“LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU”
This is the title of a song by Robbie Williams, but what does the word entertain actually mean? In our own ‘band movement’, it seems that this word is often being redefined. It is becoming quite normal to hear the words entertainment and cheesy in the same sentence, suggesting that entertainment is corny, tacky, and not being of much value.
There is more than one meaning to this word. It can be used in reference to hospitality, “He entertained these important visitors at his offices”. It can be to hold something in your mind, and think about it, “The General refused to entertain the possibility of defeat”. Maybe it is something to consider, “He entertained the idea of providing this bonus”. Of course, in the area of musical entertainment, it is “To keep a group of people interested”, and this is the area I am going to look into.
We can be musically entertained mentally, spiritually and physically. Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony no.6 (Pathetique)”, Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” or Philip Sparke’s “Dances and Alleluias”, can certainly stimulate the mind, creating feelings of excitement, contemplation or pathos. Mozart’s “Requiem Mass”, John Stainer’s “Crucifixion” or Eric Ball’s “Resurgam” may well lead to spiritual contemplation. What about the physical effects of music? Of course, all of the music I have mentioned are capable of the “hairs on the back of the neck” syndrome!, but music can literally make you dance, and it is certainly a very sociable activity. When Joseph Haydn was the court musician for Prince Eszterhazy, much of his work was providing music to entertain the Eszterhazy family in their various social activities. Gilbert and Sullivan wrote Operettas which were full of amusing topical anecdote to entertain the audience. Vaughan Williams originally composed his “Suite of English Folk Songs” to entertain lovers of the British Military Band.
I mentioned Gilbert and Sullivan. Their Operettas made people laugh. Now here is a very important human need, not just the physical activity of laughing and being amused, but being entertained in the way that we know best, to be able to sit back, (or maybe sing or dance), and let our minds think nice thoughts, or contemplate things which are nothing to do with our daily routine, maybe be a little nostalgic.
People have always needed to be entertained in this way, and music has always been an important commodity. Folk Music, Music Hall, Dance Bands, they all provided music and song about love, nostalgia, sometimes a sad memory, often something very funny, music to sing along to, music to dance to.
This brings me on to two important subjects in the world of entertainment, the pop music of the last fifty years, and today’s brass band.
Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, there were some very brave attempts at transferring the pop music of the day to the brass band. Some were more successful than others, which was more to do with the bands who played them than the arrangements themselves. When a band played Edrich Siebert’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”, or Eric Banks’s “Sweet Gingerbread Man”, the audience loved it. Derek Broadbent was very forward looking, putting top band Brighouse and Rastrick at the top of the pop charts in 1977, with his ’foot tapping’ arrangement of “Floral Dance” In the 1980’s, things really started to move. Innovative arrangers like Goff Richards and Darrol Barry were providing music for our biggest audience, the general public. Bands themselves were becoming more contemporary in their technique, the instruments they played, and most important of all, their attitude.
Before I move on, let me speak a little more about providing appropriate music for the audience. I mentioned that in the 1980’s, attitudes had begun to change about playing popular, entertaining music. I also mentioned in the opening paragraph, that these days, many in the band movement are making negative comments about it, so the attitude is not as positive as it was. When Derek Broadbent took that pleasant, traditional Cornish melody, and made a lively, novel brass band arrangement, it became extremely popular with the general public, and it still is. When a band are playing, indoors or outdoors, for a mixed audience, they still want to hear “Floral Dance“, and when it is played, you will see happy, smiling faces, clapping, children dancing, (I have seen adults dancing too)! So why do bandsmen scoff at it, why say it is cheesy, why do some of them say they hate it, implying that things like this shouldn’t exist?
I am speaking of entertainment, a basic human need, and I want to focus on pop music and brass bands. I would like to be a little technical, as I feel that it would help to explain a couple of points about transferring what is essentially electronically produced music, (electric guitars, keyboards etc) to a more traditional instrumentation.
An arranger never transcribes from the sheet music, which contains a chord chart, lyrics and a simple (rarely accurate) piano part. He/She works from a recording of the song. When arranging a popular song, the arranger will decide how they can make it work on a brass band. Some are relatively easy to produce, at the other end of the scale, the arranger has to use their tried and tested compositional skills to take a well known song, and produce a version which is suited to the brass band medium. I said that an arranger never transcribes from the sheet music. On rare occasions, the arranger may use sheet music as a guideline. I did this once myself, this was because I had no recording, did not know the song very well, and was working to a deadline.
