Pikes Peak Brass Band    
PPBB Members Attend Brass Band Competition in London, England

On October 12, 2009, Debbie Baker (conductor), Rick Tiller (solo cornet), Mark Baker (soprano cornet), Bruce Blomquist (bass trombone), and Keven Stewart (solo trombone) travelled to London, England to attend the British Brass Band Competition Finals. Exposed to the performances of over 20 of the best brass bands in the world, a new understanding for the fundamental brass band style was realized, providing a more robust comprehension of the approach US brass bands should strive to achieve.

While in London, the PPBB members were fortunate to attend a dress rehearsal of the Salvation Armyís International Staff Band (ISB) in their regular practice facilities. Observing the rehearsal was highly educational for the PPBB members, in which many of the methods employed by the ISB conductor and musicians were demonstrated. Of particular note was the projection and strength of the mid-range conical instruments (tenor horns, baritones, & euphoniums). Balance was a non-issue for the ensemble and it was not uncommon for the trombone section to be lost in the powerful well-controlled sound produced by the other mid-range sections. In addition to the intensity delivered by the tenor horns, baritones, & euphoniums, the tuba section (2 Eb & 2 Bb tubas) exhibited phenomenal technical facility and dynamic control. The section was required to perform with the utmost sensitivity and infallible intonation, while also required to execute technical lines that rivaled those of the solo cornet; they did not disappoint. The following afternoon the PPBB members attended the ISBís performance and the energy of the moment and dynamics of the concert hall only added to the command of technical facility, dynamic range, intonation, balance, and sensitivity witnessed the evening before. That night the PPBB members were fortunate to attend a full length concert performed by The Fodens Brass Band. The band would later take a prestigious second place in the brass band finals. The style and approach employed by Fodens was very similar to that of the ISB, with impressive strength and assertive sound delivered by the tenor horns, baritones, and euphoniums. It was clear to all in attendance that dynamic range of the ensemble was of the utmost significance.

The day of the brass band finals was unlike anything else I have ever experienced. The top 20 brass bands in the UK were selected from the many regional finals earlier in the year to perform head to head a newly commissioned work by world renowned composer Peter Graham. The Torchbearer, Symphonic Variations on a Theme By Eric Ball, was composed to reveal the musical and technical strengths and weaknesses of each ensemble. Performed in Londonís Royal Albert Hall with over 3,000 brass band enthusiasts in attendance, one by one the 20 leading brass bands took the stage to deliver their rendition of this demanding brass band composition. Although each band was well prepared and up to the task of performing such advanced literature, it did not take long to recognize which of the bands were in contention for placement in the top three. Although technical talents played a significant role, perhaps the most distinct common thread between the top groups was their pervasive control of dynamic range and contrast. While all groups successfully demonstrated dynamic control, the prizewinning ensembles were able to present an additional level in both delicate sensitivity and controlled powerful presence. Following the competition, the audience was treated to a rousing performance by The Cory Brass Band, featuring the world class talents of euphonium player extrodinair, David Childs. The Cory Brass Band placed third in the competition and were clearly a crowd favorite. Once the brief concert was complete, the winner was announced and few were surprised to hear that last year's winning ensemble, The Black Dyke Brass Band, had taken first prize once more.

Attendance of the British Brass Band Finals is highly recommended to anyone interested in brass bands. The talent level is world class and the music is on the leading edge of the brass band genre. The perspective gained is difficult to summarize in words, but it is without reservation that I can state the music and culture of this land are extraordinary.


Author: Keven Stewart, 2009

First Prize Trophy



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