The Ideal Test Piece

Do you like performing at Contests?

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Mikey Boy

New Member
Having played with bands at all levels for some considerable years, I have to admit my desire for Contesting.

It serves many purposes as a training tool, but although it has down sides, the good very much outweigh the bad.

I just wondered what would be your idea of the 'perfect' Test Piece and the 'hardest' Test Piece to play.

My personal likes are span all sections and periods of writing, but I am intrigued to hear your thoughts.

Pieces such as Life Devine, Essence of Time, Masquerade, Whitsun Wakes and quite a few of the Eric Ball pieces figure highly, although I believe that Odin (Butterworth) is supremely difficult.



Active Member
hmmmm, the 'perfect' test piece.....

Should test every member of the band from principals down to bottom 3rd cornet in every facet of playing, loud/sustained/quiet/tuning/twiddly/exposed/etc, at a level appropriate to the section standard (it should then follow that the band also find it interesting enough to rehearse!)
And - very important - should be good repeated listening for the majority of the audience, not just hardened banders.
This is why there's probably no such thing as the perfect test piece, there's just too many things to get perfect!

'Hardest' - depends on your instrument, probably. The hardest one I've ever done for a contest was "Contest Music" by Wilfred Heaton, possibly because the music doesn't look that hard, so it lulls you into thinking it's not. But it is!
I guess you could write an "impossible" test piece, but what would be the point, if no-one could play it you'd never know what it was meant to sound like. Mind you, I can remember "Blitz" and "Masquerade" being called impossible when they were published, as bands keep getting better, so the music gets harder to test them.
Depends what people mean by difficult. Most people would describe fast stuff as difficult. Others would describe high parts or parts which require a lot of stamina as hard.


New Member
I think something like Cloudcatcher Fells, as everybody has their own part. That has to be the ultimate test for any player and band as you cant hide away :twisted:

Mikey Boy

New Member
The area of how to measure difficulty is a good one.

Personally, the hardest piece I have had the pleasure of tackling on a contest stage is Masqeurade by Dr Wilby.

A fantastically measured piece which tests all areas of the band, including soloists, to the limit. As stated, it was labelleded unplayable when released.

Another to get to grips with is Partita by Wilfred Heaton.

Most difficult does not necessarily mean most balanced musically. In this area, I refer to Journey into Freedom. Although slipping down the sections as a Test Piece, it is still, for me, one of the most descriptive pieces to listen to and enjoyable to play.


Energy by Robert Simpson is a great piece that'll find a "Champion Band" as opposed to finding a "Band of Champions".



Active Member
I haven't played enough testpieces to be able to say which was hardest! In fact, I've only done Vizcaya, Hollywood and Dimensions (the latter 2 we just ran through last night).
But in response to the poll I love contesting although I was wary at first. The atmosphere all day is amazing, and personally I feel so proud to be out with my band in full uniform etc. Also its great if you do well!

Dave Payn

Active Member
Agree with earlier poster regarding defining difficulty. A lot of bands still find the Nocturne from a Moorside Suite difficult to play well. In fact, the whole piece tests a lot of bands despite, on its arrival, being dismissed by one dork of a bander as not being a proper test because it didn't 'contain a single semiquaver'. Talking of which.....

As I found out when I tutored at the WMA Summer School last week and also in previous years, certainly lower section banders struggle with time signatures like 3/2 and 4/2, for instance. I split the band up into ensembles and gave one quintet Matthew Locke's Music For His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts to try out. Barely a semiquaver in sight in the movements with the 3/2 and 6/4 time signatures, (of which, between them, there are three) but that was more difficult for them to play than a number of semiquaver passages in TJ Powells Snowdon Fantasy. In years gone by, I've foisted Elgar Howarth's arrangement Music From The Elizabethan Court on the band and the 3/2 Galliard even when mostly written in minim beats, was quite difficult for the players at first.
My 'ideal' contest piece would be one that is as short as physically possible, so it doesnt interput too much with the bar sessions :p

TBH - I'm not fussed at all about contests and glad my band doesnt do many over the year. Overated IMHO & too much emphasis put on them.
give me a good concert any day.

Backrowbloke - band contest secretary :?


Active Member
I love contests! Especially when the piece has some really hard exposed flugel playing. I like a challenge...



Active Member
hellraiser said:
I like old pieces - great to listen to, really difficult to play well - and a hymn is always a good test.

The trouble with 'old' test pieces is that there is too much doubling. As a trombone player this has been particularly disappointing. I have played 'older' test pieces where every melodic or countermelodic part for one or more of the trombone section was always doubled on horn, baritone or euphonium.

Okiedokie of Oz

Active Member
Some of my personal favourite test pieces are those where everyone is always moving, and the piece isn't just two or 3 musical ideas joiend together to make a 10 minute piece. Although, that being said, some of those "whak together" jobs can be rather pretty to play too (Jan de Haan's "Oregon for example).

As a bass player, I can judge a lot about a piece by the quality of the bass part. If the basses are working, it's usually a good sign. If the basses have the standard stuff, don't expect everyone to like it.


Well-Known Member
I love contesting and the preprartion involved.

There is little better than the transition from the first rehersal......I'll never play this...

to the contest stage..........either "wow, I played that" or "ok the 1st round is on me!""

The perfect test piece should stretch every player in the band and be enjoyable to reherse/perform


Active Member
I love contesting. I enjoy the whole build up to it and the actual contest itself.

I don't know what the perfect testpiece would involve - i suppose for me, it would have to test the band both musically and technically - there are a few great pieces around that do this though.

As for my personal favorites, Blitz and English Herritage spring to mind, although I must give a special mention to Tristan Encounters as it has a nice 2 bar solo for the 3rd man down!! :wink:

ian perks

Active Member
But as long i can take the PINK TABLET(YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN):-D
It is a good job we do not have DRUG testing in BRASS BANDS or a BIG number of us would be BANNED!!:-D


Active Member
I enjoy playing at contest bit I would not mind in the least if I never did another one. I have strange moments where I get REALLY stressed before a contest even when I know I can play the part. (I think most sop players get this!)

Some of my favourite test pieces are Tristan Encounters, English Heratige, Tallis Variations and most Phillip Sparke stuff, Journey into Freedom and many "old" test pieces.
fitzy said:
I enjoy playing at contest bit I would not mind in the least if I never did another one. I have strange moments where I get REALLY stressed before a contest even when I know I can play the part. (I think most sop players get this!)

Some of my favourite test pieces are Tristan Encounters, English Heratige, Tallis Variations and most Phillip Sparke stuff, Journey into Freedom and many "old" test pieces.
You would miss it!
I think your right though about "Sop Stress".
(I've just coined a new medical condition.)
Otherwise known as browning of the trousers!!
We all get it and I think the buzz is the drug that makes
us go back for more!
Having said that I like all the pieces you mentioned and would
add Epic Symphony, Pagentary, anything by Vinter and
any Robert Simpson work.
Every piece is difficult under stress but thats the challenge
and Ultimately the fun in our game!!
Hope all is well in Aus & keep the faith Mr Fitzy.


Active Member
Your right about "Sop Stress" but when it all goes right! :-D :-D :clap: :bounce :metal: :terrier

of course when it goes wrong :x :-( :oops: :hammer :ranting2: :cry:

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