The One Where Boadicea Went to Houston (VERY LONG POST)

Will the Sec

Active Member
As some of you good tMPers will be aware, I throw into conversation the title of a major work for Brass Band that I’ve written whenever possible.

Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni is the piece, aimed at the 3rd/4th Sections.

Ideas wise, it started life as a completely different entity. I’d long since wanted to write an Opera based on “Asterix the Gaul”, from the time two of my brothers (including Laserbeam Bass) came home from the pub three over the eight singing “The Magic Potion, the Magic Potion!” in the style of Luciano Pavarotti.

When I received a small windfall from work, I purchased Sibelius 2.

I discovered that I could get an idea down in minutes rather than days, and I realised that writing a major work would not take years.

I took the idea of Asterix, and wrote two themes. Having made the decision to write for Brass Band rather than composing an opera, I set to work on a Friday night.

By the end of the weekend, I’d finished the first movement, and had the other two mapped out in my mind. The first movement consists of two themes, a confident first statement, a sadder bit, a rousing section, a battle cry, the appearance of the Romans and a fight.

At this point, I contacted the copyright holders of Asterix, and told them of my plans. They responded quickly saying they would not authorise any use of the name. I offered to allow them to hear the work and use it at their theme park, but they were adamant.

Frustrated, I met my sister for lunch, and played her the composition so far and told her my tale of woe.

She listed to it, and following the score, said, “Well, that could Boadicea couldn’t it? She’s confident but sad, she talks to the tribes whilst they’re drinking, gives a rousing speech, and then the whole tribe sing their battle cry.”

And so, Boadicea was born.

I tinkered with the first movement for a couple of evenings, then hit an impasse. I wanted to start the second movement, but found that I was just tinkering with the first. By way of a plan to get the second movement started, I opened a new document, put in the key signature and time signature, clicked the mouse to insert a dozen random minims and saved.

The following day, for a laugh, I played the new section, and to my surprise, it was OK! It wasn’t particularly harmonious, but I wasn’t looking for that. In the end, from the first four bars, only one note has been changed from the random clicks, to create a diminished seventh.

I finished the second movement by the second weekend, and then got cracking on the last movement. By the following weekend, I had a complete, playable version of a piece that hadn’t existed three weeks before. I don’t know whether this compares favourably to (say) Mr Sparke’s work rate, but it felt wonderful!

I ran off a few copies of the score and a few CDs, and asked a few trusted peers for honest appraisal. It was generally well received, but one message came through loud and clear – it was too long.

After a lot of soul searching and heartache, I decided the second movement needed to be pruned. It consisted of a hymn, than a song, then another version of the hymn, then a second song, then a final flourish of the hymn. Bizarrely, looking at the balance of the piece overall, I came to the conclusion that the bit to be cut was my favourite section! Ah, the joys of being a composer. I decided to publish the second movement uncut on as I though it was a waste for that section never to see the light of day.

Much amending, rejigging, deleting, inserting and editing continued from this point, aided by a couple of runs through by Fulham Brass Band.

We now get to November 2003. I’d arranged to go to Houston to visit my friend, Anne. Having been in London with Fulham Brass for three years, she’d been transferred back to Houston in the May, and had joined the Houston Brass Band. (Their gain, Fulham’s loss :( )

I took Boadicea with me, with a view to saying, “Here’s a piece, play it at your leisure.” Anne had other ideas, as Houston were keen to meet someone from England with experience of conducting a British Brass Band, and arranged for me to take the second half of the rehearsal.

At the rehearsal, I played in the first half, and then was invited by Damon Hilsmier, the resident MD, to take the podium. The piece was handed out, and I talked the band through the geography of the piece.

Ably started off by Morris Cameron, a Belfast man temporarily in Houston, the rest of the band picked the feel of the piece up, and aside from the odd glitch, the first movement went swimmingly.

This was a wonderful moment! Actually hearing a Brass Band play MY music! It sounded so much better, even with mistakes, than the Sibelius/PC produced sounds.

After the rehearsal, people came to me and said that they really enjoyed both the rehearsal, and the piece. One said that he was a bit worried that the “test piece” would be difficult for the sake of it, but was pleased to find Boadicea was very melodious. (How to feed a composers’ ego, or what!!)

I left the piece with the band, and never expected to hear any more.

In March, full of the joys of having qualified for Harrogate, Anne emailed me and asked if I would like to conduct Boadicea at Houston’s Spring Concert. I’d already typed a reply saying yes, and trying to figure out how I’d pay for another cross Atlantic trip so soon after the last, when I re-read the email. One of the Houston players, a former United Airline employee, was willing to sponsor me on free flights in order to get me there. The band were going to pay the small admin costs involved, Anne was going to put me up, and so my costs for the whole trip would be minimal.

I emailed back, saying yes, I’d love to come.

(Cut from March to late May (during which time I tout Boadicea around as many publishers as I can find contacts for, without too much luck)

29th May – Happy Birthday to me! I play cricket, (A blob and 11-5-47-1, thank you for asking) and leave the ground straight after the game to get packed.

30th May – my sister runs me to the local station and I set off for Heathrow. I soon find out that I am flying business class! Fantastic!

