Regional test pieces and 4br

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Dave Payn, Feb 7, 2005.

  1. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    4br have commented (again) about the choices of this year's regional set works, notably Variations and Tam O'Shanter's Ride. I sent them a comment disputing this, much as I did when they posted similar comments when the tests were announced in September. On each occasion 4br have not printed my comments. (I sent my first reply twice!)

    Maybe they think I'm opening myself up to much ridicule and wish to spare me, who knows? Anyway, here is what I sent them this time. If ridicule it be then so be it, but it is, after all, just a personal opinion. Oddly enough, they've included two contributions supporting their view.....

    'Lower section bands can't win, can they? A few months ago, 4br bemoaned the low standard of playing at the National Finals in Harrogate (when, between announcement of test pieces and the contest itself, many bands would have had precious little chance to prepare after what, for most bands, would have been the usual round of summer bandstand jobs to work for, you know, the gigs that keeps non-sponsored bands afloat, financially). Now, some of the pieces are percieved as too difficult (when, potentially, bands have had six months to prepare). Look at it perhaps, in one of two possible ways. Tam O'Shanter's Ride and Variations for Brass Band could well improve those bands genuinely wishing to go on to bigger and better things (sure, there'll be some ropey performances. Happens with whatever piece is chosen, certainly at lower section level...) and it might just make the adjudicators' jobs a little easier in making sure the best bands do go through, whereas in previous years, some of the lower section pieces, whilst never being 'easy', have made the adjudicators' jobs a little bit of a lottery. (No criticism of adjudicators intended).

    You say in your editorial 'Last year, our most eminent judge, David Read stated that there was now a move at the top most level of adjudicating to reward those bands who produce warm, broad and balanced sounds – the essentials of good brass band playing.' That, I would say, equally applies to lower section bands who genuinely want to get better. Tam O'Shanter and particularly Variations will demand that sort of performance to be successful, in my view. It also gives lower section bands a goal to aim for. 'This is what the top bands were playing fifty years ago. Let's see what we can make of it and let's rise to the challenge', is how I, as a conductor would begin my approach in rehearsing any relevant band.

    I dare say, come the retrospective, 4br will again bemoan the general standard of playing in the lower sections. I say, referring to those bands and conductors who generally wish to improve their lot and are genuinely capable of doing so, they will benefit in the long run, irrespective of what happens on the day itself.'

    p.s. In case anyone asks, I DO know both pieces from a playing and conducting perspective.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2005

    IYOUNG Member

    You make some interesting and valid points there. Inmproving onself with challenges is a clear valid argument

    I know you don't comment on the section 4 choice specifically ( personally I think the section 4 choice is also a tough one) but how do anticipate the weaker / bands having a look for the first time will get any encouragement from attempting something that in there early development maybe totally beyond them?

    Or perhaps these bands don't count?
  3. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Good question, but again, I don't think the best 4th section bands come the regionals will have too may problems with Divertimento (played it a lot with Fulham in the past couple of years before I moved to Scotland). But to answer your question, this is where an MD can help, namely to start for instance, on the 2nd movement which is (in my view) technically the easiest (or 'least tricky') section of the piece, to give the players a bit of an early confidence booster to work on the trickier bits to come. As I said, bands have had potentially six months to work on these works as opposed to last years finals pieces for Harrogate. Whilst it wouldn't be sensible to work SOLIDLY on those pieces for six months, a section of rehearsals dedicated to look at different bits early on would, in my view, have been a good base from which to work. Some bands who enter clearly aren't going to cut it come the day, but that's contesting, surely; it's a tough old business sometimes.

