Test Piece Selection

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Roger Thorne, Oct 6, 2005.

  1. Roger Thorne

    Roger Thorne Active Member

    Wem, Shropshire UK
    Over the last couple of years it seems that some of the test pieces chosen for our Area and National Competitions are proving too difficult for the average standard of bands within those sections to do the music any justice (although you might disagree if you've happened to win one of the forementioned contests!)
    For instance, last years 3rd Section Area Test Piece - Vizcaya (Vinter) prooved far too difficult for the majority of bands in all eight areas and it looks like this year test (Entertainments) will again trouble the majority of players in the 'average' 3rd section band. Also the 2nd Section choice for Harrogate - Belmont Variations - stretched all the bands that little too far. (applause for Mr. McCann for actually speaking the truth!)

    I'm all for testing the players/bands at competitions but are the Music Selection Committee actually 'in touch' with the lower sections and their capabilities, or are these pieces being chosen to make the adjudicators job that little bit easier?

    As our beloved adjudicators are always criticising lower sections bands for not playing in tune, bad intonation, balance, dynamics et al. why don't the Music Selection Panel chose pieces in which we can actually work on these criteria instead of having to teach little 'Jimmy' on third cornet how to flutter tounge and play fast running semiquavers!

    Just an observation, but would be interested in your comments.

  2. madandcrazytromboneguy

    madandcrazytromboneguy Member

    im struggling to understand how some pieces are actually graded!

    i believe that 3 figures got played at the 2nd section finals a few years ago but now its gonna be the championship section piece for pontins. seems like a big difference to me.

    i think that laudate dominum is a little bit too easy technically for the 2nd section at pontins this time but despite that, it is a very musical piece and thats what will challenge the bands involved.

    i think voyage of discovery is about right for 1st section for next years areas, its got good range, its got twiddly bits for the valved instruments and some tricky rhythmed stuff for troms, AND THERES A PERCUSSION PART WITH SOMETHING TO PLAY (i think anyway, havnt found out yet but im thinkin there might be ;) :) :D)

    a friend of mine though said that the anglian dances is a too simple piece even for 4th section!

    these examples im giving are just that, examples, and opinions i suppose and at the end of the day are not gospel, not facts as such, many of you (as most of you seem to do lol) will disagree with what im sayin here and ive no problem with that, this is a discussion forum after all.

    my overall view is that perhaps the contests need to be listed in some kind of order in most important, meaning the most to gain from them, so you have the obvious 1s like the finals, regionals, british open, grand sheild etc in a top catagory where harder pieces are perhaps chosen, and lower important contests where it doesnt effect the section you go in for example, you set slightly easier pieces. obviously not all of that would work as the areas and finals are all sections included and british open is pretty much championship section only, but im sure you guys will know what im tryin to say with this, if you dont tho then pm me and i'll try and explain a lil further for ya.

    so roger does this answer anything you put forward in your original post at all?
  3. Rapier

    Rapier Supporting Member

    I agree with Roger. How a piece can be a Championship (or 1st etc) test piece one year and then, a few years later appear for a lower section? The parts don't get any easier just because they've been around awhile.
  4. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Maybe we have to visualise what the selectors had in mind? Is it because they think standards have risen or is it the need for adjudicators to easily separate one band from another by choosing more challenging works? When bands started preparing for both areas and nationals I remember quite a few on this site applauding the choice of works only to find that certain judges thought the music too difficult for bands on the day! Maybe someone can enlighten me (and others) whether the selection panel discuss with the adjudicator pool suitable tests?
  5. johnmartin

    johnmartin Active Member

    Personally I don't care that much. I just play what is put in front of me.

    Having played both "Variations" at this years area where we got second and "Belmont" at this years Nationals where we got 15th, I can't honestly say that I wasn't taxed with either piece. Perhaps that is a reflection on my abilities but I honestly don't think our band was particularly taxed with either piece. Before anyone points out the obvious, we had a bad day at Harrogate but prior to that rehearsals were going well and we had high hopes. In both cases I did not think that either piece was technically demanding i.e. lots of running semi-quavers, although they did have their moments for cornets and horns. However, both pieces did demand total respect and absolute concentration because of the factors mentioned above such as balance, intonation i.e. that elusive quality of musicality.

    Having said all of that above regarding the second section choices I must admit to being a little puzzled as to those chosen for the third section, especially Tam O'Shanter. There can be no doubt however that the best bands in each area invariably did well on these test piece choices which is surely the object of the exercise.

    IYOUNG Member

    The deep south
    Regarding the 4th section I have said before on here that the requirements for this particular section are IMHO slightly different to the others.

    There is a need of course to find the best bands at the area (as any other section) but at the ground level there has to be some encouragement to get more bands to take part.

