March tempi

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Pauli Walnuts, Apr 21, 2012.

  1. Pauli Walnuts

    Pauli Walnuts Moderator Staff Member

    Can anyone tell me why brass bands play marches faster? When did this trend start and why?

    We were discussing the tempo of Ravenswood which is being used in a local contest and the more Northern band members say it should be done at a whit friday tempo. However, considering the purpose of a march was to move bodies of people from A to B, a slower tempo is used when playing an Alford march for example.

    BTW: not disagreeing with either - just want to establish how the practice came about.
  2. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    To allow more effective showing off would seem to be the obvious suggestion! After all, we do have the concept of the 'contest march', or even the 'grand exhibition march' (or is it 'exhibition grand'?), in the case of 'BB&CF'...
  3. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    <duplicate post deleted - sorry, not sure what happened there>
  4. classicbrass

    classicbrass Member

    This begs the question then of how many contest marches were actually written to be played whilst marching at the head of a column.

    I'm no scholar of music by any means, but doesn't the term 'march' relate the the structure of a piece as well? The Saddleworth contests (as far as I know) are all 'quickstep' contests rather than march contests.
  5. ploughboy

    ploughboy Active Member

    In the 16th Century Marches were written as a means to drive army's around europe, keeping the troops marching on. they used to march at 80 beats per min. . .
    In the 18th Century, Napeleon worked out he could get his army's in to battle 50% if he marched his troops around at 120 beats per min, and hence had his marches written with this tempo in mind. . . .
  6. Pauli Walnuts

    Pauli Walnuts Moderator Staff Member

    Being ex army I'm familiar with that - it's the desire to play faster than that that's more at the root of my question I guess.
  7. fsteers

    fsteers Member

    It's not just brass bands that play (some) marches faster. Here in the US, a lot of community and university/high school bands play marches in the 132-140 bpm range.

    My suspicion is that the tempo creep is a by-product of the so-called "Screamers," i.e. circus marches (e.g., Barnum and Bailey's Favorite, Rolling Thunder, Entry of the Gladiators, Circus Bee, Melody Shop, Them Basses, etc.), for which the indicated tempi typically falls in the 140-160 bpm range, compared to which 120 bpm can seem placid. (FWIW, for Melody Shop, the unofficial tradition--aka, "bury the euphs"--among premier US military bands is to take the recapitulation of the trio at 200-240 bpm.)
  8. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    Interesting stuff, thanks.

    I will suggest we try to 'bury the euphs' tonight at rehearsal! :p
  9. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Many conductors confuse speed with excitement, in many pieces and not just marches by any stretch.

    When examining marches, one has to take into account that there are many different styles of march. 6:8 marches are typically steadier than 2:4 - and each march will differ as to where it 'sits' comfortably.

    There are huge variations on which tempo suits a particular march simply due to the way that they're written. Even within seeminly similar marches. A band can play 'On the Quarterdeck' about 94 if you get the style and articulation right and it sounds great - with a real natural swagger and roll about it - but sounds very hurried and unnatural at 120. The 'New Colonial' works the same way too - that oft mentioned "Tempo di Dick Evans" effect.

    Both of these are 6:8 marches and really suit the steadier tempo - but try the same approach with 'Cross of Honour' or 'Mephistopheles' and both will quickly sound turgid and dull. These often 'sit' best around 108bpm. Exactly opposite our opening two 'Torch of Freedom' certainly can't be played any slower than 108bpm (Eric Ball's original marking) and doesn't really sit right much below 120 - so there are very few hard and fast rules about how fast a march should be. Take each on it's merits and find a tempo that suits it is my advice.

    At the opposite end of the spectrum, several american 'Screamer' marches (Rolling Thunder, Midwest, Circus Bee, Emblem of Unity) have got to be played like the preverbial excrement off a digging implement or they sound boring, stodgy and half-baked. But because they're purposely written to be played at this tempo, they don't sound a scramble if played properly. Space within the tempo is the key to any march - but becomes much more important with a screamer.

    In brass banding we have a genre of March almost unknown anywhere else, in the shape of the Contest March - a divisive term if ever there was one as it has no real definition! If we examine those which specifically state thay are 'Contest Marches' (grand or otherwise) many are implicitly written to be played faster than what may be considered a 'default' march pace of 120bpm. They usually sound fine at 120 - but are sometimes equally happy (or even happier) at 132-140.

    The important thing in such cases - and I can't state this enough - is context. Knight Templar is not the sort of march a band would ever consider playing while on the road any more than we'd consider playing the March from Respighi's Pines of Rome, so a slightly brisker tempo isn't really out of the question. contest marches must always sound smart, bright and sharp - some more than others. (The President for instance needs to be like daggers if it's to make sense.)

    The most important thing withany march is to play it at a tempo where it really lives, jumps off the page at you and makes musical sense to an audience. It should not sound dull and plodding. If it does, ramp it up. But it should also never under any circumstances sound hurried. If it ever reaches that point, then it needs pegging back. If a march is already played in a bright and exciting style, then a few extra BPM can add to that, but really only up to a point. Beyond the point where you can actually theoretically march to it (About 140bpm) it begins to have an effect a wee bit like the under-cranked film at the ending of a Benny Hill show.....

    Forget winning the contest by playing fast. Do what makes musical sense and winning the contest will look after itself. :)
  10. slaidpog

    slaidpog New Member

    I have found this old article by Drake Rimmer from an old "Brass Band News" edition of 1977 relating to stories about his uncle, William Rimmer:

    "Once when staying with Uncle William I asked had he listened to a radio band broadcast. A very strong answer was "why should I listen to
    my music being murdered, my marches should be played at only 112 to 116 metronome, and no faster, and I trust you to play them at such
    tempi when you conduct them, and show how they should be played."

  11. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Then it's a shame that such an undoubtedly great musician had such a narrow view of his own work.

    I'm not a conductor. (Not a regular one anyway) But I have written and arranged rather a lot of music. In anything I write or arrange I consider an MD's discretion of 10% either way to be entirely reasonable - and occasionally more if it makes musical sense. So for a composer to suggest a blanket framework of four BPM to cover an entire march output seems overly prescriptive to me.

    There is a tempo window in which any piece sits nicely and while the width of that window undoubtedly varies, I'd think the cases where it is as narrow as Drake Rimmer stated his esteemed forbear believed, would be few and far between....
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2012
  12. slaidpog

    slaidpog New Member

    Andi - I agree with you on Mr. Rimmer's view - it is a little restrictive and in fact I take "Slaidburn" at a very steady tempo and think it suits such treatment.
    (I also take the same view on Alford - I think his marches should not be too fast.)
    Drake Rimmer's article also mentions Rimmer's adjudication criteria - looking for not only technique but overall musical interpretation which seems to contradict
    his narrow margin on march tempos.
  13. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Maybe WR's quote reflects his frustration at changing fashion? If absolutely every performance of these works was uptempo, I can imagine that he might be rather frustrated by that.

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