Tempos - What is our fascination with speed ????

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Jonno, Aug 17, 2006.

  1. Jonno

    Jonno Member

    I have a 'gripe' that I would like to raise.

    I've recently purchased the new Black Dyke/Obrasso CD "Fantastic Overtures" and, quite frankly, am very disappointed. No offence individually intended to Dr. Childs and B.D imparticular; there is some very impressive playing on the disc but why, o why, do Brass Bands seem incapable of performing classical transciptions in a stylistic way, particularly with tempi.

    On this disc it seems to be a case of 'How fast can we play this' rather than 'How fast should it be played' and I wonder if any notice or research has been undertaken to try to get a more 'authentic' and stylish recording that won't just appeal to the banding fraternity.

    'Academic Festival Overture' in a new transcription by Howard Lorriman is technically superb but the speed way faster than any orchestral version I have heard, particularly at the 'grandioso' at the end when it is at least 50% faster than any of the 7 orchestral recordings I have (including some of the greatest conductors and orchestras).

    What is the fascination with speed in the brass band fraternity ? Recently I attended a concert by a 'named band' and heard one member of the audience remark that he would not be going to another brass band concert if they all have the same disregard for style'. Upon further discussions with the gentlemen he said that he was an avid music fan and, whilst on holiday, thought he would go along to a concert. Being in Yorkshire he thought a 'traditional brass band' would be a good thing to hear. This band performed several orchestral works including 'Judges of the Secret Court' and 'Chanson de Matin', both at a lot faster than the 'traditional' tempo.

    Do we, as a movement, need to convince our conductors to research orchestral styles and tempos more or can we continue to just hide under the "It's a brass band transcription" banner; it would appear that, if we do, we will lose more non-BB audiences.

    As a footnote it's not just Orchestral transcriptions. Check the actual tempo of the last movement of 'Year of the Dragon' and compare it to the speed actually 'attempted' by most bands, a big difference I think and I, for one, would trust Mr.Sparke to know what tempo he wanted and to mark it accordingly.

    Any thoughts anyone ?
  2. andyp

    andyp Active Member

    I agree with you, and another prime example is air varie solos, where the aim always seems to be to play the last variation as fast as humanly possible, to the point where the individual notes can't be distinguished. I do wonder where there's an awful lot of kidology going on, as in "if we play faster no-one will notice it's not together/notes aren't spot on/etc".
    Compare and contrast Jim Shepherd playing "Rule Brittania" with some more modern recordings, and you'll see what I mean. Every note of the old recording is distinct and properly produced, and you can hear that. Some of the modern ones are just a blur, especially on larger instruments where the notes perhaps don't "speak" as easily as they do on a cornet.
    I think there's maybe a vicious circle going on with test pieces too, along the lines of make it harder>play it faster>sounds more impresive whether right or not>wins contest> everyone starts doing it!

    Although I have some orchestral versions of Suppe overtures that are miles faster than any band I've ever heard!
  3. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    I couldn't agree with you more. I heard Dyke play the overture to The Marriage of Figaro at the RNCM this year and although it was technically impressive the style was all wrong - and I speak as someone who's worked on a recording of the full opera with Sir Charles Mackerras. Dyke's performance was far too fast, furious and aggressive, lacking grace, delicacy or charm, with no consideration to the way violins would play the first bars or the way flutes/oboes would play the descending scales near the end. I know Mozart for band is difficult at the best of times, because Mozart's music was so idiomatic for its intended forces, but surely we could at least try? We all know that Dyke can play with style and delicacy when they want, why not in Mozart of all things? :mad:

    Coincidentally The Year of the Dragon is one of my favourite pieces (hence the username!) and I've been revisiting the 1984 Cory recording recently. The last movement is noticeably slower than most bands attempt to play it now, and as a result sounds clearer and more poised. Cory created a sense of rhythmic drive by playing tightly, to the first beat of every bar, without going at it like a bull in a china shop. Compare that with BBS/Fodens famous breakneck performance at the European in 1992, which I find hard to listen to even though it is technically amazing. It feels rushed, there's no space, style or poise about it, it's just a load of notes played really fast. In places it's not even that tidy. And yet it's a lot of people's favourite contest performance/recording. :confused: Yes it's clever, but it's not particularly musical.

    I'd love to know Mr Sparke's thoughts on this, although it's probably not in his interest to crticise particular bands or performances! Are you there, Mr S.?
  4. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    The same thing often happens with marches: yes, there are some that are designed to be taken at a cracking pace, but many a march loses all its style and dignity by being taken far too fast. Also, when Joseph Horovitz revised his euphonioum concerto, to some extent at least it was in response to performances that had seemed too rushed, losing out on the lyrical side for the sake of a few fireworks.
  5. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Well-Known Member

    Just to broaden the debate a bit further, I'm very disappointed with the way many bands approach contesting at the moment.

