the Areas to the North American Championships (Another typical Herak banding season) This year I decided to go back to uni to pursue a graduate degree. I leafed through the school calendar and saw Spring Break was right around the time of the areas. This would be an excellent opportunity to go back and visit some old friends, maybe toot the tuba a bit more (especially because my MD here had asked me to stay on baritone :S). An added bonus was that 4 areas were running that weekend (Welsh, West, North and LSC) thus increasing the odds that I would find a band. So I started to plan the date and I noticed getting to the areas was no problem, but if I were to rehearse with a band the week before, I would have to miss exam week. I quickly met with my professors to explain to them what my priorities were. Most of them were quite understanding (although I did have to drop one class). So I was off to find a band. I really didn’t worry too much until about 6 weeks before the areas (I knew that most bands would need to be sorted by 4 weeks before the areas to account for any transfers). Then I got the call from a nice band in the Forest of Dean area known as the Lydney Band. They had almost rebuilt a complete band after not even being able to attend the areas the year before. However, not only did they need one tuba, but they needed two. So, I grabbed one of the other tuba players from uni (Sean) and we started planning Spring Break. Whilst most in the States think of heading to Panama City or Cabos San Lucas for the warm sun and scantily clad co-eds….we were off to (what would be snowy) Glouchestershire. Meanwhile, I got the part from Voyage of Discovery and after reading the first ten bars, just about sent it back. So I was splitting time practising back and forth between tuba and baritone, when low and behold one of the bass players in my Ohio band quits and they ask me to cover the part for contest. Now I have about 3 and 5 weeks respectively to learn a test piece for the UK, two test pieces, a solo and an ensemble for the States and oh yeah….finish all more courses at uni a week early! Well, the day before I left for the UK, I had my uni band concert with Sean, completed all my coursework and was ready to go. I get to the airport and you would think I would be breathing a huge sigh of relief….but I didn’t. Sean lost his passport and was unable to fly over with me!! He ended up driving 9 hours to Philadelphia to the nearest available passport office to get a replacement, then flying and catching up with the band a few days later (that also meant when he got home he had to endure the 9 hours in combined flights and then drive 9 hours home again). I guess on the bright side (although it was a bit of a pain) is that Sean had my mobile phone. So when I arrived in London I had no phone. I was supposed call him when I got in so we could meet up (his flight arrived an hour before mine). While I was pretty much in ‘Barney,’ at least when he finally arrived in the country I knew how to get a hold of him. Sean arrived in time for Wednesday’s practice. All those tuba sectionals we had done in the States together paid off, as we were able to fill in quite well. In fact, since they did not record the areas at Torquay, I can tell you we played perfectly!! The results may not have been quite as good as the band wanted (10 of 13), but ‘victory’ is quite a subjective word. In many ways the band won because they competed and had a full band for the areas (something they didn’t have last year). We also managed to beat one of the other local, “Forest,” bands. The next day I went to the London Areas and saw the Watford Town Band (my old home town) qualify for the 4th section Nationals!! I also, was able to enjoy some Journey to the Centre of the Earth with some old friends. I would have introduced Sean to my UK mates, but he forgot his wallet at the band manager’s house and had to go from Torquay to London via Cheltenham. The trip was a good time with good people…it always is when you are banding isn’t it? So back to the States with 11 days until the North American Brass Band Association (NABBA) Championships. Although my liver was probably still recovering, my chops were in pretty good shape having played all the time the week before. It was really interesting playing and contesting with an English Band and a band from the States in such quick succession. The different things the bands do really well and the different things they struggle with…some seem so basics and simple in the context of the other band….yes, I’m rambling, I know….apologese. (spell checker is catching that last word and I’ve been through such a whirlwind the past 4 weeks I really don’t know how to spell anymore). So in this last bit of preparation for the NABBA Championships, I had to finish my preview for 4barsrest. The bands in the States are improving at a rapid pace and after spending a week at the areas in the UK, all I could think is: our band doesn’t have quite the right sound, we aren’t playing loud enough, we’re not playing soft enough, etc… So I didn’t even pick our band to finish in the frame. One of our tenor horns complained to me about these “4BR guys.” How could they not pick us….how could they say that our best days are behind us…I had to sit back a bit and decided to withhold the information that I was one of “those guys.” I listened to almost all the bands in the Championship Section at contest, and I didn’t have us placed first by any means, but that’s where we finished (by 0.2 points over James Madison and 0.4 over Fountain City on a 300 point scale). That’s when it dawned on me…I’d never really heard my band play. I received some quite nice compliments from other bandsmen about how we played, and how our opening piece really set the tone, but I never heard us play…and I realised that how things sound on stage is often vastly different from what the audience hears. How can a bandsman truly complain “we wiz robbed” when they didn’t even hear themselves play? The icing on the cake, my wife won the Low Brass Slow Melody prize on baritone!! (Yes, I know the Peter Kay reference here, “baritone…solo?, baritone? solo?”) So it appears the year in the UK banding from Amboise to Glasgow, Bugle to Hadleigh had paid off. A band I was in won for the first time* ever!! I won for the first time* ever!! (*we tied the Illinois Brass Band in 2002, and let me tell you, there is a huge difference between how a draw feels and how it feels to win – if by only 0.2 points). I’m still coming back down to Earth (bought some lead shoes)…and things couldn’t get any better!!