The Definition of "Test Piece"

Discussion in 'The Adjudicators' Comments' started by stephenmrry, Nov 19, 2006.

  1. stephenmrry

    stephenmrry Member

    Ok guys having got great feed back from everyone about Gaelforce been the Irish National Test Piece(check out Gaelforce is it a test piece thread for full story) i now want to know what we all class to be test piece? Is it just a piece that is hard to play or is it a piece that has something for each individual section of the band to do?
  2. JDH

    JDH Member

    Any piece used for a contest. Usually chosen to show off, or test the whole band to their ability.
  3. johnflugel

    johnflugel Active Member

    You have pieces written specifically for a contest. Then there are other pieces that were not specifically written for contests but are used because the selectors feel it would be a suitable test for a particular level.

    e.g In Memoriam RK was in no way meant as a piece of competition music when written but you can bet that it will be a real challenge for bands at the masters next year. Does it matter that it is not labelled as a 'test piece'? Some have the idea that a test piece needs a million black notes, cadenzas for euph and cornet with a big finish. There are some great pieces in that mould ofcourse - but for me it's great when a particular contest picks a piece that is 'off the beaten track'.

    Don't think we can ever ignore the sporting element, but the music matters too!
  4. matthetimp

    matthetimp Member

    Tredegar Junior Band in 1974 used the march Methostopolies (sp?) as a test piece for the Youth festival in the RAH and won! It is a damn hard March tho and most 1st section bands would struggle with this piece even now!
  5. Hornblower RN

    Hornblower RN Member

    Mephistopheles :clap: :clap:
  6. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    To be successful as a test piece - whether originally written as such or not - I feel that music should test both individual players' technique and also ensemble playing; there should also be a range of emotions and styles, allowing various aspects of playing to be explored.
  7. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    Hearken all to the bon mots of the mighty PB.

    He's dead right. However, such a succinct and pithy answer may not suit all.

    The piece should be about 12-15 minuits long to test stamina
    It should have some technical solo playing for every corner man
    It should have some quartet/small group playing and a fair amount of 'whole band ensemble' playing to test tuning and ensemble.

    It should be interesting enough to keep the band motivated and tuneful enough that the adjudicators and audience don't get suicidal with listening to it 20 times.

    It should pass through a number of different keys within the cycle of fifths or use some other technique to make sure the band's ability to play in 'awkward' keys.

    It might also use different combinations of time signatures to test the band's ability to read these and the conductor's ability to lead the band through these.

    All of this while still getting the music off the page.

    There must be other things to include. Any other offers?
  8. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    The piece must be measurable against any given criteria that would expose strengths or weaknesses of soloists and ensemble(s) and can be comparable to other similar groups of instrumentalists. In short, anything can be used as a test piece. If a piece of music even challenges the confidence of a player against an audience of one, then it is still a test. Technical and musical dificulty are relative to this for scaling, although simple works can expose more problems with respect to the fundamentals of musical technique.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2006
  9. gybrass3

    gybrass3 New Member

    i reckon 'test piece' stands for something where everyone who plays it can't agree on how it's played or the composer of the piece just wants to have a laugh at the bands having a good go at the piece... then failing when the band thinks they have won! :D
  10. cornetshell

    cornetshell Member

    ...test pieces are strange though...
    because you can only really test the technique [literally the technical playing and general ensemble/musicianship of the band]... you cant actually test someones musical know-like how you feel and express yourself.

    like when people argue over how bands played the same piece so differently-and how some of the MD's "got it wrong",its unfair - as really you can't say to someone they "felt it wrong" you cannot test a feeling, and it can't be right or wrong, a feeling really is undefinable by definition, as its an emotion that we really have no control over, and its not a physical object to examine and compare...

    I feel sorry for the adjudicator, once the last band plays and he has to decide if he choses the best technical played piece, to every tempo marking and style- or the one that touched him musically the most, painting a good picture with the music- and of course what might move him, could sound un-emotional to another...


    its always a sticky subject, as people deem purely lyrical pieces too easy, and yet technique alone doesnt make a quality brass band...

    I think to make a "successful" test piece, it depends if you are out to test the band to the last dot, or you want a piece that will be played a lot, with a good even mixture of content that will be enjoyed again and again, by audience and band!(see brassneck's post above!)

    Last edited: Oct 11, 2007
  11. midwalesman

    midwalesman Member

    Well said my dear Michelle, could not have put it better myself. Carry on passing the good words....and send my regards to your recently poorly other half.

    One point though. I often feel that there are some testpieces that have been written in the last couple of years that really would have been a lot better being less technically challenging and therefore getting more performances in concerts. This is nothing against the composers in question who are following parameters set by tradition and organisers.

