Disclaimer – this article is concerned with brass band music and if you happen to not like it please feel free to skip 🙂
I’ve spent a weekend listening to brass band music. British style. In competition, nonetheless. It left me wanting more of the same. I tried to analyze why I like it, although that type of exercise may not serve much and it won’t change anything.
Brass band is, like all music, purely individual. For someone like me, who doesn’t play any instrument (yet!) it was hard to understand at the beginning. All those instruments sounded the same (sorry, my friend!) I could feel the rhythm just because of the percussion section (sorry again!) and yet it called to something in me. So I set myself the very nice task of unravelling it. I am not there yet, but after this weekend I hope I am closer. I have, for example, very clear opinions about what I like and what I don’t. What they call test pieces I usually dislike intensely, they are long winded jumbles of discordant notes intended, as the name says it, to test the various players, with rare chunks of beauty that frustrate more than enchant. I have found two test pieces that merit more attention and I have been promised a list of others. Again, I don’t play any instruments, so I don’t even have the professional interest to hook me 🙂
I find I like orchestral pieces arranged for brass band, and also traditional folklore themes and certain marches. I am getting better at recognizing skill when I hear it. I am partial to the lower tones, although a soprano cornet solo can lift me to tears. I am getting better at recognizing instruments, although not on sight. That’s not bad for someone who used to be deaf when it came to the mellow, honeyed euphonium compared to the far clearer baritone.
Now for some notes:
The street march is pure pomp, ceremony and outrageously exhilarating entertainment!
Test pieces are great for sorting out stuff in your head, both with instruments (they get tested in turns so you can get a feel for the sound) but also personal (time to think about that friend who is working too much or the other friend going through a rough patch)
After a while you know who’s subbing in for whom and who plays in more than one band (allowing for uniform changes).
Brass players are in almost constant motion, especially when they are NOT playing, they constantly check and clean their instrument, move their mouths, turn the pages, drink water (I assume it’s water!) etc.
Mutes are funny 🙂 The way they change the sound coming out of the instruments is incredible. I have also seen beanies, towels, egg cartons and changing the position of the player in order to achieve that ellusive note.
Cornets can be substituted for violins.
Brass players can play the other instruments in the band as well.
Probably the best thing for me is the personal touch brass bands bring to sometimes quite complicated music. Smaller by far than an orchestra, limited and in a way set free by the range of instruments, with a tradition that has kept them local and linked to their communities, they also play the grand role of teaching children to carry on in the same manner. I like that 🙂