test piece workshops, Useful or not?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by fatstickmanslim, Feb 23, 2011.

  1. Hi just a thought but with the new fashion to have all these prequels and workshops on the area testpieces do the bands involved gain any advantage, peak to early, does it cause any problems, did they start very early prepping it? I know open rehearsals go on all the time, but isn't the band individual approach that makes contesting interesting? Are we in danger of becoming all the same. I know JR didnt even like the cds been produced. Just a thought.
  2. Accidental

    Accidental Supporting Member

    Imho it doesn't have anything to do with putting on a completely polished performance or everyone comparing notes to play things the same. I believe it should be about performance practice, highlighting the danger areas when nerves and/or being under-prepared or inexperienced kick in, and highlighting anything that needs a bit more work or a tweak before the contest performance.

    I personally think its a great idea. We did it with 2 other local bands before Harrogate, and certainly didn't do us any harm ;)
  3. Brassbones

    Brassbones Member

    Yes indeed.

    I know our MD is a big believer in doing a complete run through as many times as possible before the day, but also of doing this in as close to contest conditions as possible. His record is exceptionally good, so he knows what he's talking about!!!!

    I think many bands/MDs fall into the trap of thinking that because they can play all the "bits" of the piece well they are fully prepared. The mechanics of having to do the whole thing, including the counting of bars rest, picking up and putting down of mutes, spelling your effort, coping with nerves and drying out etc etc ... are all crucial.
  4. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    When I was in the Huddersfield University Brass Band we used to do these workshops each year - sitting down and playing each section's piece at least once, with the trickier bits generally passed over several more times was a test and a half (lucky we had a band and a half!).

    I know Phillip used to not worry to much about 'music' in the two or three rehearsals we'd do before this, he'd just make sure most of the notes were going in the right places. On the big day, he'd try things out for the audience - different ways of approaching various parts of the music, musically and technically, both his own and suggestions from attendees too.

    Most of us were playing one of these pieces in our own bands too, and I don't recall any issues about confusion of interpretation or musical boredom.

    What we did certainly wasn't a lecture "you must play it like this", more of a chance for people to discuss and try ideas, with feedback from their peers. I don't think there were any sheeple in the audience, I think everyone arrived with the score in their head and a good idea already of how they were likely to direct the music.

    I personally believe that the workshops were a good thing, encouraging conductors to try things differently.

    As for the CDs, I think a great tool for a conductor to hear how the nuts and bolts of an unknown piece fit together before the band get stuck in to it, but a couple of the recordings in various sections down the years have been pretty sloppy or musically disappointing. I don't recall ever playing with a band that cloned the CD recording and coming anywhere exciting either!

    Sadly, I understand the University Band no longer does this :(
  5. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    In my view if a conductor cannot tell how the nuts and bolts of an unknown piece fit together by means of reading the score, without having to listen to a recording, then they shouldn't be conducting ...
  6. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    I'm having trouble choosing my words recently!

    You make a fair point, and I'm sure most (hopefully all!) conductors can decipher a score without hearing it, but the point I was trying to make was that a recording can be a useful tool. I was too simplistic with my original statement, sorry.

    I think what I meant to say was, when a new piece comes out, I believe it would be arrogant to ignore an available recording when studying the score in advance of rehearsal - although yes, if your conductor is lost without one, perhaps time to look for a new one!
  7. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    It's my experience that a recording more often provokes the "I wouldn't have done it that way" reaction, than the "Why didn't I think of that" reaction.

    OK, If I listen to a David King interpretation of a piece I'm likely to gain some new ideas - some of which I'll agree with, but I'm also likely to hear some new ideas that I don't think work. So the interpretation that I eventually go with would still be my own, albeit coloured by other interpretations.

    Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis as they say in academia.
  8. tubafran

    tubafran Active Member

    Dronfield Band have held workshops on 2 out of the last 4 test peice contests we have attended and our having an "open" rehearsal this Sunday (27/02/11) at our band room The Michael, Lowedges Road, Lowedges Sheffield S8 7LD at 2pm to 4pm.

    These are run primarily for our "friends" support group to give them a chance to hear what we are performing as not every one of the 100+ membership will be able (or want) to attend the area contest.

    My personal view is that a performance in live conditions prior to the day can only be good for the band. We usually get some good feedback from both those in the know and Joe public too.

