My son will be taking part in his first ever brass band competition tomorrow, which is the North West Area Championships held in the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.
It is an annual contest and other parts of the country will be playing their own “area” contest over the coming weeks. The section winners and runners up will go forward to compete against each other at the National Finals which are usually held at the end of September.
Each band competes with others of a similar standard, in sections which are ranked in a similar way to the football league. There are the Championship Section bands who are the equivalent of the Premiership – although without the wages for the players! – and then a First Section, Second Section, Third Section and Fourth Section. There is also a separate Youth Section for most areas.
Each section is told which test piece to play, which makes it fair across the country. So all Third Section bands will be playing the same piece and will be judged on it to try to make a level playing field so to speak.
My son is playing with Less Band who are a “new” band, having only been formed in recent years. They have not contest much at all and tomorrow sees them competing for the first time in over a year. They are ranked amongst the Fourth Section bands due to their inexperience and their lack of contesting, but they are a gutsy bunch and I had the privilege of taking them for a rehearsal on their test piece earlier this week. The piece they have been given to play is called “The Journal of Phileas Fogg” composed by Peter Graham.
Peter Graham is a fantastic composer of brass and wind music and he is a professor at Salford University in the music faculty. He has composed and arranged hundreds of pieces for bands at all levels of competency, and the all stand out as being musically demanding as well as technically demanding. The piece the Fourth Section are going to be playing tomorrow is no exception. It is a lovely piece which tells the story of Phileas Fogg’s travels around the world as per the Jules Verne book “Around the World in 80 Days” published in 1873. There are 10 little sections depicting life around the world – the hurry to the station, a chase by Cossacks, the Can-Can in Paris, a Spanish bullfight etc – and each one has its own pitfalls for the bands on stage.
Here is a video of Black Dyke Band playing some excerpts from it. You will probably (and correctly) surmise that this is no Fourth Section band. Black Dyke are the equivalent of Everton or Manchester City when it comes to banding, in other words, they are one of the elite bands. They are a Yorkshire band too so will be competing next week at their own area contest on a more difficult and demanding piece called Cambridge Variations.
But for now, sit back and enjoy around 4 minutes of the music that my son will be playing tomorrow on his contesting debut.
Good luck to all the bands who will be competing in Blackpool tomorrow, and especially good luck to the Lees Band and their conductor Matt Corrigan.