Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by youngman, Jan 23, 2004.

  1. youngman

    youngman Member

    Use of lower octave

    The 4th section area test piece "Partita" has many opertunities for B flat Bass to take the part down an octave. Many adjudicators have been critical of this practice in the past, but when it was written most bands didn't have 4 valve basses. I feel that the 8ve gives a far richer sound in the middle movement, but is so obvious what is being done. Should we be able to re-write parts for the contest as our own interpretation ?
  2. carlwoodman

    carlwoodman Member

    I have been on tMP for some months now and resisted the temptation to open up this 'can of worms'!
    Now someone else has done so, I feel that I should contribute.

    Interestingly enough, the score of Coventry Variations that I saw last year had a note from the composer instructing adjudicators to penalise bands whose BBb Bass players 'add an octave'! It will be interesting to see what happens at the areas.
    I remember when City of Coventry won the Open in the early eighties. One BB player was dropping octaves in 'silly' places but an adjudicator remarks commented on the 'artistry of the BBb Basses'!

    Generally, this practice seems to have become pretty widespread (Derek Jackson started it, I think) and it would be interesting to hear from composers on tMP who have had their music 'altered' by BBb Bass players!
    I remember Brian Bowen doing a review in Sounding Brass magazine where he likened the almost constant pedal notes in a Black Dyke concert to someone playing an organ using the foot pedals all the time!

    It seems to have become accepted that BBb Bass players have the 'right' to alter a composers score by deviating from the written part although I suspect that this practice on other instruments is more frowned on.

    I play BBb Bass myself in the corps band and have been known to 'add an octave' from time to time. However, I like to take several factors into account when doing this;
    1) What is the Eb Bass doing? It's no good dropping an octave if you end up being 2 octaves lower than the Eb.
    2) What is the Bass Trombone doing? Similar theory really, BBb Bass and Bass Trombone in octaves sounds good, 2 octaves apart not so good!
    3) What is the harmony doing? I've heard some players dropping octaves on 1st inversion chords. This generally sounds disgusting as it means the third of the chord being 'pedalled', not pleasant.

    We have Ray Steadman-Allen in our corps so maybe with him being a highly-respected composer I should ask him what he thinks.
  3. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    Since the original post refers specifically to "Partita", would it not be possible for someone to formally ask Edward Gregson what his feelings would be?

  4. Phil Green

    Phil Green Supporting Member

    When recording the first of the Gregson CD's with Desford, Edward conducted and would only let Deano play on pedal note in the whole recording - last note of Connotations if memory serves correct. He was against placing pedals where they weren't written.
    Bram stops the band if a BBb player pedals, he won't let us use them at all!

  5. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    I think many soprano players believe they have the same 'right' (in the opposite direction, of course!).

    Trouble is, if the practice starts at the top, how can adjuducators legitimately penalise other bands for doing the same thing?
    A prime example is the recent recording of "Journey into Freedom" by Dyke in the Eric Ball tribute series. The rising chromatic scale just prior to the final section is clearly 'dropped' (and very impressive it is too; pedal G sharp if I am not mistaken!) so if the 'top' bands (and their conductors) are setting the example......... ?

    [I think "can of worms" is right!]


  6. johnflugel

    johnflugel Active Member

    One or two questions worth asking I think:

    i) Even if you are Black Dyke and can pedal everything - is it right to do it?
    ii) As a result of bands like Dyke, do less capable bands feel they have to do the same (with considerably less success)?

    First of all (i) Bram Tovey has recently been championing this 'campaign' and mentioned it before Fodens performance of 'coventry variations' the other night. I agree with him when he says that it expands the range of a band too much. When I first started going to hear contesting bands in concert, I used to be amazed by people like John Gillam pedalling certain areas but with hindsight, the reason why it was so amazing is because he only did it at a particular spot that benefitted from that extra 'kick'. I have since had the opportunity to sit directly infront of John in my band and his playing is unbelievable because his sound is so immense, when he decides to drop the octave he hits it smack in the middle and the effect is amazing. I think that just because you can do it, does not mean you have to all the time. To me it is no different to a sop putting it up the octave, it is just not needed all the time.