    Was it not Eric Ball that said the hardest thing to play well is a simple melody and surely this is the case in the contest as well as concert. Problems of perception by all non-banding people are in effect due to the polarisation of repertoire into being contest or concert (Bizarrely we play music from a contest in every concert in a year, that being aspects of the programme of Brass in Concert and people enjoy it and the players enjoy it!).

    Looking at recent test pieces, and this is a personal opinion, I have found that there were unnecessary bits that distracted from the "music" and these were the fast hard runs that are effects but expected to be technically perfect by the adjudicators.

    I always thought contest were musical competitions but of late I have become more and more disillusioned with this concept. It seems techincal proficiency is being regarded in a higher regard than the actual musicality. How fast, how loud??? There have been winning performances that have disregarded blatant metronome marks and dynamics and have been rewarded for this. I am not a hypocrite and remember playing in a performance of Between the Moon and Mexico (Sparke) and it was loud and fast and it won, hurray at the time, but in retrospect the composer didn't like it (as he stated in the bandsman and bbw at the time). So the question is, the next major contest, the Nationals at London, will bands be punished for disregarding composer markings by the adjudicators or will they "get away with it" because they played it in the typical exciting brass band way i.e. fast and loud. This maybe a peripheral comment on the topic but in terms of what a test piece is and how we define it, in my opinion, it strikes to the very heart of what a test piece should be, what it should sound like and that often test pieces are performed significantly different to the directions expressed by the composer, but performed exactly how "we" the public expect bands to play it. Two or possibly three clear and distinct perspectives on what is one test piece.

    Last edited: Oct 11, 2007
  12. midwalesman

    midwalesman Member

    P.S. If this was a discussion 100 or so years ago your test piece Gaelforce would have been the norm in all contests because they were played in concerts on a weekly basis. Gaelforce or Riverdance, technically challenging, musical and has broader social significance can the test pieces we play today by modern composers (and I admire all of them for being great composers and advocates for the movement) say the same thing? I love new music and spent years arguing against arrangements but historically transcriptions of pieces popular with broader audiences attracted an audience. This is not the case today because different types of music are available live or recorded by more media formats.

    Therefore modern test pieces are now a specialist repertoirte, played in a specialist arena and away from the normal public who pay the bills and in addition its absence from concert repertoire means that these general audiences have the wrong perception of what bands can do!! So defining a test piece can also influence the whole existence of banding.

    Realised that Michelle covered some of the last post in her post, should have read it all!!! I apologise m'lady...
  13. cornetshell

    cornetshell Member

    its ok Rich- you can steal my points- you make them look like well formed opinions from a well structured essay, rather than the ramblings and dictated verbal diarrhoea of a half wit hippie ;)

    will pass on the best wishes later to the poorly one :)
  14. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Very good point Richard. Several 'mistakes' have become accepted over time on certain test pieces, for example, the opening tempo of Tallis Variations. A good deal of conductors take it close to the tempo recorded on the eupropeans CD by YBS, which as I remember is a good 10 crotchets over tempo if not more.

    Current fashion dictates that winning performances of test pieces always have to be made more extreme than the composer wrote them. The fast sections are faster, the loud parts louder, and the quiet & slow movements are quieter and slower respectively - regardless of whether this makes any musical sense whatsoever. A perfect example being the fast cornet runs toward the end of Bram gay's arrangement of Les Preludes. This part is merely filigree to the bold statement of the trombones going on below it, yet because it's so technically challenging, a band in a contest will ALWAYS bring that part to the fore to show off what they can do - and sacrifice the musicality of the piece for technical merit.

    Again I totally agree. I've had several conductors tell me not to drop octaves in a test piece because if the composer had wanted it, he or she would have written it. Whether or not that's true is another point as a few composers still seem unaware that our range descends a good octave beneath low C - but I digress.

    The point is, If I've written a piece at (for example) 100bpm, it's because that's the tempo I want it, and if there's no rits and ralls written, I don't want to hear any. If I've written a pedal, I want one. If not, I don't. If I've written an Eb Bass up to a top D, that's what I want, and I don't want it moving onto Euphonium where it'll sound utterly different and spoil the effect, just because it's easier there.

    I can't imagine I'll ever end up in the box at the RAH, but if I did, I;d be looking for a band that finds the music WITHIN the scoring - without trying to cro-bar in a load that the composer didn't want in there.

    I'd say the issue is about the conductor having the basic respect for the composer's work, and interpreting it without blatantly ignoring scoring, tempo marks, moving parts around etc. but i'd probably be wrong.

