This past weekend B&R were part of the Royal Northern College of Music (RCNM) Festival of Brass. In addition to B&R, the 3-day festival featured Dyke, Corey, Leyland, Foden’s, and Grimethorpe. Basically all the big groups. The way it works is the host/organizer Paul Hindmarsh tells each band what works they are going to play and then the bands do their shows. There were also some recitals and lectures. In our case we also accompanied an 18-year-old flugel player from Wales, Zoe Hancock. Zoe played Heims’ Concertino for Flugel Horn from memory and nailed it.
Due to the rather lengthy delays with snow in January, many of the bands had several rehearsals cancelled and were pressed to get the music ready. At least 1 band had to switch a piece at the last minute because they didn’t have time to look at it. At B&R we were no different and decided to schedule some extra time together. In the week before our show we did 6 rehearsals (4 in addition to our regular T, Th schedule).
At the start I think it would be fair to say we were skeptical of the quality of the music we were playing and were not at all convinced that we would have a good experience. In addition this was B&R’s first experience with Howard Evans as conductor (Howard begins his work with Leyland soon). In the first two rehearsals it was clear he knew exactly what he wanted was well prepared on the scores. But that is only part of the story. On occasion it was quite clear that his demands of the band were met with a bit of frustration. People were on the spot, the music was demanding, Evans was insistent, we were pressed for time, and we were to play for an audience who knew what was going on.
While I practiced diligently to fit in on second (filing in for Mick) I felt quite sure that some of what we were going to play was not going to be very good. The program was long and there were some very difficult moments. For example, we opened the 2nd half with 5 cornet players on Herald Trumpets out in the hall, answered by Herald style valve trombones. In addition, the penultimate piece on the program was long, slow, and very exposed. It started and ended with 3 solo cornets standing around the back of the band playing very exposed solos. It was fraught with places for major embarrassment especially being placed that late in the program.
So, long story longer…… 🙂 we didn’t have enough time, we were doing extra work, we were not convinced we were getting along well with the conductor, we were not sure about the quality of the music, most of the music was new to us, and we were generally under the gun.
And what happened? I believe we played our best concert of the season. The soloists were spot on, the band was tight, we sounded good, and Howard Evans gave us exactly what we needed. His rehearsals covered what they needed to, there were no surprises on the show, and he didn’t make any mistakes to throw us off. He let us put the pedal down to open up the sound on occasion, and may have, in fact, been a bit inspiring. Many of the guys I talked to after the show seemed just delighted with how it had gone. I don’t see a review on 4BR so I’m guessing Iwan and the gang missed it, but I must say I too felt very good about our performance.
In hindsight it may be fair to say that a conductor has to walk a very fine line. He/she walks into a band room where the group has maybe 100+ years of history and a certain attitude and has to produce a result at the end of the day. I’m not saying B&R is resistant to work, or to getting better, or to putting on good shows. On the contrary the band self corrects all the time. I was receiving advice from Alex, Richard, and Colin during the rehearsals and they were also problem solving with each other. But there is indeed a B&R spirit that can work for or against a conductor depending on how he/she approaches the rehearsal/preparation process. In this case one cannot argue with the results.
Now with both Lindley and B&R we enter rehearsals for The Areas which can set the tone for the rest of the year. B&R will be spending a great deal of time with David King and seem willing to do almost whatever it takes to get back into top contesting form. I’ll be spending the contest cycle with Lindley on Moorside Suite. It turns out that Lindley needs a very good showing at The Areas to keep from being relegated to Second Section. We’ll also be pushing hard between now and March to ensure a good result. Stay tuned….