    (ii)The real danger is when Bb players who think that having a BB bass means you must do it try to drop the octave just end up sounding naff.
    There are players abiding with other contesting bands who do the same and sound like, in the words of Bram Tovey 'like the slow emission of air from a balloon!'

    What do you think? Agree with me or not?

  7. Maestro

    Maestro Active Member

    Personally I love to hear a BB dropping the octave, and also the Sop taking it up, BUT, it has to be in the right place.
    I have heard both instruments that sound fantastic when either taking up or dropping one ( :wink: ), but again I have heard a piece being totally 'bastardised', by players that think they can either take or drop, just because of the instrument that they play.
  8. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I would go along with those who have said that excessive pedalling will be detrimental to the effect. With a number of older pieces, you often come across an awkward jump up an octave, and it is likely that it was only introduced because the players at the time were unable to complete the phrase with the instruments and technique available to them at the time.

    Equally, to add a bottom octave, to return to the organ analogy, is like the organist using his pedals, finding he now has a 64' stop whereas he only had a 32' before.

    I think it is very different to add lower notes in more recent pieces where the composer could and would have written them if he wanted them - if Kenneth Downie, for instance, chooses to end on a note in or near the bottom of the stave you can be fairly certain that it was because he wanted that octave, rather than the lower one!
  9. Toby

    Toby Member

    It's like vibrato, done tastefully in the right places enhances the sound of the band, and anything other than that can destroy the good work others might be doing.

    Toby Bannan
  10. bigcol

    bigcol Member

    As a recent member of the BBb players club, I think some BBb players take it down the octave because they can (and enjoy it) rather than think of the artistic merits some of the time. It's a sort of status thing.

    However pedalling is one of the things that gives the 'big' bands that great sound - when done right and with the scoring in mind (often the Eb's too can pedal or drop an octave to support the sound) it really makes a different.

    Those who just drop everything longer than a semiquaver an octave aren't really thinking about the music. But I must say I put loads of pedals in IF i think it is merited. I'm doing Oceans at the moment - and it fits in some places, and doesn't in others (esp. when the Eb's are playing in fifths, or just the fifth - then you don't need it).

    Interestingly, the piece ends on a loud ff pause, and the BBb bass is on a middle G. I bet you every band on the day will be putting in the bottom G.
  11. carlwoodman

    carlwoodman Member

    Unfortunately, I couldn't be at the Fodens Concert on Saturday night.
    I would have liked to have heard what Bram said. I'm sure it was both interesting and entertaining!
  12. johnflugel

    johnflugel Active Member

    [quote="carlwoodmanUnfortunately, I couldn't be at the Fodens Concert on Saturday night.
    I would have liked to have heard what Bram said. I'm sure it was both interesting and entertaining![/quote]

    It was both! He had found out from the internet buffs in the band that there had been a chat room created for Coventry Variations (TMP, please stand up!) and that he was aware that there might be one or two mini discs in the audience. I think he was using the opportunity - I think he got the message across to the 1st Section Bb basses in the room - ' alot of bands pedal, we at the Fodens Band do not!'.

    Ha ha!