    The simple fact fact is that in banding today, winning is more important than performing well. And that's a sad thing.
  15. cornetshell

    cornetshell Member

    i think surely the MD change the sections because they think it makes more musical sense in the overall picture- whether all people agree with their taste is another thing. i know i am a bit green still to banding- but i thought that was the reason most MD's tinker with bits- to make them sound musically fitting, not just to be the fastest/loudest etc? I dont think that would be their reasoning- simply to be the most extreme?

    but then i guess everyone is different, i understand what you are saying- but i dont think it is a lack of respect to the composer- more trying to make the work sound as good as possible(in their eyes)- to make the interpretation speak in the way the composer intended it to. many times composers have said they prefered the altered tempos(like after the first english national thingy@ the lowry!)- as many dont have the chance to hear them before they are even played. i know at uni we had Ellerby in, and heard a midi file "premiere" of elgar variations- and you could see him cringing, and saying how he'd have liked to change bits- and still wasnt 100% sure on tempos- and that was just before the europeans.

    I agree some MD's go OTT on their approach, but give credit where its due- some make some amazing pieces come to life, that perhaps not how the composer had thought of/intended- but one that works well...

    we wouldnt have contests without a competitive streak, so of course everyone wants to win- but i think they'd like to think their hard work came out as a good performance, even if not to everyones taste....

    i dont think its a malitious streak in banding- i think its just change, and more freedom to play pieces with a bit of a unique twist. if every band played it the same, there would be no contest.

    I know in norweigan "music" literally means like music, in a soul/passion way- when people say "i've forgotten my music" its like saying you left your soul at home. music isnt just about playing the dots on the page in the right order... it has to have a little bit of something in it- or its just black and white. thats what i think the MD's are trying to create with their musical liscence[as you often hear it called!] i dont think they intend to be ferocious and un-respectful to the composers wishes.... much for a "quick reply" :)
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2007
  16. midwalesman

    midwalesman Member

    As you stated in your post Michelle, it is at the end of the day a personal decision by the conductor on the one hand and the adjudicators on the other. However Andi has a point about the ignorance, or could it be cynical approach to some test piece writing by conductors. i.e this is marked at 100 but surely it sounds more exciting at 140. Excitement in what makes a great performance of a piece of music, a work of art or a bit of poetry is individual but if there are clear sign posts as to how an interpretation or brush stroke or stanza should be played or read, then you use it...otherwise Shakespeare might have wanted a long poem could be interpreted differently if the punctuation is ignored, it would therefore become (possibly) a rather complex rap song!! Its really part and parcel of the work being studied, it should be afforded respect and try to be faithful to the source. One would not heap and interpretation of a Mahlerian symphony on one composed by Mozart..horses for courses and I think that sometimes the blinding light of winning at all costs obliterates the meaning of the piece of music.

    I listened to the Lower section finals in Harrogate and there was a piece in the fourth section written by my esteemed colleague Mr Baker, that was pleasant, worth listening to many performances, was difficult for the band and soloist and therefore created a good balance for all concerned. Still, there were a few performances that went faster in the fast sections, slower in the slow movement and louder and louder towards the end (music psychologists call that directed motion). Others stuck to near the right tempo markings and dynamics and that left the conductor to interpret the music, the notes, the shapes of phrases by gestures etc.

    My disappointment lays in the fact that we define certain pieces of contest music too easy and ship them to lower sections whilst in the lower sections the pieces are too hard!!

    Surely, it is the performance context itself that defines the performance. People behave differently on a contest stage as they do on a concert. The music they play is consciously different in most instances (BinCon and Whits are different) and therefore the approach in preparation is different and consequently the performance is under more scrutiny and therefore the majority of players will be inhibited musically whilst the majority who are the principal instrumentalists shine. Concert pieces are played differently, allow more relazation in performance, a happy piece is played with a smile, a quiet piece respectfull. In a contest a player will have a different mindset about a piece of music, Bugler's Holiday would be seen differently in a concert than it would in a contest where a split note is perceived to matter more.

    Consequently in defining a test piece, you not only have preconceptions from audiences, adjudicators, conductors, players, composers and organisers on the music but the pieces are defined by the room that its played in, the type of audience present, the extent to which the piece will make money for the organisers and many more variables that on the right day click together and make a good contesting performance/day/piece.
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2007
  17. cornetshell

    cornetshell Member

    ...point taken...

    nice analogy with the shakespeare...
    im sure his sonnets would go down a treat with a beat box accomp... but thats another thread entirely...

  18. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Hi Cornetshell.

    Thanks for the PM - but you need to clear out a couple of your old messages before I can reply. ;)
  19. cornetshell

    cornetshell Member

    ...yeah duno why- it says my inbox is full when i only had 5 messages in there- i thought you used to be allowed 10 stored, now it says 5 out of 2 allowed! i'll blitz them now anyway...
    thanks :)
  20. dyl

    dyl Active Member

    It should be ok now - had you recently changed your email address? The system was waiting for you to click the link in the confirmation email sent to you. I've reset it now anyway, your inbox should be back to normal.

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