Playing what's written how it's written

David Broad

Active Member
I have a pretty cavalier attitude to composers I am afraid, transposing some classical music for brass band has revealed just how few parts a lot of classical music actually has and how much it relies on changing instruments to vary tone colour.
Our Band Chedworth, is very reliant on guest players, like totally, so I try to insist we play exactly what is on the copy, not something like, not how Tommy Dorcy ( or was it Les Dawson) played it at Crystal Palace in 1954, but how Bernaerts wrote it.
However last evening, grappling with "Slaidburn" on march cards which our lot complain bitterly about being too small and blurry to read, I found a Wind Band arrangement on Musescore, 1st Cornet part was the same as the Brass Band Solo Cornet and when I pressed play it sounded Horrible. Especially the trumpeting in the bass solo. There are both good and bad recordings of Slaidburn on You Tube and the Musescore one sounded just like the bad recording.
I did some tweaks,(its out of Copyright) I tweaked a bar with a quaver rest, two semi quavers and two quavers to have a quaver rest, three semiquavers, a semiquaver rest and a quaver with a line over and it started to come alive, sort of Yorkshire style, Four quavers became one with a dot over, one with a line over, another one with a dot over, and finally one with a line over, and it stopped dragging.
I also went to one solo cornet in the piano passages with rep and flugel added at mp and tutti at forte, just like the bands on your tube. which sounded good
Now thats a bog standard "Easy" March (maybe except the top B natural for Euph) so I'm wondering how many bands play it as written and how many tweak it to sound good...


I think this is a very high quality thread and it strikes at the very heart of what we are trying to do.

We are trying to in my view play in an engaging manner using our skills to create musicality and convey emotion.

Anything can be played technically correctly and sound bad or played musically and sound equally bad. Tight control can sound rigid and mechanical smooth musicality can sound sloppy and lacking in clarity.

It takes a really good musician to play technically well in a manner suited to the music and also play musically in a manner suited to the feeling and emotion of the piece.

Technical playing is easy to teach although hard to attain, musical playing is hard to teach and a player either has it or he/she doesnt.

Your description of varying the piece and seeking the best sound by minor changes is in my opinion in the very best traditions of musicality and I see the Chopin Miles Davis Mozart and Herbert L Clarke in your words.

Yes technical correctness and capability is at the very root and the foundation of all we do but that is not enough without the extra tiny almost unseen emphasis on musicality that you explain so well, or the rest of it however technically brilliant is just a bunch of squeeks and notes.

Music is not a bunch of notes played together it is what the notes do together that makes the music.

I enjoyed the read thanks David

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Slaidburn. We play it and play it as written - well less our errors and subject to good practice and (the MD’s) interpretation. IIRC it’s not on a march card but in a march book of card size (A5), the printing is small so I copied my part out at an enlarged size - glad to hear it’s out of copyright. We don’t often play Slaidburn it’s just there in our pad ready to be played at some Fete or whatever.

Bernaerts stuff is popular; I can not say that I like it all but play what’s written plus keep an eye on the conductor and you won’t go too far wrong.

Sometimes I think that some composers have never played a Brass instrument and certainly not the one for which the part is written; it’s best to do what you can and not worry too much … we’ll, unless it’s a test piece and you’re playing to the people inside of the box.
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Is it even possible to play exactly as written and how it is written. Is it even desirable to do this.

I have played a particular piece, I could have chosen any of a hundred pieces here, and I have worked out that I must have played that one piece around 10,000 times over the years.

I cannot recall playing it exactly the same more than 5 times despite wanting to. The only player capable of playing it the same each time and as written is a computer and nobody likes computer played music it sounds too rigid.

The only way people can hear a piece played the same each time is on a recording and audiences reject that in favour of hearing live music.

Live music is full of mistakes and nuances that come from NOT playing as written.

Are we chasing a paper tiger in demanding music is played as written. I think so. I dont think audiences even want music played exactly as written.

Played as written is the province of boredom and disinterest for audiences. live music is the province of beauty and of interest and of audience satisfaction.

I do not under any circumstances wish to play "as written" it is in my opinion the opposite of musicality. variances in timing and dynamics makes music beautiful, unvarying unchanging music played as written is the province of the student. Audiences want more than this.

I do understand that if all players play independently the result is chaos so there is a limit to expression in this, playing with swing is desirable as long as everyone swings the same way.

I play for example nursery rhymes Three Blind Mice, Twinkle Twinkle, Old Macdonald, in a repertoire that extends to several sets taken from 50 to 100 works.

When I play When the Saints, Concierto de Aranjuez, followed immediately by Three blind Mice, the Three Blind Mice is loved and appreciated just as much as any of the other works, but the secret of making it worthy of inclusion in a concert is, it is not played as written.

Simple nursery rhyme melodies are boring and unwanted by audiences when they are played as written, but when played NOT as written they are as loved and appreciated as any other work in my repertoire which includes Evita and Dvoraks Largo from the New World Symphony.

Any music, I dont care what it is, can be dynamic and beautiful if we choose to make it so, and any music can be boring, if we choose to make it so.

This opinion is not just an opinion based on limited experience and some imagination, it an opinion forged where it counts, on the altar of many years of countless appearances in front of all kinds of audiences and their actual honest reactions to what they hear.

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