31st May - 2.30am, I finally reached Houston, 10 hours behind schedule. Two flights from Chicago O’Hare are cancelled due to appalling weather that kills 6 people, and this means 10 hours at the airport. I'm alive, though.

Later, having slept until noon, I met up with Anne, and then headed off for the first of three rehearsals. I asked Damon to run the piece, as I intended to keep things as he’d rehearsed them for the previous 5 months. No point coming in and saying, “It’s my piece we’re changing everything to the way I want it!” (Composers - should they let go?) Fortunately, there were no instances where I thought “That’s awful!” but there were some that made me think, “Hey that’s better than I’d have done it!”

A good rehearsal ended with me making requests for certain bits to be looked at – an excellent start, though. I was told that a recroding would be made of the concert, and that I'd get a copy of Boadicea that I can use to tout the piece for publication.

There were two other rehearsals during the week, and following them I was quite content that the performance on the day would be OK.

The Houston Brass Band is only four years old, and are fourth section in standard, so some teething problems in terms of a first ever quasi contest performance were inevitable. Between the last rehearsal and the concert, Bob, the Band Chairman told me about the rehearsal where Houston Brass Band almost quit on the piece. After a very rare hairdryer session from Damon, everybody agreed to practice harder, and put on a good show. I told Bob that this was a frequent occurrence in the practicing and preparation of a contest piece. Many bands have kittens a few weeks before the performance. Some withdraw from the contests, but, as in one case when I was with Waltham Forest, we worked hard, went to the contest and came first!

On the day, Damon opened the concert with Amporita Roca, then Side by Side. He then introduced me, and as I came out I was amazed to see at least 250 people in the audience. Having been backstage since well before the opening number, this was quite a surprise!

I introduced myself, elaborated a little on what makes the British Brass Band sound unique, and then said a bit about contests and contest pieces. I had players play the main themes, and suggested that the audience listen for these themes being developed.

And so… how did it go?

I realised as I stepped up to the podium that I had one VERY nervous band in front of me. I tried to relax them a bit by smiling, taking very obvious deep breaths. After a few moments (that seemed to take forever) it was time to start.

Morris opened the piece up quite beautifully, and the other cornets followed suit. The horn entries were strong. The trombones rushed a little and the glock came in a bar early. Aah, I thought. I remember now. This is what it’s like conducting a band at a contest! I brought everyone off, and gave a clear 4, and started the next section. Things went well for the remainder of the first movement.

The second movement went very well, with the Euphonium player milking the solo in the style of most Euphonium players(!), but then, horrors! The Flugel player came in a bar late, and the harmony with the Euphonium was lost. In a weird way, the Flugel entry sounded like an answering phrase, and almost worked, but it was a glaring area to anyone following the score.

The last movement went well enough, though the first trombone player came in a quaver early, and repeated this error for the next sixteen bars. I couldn’t get his attention. It sounded OK, mind!

The real disaster came when the first baritone player completely lost where we were in the low band quintet section, and despite attempts to get things back on track, I had to stop the section after three bars. We started from the previous rehearsal mark, and the piece closed serenely, as penned.

The piece was very well received by the audience, and I took a standing ovation. (The only time that’s ever happened before was after I waltzed with my Tuba in the instrumental break in “Bass in the Ballroom” at Al Honeyman’s Memorial Concert!)

The rest of the concert went very well, and I actually enjoyed playing the Bb Bass. (But don’t tell Paul McLaughlin! He’ll want me to play Bb for the Nationals…)

After the concert, I thanked all the players for their efforts, and did my best to reassure the baritone player that things like this DO HAPPEN at contests, and that I wasn’t angry with him. I think he believed me! I assured him that with a bit of subtle editing, that stoppage would disappear altogether. After some discussion with the sound recording engineer, it was clear we’d be able to splice a recording of the beginning (from Saturday's rehearsal) onto the front, and so I’d get a decent recording out of it.

After everything was cleared away, the band decamped to a local restaurant, and 38 people sat down and ate. It was a nice way to wind down, and it was fun hearing how you build up a brass band from scratch. (Hint – you need a retired person with stack loads of money, enough enthusiasm to drive an un-powered tank, and access to EBay!)

Then it was off to Bob’s for the evening, onto the airport the following morning and home. This went as planned until O’Hare airport, where I could not get a flight until Tuesday evening. In total I spent 27 hours at Chicago O’Hare airport during this trip, and frankly, if I never see it again, I won’t be unhappy. I’m sure Chicago is a nice place and all, but Prince Charles would flip at the design of the airport, and I spent over a day there!

So, I’m home, and I had a great time and I’ll be receiving the recording shortly. (Roger and StraightMute can expect to hear from me shortly!)

Now if only I can shake off this jet lag………


Staff member
Glad to hear it went reasonably well, and hope more of us will have the chance to hear - and play :?: - it in due course :wink:

Will the Sec

Active Member
Part the Deux...

I've received the unedited recording from Houston - sounds TOTALLY different to how it sounded from the podium.

Some bits sound great; other bits suffer from the "Area recording sop overpowering the mike" disease.

Now to pester Roger and Straightmute...

Will the Composer

Will the Sec

Active Member
A recent development - having had some long chats with some knowledgeable people, the last movement is going to be rejigged, with some themes that were omitted from the second movement used to open the third movement.

Watch this space...

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