    Last year I felt Divertimento was too hard a test to encourage any new or new to contesting bands, yes I know there were some before anyone asks, but generally speaking as i say I felt the test to hard.

    From what I can gather the 2006 choice appears to be more encouraging for new bands.

    No doubt the better bands will complain that the playing feild has been levelled rather but the bigger picture is more important in my opinion.

  7. WhatSharp?

    WhatSharp? Active Member

    Certainly I think Variations from this year and Images for next year are just a bit above second section. Particularly for the poor ****** sop player who once again takes a hammering. I know there are some superb sop players in the second section however they are very few and far between and the rest of us can only try our best and hope we don't look too stupid on stage, lets face it the sop players that CAN play this piece all play 2 sections above! However its not just the sops, what next? I know that test pieces are supposed to be challenging but a line has to be drawn between the sections otherwise we'll all be playing Paganinni and Concerto Grosso next year!
  8. Pythagoras

    Pythagoras Active Member

    I agree that Divertimento was hard (possibly too hard) but I thought at least in the Midlands, the standard at this years area was better than that of the year before in 4th section and this could have been down to a harder piece testing the players more, and its certainly better than having a piece that is way way to easy (Pontins piece is pretty easy).
  9. Craigsav83

    Craigsav83 Active Member

    In my opinion there is a fine line between picking a piece that is challenging for the section, but without being too hard (if that makes sense). Certainly the last few choices for the third section have been incredibly difficult, and this can put some bands off entering the area. As you rightly say Roger, in 3rd and 4th section, the main issues are playing the notes in the right places, dynamics and intonation. Few 3rd section bands mastered the notes, never mind the rest of what Tam O' Shanter had to offer, and this was not the fault of the conductors or the players.

    Picking a top section piece, and probably the first section piece will be straightforward, but a little more thought needs to be taken in the lower sections, something that keeps bands interested, and encourages younger bands to take part without being too hard or too easy.
  10. ian perks

    ian perks Active Member

    West Midlands
    A very good point made indeed by Roger:
    At times it does make you wonder what makes the panel pick the test pieces for 4th and 3rd section, even if they are nice pieces to listen to.
    This year i went to the 3rd Section and 4th Section at the Midlands Area and put my comments on the Mouthpiece Site in the Midlands Thread Areas, on the whole many bands found the going hard in both sections, but got through just.
    As first section player in the Midlands i can only really make jugdgement on the selections for the first section over the last few years;
    MUSIC FOR THE COMMON MAN:Not to convinced about this one poor selection
    THE UNDAUNTED:Picked for British Open many years ago most of the bands played it, not all that hard in general
    ROYAL PARKS:What a joke this was, the worst one of the lot this was used as a 2nd section piece BEFORE the 1st section was set up in 1988,talk about going back in time this certainly proved it!!:confused: :confused: :ranting2: :hammer
    PASSACAGLIA ON A THEME OF BRAHMS:Now we are talking at long last, one of the BEST pieces ever picked for FIRST SECTION BANDS since the first section as been set up, it was a great piece full of great music awkward passages that were playable for all first section bands, it was a very very difficult piece yet a pleasure to practise as it improved first section bands on the whole PLUS Qualified on this piece for National Finals Of this year 2003.:clap: :woo
    COVENTRY VARIATIONS:Once again a brilliant piece for 1st section bands to play, it was full of music, i dont remember any moans &groans even if some bands did not play to well on the day/or played WELL and were not in the prizes. a great piece and should be picked again for 1st section along with the above piece.
    COMEDY OVERTURE:What more can be said about this fine selection once again even if there were a lot of wrong notes etc in the parts.

    The last 3 years have just been brilliant for 1st section bands on the whole and as been a pleasure to play the pieces we now turn to next years test
    VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY:On hearing the recoring a few times this looks like been a real cracker of a piece once again, to test 1st section bands, after all its no good picking pieces like ROYAL PARKS,if you are going to be in the Championship Section the following year and you are then say faced with WHITSUN WAKES for example the phrase: O ****** **** comes to be said by a good many players when faced with something like that.
    Well those are my thoughts on your post ROGER i think you know what i am syaing here, lets see some better pieces for 3rd&4th Section Bands, yes enough in them to push the bands but not that hard so they struggle with them!!!
  11. Nigel Hall

    Nigel Hall Supporting Member

    Brackley, Northants
    I have to agree with you Roger. As I'm in the same boat as you (but twice over - playing and conducting 3rd section) I think that Entertainments, whilst a cracking piece (Not my favourite Vinter piece) is a step too far for the 3rd section. We can expect to be told twice this year that the piece was too difficult for the bands and nobody played it really well..... Well, that's really encouraging isn't it - even if it is the truth.

