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A Bucket List, a Breakdown and a Bet- Rochdale Contest 2019

So, I’m the numpty, who’s spent the last few weeks playing for two bands. As well, as going to my rehearsals with Eccles. once again Freckleton Band have had to put up with me for the last couple weeks, covering the Repiano seat for this year’s Rochdale contest. Exhausted? Yes. Worth it? One hundred percent. Not too long ago I wrote an article in my ‘Banding Bucket List’ series about the test pieces I would love to play at some point (click here to read) . Included in this list was Paganini Variations by Philip Wilby which, I’m pleased to say, I can now tick off the list. However, they do say to be careful what you wish for and Paganini was definitely a bigger challenge than I expected.

I am one of those weird people who loves contesting and, of course, I was going to do everything in my power to help the band win, but there was another incentive to work hard on this piece. As I’ve said before, I do enjoy my time with Freckleton, they’re a lovely band, but unfortunately I had to sit next to their Soprano Cornet player, who seemed to have a talent for winding me up. This resulted in hurling musical-themed abuse at each other for the entire rehearsal process. I’m not usually one to get caught up in petty squabbles- but he started it. The player in question, who will not be named to protect his dignity (you’ll see why at the end of the story- he knows who he is anyway), made the huge mistake of challenging me to a bet. Whoever was first to split a note or make a mistake on stage, owed the other a pint. Now there were two reasons why this was a mistake.

  1. I like my beer.

  2. I’m fiercely competitive

Of course, the aim is always to have no mistakes, but this added fuel to the fire. Was I going to be beaten by a sop player? You bet your harmon mute I wasn’t! Every spare moment I had was dedicated to nailing this part.

I don’t know which Repiano player annoyed Philip Wilby when he was writing Paganini but I reckon they owe him an apology and maybe a pint, he must have been furious. That’s the only reason I can come up with to explain why the Repiano cornet part is so challenging. At face value, you would be forgiven for thinking that it looks straightforward, but there are little sections here and there that are so easy to trip over. From tricky semi-quaver runs (including a G double sharp instead of writing an A natural in one of these runs- just evil) to parts that trick you into thinking that you’re in unison with other people when in fact you’re supposed to be playing it in an entirely different time to everyone else- the whole thing is booby trapped! There were times when I did feel like I was hitting my head against a brick wall and I would like to apologise to my neighbours who have had to put up with hearing wrong notes mixed with expletives and me playing my metronome and various versions of the test piece through my speakers for hours on end, trying to figure out where the hell my part was supposed to fit in. I know I said I love this piece (and I still do) but I’ll admit, by the time we got to the Friday of contest week, I did feel like I was having a break down.

So the contest day arrived and I was ready for action. I’d drunk my weight in water and I’d spent the majority of the day listening to my battle playlist and mumbling positive affirmations- if I’d had the time I would have put together a Rocky Balboa style training montage- but that would have left me with less time to prepare to win this bet. After a quick warm up, it was time to take to the stage. Is it just me or does Rochdale Town Hall remind anyone else of Hogwarts? Those wooden doors at the entrance look like they’ve been there for centuries and therefore far too old to be automated, yet they slide open as if by magic- it was rather unexpected. I was waiting for the stone staircase to start moving as I ascended towards the contest hall. I was slightly disappointed that it didn’t.

As I sat in the registration room, I did feel the rush of nerves. However, after leaning against a radiator without realising it was on and burning my behind, much to the amusement of my sop playing enemy who then proceeded to fall into the door on his way to the stage (instant karma) I was much too distracted to be nervous. It was a comfort to know that neither of us had the upper-hand walking into the contest hall, as we were both as daft as each other- it was all to play for.

I will never forget how it felt to be a part of that performance, last Sunday. When I first started playing this piece, I wasn’t sure if I’d bitten off more than I could chew and had no idea how I was going to get it right before the day, but somehow it all fell into place. To be a part of that majestic ending, that I’ve listened to so many times, is something I will never forget. I admit my eyes may have been ‘sweating’ a little towards the end and that wasn’t just from the exertion of holding a top G for what felt like an eternity- my cold, dark soul melted just a little during that last page or so.

Now to the all important issue of who won the bet. As much as it pains me to say it, my enemy did put on a good performance (if he’s reading this, I hope he’s planning on framing that first and last compliment) but with all performances, there’s always the odd clip…I just wasn’t completely sure who had clipped first. I mean…I had my suspicions but I wanted to be a gracious winner- no one like a show off. You can imagine my joy when he admitted defeat- a pint has never tasted so good.

We didn’t come away with the winner’s trophy, but I didn’t feel any sting of disappointment. Listening to the recording on the way home, it was then I realised just how brilliant the performance was. It’s not often I become a soppy idiot, I’m usually a critical negative Nelly, but I’ll admit I cried again listening to it. Knowing the amount of work that had been put into that performance by both the band and our MD, Matt (Daffodil to you and me) and to hear the result of that hard work was beyond moving.

I won a pint and was lucky enough to be a part of that performance, that’ll do for me.

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