Percussion, is it really needed?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Cornet Nev., Mar 14, 2015.

  1. Cornet Nev.

    Cornet Nev. Member

    An interesting discussion on A4B regarding percussion at contests, is it really needed? here :- 2.html

    Before any one mentions it, I know I don't like contesting and won't ever do it again, but that is just my personal thing.
    However even when I was in a contesting band and environment, it is a though that I had then as quite a lot of other brass band music doesn't even have percussion written into it.
    So how necessary is percussion, and what are other peoples views?
    Please read the article on A4B first to get a perspective of the discussion.
  2. Aussie Tuba

    Aussie Tuba Member

    I believe way back in the early days of Banding. there was no percussion in contest's because it was believed that the percussion hid mistakes from the adjudicators.
    This was information my grandparents told me years ago, so may or may not be true. Not my own experience.
  3. owain_s

    owain_s Member

    Percussion was banned at the very earliest Belle Vue contests, i.e. long before the modern brass band line-up had been formalised. Some bands at the time used a lot of percussion, following a fashion for 'Turkish' instruments, and could probably have drowned out the few brass instruments invovled if they'd chosen to do so!

    I presume the 'no percussion' situation was established for contests from then on? Therefore, by the time you reach even the early 20th century, enough mythology could have emerged that "it could be used to hide mistakes from adjudicators", without any evidence of this actually being the case.
  4. Ianroberts

    Ianroberts Well-Known Member

    Percussion is a very handy "last bolt hole" for when yiu finaly fall off the 2nd Baritone seat !
  5. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    I don't comment from a position of strength but rather just add a few observations. The use of percussion seems to have grown over the years and I really wonder whether the number of percussionists per band should be limited to two or even one. I also wonder whether the percussion instruments should also be limited in type too. A band can't vary the number of brass players or have them swop instruments part way through a performance yet, and I'm not certain, percussion seems to be subject to different requirements.

    When I was a youth the bandmaster would not allow percussion in his band as he felt it did not add to the music. I think that his stance would have been the same with an adult band too and was not based on the amount of 'din' a youth could make with 'drums'. I'm sure that now (with changes in the written music available) percussion forms a part of brass band music but that's not to say that I would miss it/them if they were not there or that I do not agree with my old teacher's stance.
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2015
  6. owain_s

    owain_s Member

    It's worth pointing out that written percussion parts were omitted from some pieces for contest use - Kenilworth, for instance.
  7. yoooff

    yoooff Member

    Percussion, is it really needed?


  8. pedaller

    pedaller Member

    On the other hand.....just look at all the extra "colouring" percussion can add to a piece. We are very limited in tone colour compared to wind/military bands and orchestras, and there are finite combinations of instruments which can be used to vary the sound. Percussion enhances our ability to take on some of the more symphonic orchestral works, as well as giving composers more scope to add variety to their compositions. Just try to imagine any work written for contest use over the last 30/40 years WITHOUT percussion, and you will hopefully see what I mean. Personally, my favourite "percussion" moment is in the Elegy from Entertainments, by Gilbert Vinter, where the timp. plays just two notes to end a phrase, but to my mind nothing else but timps would do the job. ( Oh, by the way, I'm a bass player so I don't have an axe to grind!)
  9. iancwilx

    iancwilx Well-Known Member

    Percussion was first used in modern band contests at the British Open at Belle Vue Manchester in 1969 on "Spectrum" by Gilbert Vinter. It was used at most other contests after that date until present day.
    "Spectrum" had quite a busy perc part which was integral to the performance of the piece

    Mr Wilx
  10. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    And a great piece it is too, Mr Wilx!

    I don't mind percussion, so long as it isn't being played directly into my eardrums. In moderation, it can enhance the music in both subtle and dramatic ways. In excess, it can totally ruin anything. Except Mahler. Excessive and un-subtle percussion in any Mahler piece is to be be encouraged. ;-)
  11. Bbmad

    Bbmad Active Member

    Reading the article, the contest organisers certainly consider percussion to be necessary. Personally, I consider the trombones to be the least necessary. They don't have valves, they are always far to loud, often tuneless and like their players themselves, they forever drone on and on about their bores and triggers and blah blah blah.
  12. iancwilx

    iancwilx Well-Known Member

    Agreed Mike. As an EEb Bass player like yourself I have endured years of sitting directly in front of timps. Sometimes if the timps are pushed close up and rolling at ff I can't even feel the pitch of the note I'm playing !

