National Brass Band Championship Finals, Sunday 16th September 2018

The Finals of the National Brass Band Championships (First Section) took place at the Centaur, at Cheltenham Racecourse on the 16th September 2018

Having a major Contest at the start of September, any September, is going to be plagued with difficulties - none more so than the availability of players due to holidays and because of the same reason - the unavailability of rehearsal facilities.

But the weather was not going to be an issue.... this time!

However, three weeks to go and things were beginning to come together, albeit never as fast as we would have wanted.

The Test Piece for the Contest was 'King Arthur - Scenes from a Radio Drama' by Benjamin Britten arranged by Paul Hindmarsh. King Arthur was the first of 28 scores Benjamin Britten (1913 - 1976) composed for radio between 1937 and 1947. It was an ambitious dramatisation of King Arthur s life and times part pageant, part play, part cantata written by D.G. Bridson.

This colourful suite incorporates the Introduction, a dramatic Wild Dance, some of the music underscoring the scenes for Galahad and The Holy Grail, and two vivid battle scenes, ending with The Final Battle and Apotheosis. King Arthur (scenes from a radio drama) for brass band should not be confused with a much longer orchestral suite which Paul Hindmarsh devised from the same source in 1995.

The arranger Paul Hindmarsh wrote about his arrangement:-

‘Scenes from a radio drama’ is announced with a ceremonial ‘Fanfare for Tourney’ , the score’s principal ‘call to arms’ motif founded on a dominant seventh.

This leads directly to Britten’s short introduction, Arthur’s ‘Coronation’ scene, announcing a second more extended hymn-like theme, which Britten associates throughout the work with Arthur himself.

A bridge passage for originally the French horn becomes a high-wire cadenza ‘moment’ for solo euphonium connecting Coronation scene to the ‘Wild Dance’. 

The second movement, ‘Galahad and the Holy Grail’, links three musically related scenes underscoring Galahad, Merlin's spell and a vision of the Holy Grail.

They are all based on a lyrical subject derived in its sinuous arpeggiated line (mixing major and minor thirds) from the fanfare motif.  

Flugel, soprano and solo cornet are challenged to show off their subtle expressive skills in a lyrical middle section. Britten reused the melody as the theme of a replacement slow movement for his 'Piano Concerto'

The fanfare variant which they support is a portent of the brutal battle music that follows. Here, the two main themes are set against each other to fight for supremacy.

Because of time constraints, the third movement, comprising a ‘Galloping’ sequence for percussion and ‘Death Music’ lamenting those lost in the first battle, was not performed at the Contest.

Instead the Holy Grail music links to a sombre sequence of chords appropriately titled 'Doom Music' by Britten. 

The fanfare variant which they support is a portent of the brutal battle music that follows. Here, the two main themes are set against each other to fight for supremacy.

Arthur's death

I have brought together the two battles scenes from Acts 2 and 4, which is Arthur’s last and fateful battle, building to a searing climax. 

The moment of Arthur’s death and the lament are vividly captured by the composer. There is plenty of deft detail to be negotiated amid the heat and noise of battle, which recedes to an almost cinematic Apotheosis, ‘Down the pathway of th’immortal waters’, and Arthur’s final journey to Avalon.'

Gradually a performance was starting to evolve, thanks to the Band's team of Conductors - Leigh Baker, Tom Davoran and Craig Williams, as the Band tested the acoustics of a number of rehearsal rooms, as our usual home of Forest Arts Centre, in Walsall wasn't open all the time.

As the big day approached as fast as the starship 'Enterprise', the music, the performance and the confidence were starting to evolve into something special - none more so than the all-important starting motif of three fanfare cornets, featuring Paul White, Adrian Lacey and Shaun Elliott, who tested all points of the compass to find the optimum positioning, although none were used on the day, as a new version was chosen in view of the spacious nature of the Hall we were going to play in.

Anyhow that was much later in the day.

The weather was dry but windy, as the Band set off for their individual journey's to our rehearsal room (our usual one, following our previous two visits), of Bredon Village Hall and to add that quaint touch, there was a bowls match going on alongside the Hall, proving the terrific double glazing of the Hall whicb kept the Band sound in and the bowls match playing.

Everyone was on time for the midday start and once again, that feeling was in the air and clearly in the minds (and lips) of the players, that the Band were on form, had great soloists, wonderful conductor and the confidence to win.

The Fanfare Team went into a slightly bigger room and tried various options in front of the Band, before the final touches were added and the result of the draw awaited.

11th out of 17 - a brilliant draw - not too early and not too late - perfect, it was down to us now!

15 minutes later after the van had been loaded, we were entering Cheltenham Racecourse and directed onto the Car Park for their Centaur Conference/Exhibition facility - the cavernous venue for the Contest.

After that, it became more like scenes from a TV Drama - players warming up, studying their parts (don't think so!), getting changed, having brain transplants - all the usual pre-contest performance stuff.

Then we were called to the warm-up room for the final moments before our performance.................................

And .....................

we were then moving down the maze-like corridor, until we arrived at the back of the stage.

Then we were on and my, my, it didn't seem to the writer as the venue was the one we had played at before - however as I was one of the Fanfare Team, I had one or two things to think about. Trouble is, once the fanfares started, nothing else could delay my entry, which along with my colleagues, was the best we had every performed the start.

We were cooking on gas!

As always, when a performance is that good, it ends as quickly as a match being blown out - so it was here and we knew that it was a good 'un!

Changed and in the Bar (there is nothing else to do!), the Band chewed the fat about the performance, until finally, when Hell had finally frozen over, the results were being announced.

Chairman Shaun Elliott mounted the steps with the representatives from the other competing bands and sat through the (seemingly) hour long presentation ceremony, until the results were announced..................................


Test Piece: King Arthur — Scenes from a Radio Drama (Benjamin Britten arr. Paul Hindmarsh)
Adjudicators: Alan Bourne, David Hirst, John Maines

1. Oldham Band (Lees) (John Collins)
2. Staffordshire (Leigh Baker)
3. Johnstone (Martin Ramsay)
4. Amersham (Paul Fisher)
5. Dunaskin Doon (Chris Bradley)
6. Ebbw Valley (Gareth Ritter)
7. Chalford (Steve Tubb)
8. Sandhurst Silver (David Johnson)
9. Enderby (Simon Oates)
10. Freckleton (Paul Dalton)
11. Bournemouth Concert Brass (Howard J Evans)
12. Skelmanthorpe (Martin Heartfield)
13. Harrogate (Dean Jones)
14. Foresters Brass (John Davis)
15. Burry Port Town (Gareth Robinson)
16. Houghton Brass (Lee Morris)
17. Strata Brass (Jonathan Bates)

Best Instrumentalist: Helen Mitchell (soprano) — Johnstone

So there you have it - another Runner-Up prize at the National Finals, just like the one in 2013 and still just as hard to take.

Thanks go to all our friends who helped us out once again and show collectively what great players they all are, thanks to the brilliant conducting Team of Leigh Baker, Tom Davoran and Craig Williams, to all our friends who helped our with rehearsal facilities and to all our supporters who were with us all the way.

Chairman Shaun Elliott commented, 'It was a fantastic effort and thanks should go to every single person involved who put so much into our performance - one that everyone should be proud of being a part of. Special Thanks to Leigh Baker who, once again, proved what a brilliant conductor he is and how well we all 'play together' and to Paul, Micah, Adrian, Hywell and Annie, amongst others.

Although disappointing for not getting the winners laurels once again, the Band is already one of the most successful ever at the First Section National Finals - which is something to be very proud about.

Which is exactly how I feel about this collection of players and personalities - very, very proud!'


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