    However I think the last two we did were for the Nationals 2009 (Altavista), we came 2nd and the area 2010 (Saint Saens), we came 22nd :). 2 seems to be our lucky number.

    Anyone fancies coming for a listen please do, entrance is free and there will be a break for some refreshments and buns (thanks Mum)
  9. davidquinlan

    davidquinlan Member

    It is useful to practice the performance.. so yes...
  10. Brass_Head

    Brass_Head New Member

    A few years ago I was honoured to write the test piece for the 4th Section at Kerkrade.

    One enterprising MD invited me over to Holland to conduct workshops on the piece lasting about half a day each. i found it helpful to be able to give an insight into what i wanted and what the various ideas and motives symbolised.

    I worked with three bands and they were placed 1, 2 & 3.

    Caution: I have also heard apocryphal tales of conductors failing to be placed even when they wrote the test piece! Perhaps that is just a brass band urban myth.
  11. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Andrew Duncan conducting in the 1st section at Butlins 2010 looked real enough....
  12. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    I think any conductor worth his/her salt would be open to new interpretations/ideas about how a piece might be played and then make his/her own decisions about how he/she would interptret the music. Just because you look for advice doesn't mean you have to take that advice once it is given and there's nothing to stop you mixing other peoples' ideas with your own.
  13. What happened there? did he conduct his own piece and come last? Can composers conduct their own test piece?
  14. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Yeah he conducted his own piece, 'Hebridean Suite.' Not sure he was last, but certainly didn't feature and ended up well down the order I believe.

    Obviously one cannot examine such cases without reference to the quality of the performance from the band, and yes, it wasn't spectacular or a clear winner by any means. However I'd be interested to see the remarks on interpretation because he pegged the tempo in a few places quite well back from how it was marked.

    In that, he was not alone, (far from it in fact!) but the bands who did so - regardless of the quality of their overall performance - appeared to finish further down the order on the day than band who played nearer the marked tempi.
  15. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    No, he wasn't ... :redface:
  16. Beesa

    Beesa Member

    Workshops and concerts useful?

    Ask Whitworth Vale & Healey (2nd in the NW 3rd section) or Boarshurst (2nd in the NW 4th Section) who played at the excellent Saddleworth Area Test Piece Evening.
  17. Interesting stuff, cheers for that. I had this idea that if a composer conducting his/her own piece they would automatically do well. I forgot that they need the band to pull their weight too. I suppose if he is ignoring his own directions, he is asking for trouble, despite what may be the best interpretation to him.

    I think test piece composers should be more vague in their tempo markings, for example in Philip Wilby's 'Little Light Music', the tempo marked for movement four is Presto. In my book that would be from around 160-190 BPM. I thought that was a great way to test band.
  18. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    ....A consistent point of debate on a number of pieces recently selected - whether the MD should attempt the tempo indicated and lose a little clarity, or peg the tempo back and gain it. I suppose BPM markings don't help on this score, being (as they are) pretty prescriptive.

    But at least approaching the tempo is part of the music, so the compromise is a tricky one, particularly in the lower sections where technical clarity is at a higher premium than in the higher echelons.

    Probably the vaguest tempo marking I've ever seen is the finale to 'salute to youth' which is marked as fast as possible. And that's been the undoing of many a band, because it says as fast as possible so if the tempo fluctuates at all, you're playing as fast as impossible. Really makes the MD consider the ability of whole band as a team, rather than just whether Fred on the front row and Freda on euph can play semiquavers that fast....
  19. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    I would have to add to that the opening of Alan Street's "Rococo variations", which is marked (I'm going from memory here) either "Andante" or "Andante Moderato", with no metronome mark. Which in turn, triggered possibly the most idiotic piece of adjudicating I've ever experienced, when an adjudicator opened his written remarks with "Opening too slow." Not, "Opening a little slow for my taste", or something similar, just "too slow" - for a piece with a completely non-specific tempo marking ... :ranting2:
  20. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    I remember a certain Mr Rushworth (conducting the now-defunct Yorkshire Co-op band at the time) being distinctly unimpressed with a set of remarks alluding to his "pedestrian tempo" at the start of Eric Ball's The Wayfarer.

    And justifiably so since (as we discussed over a pint afterwards) the marking at the top of the piece is 'andante moderato,' roughly translating as 'at a moderate walking pace.'

    Andante.... Walking... Pedestrian... yeah, i'm thinking that was kind of the point....

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