    ~ Mr Wilx
  13. Percussion should be included in contests , however, the recent 4th section test piece use of percussion was for a lot of 4th section bands a very stressful time in trying to find enough players. Once again lack of communication prevailed between those in command, or was it a total disregard of the needs of 4th section bands. Phillip Morris said at the West of England it was great piece for bands and audiences alike. I accept the piece was great but honestly I am not bothered about the audience it is those in the box we have to worry about.
  14. Euphonium Lite

    Euphonium Lite Active Member

    Surely its nicer to play to an audience? Otherwise we might as well not worry about public access at contests and play to judges in a closed setting.....I can hear conspiracy theories about results even now.....

    With regards to the point of the post, agree its difficult - we've had to beg borrow and buy off ebay just to cover off the equipment. We also have co-opted one of the bandmembers children who was learning drums to come and play the "Percussion 1" part - and she's done a fantastic job. Players can be found if you look hard enough.....
  15. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    Moderation has been lost on so many things. IMHO moderation on percussion would be one player and not one doing loads of things. As a player I find that having to sit near the percussion section is not much fun (they can be way too loud and distract me from what I'm trying to play) and I'd be happy enough to see them put behind the Cornets (i.e. well any from me and the bass end of the band).
  16. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    Is this another wind up thread?

    Leaving aside the blockbuster top section testpieces for a minute, and leaving aside the concert work that puts bread on most bands' tables, and leaving aside the marching which many of the public associate with brass bands (all of which would be greatly diminished or even rendered impossible by a lack of percussion), and concentrating on lower section contesting, which is what seems to be the point at issue here: I'm trying to imagine a performance of lower section own choice staples such as Sparke's Music for a Festival or Triptych, Vinter's Vizcaya or Entertainments, Gregson's Partita or Essay, or PLC's Dark Side without percussion. And my imagination is telling me it would be beyond cr@p. Even Resurgam without the dramatic tam-tam hit near the end would be a diminished musical experience.

    In my experience percussionists are MUCH easier to find than trombonists or BBb players, and even decent cornet players are becoming scarce. And because the 2nd or 3rd percussion parts in lower section pieces are often not ones that require high levels of skill - just the ability to hit the right instrument in the right place with the requisite amount of force - it's easier to cover with a 'spare' brass player, as some have already pointed out.

    Percussion has been an integral part of the brass band since the 19th century - hence the reason that much old brown music has "drums" parts. They were excluded from contests only because of the fear that they would mask the sound of the brass players, and that exclusion was rightly ended half a century ago. I find it beyond belief that it's even a topic for discussion any more. Maybe we should go back to high pitch, narrow bores and G trombones, so we can really recapture the golden age of banding. Or all flugels on the back row, Alex Owen stylee. Or pieces that were all solos for the cornermen and nothing interesting for the rest of the band, from the rose-tinted age of no percussion. That'll really get players and audiences beating a path to the door. Sorry to sound stroppy, but this is a rantworthy topic :mad:
  17. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

    But why do so many percussionist only play if they are paid?

    If they want to be treated as an integral part of a brass band, join one and turn up to every rehearsal.

    In my experience many percussionist seem able to pick and choose when they turn up, " I'll do the last week" far more than brass players.
  18. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I wonder how much of that stems from them feeling that they are not wanted/gppreciated as much as the brass players: how many times have we sat in practice looking at various psddages while the percussion section are left twiddling their thumbs?
  19. Ianroberts

    Ianroberts Well-Known Member

    You made that word up !

  20. DocFox

    DocFox Retired

    I think that tuned percussion can lead to having the need for someone very well trained and/or lots of people. Look at an orchestra, they have tympani players, snare, bass drum, xylophone, glockenspiel, marimba, tubular bells, and the list can go on to include rare instruments like steel drums. A good tuned percussionist can play lots of instruments and often needs incredible patience as some of the instruments are rarely called upon.

    For brass bands, I think the percussion, like the number of sops or fluegel horns, should be regulated. I personally dislike trap sets, but some would want them on board. I would say since trap sets are so prevalent, that each band should have a trap player, a tympani player, and a keyboard player which could be limited to xylophone and glocks. Non-tuned percussion (blocks, cow bell, etc.) could be included but not if it would take a fourth player.

    Marches need percussion. Many pieces are enhanced by xylophone or tympani. So three percussionists, trap, tympani, and xylophone would be the standard with some non-tuned percussion allowed (triangle, crash cymbals, etc.). The tuned percussionist are usually the bored ones. If no tuned percussion is called for, the trap set is not used. Instead there would be a snare, bass drum, and cymbal parts instead.

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