    Life Divine was perceived as far too difficult when it first appeared in the top section. The famous quote is that it improved the worst bands by 100% and the best by 50%. Surely, even if you're not going to be 'in the running', quality rehearsal time on these works for this year's regionals will benefit the bands long term?
  4. ScrapingtheBottom

    ScrapingtheBottom Active Member

    It depends how these 'weaker' bands look at it. In the fourth section there is nowhere to go so demotion isn't a worry. If bands view the piece positively as a challenge and give it a good go then they probably will have improved themselves musically, if they give up then they won't. I think there are a fair few bands in the 4th section that will give at least passable performances of the piece, this is a chance for the 4th section to show what we are made of. Also, Divertimento is a great piece of music and I for one am glad of the opportunity to play it.
  5. sterlingsop

    sterlingsop Member

    Good point about bands rising to the challenge. I can only speak about the 3rd section piece because I don't know the others that well. What I'd like to say is that last year's 3rd section area piece, Vizcaya, was deemed to be too difficult by some people and several bands withdrew or simply didn't enter in the first place. Those who did seemed to rise to that particular challenge and two of the NW area bands - Hoover Bolton and Boarshurst - did so well that both have now been promoted to the 2nd section. I think it's probably the first time in years that I personally felt that those in the frame were justified, and the "lottery" element wasn't there.

    I'm looking forward to performing Tam O'Shanter's Ride, and I'm looking forward to the challenges it presents to my band both musically and technically. Bring on Blackpool!!

    IYOUNG Member

    I agree some fair points on how section 4 bands approach it and how they see the challenge, things going awry on the day always happen ( to everyone ) but Section 4 I feel is slightly different. Should we not be compromising a bit? A few years back the L&SC region used to get 33+ bands in the section. Whether you agree with that number is irrelevant but you can't say it didn't generate some interest not seen in recent times. Will the choice of test peice this year have an effect on that number? I hope not but I have my doubts.

    Incidently from what I can gather from retrospectives etc the standard of playing in section 3 in some areas last year wasn't overly impressive.
  7. ScrapingtheBottom

    ScrapingtheBottom Active Member

    There are 23 bands in the midland are that are signed up for the 4th section so the piece can't be that bad. I think there is a genuine need to have a difficult piece put up at least once every 5 years as it blows off the cobwebs. The 3rd section piece is imho too difficult, but I don't feel the same about the 4th section piece, there are plenty of bands that can manage to play it. The 4th section is also a place where many junior and training bands try and cut their teeth I accept that, but should other bands be subjected to music that doesn't challenge because it can't be played by beginners?

    IYOUNG Member

    Thats a tad harsh imho, everyone has to start somewhere and encouraging beginners must surely count for something and be good for the band movement as a whole. When the better bands are good enough they will soon be up in section 3 and good luck to them.

    But I understand the point you raise, its a difficult one to get right.

    Divertimento is a great peice to play and rehearse and we'll give it a good crack i'm sure.
  9. Nigel Hall

    Nigel Hall Supporting Member

    As one who played in Section 3 last year (Midlands) and listened to a good few at L&SC it was interesting to hear both adjudicators (Mal Brownbill & Dennis Wilby) state that the piece (Vizcaya) was beyond most of the bands. Being in the position of both playing and conducting Section 3 bands at the Midlands this year I will be interested to hear John Berryman's comments at the end of the contest.

    I have to say that both bands are doing well to cope (so far!) but Tam would test most 2nd section bands and probably a few 1st section (even Philip Wilby thinks so!!).

    Still..... this is what we have to play so I suppose we have to get on with it, but I for one would love to know what made Mr Hope and his panel chose these pieces - and what criteria do they look for when choosing a piece...... I hope it's not the old "I remember playing this, it wasn't too difficult" scenario!!!
  10. ScrapingtheBottom

    ScrapingtheBottom Active Member

    Of course, but is the current 4th section the best place to do it? In fact is contesting the best way to do it?
  11. TheMusicMan

    TheMusicMan tMP Founder Staff Member

    The thing is... what a particularly non-encouraging and demotivational thing this was for them to say eh. Typical of some adjudicators though. If this is indeed what was said, then how on earth is anyone supposed to come away from comments like those and feel good about all of their hard work and effort in preparing for such a contest.

    Far better to have said something along the lines of... "Well... I must congratulate bands on having a go at what must have been for them a very, very difficult piece... well done for having a great go"... in effect, the same thing is said, but in a much more motivational manner... a much more positive message is sent out and I would imagine those on whom the cap fitted would feel much better about it.

