Brass band arrangements that are better than the originals..


The pros and cons!

Its not often that I write in to agree with someone on this forum but I agree to a large extent with what amgray. How can you say a band improves a piece that originally belonged to another genre of music? A piece written for a Samba band might have some brass in it but its over all timbre is going to mixed with plenty of woodwind and various drums that we do not in our respective bandrooms. Secondly, with no disrespect for the brass band and especially those who play (like myself!), we are not at our best trying to adapt to another style of playing i.e understanding how to play Prague which seemed to baffle the majority or even big band! I have heard big band pieces written for brass band and to be honest it was tight, well played and sometimes edgy, but then again the normal dotted quaver-semi quaver figure instead of two quaver is a stereotypical response because thats the only way a big band piece can be percieved to swing.
As for what music would be good to arrrange ? I agree with the person (Mrs Fruity I think?) that said that the band was important in bringing the Classical orchestral repertoire and Opera to the masses in the Victorian society, BUT society has changed. I believe there is a good cross section of people who now attend band concerts, from working class to the upper echelons of society, so surely they can afford to go to listen to Madam Butterfly in its original context i.e Opera, (especially now where there is a realisation in the orchestral world that they need to cut ticket prices to allow more people to afford to attend their concerts). Having talked to many people in the audience, at our concerts and at a few others, I have found that they enjoy various types of music, ranging from the traditional military band to Jazz and easy listening. This would mean that they have a wide apoprectiation of a variety of arrangements and also a wide variety of the identification of other genres. Hence, arrange,ments are good.
However, we tend to play arrangements that probably range from the early classical period to early romantic. Les Preludes was the test piece for the Open a few years ago, it was very challenging for the player and nice for the audience. This does not mean that I approve of harping back to the same period for arrangements and also my main gripe being why cant we play original brass band music at contests since the people in the audience are predominantly brass band people, little people outside the genre actually wish to turn up to a contest.
So in my opinion arrangements should be kept for concerts, should have a wider variety and have a role in educating a concert audience bit by bit in appreciating the contemporary music which occurs in all music around us.
The lack of understanding of contemporary "noise" (as some would put it!) is the persistence of the band movement to play arrangements of music from a particular era. More complete or nearly complete movements of Mahler, Bruckner through to Messiaen or Ligeti. It would be an interesting experiment to arrange a few of the pieces of Charles Ives since he based some of his music on the experiences of listening to his fathers military bands playing in parade.
As I have confirmed through my research I believe that "UNFAMILIARITY BREEDS DISLIKE OR MISUNDERSTANDING". We hear a Mozart arrangement and think "hmmm...thats a nice tune", I wonder would the reaction be different if an arrangement of Shostakovich' first movement of his 7th Symphony. I doubt it! If we start playing arrangements of newer music surely the music which is then composed by our living composers will become far more understandable through familiarity with its style ?

Anyway amgray, you thought you were BOCing!! lol
Keppler said:
...Also, we tend to put past composers and artists up on a pedastel, especially if they are no longer living. We assume that they wanted a particular musical effect and we set that in stone....

An example of this is a vintage recording of 'Life Divine' that I have, conducted by the composer, Cyril Jenkins. Partly due to the quality of the recording but mostly the interpretation (very straight - no rubato) this has got to be the least moving version of this piece I have ever heard. There was no comparison between this and a version I heard played by the massed bands of Dyke, Faireys and BBS. With Peter Parkes at the helm pulling the music around I was moved to tears but perhaps it was nothing like the composer wanted :?

:?: :?: :?:


Active Member
This is a tricky issue and it's easy to see both sides of the argument. On the one hand, as performers we should be striving to recreate our vision of the composers' intentions as fully as possible. For me, that doesn't really include taking all the orchestral colour from his work or replacing his choice of textures and timbres with our own. For me, AMGray is right in saying that we've got to regard these works as being valid re-interpretations so long as we don't ever regard them as superior.

On the other hand there are certain pieces which will always exist for me primarily in their transcriptions for band, particularly the Berlioz overtures - this is ironic considering how vitally important orchestration is to the originals. There are few experiences more exciting for me than being in the presence of a really good band playing Berlioz with 100% commitment, and I don't get the same thrill from an orchestral performance...

And I agree with Mrs Fruity that arrangements have had (and still have) an important didactic role: they help us 'reach out' to a wider audience who might find a programme of band originals unapproachable and they allow us to play the widest range of styles and become more complete musicians.

yes: Berlioz, Elgar, John Williams, Mozart (sometimes)
no: Debussy, The Planets



Well, I seem to have started a (small) teacup sized mini-storm, polarising opinion :oops:
Anyone who knows me, knows that controversy, directness and a vigorous confrontational approach have never been traits of mine :twisted:

Mrs Fruity

amgray said:
Mrs Fruity said:
- if brass bands hadn't existed in the late 19th and early 20th century, many working class people would never have heard opera or any other form of classical music.
Without engaging in a personal attack, when was the last time that anyone heard Opera (a musical format utilising human voices as the primary medium) from a Brass Band?

We 'borrow' music from other genres - and why not. To say we improve it when we borrow it is arrogant and elitist. At the end of the day, we have a very limited range and spectrum of sounds available to us, we offer a tonally limited alternative, not an improved version of the original.

There are nuances available in every other ensemble that we just cannot recreate with brass instruments - just as the opposite applies.

Play to our strengths, enjoy what we do, and remember - there is a world of music that does not involve Brass Bands. Listen to it all and enjoy it with an open mind.

Nice to see you've never changed, Andy... :lol:


Active Member
amgray said:
Anyone who knows me, knows that controversy, directness and a vigorous confrontational approach have never been traits of mine

Oh yes. I remember those nights in the Rat... :twisted:


Dave Payn

Active Member
Don't forget al the Bach "masterpieces" that started life in different forms - sometimes even written by other people - before reaching their final versions, and that includes the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which is now thought to have been originally for solo violin :shock:[/quote]

Indeed, for some time now, doubt has been cast as to whether the famous Toccata and Fugue was written by Bach at all. . Bach's Art of Fugue, for instance, did not specify instrumentation in its original form (I have started to arrange the whole lot for brass ensemble - version for orchestral brass and brass band instrumentation! Goodbye social life.....and sanity!)

Whether arrangements are better or worse (or indeed, whether they work at all) depends on individual taste. Some 4-5 year after the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble's memorable recording of Pictures at an Exhibition came Peter Reeve's arrangement of Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals. Many derided it, but I thought it worked as a brass piece. Likewise, the complete Widor Symphony no. 5 (including the famous Toccata) was arranged by Paul Archibald for a (multi-tracked) English Brass Ensemble recording some years ago (adding the organ at the end of the toccata!) I thought it highly impressive! Each to their own, I guess.


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