Quiet playing/Test Piece Choices

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by smaca, Dec 21, 2009.

  1. smaca

    smaca Active Member

    More often than not, feedback come results time from adjudicators on stage at most contests is "bands suffered" in the quieter stuff, and "bands picked pieces beyond them".

    In terms of the quieter playing, is there anything can be done or new band training techniques developed to improve this? For years mainly it has been playing hymns at ppp, but what else is possible?

    In terms of piece choice whats the best approach? Is it better to pick Philip Wilbys Revelation knowing band will never play it but get by, or play an Essence of Time and play it well with comfort?(not saying EOT is easy either, just trying to use comparisons)

    Don't think there is an exact answer, but therer are many top players, MD's,band trainers, tutors etc (even adjudicators) on this forum and interested to hear their views.
  2. I think the main training for quiet playing is thorughout the year when playing concert music, applying the same standards throughout the year and not just at contests will help a band to improve (not suffering Christmas Music Syndrome)
  3. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Snazzy makes a good point. If a conductor can persuade their band to apply the same care as they would to an area piece to all their concert work, playing precisely, accurately and producing a broad range of dynamics becomes a habit.

    I always got told that individual practice at producing notes quietly and effectively, as well as playing very long notes at quiet dynamics was an important addition to this too. (If i'd done more of that myself I might be a better player!)

    As far as the difficulty of test pieces go, there are different schools of thought on that, and it's up to the conductor to decide which direction they think best, based on what they hope to achieve by it.

    Some conductors advocate choosing a piece the band can definitely play - the plus points being that a competent performance will probably ensue. The downside being that the band will probably not develop significantly from the experience.

    Likewise others purposely choose a piece which is far beyond the level that the band can reasonably be expected to play at when they start. The upside of this is that it teaches the band a large array of new skills and they find themselves producing music they never thought possible. However the downside is that unless a superhuman effort is put in by the players it's unlikely that they'll produce a performance that will figure in the prizes - and after the band have worked hard on a difficult piece it's worth considering what a last place (or near last) would do for morale.

    My own opinion is that there seems little value in a band picking a piece they can play backwards before they even start rehearsing it, as complacency and boredom could well become an issue if that's the case. But likewise if a band is trying to do well at a contest (and surely that's the point of entering?) then they'd have to pick a piece they can make more than a reasonable job of.

    It should be possible to pick a piece that is simple enough that, with enough preparation, the band can get through it with minimal mistakes, but difficult enough to move players a few yards out of their comfort zones - although i don't pretend that's necessarily an easy task!!

    Like I said, a lot of which approach is best will depend on what the conductor is seeking to achieve by entering the contest.
  4. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    As a conductor I worry a lot about dynamics. Even at fairly high levels it's still common to hear bands that have avoided this issue, who's range sits in a very bland and unexciting medium.

    Quiet playing is a tricky one, especially on the contest stage when the pressure is on.

    My advice for individuals is to practise playing quietly confidently using as much air as possible. If you can get good at this you will have a lot more security and a much lower chance of dropping off a quiet note. I used to practise playing notes as quietly as I could without the tongue... just getting used to playing long tones comfortably with a positive sound.

    For bands, I take a wholesale approach to dynamic range. I try to push big and small dynamics as extreme as possible (within reason!) during rehearsals. When the big day arrives, or a week or two before, pull the dynamics in to safe boundaries (so quiet stuff is secure and loud stuff is big but not overblown). Over time this should increase the dynamic range of a band noticeably!

    It's important not to forget about loud stuff too... being downunder I miss hearing bands that are capable of really making a huge sound without breaking glass.

    I agree with Snazzy/Andi's point about concerts/contests, if a band is allowed to get away with murder in concerts don't expect the players to be able to pull it out of the bag consistently in contests.

    The most successful bands I have been involved with have all put as much care and attitude in to the church garden fete as the British Open.

    As for test pieces, I guess it depends what you're trying to achieve. If you want victory at any cost your logic will be very different to, say, trying to stimulate your players and work on known weaknesses.

    I also have experience with the conductor who insists on the hardest piece possible when the band is not up to it... very depressing.

    Also had the one who picked a sensible, achievable choice but lacked the ability to lead the band to play it together and in tune... but now I'm getting bitchy! :tongue:

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