    I get the impression that the Music Selection Committee take the view that top section bands played it in the 70's so it must be a 3rd section piece by now!! Isn't it about time that these highly respected people got their heads out of their a**es and actually consulted with some bandspeople who are currently involved on a full(ish) time basis (and not just taking 3rd/4th section bands for important contests if the price is right!) with the lower section bands.

    Ahhhh - Thanks for opening this particular can of worms, Roger - I feel much better for getting that off my chest.
  12. David Pegram

    David Pegram Member

    I have Entertainments to look forward to,i don't like the piece but think it will be a good test.I prefer to have a hard piece for the areas it gives a better result and as an MD i find the band works at it much more,thus we improve overall.
  13. euphnut

    euphnut New Member

    I agree with some of what is said, but to imply that some test pieces from earlier higher sections years should not be used for lower sections now is backward looking. I think it shows that it shows that the banding movement is looking up not down. For next years contest I think the pieces are ok (especially 1st section) and am looking forward to the challenge.

    The whole point of the Areas is to test the bands, and if a band in what ever section wants to put in a good performance consumerate to their level, the whole band has to work together and not leave it to just regular players to make up for them.

    A bit of a rant I know!!
  14. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Isle of Arran and lovin' it!
    You see, for me, I don't necessarily buy this 'contests improve a band' diktat. Not if you keep getting bad results, get relegated etc. That can only harm morale.

    I refer to comments I made in a similar thread on this forum. In my experience (nothing more), too many lower section bands work hard for six months of the year or so working up a few pieces of anything between 10-16 minutes in length, and then 'let themselves go' in the summer season or for indoor concerts because they don't have those pieces rehearsed well enough.

    I'm not saying every 'concert' piece should be rehearsed to the SAME degree as the contest pieces, but a similar level of rehearsal wouldn't go amiss. In what might be perceived as the 'easy' concert pieces, going back to making sure the 'basics' (like ensemble, tuning, etc.) are there keep the standards up, and for more challenging works to be played in a concert (particularly if you play a 'test piece' at a concert - and why not?), a similar level of rehearsal should be employed to rehearsing for a concert.

    When the summer season stuff etc. gets glossed over as I have seen many a time, frankly the bands' standards drop and those standards have to be picked up again come contest season, so musically speaking, you take a couple of steps forward for contests, and then a couple of steps back for the rest of the year.

    As I said, these have been my own experiences and I accept that they may not be relevant to those who have commented about the tough standards on here thus far. But as I said in the previous thread, musical improvement should be a constant goal, not a 6 month 'quick fix' as I reckon I've witnessed in my banding experience (Yeah, OK. Most of my banding experience has been in London! :) :)). Perhaps if some lower section bands worked equally hard all year round, there MIGHT be less groans when perceived 'difficult' pieces get selected.

    Let's face it, it IS a difficult choice for the selection panel. I don't think they're out of touch at all. They have to balance all sorts of opinions ranging from. 'Piece was too easy, it was a lottery' to 'Piece was too difficult and may put bands off competing', whilst others will say:'Yep piece was perhaps too hard but it may well make sure the adjudicators pick the right bands to go through to the finals'. I say it's a very fine line to get it generally right.
    Would anyone on here like to be on that selection panel? Personally, I'm not sure I would! ;)
  15. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Isle of Arran and lovin' it!
    As an afterthought and referring to the comments Phillip McCann said regarding the performances of Belmont Variations, well yes, I wasn't there at Harrogate but the most quoted part of his speech was... ‘…no-one played Belmont Variations today,' and ‘…if we edited something from all sixteen performances we still wouldn't have had a complete performance today'.

    Now who exactly did he direct those comments at? The bands? I can't be sure because as I said, I wasn't there, but surely if this particular thread and argument is about misjudged choices by the test piece selectors, then to follow that argument to its logical conclusion, he should have (maybe he did) direct those comments more at the panel than the bands themselves.
  16. Roger Thorne

    Roger Thorne Active Member

    Wem, Shropshire UK
    I think most lower sections MD's strive to improve the basics all year round. But when has flutter tounging for instance, been part of the basics at this level?
    As someone pointed out earlier, although these test pieces were written many years ago they haven't changed and certainly not become any easier. But what does change more frequently within the lower section bands is personel. With 'full compliments' being at an all time low, many bands are introducing youngsters from there Junior Bands to the Senior ranks, to enable them to field a full band. But these youngsters, after playing for a couple of years or so are all roughly the same standard. If you bring a youngster from your junior band into the senior band he/she is not automatically a 3rd section beginner, or a 1st section beginner. It takes a lot of time for a youngster to 'learn his/her trade' and more suitable pieces (in my opinion) would encourage youngsters into the ranks rather than frighten them off with music that they know they can't play. It would also help ensure (again, as previously mentioned) more attendances at contests by bands who can field a full compliment of players.

    I can't seem to understand that the music panels choices for the lower sections have to contain fast semiquaver passages and unusual techniques? In all my years of banding I have found that the hardest music to play and conduct with a band is usually quiet and slow.