  13. James McFadyen

    James McFadyen New Member

    mmmmm, I used a pedal C in Opposition of Mars!! :lol:
  14. Darth_Tuba

    Darth_Tuba Active Member

    The use of pedals in the right places can add to performances in certain pieces, if done in the right way. If, as with many pieces now, there are pedals written on in some places, don't put them in where they aren't written! The composer/arranger obviously knows where he wants them and where he doesn't! As regards other pieces, it takes practice and common sense... anyway, as an Eb player, I'm not the best on the subject... Andy Catt. however at Faireys is quite adept at the art and knows just when and when not to put 'em in. I'm surprised he hasn't replied to the thread yet...
  15. andyp

    andyp Active Member

    I think subtlety (or the lack of it!) is the key here, for either end of the scale. If you can't hear the 'normal' notes (i.e. the rest of the band) for the pedalling basses or the screaming sop part then the effect is wasted.
    I remember hearing a band one Whit Friday who's basses pedalled their way at fff all through the bass solo (and pointed their bells towards the adjudicators caravan, too!). While very impressive technically, the effect was raucous to say the least (and no, they weren't a top section band).
    If you're doing it to add colour (which is usually the idea) it should be subtle, and blend with what's already there, not sticking out like a sore thumb.
  16. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    Interesting reference to Edward Gregson there; I have an LP recorded in 1982 on the Kestrel label, entitled “Essays in brass”, an all-Gregson programme played by GUS with Keith Wilkinson conducting. Edward Gregson was present for the recording sessions, and the performances are littered with octave doublings! Not to mention a significant alteration to the final bars of “Plantagenets” which Mr. Gregson evidently endorsed.

    No double standards there then!

    I have to say, I have an issue with Bramwell Tovey’s “campaign”. If he elects to eschew the use of octave doubling in his own interpretations, with his own band, that’s fine, but I don’t believe, even as a composer, he has the right to attempt to force other conductors and bands to follow suit. Especially when it takes the form of telling adjudicators how to do their job. Although there are one or two instances in “Coventry Variations” where to my mind the Bb bass writing is inconsistent in terms of maintaining the integrity of the bass line (most notably bars 82-85, where octave E’s on the downbeat would make more sense, and be consistent with both Eb Bass and Bass trombone lines, as well as being consistent with the Bb bass part 4 bars later), I still might not have been inclined to make the alteration “on the day”; as a result of Mr. Tovey’s instructions, I am more inclined to change it now, out of sheer bloody-mindedness!

    It’s not as if the practice is limited to brass bands; for years now the great conductors and internationally famous orchestras have been taking advantage of contrabasses with either a 5th string, or an extension device on the lowest string, in order to add notes that were not available to the great classical composers. This is only done, again, to maintain the integrity of the bass line, and avoid upward jumps of a 7th, where it is plain that the musical line naturally descends. Does Mr. Tovey consider that messrs. Von Karajan, Solti, et al, are also wrong?

    I am reminded of a remark made during an orchestra rehearsal, many moons ago when I was a student, and Vernon Handley was rehearsing a new piece written by a composition student (can't remember the name). although I'm sure it was slightly 'tongue-in-cheek' he observed that "if composers actually knew how their music was supposed to be played, there'd be no need for conductors!"

    Anyway, sorry for the ramble; dismount high horse and see how many more potential 8vb's I can find.


  17. keith_b

    keith_b New Member

    If a composer has specifically said that he wants something played a certain way, then who am I to disagree? If he doesn't specify, then as far as I am concerned it is down to my (or the conductors) interpretation. In some places it is going to sound great, and others it will sound bad. It's a judgement call.

    I also think that doing it all the time diminishes the effect. It's like a sop player screaming his way through a piece, just because he can - impressive, but surely much more effective if done sparingly.

    It seems to be something that is restricted to brass bands as well. I do a lot of orchestral playing, and if I did it there, chances are I would get shouted at.
  18. Hi Col,
    Are you sure? My bass players wouldn't know the fingering :lol:
  19. JessopSmythe

    JessopSmythe Active Member

    I'm with Peter on this one. Most modern composers are fully aware of the capabilities of modern instuments and, if they wanted a pedal note, they'd have written one.
    When playing older music, it may sometimes improve things if you pedal in the right place. I often pedal when playing from the old salvation army hymn books to avoid the nasty 7th jumps that crop up here and there.
  20. Moy

    Moy Active Member

    Bet they find that frustrating Phil :wink:

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