    I get the impression that, for example, when there is a quiet section the approach seems to be to see how quietly it can be played - almost as if the 'contest' is to see how quietly it can be played rather than how well it can be played quietly. Similarly, if it's at a fast tempo, the contest is to see how fast it can be played.

    Of course, I'm generalising - but this does seem a very naive way to approach performace and is ghettoising our musical achievements. We are developing a 'brass band style' which has little to do with mainstream music making.

    I also feel we value too much the things we do well - eg producing a special sound and performing extremes of dynamic contrast - and these are not usually at the top of the list for other forms of music. For example, Satchmo is still my favourite trumpet player - but his sound was not the most important thing about him.

    We show off too much - performance is not about showing how well you can play, it's about communicating with the audience.
  6. SteveT

    SteveT Member

    Here, here.

    When you consider that "for example" Marriage Of Figaro is a baroque opera, meant originally to be played with quiet a small orchestra in small theatres, I wonder at the louder dynamics when you here a brass band play it. It requires dexterity, humour and stylisation.... not tonking. From memory, I think the loudest dynamic is only "f"! A "f" produced by the musical instruments of the time, would of course come nowhere near the volume a modern brass band can produce.

    As far as tempo is concerned, there’s a fair bit of freedom, but as you say.... conductors have to be careful not to "parody" music by turning it into a musical caricature.

    However the death of the brass band is well under way, the Razz Band was born many years ago.... probably too late to hope for taste now.

    Have to agree with Andronicus here too. Cory recording of Year of the Dragon is far better! Mainly because of the tone colours and textures it produces.
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2006
  7. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member


    When I am teaching I frequently use the following, that was said to me many years ago (I wish I could remember who said it).

    "Any idiot can play fast, you are not just any idiot."

    It was usually followed with a comment like "you are THAT idiot":)

    Being able to play a piece at breakneck speed is technically impressive, but who cares? If all you want to do is show off your technique, that's fine, but don't expect to succeed in competition - that should be about making MUSIC.
  8. andyp

    andyp Active Member

    Sousa marches in particular get murdered in this way, mainly because it's easier to play them faster, to play them at crotchet=100 or less and together requires a lot more precision. Can remember Leyland under Richard Evans playing "On the Quarter Deck" at about crotchet=90 and it sounded fantastic, a real swagger about it which if played at 112-120 just wouldn't be there.

    That's a perfect summary of what a lot of bands do!
  9. Brian Kelly

    Brian Kelly Active Member

    The trouble is, many bands and their conductors seem to think that this is the way to win contests. Presumably, they think like this because they have either been succesful at contests or heard other bands be succesful at contests by using this approach. I'm afraid it goes back to that old subject of the quality of adjudicators.

    When it comes to concerts, playing fast and loud is an easy way of getting lots of applause - has anyone ever played or been to a brass band concert which ended the first half or the concert with a quiet slow piece of music?
  10. Jan H

    Jan H Moderator Staff Member

    the final piece is indeed usually a 'fast and loud" type of piece (e.g. Gaelforce or something like that), but in my experience, a quiet slow piece works really well as an encore! We did that a couple of times, with very good reactions from the audience.
  11. Robin Norman

    Robin Norman Member

    I wouldn't be surprised if you are right. In a recent conversation with some friends over the suitability of 'Year of the Dragon' as a 1st Section test one said that it was 'too hard' because of the speed and technicalities of the last movement. I pointed out that, if it was selected as a 1st section piece, it is not too bad at the speeds marked by P.S. and I, for one, would be approaching the tempos exactly as marked and aiming for cleanliness. My other friends response (a band conductor) was "Yes, but if you can do it 3 or 4 tempo marks faster then you will definately be guarenteed a win".

    The sad thing was that he was being serious and was probably right. Why o why should this be the case, cleanliness should surely never be sacrificed for speed.
  12. MRSH

    MRSH Supporting Member

    Absolutely agree. That has been my goal at every contest entered ever since I started conducting 23 years ago.

    It was sad to hear my brother say, when he played for a top band some twenty years ago, in the rehearsal room of this band was a big banner on their noticeboard that stated "CONTESTING HAS GOT NOTHING TO DO WITH MUSIC". There are so many bands around today that still think fast and loud is the way to win and that completely takes away the musicalilty of their performances.

    It is even sadder to think there are some adjudicators out there that also think fast and loud is good.
  13. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    - what's the metronome marking for the last movement? crotchet = 138? A few bands in the past have dovetailed the runs to stop them falling apart!

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