Eric Ball Enigma - Do we dishonour our hero ?


Well-Known Member
Roman - it might be only 2 pence worth to you, but it's worth a small fortune in common sense. IMHO every one of your observations is spot on and should be the basis of our understanding of our position in the musical world.
Un-accustomed as I am to agreeing with people. I see where Roman's coming from.

All I want to do is to encourage music. Therefore we don't want to end up continually treading the same old boards. Try something different. Orchestral arrangements are challenging. We should try them. Specific brass band music is brilliant. We should try them. Old stuff, new stuff - if you look closely enough there's music to be found in all of it. -Even in what some may regard as technical tripe!

We need to look forward and try to discourage the sort of thinking that would give credence to those in other areas of music who regard banding as somewhat backward and un-musical.

We need to approach everything we do with a musical stance, and prove those who don't regard what we do as viable, completely wrong. If we are then able to be seen as more serious about music - and dare I say less competitive - who knows what the worlds finest brass bands (ie. those in the UK) could achieve. We could therefore get more recognition. I don't remember a band ever appearing in the Proms (although someone may prove me wrong) but wouldn't that be great? Surely, to be taken seriously, we need to open ourselves to new thinking. Move away from the 'we were robbed' 'keep it tight' 'make their ears bleed' mentality.

What do you think?


Staff member
euphonium_john said:
I don't remember a band ever appearing in the Proms (although someone may prove me wrong) but wouldn't that be great? Surely, to be taken seriously, we need to open ourselves to new thinking.

Bands have appeared at the Proms on a couple of occasions, including one I attended featuring Dyke and Grimethorpe, where William Walton's "The First Shoot" was premiered. The National Youth Brass Band have also appeared, but I would agree that bands have not had anything like the exposure they should have had.


New Member
I think that euphonium john is pushing at an open door here.

Yes .... lets try to make as much music as we can - I think that with original Band music we can do this without any of the baggage that comes with an orcestral transcription.

If you want to hear my views on a favourite hobby horse ......

I have always thought that the mind set that wants to produce a 'standard' performance of a test piece really misses the point.

Orchestral music buffs will rave about this interpretation of a piece or that delicate handling of a particular passage ..... and rejoice in the differences between each performance - each with its own merits but saying something different through the medium of the music.

Lets dare to make our music live - say something different with a piece every time you play it .... put something of your own passion and soul into your performance.

Eric Ball (to get back half way to the original topic) was a composer who had a very definite picture of the ideas he wanted to express with his music ... look at the score for any of his works - they are full of comments that try to explain the mood he is striving for in each section of the piece - to my mind a band cannot give a top class performance of the piece without the listener being able to feel the emotion the composer is trying to evoke - tempos and dynamics etc are only part of the mechanics that we should use to achieve that and shouldn't be the only basis that we are judged on at contests.

After all, if we were asked to choose which recording of a piece we wanted to include in our own record collection (or take to a desert island) we wouldn't sit and listen to the recordings with the aid of a metronome would we ?

Dave Payn

Active Member

Dyke also appeared in an afternoon Prom in the mid 80s, playing Cloudcatcher Fells amongst others. I wrote to 4 bars rest a while ago. They left off the heading I wrote; 'Are brass bands too insular?'. It included suggestions as to how bands might be more accepted at festivals like the Proms.I reproduce my article here. As with any readers on 4br, all constructive comments welcome.

Are brass bands too insular?

A question I have pondered now for some time. In the not too distant future I hope to set up my own Internet based brass band publishing firm, largely aimed at ambitious lower section bands and school ensembles, but not ignoring the upper echelons of banding or indeed ensemble works in general.

I'm hoping that in the long run we'll be able to add new original brass band works to the catalogue. However, I shall kick off with some arrangements. I went through the possibilities of what we could arrange which hasn't been done before or which hasn't been touched upon a great deal and what would work for band and what wouldn't and I became increasingly frustrated.

Why? Not the ability (or lack of), of the arrangers I've earmarked for the project, I have every faith in them but what I perceive as the limiting nature of our brass band set up. Very few arrangers of published material have dared 'experiment' with the band size in a radical way. Sure, some arrangements are catered for those bands who may be short on numbers, and quite right too. But one of my chief interests in producing new arrangements is music from the renaissance and baroque era.

Too often in the past, the arrangements have, in my view, been amended to the suit the standard brass band size than considerations such as keeping the same key or close to it (i.e. for a lot of baroque music, that means say a 'bright sound' A work that was originally in D major, doesn't to my ears sound quite as 'bright' when transcribed into Bb or Ab major as has been done in the past). The works of Handel and Bach, I decided a while ago, don't always easily transcribe to brass band, but better on orchestral brass. Why so? Orchestral brass ensembles can vary in size and regularly do so and have a greater variety of instruments, particularly in the trumpet department.