    A win-win situation ensues eh... rather than a demotivated, un-enthused majority.
  12. ScrapingtheBottom

    ScrapingtheBottom Active Member

    Amen to that, to a point. It's a balancing act between the piece being too difficult and bands not being good enough to play it. I think coming out and roundly slagging off everyone is a bit rubbish though.
  13. IYOUNG

    IYOUNG Member

    Section 4 is the ONLY place you can do it as this is the lowest graded section another one would only have the same situation.

    Whether contesting is the right environment is an interesting one but how do you develop young people in contesting if they don't compete?


    Good to hear your bands are doing well with Tam
  14. ScrapingtheBottom

    ScrapingtheBottom Active Member

    The only place to develop musically? I doubt it

    They should be musically competent enough before walking onto the contest stage, if you put young kids on there before they are ready then it's going to have a negative impact. When you are learning and instrument you need positive encouragement and as can been seen brass band competition adjudicators aren't always so great at doing that.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I'm sure that youth bands and the such like often contested in a specialised youth category, but that doesn't seem to exist that much anymore.

    But anyway, this is a bit of a digression. I think both "sides" have a point about the test pieces and it just goes to show how difficult it must be to select them.

    Edit: Not saying that youth bands shouldn't compete in senior contests (having heard many very good youth bands and players) but that there could be a value in having a national youth section.
  15. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    How many of those in lower secion bands, bemoaning the choices this year, I wonder, have (a) got out a piece for a rehearsal or two that would normally be deemed 'too difficult' for them if it was chosen as a set test piece, but have been glad of the benefit of working on such a piece or indeed (b) have been willing to subject a performance of that work to the scrutiny of an adjudicator at an own choice contest? The adjudicator might say 'you shouldn't have chosen this, it was beyond you', but I bet that hasn't stopped some bands from doing the same again at an own choice contest! I've done it as a conductor (4th out of 9 with Crystal Palace in 1997, playing Epic Symphony. Graded 1st section with SCABA, we were, nevertheless, graded 3rd section nationally at the time, though later to be promoted; but can you imagine the outcry if Epic Symphony was chosen as a 3rd or 2nd section set work now?), and I KNOW I'm not the only one, so why gripe when a 'stretcher' is chosen for you?
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2005
  16. IYOUNG

    IYOUNG Member

  17. sparkling_quavers

    sparkling_quavers Active Member

    Obviously encouraging younger players is important, but by the nature of a test-piece some bands at the lower end will not be able to play it. A test-piece (similarly to exams) should be at the standard where it sorts out the bands from top to bottom. If the test piece is playable by ALL the bands in the section then what does that leave other than very difficult adjudicating (and then possibly 'interesting' results)? I write the internal exams for a course I run at our college. I don't write it so all the pupils pass, I write it so, if they have the correct knowledge and skills they will pass.
  18. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Quite, like as mentioned earlier, the 4th section attracted 33+ bands for L&SC. I believe the set work then was Indian Summer. Deemed 'too easy' by some, I'm willing to bet there were some bands/conductors out there who couldn't be a**ed to work on it solidly because of its perceived 'easyness', only to come a cropper come the day itself. And anyway, would YOU want to have been an adjudicator that day? I wouldn't! (There was, after all, only one in the box!)
  19. brasscrest

    brasscrest Active Member

    The North American Brass Band Association includes a section where the adjudicators listen to the bands and give comments, but the bands are not competing against each other. NABBA sees this as a way to allow bands to gain experience in a contesting situation without the pressure of having to produce a result. This is frequently used for youth bands, but also for other new bands or occasionally a band that cannot come up with the standard instrumentation.

    The situation is a bit different from the British area contests, in that for NABBA competitions each band chooses what section they wish to enter, rather than having grading tables. There's nothing to stop a band from entering one of the competition sections if they widh, but if they choose not to "compete" than they can at least have the experience of being on the stage with adjudicators listening.

    In terms of the test pieces, especially for fourth section, I believe that there is a real danger of creating a more or less permanent "fifth section". If the pieces are just in reach for the fourth section, then isn't it possible that you'll end up with a small group of bands "yo-yoing" between fourth and third, with the remainder of the fourth section bands stuck in place?
  20. meandmycornet

    meandmycornet Active Member


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