I heard a comment recently, that no instrument in the brass band could sound like a particular singer. I would like to emphasise that an arranger is not trying to imitate, they are recomposing their own version of a well known song. A Christmas TV advert from Marks & Spencer had Shirley Bassey singing in her own inimitable way. What was she singing? “Get this party started” by the singer ‘Pink’. Does Shirley Bassey sound like Pink?, no. Was the accompaniment the same as that on Pink’s CD?, no. Shirley Bassey and the musical arranger had made it their song. Many years ago, Richard Carpenter did the same thing with the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride”. He took a lovely song, and arranged it to suit the voice of his sister Karen. A totally different version of the song, the Carpenters’ version.
Here is an excellent example from the brass band repertoire, Alan Catherall’s arrangement of “Ruby Tuesday”. I am sure that the last thing on Alan’s mind was Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. He took a well loved song, and composed something with it’s own musical personality, a brass band piece. Let us remind ourselves that when you take away the lyrics, the singer, and the way the backing is played, you are left with a melody, which is what everyone remembers. Any chromatically tuned instrument can play that melody.
When I was teaching music in Secondary Education, I used to tell my pupils that classical music was like savoury food, and pop music was like sweet food. Classical music/savoury food took more getting used to, and you had to aquire a taste for it, but it had more substance, and was more nutritious. Pop music/sweet food was instantly likeable, did not contain as much nutrition, but was easy to enjoy, and great fun.
Singer/Songwriter Neil Sedaka hails from the 1950’s, and is still popular. A good musician who knows his audience, and has produced some likeable, easy listening songs like “Oh Carol” and “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen”. In 1971, a talented singer by the name of Tony Christie recorded one of his songs, which was released as a single. In 2005, the talented comedian Peter Kay used this version of the song to back a fun video for Comic Relief. Consequently, the song “Amarillo”, co-written by Neil Sedaka and sung by Tony Christie was re-released and went to number one in the pop charts. What has this got to do with brass bands and entertainment? In band rooms and forums, the moaning started, comments such as, “Oh no, I suppose someone is going to publish an arrangement of it”, and, “That is the most cheesy song ever written”, or, “I hope some stupid band doesn’t march to it in the Whit Friday contest”.
Well, this well liked, popular piece of entertainment was published for brass band, Bernaert published an arrangement by Johny Ocean, Obrasso published theirs by Alan Fernie, and it is not only the foreign publishers who know their audience, Pennine also published an arrangement by Steven Hague. Call it cheesy if you like, but who are we playing for, just ourselves? I am not speaking about the serious concert performance or formal contest, I am talking about entertaining the mixed audience or an entertainment contest. When I was directing a Pantomime in 2005/2006, “Amarillo” was included, and the audience absolutely loved it. By the way, it was played by a band marching down the road at the Whit Friday contest, which was certainly not stupid, the crowd were cheering and clapping and singing, this band knew about entertaining people.
As I said, it is not only publishers like Bernaert and Obrasso who are looking to entertain the wider audience, there are UK publishers like Pennine Music Publishing and Thornes Music who are doing the same thing.
I would like to finish with a story of my own. This is an article about entertainment, not an advert for my own music, so I am not going to give any song title or information of that sort. I was at a large public event recently with my wife Julie. A mixed audience ranging from young children to great grandparents. There was an all singing all dancing stage show, and during the interval, music was played. A song came on, and the dance floor immediately filled up. Everyone, the children, the mums, the grannies, even the dads’ and granddads’ were singing and choreographing to this song. When Julie and myself were able to hear ourselves speak, I mentioned that although this was such a popular song, I was not aware that there was an arrangement for brass band. After a little research, it turned out that this was right. As you can see from this article, I place a lot of importance on light entertainment. I love to see people smiling and happy, which is why my arrangement of that song was published in January 2007.
Tim Paton grew up in a family of entertainers, and his father is still entertaining people at the age of 86. Whatever he has done in his life, Tim has always aimed to ‘play to the audience’, and his priority is to see people enjoy themselves. His own music for brass band can be found on www.tpmusic.co.uk