Therefore, they can stay in the 'bright keys' originally intended for some of these works. OK, so 'authentic baroque pitch' is as near as dammit a semitone below modern pitch (with A=415 HZ as opposed to A=440 of nowadays). So for the D major baroque stuff, read D flat major (E flat major at B flat cornet pitch) Excellent, I was thinking, the brass bands would prefer the flatter key and still be able to keep the bright sound. Then came another obstacle. Lack of variety of tone and/or pitch. With one soprano cornet, most of the 'up-tempo' baroque stuff would be a smack in the face in that key unless you share it out with the solo cornets or rep who would be at the very top of their register most of the time and therefore struggling, by and large. Sure, another option is to share the melodic lines an octave down with say, horns and/or flugel but to my ears, it makes the music sound duller than it should, certainly for baroque.

The band I play with (Fulham) although 4th section, is blessed with a surfeit of cornets and trombones at present and has been for some time. I intend to embark upon an arrangement of Handel's Fireworks Music soon. A lot of high stuff from violins, oboes and trumpets in one of the original versions (the other original version is scored for large wind and brass only) so I intend to arrange it for 4 solo cornets, two sops, (possibly three, one using an E flat trumpet. Sacrilege I know, but there you go) rep, 2nds and 3rds, three flugels, (to give a tonal variety in the middle upper register, quasi oboes) and the rest as standard with the possible exception of adding an extra trombone and all at what would be 'authentic baroque pitch' as described earlier. Some will no doubt be thinking 'The guy's nuts' Perhaps I am... They might also be thinking, '4th section band finding three decent sop players? Uh-uh'.

I've played with a few bands where we've been lucky enough to have players available to come in, or players from within the band who can 'double up' on sop. In any case, the trouble is, (and I'm certainly not guaranteeing it would be a good arrangement anyway), if it does turn out OK, it's unlikely to sell if I were to publish it, because of the difference in instrumentation from the norm.

But hang on, I'm talking only about arrangements and of a specific period thus far. What about original music? Are there composers out there that would feel less inhibited in writing original brass band concert works if there was a shift towards varying the size of bands? I could make comparisons with brass ensembles, but then I would, possibly quite rightly, be told that it's a difficult comparison when one is openly called an 'ensemble' which implies a potential 'downsizing' when required as opposed to 'bands' which by the nature of its name, implies a larger body of players. OK, so I'll make a comparison with orchestras. Quite often, at orchestral concerts, you'll see a change in size in the same concert, depending on the forces the piece/s was/were written for. A Mozart or Haydn symphony in the first half followed by say, Prokofieff's Scythian Suite or Respighi's Pines of Rome as part of the second half would require a radical change in numbers (not the best analogy but it'll do for now).

Obviously, I would doubt that this approach would work for contests. I'm thinking along more concert based lines. I also said at the beginning (without necessarily trying to plug anything as the business hasn't got started yet!) that I would be aiming for 'ambitious' lower section bands. Nevertheless (though I'm not asking for business advice here) am I fighting tradition too much here? I know and understand there are some bands who can barely scrape a set of instruments together, let alone expand. There are also some bands where players have access to or own several instruments of a similar family (i.e. trumpet and cornet in varying pitches, flugelhorn).

But overall, my question to other readers on this site is this? Would the brass band movement, or more to the point its concert repertoire, be improved and enhanced by occasionally expanding or even decreasing in size and playing pieces accordingly? I dare say ideas like this have been tried long before I suggested it here but would our top bands, say, have a greater chance of being invited to play at something like the Proms (i.e in the RAH, not in Hyde Park!) if composers and arrangers wrote and arranged for different sized bands. Or to put it in a nutshell, could brass bands ever effectively become known as 'brass orchestras'?

I only cite my potential arrangements/publishing business as examples of what I'm trying to convey here, but your views on this subject (positive, negative and downright slagging off) will be most welcome.

Accidental said:
Interesting debate guys, if slightly off topic. All I would add to it was look how Alliance Brass did yesterday with a band full of "orchestral" students. A fine band yes, but a brass band sound..... IMHO no.

A fine band? No way!!..they played exactly as they looked on stage...absolutely ragged!! Their dress was disgusting to say the least and didn't portray an image of how a brass band should even start to look on stage. Scruffy shirts or even T shirts....the third cornet player even had a large hole in the tail of his shirt. IMHO they should never have been allowed to go on stage to perform!!


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