  17. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Isle of Arran and lovin' it!
    You certainly make some pertinent and valid points there (as ever! ;)) but whilst I accept the matter regarding flutter tonguing, well hey, might as well teach 'em now! They'll be grateful you did in the longer term! ;)

    That was a jest, by the way, but I only referred to getting the basics right with some of the perceived 'easier' concert program pieces. I also mentioned the idea of putting more tricky pieces (or 'test piece' type stuff) to keep the band challenged all year round.

    I'm probably biased, though, with regard to what you say about pushing the juniors through, Roger. Since taking over the reins at Arran Brass, we not only do have a very good brass teacher at the local high school who will be filtering his pupils into the band when ready, (and who have their own brass band) but another couple of experienced players who, along with me, are willing to give up their free time teaching some more of the basics free of charge to the less experienced band members (of which there are many). As I said in another post elsewhere, the band are probably 'sub 4th section' standard, but with the help I've been promised from others, I hope this really will be a team effort. If the band does improve, I certainly won't be taking much of the credit! I consider myself a very lucky fella right now!
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2005
  18. Roger Thorne

    Roger Thorne Active Member

    Wem, Shropshire UK
    I admire that fact that you (and many others) give up your time to teach. It's a pity that there ain't more folks about like you. You make the point about filtering players through when ready, but when is a pupil ready to sit in the Senior Band?
    We have a strong Junior band at Wem (over 40 members at the moment) with lots of the senior members helping out with tuition, but the last few years has seen a vast improvement within the senior band, so the 'void' between the two groups, based on progress/years, is always greater.

    We recently lost a couple of good cornet players and have moved two youngsters from the Junior band into the seniors. Nothing like throwing them in at the deep end, but with all due respects, although these youngsters are going to be good players in a few years time, they're not ready to start looking at Gilbert Vinter's Entertainments! Our tutors have devised a fantastic programme to encourage these kids and they all thoroughly enjoy their banding, but to be honest after looking at Entertainments they're not too convinced that they are going to 'make the grade' in the senior band. Is this really the way to encourage our young players to follow in our footsteps.

    This is the point which I think the Music Selectors seem to overlook. The varying standards within the lower sections. The majority of lower section bands have good corner men/woman who can cope with most of the technicalities that are put infront of them, but many do have 'junior' or 'players with lesser abilitiy' sat in one or more of the secondary positions.

    How far do the selectors actually look into a score before they decide on it's choice? Do they take a selection of scores to a band and get them to run them through? Do they take advice from the ABBA? Do they actually consider that lower section bands have more than one percussionist? I get the impression that they just sit around a table discussing their favourite test pieces from bygone years drinking Chateau de Chassilier and then allocating the music to the different sections without any regard to the actual abilities of the bands involved. (Reminds me of Monty Pyhthons - Four Yorkshireman Sketch - Entertainments - You were lucky!)


    Edit: Apologies to all those concerned, but I just couldn't resist this one: http://www.themouthpiece.com/vb/showthread.php?p=312405#post312405
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2005
  19. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    When we are looking at this, people, we must remember that, over time, all bands have improved their standard because of contesting - even those bands that don't contest - because the standard of music generally available is better now than it was when I was a child (say).

    It's a bit pointless to talk about the selection committee thinking that a certain piece must be suitable for the 3rd section now because it was a top section test piece in 1974. In all honesty, it should be! The standard of general playing and the quality of instruments and tuition has gone up in a straight line curve since the 60s and 70s.

    The sad part, to my way of thinking is that the selection committee don't use more modern pieces for all sections (I don't necessarily mean 'plinky-plonky' music, just contemporary) not just the championship.

    I can't help thinking that there is still too much of the 'old school tie' brigade about the selections. Most of the choices are established composers who were at their peak of creative writing (as it were) in the 60s and 70s. It's about time we had some more contemporary writers used for lower sections.

    What a great way for a new composer to start a career!
  20. JR

    JR Member

    No they most certainly do not!!
    I have complained as a member of ABBA to their executive - I hope this will be discussed at the next exec meeting
    I would like to see the music panel (which is incidentally made up of ABBA members) consult all ABBA members prior to making their choice
    For the record I believe 4 out of last year's 5 tests were proved to be poor choices - in fact only Comedy came out as a succesful test but I still felt for the percussionists...
    Tam o'Shanter was a disaster, the Vaughan Williams much the same and Divertimento was also asking an awful lot. Rienzi was a decent enough arrangement but to go back to a transcription that was used as long ago as 1963 was patently absurd - put that with the "turns" controversy and the totally unpunished not-on-the-original bass pedalling at the opening - it didnt stand up.
    After all the criticism I was very disappointed not to see the music panel canvassing ABBA opinion

    john r
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