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Brass Band Association of NZ – National Championships 2012

Brass Band Association of NZ – National Championships

Timaru:   4-8 July, 2012

Brass Bands are a presence in New Zealand mostly through their own interest in competition.  Competitions are a means of motivating players and bands to do well and provide an opportunity for them to find an appreciative audience, mostly other bandsmen.   This year’s national competition in Timaru (moved from Christchurch) had one aspect that especially caught my ear.

My own experience playing in bands through high school and college in the USA, where bands are almost universally found, is the source of my personal interest in Brass.   This year’s national contest was the fifth for me playing percussion with the Trust Porirua Brass Band (‘B’ grade).   I offer here only the one most notable impression I brought back from this contest.

The ‘A’ grade required test piece in 2012 was a very new one from a young-ish, but already award winning, British composer, Paul Lovatt-Cooper, called “Breath of Souls”, composed for the British Brass Band 2011 National Championships.   Percussion is a main component of brass band music these days and Lovatt-Cooper is a trained percussionist.

Like so many brass band composers, Lovatt-Cooper has a background in the Salvation Army.  Brass bands have been a part of the SA scene for a very long time.  What is the attraction?  Perhaps it is partly that the range of emotions inherent in the death and resurrection story of Jesus is similar to the range of sounds and emotions which emanate from brass instruments:  brass can be very loud as if shouting, but also the sound is more “pure” than reed instruments which rattle their reeds or strings which scratch, so can play poignantly soft.  Often brass band judges look more to the soft sections of a piece to distinguish between good bands.

The title, “Breath of Souls” seems traditional SA but the composer, perhaps provocatively, attributes “souls” to all living creatures, not just humans.  And “breath”, a fundamental aspect of most species, gives impression of a lightness rather different from the brash sounds of brass or the crashing of the heavens in the Easter story.

Speaking about the piece composer Paul Lovatt-Cooper commented: “With Breath of Souls I wanted to compose a piece of music that was a celebration of life. Not only that, but a piece of music that from the very first notes heard in the percussion and cornets, is bustling with activity, emulating that in life everything that is living has a soul and breathes – nothing stays still and everything keeps moving and growing.   Just like life itself Breath of Souls also grows musically with each bar. You will hear many and various motifs and ideas grow and develop as the piece develops.”   (From the composer’s website.)

As I rushed into the auditorium at Timaru just in time to hear the Wellington band, I realized hadn’t heard the piece before, and barely knew its name or composer.  But I came away with a vivid impression that while Breath of Souls had everything a brass band wants in a test piece, it was a different sort of test piece, having a lightness about it.  Not only did it take the time to progress through several cadenzas, even as far as giving choices to the musical director as to which cadenzas to use each performance, but also there was no thundering to the finish (though I admit I like thundering finishes).  The final sections were more like being lifted and flown skimming the ground.

And perhaps the most satisfying aspect of that was that the percussion was not so much a support to the brass, but with the composer’s choice of instruments, rhythms and dynamics, actually embodied the sense of lift and flight more than any other section of the band.  It seemed appropriate when the judge (an older colleague of Lovatt-Cooper) awarded the 2012 “best section” to a percussion section, of the Woolston (Christchurch) Brass.

Richard Keller, 30/11/2012

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One Comment on “Brass Band Association of NZ – National Championships 2012”

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