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Spring Festival Preview- Diadem of Gold

Spring Festival 2018

Diverse Musical Spectacle

So it’s that time of year again. The oldest and one of the most musically diverse competitions is about to unfold this weekend. No, not Eurovision, although I am rather looking forward to that! In it’s 98th year, the British Open Spring Festival returns to the Blackpool Winter Gardens. With a multitude of bands from all over the country ready to take to the stage, I’ve decided to have a look at the pieces they will have to conquer in order to take the trophy, starting with the piece for the Senior Cup-Diadem of Gold.


Royal Who Dunnit

Frank Wright

Frank Wright

A diadem is described as either a band or crown worn as a symbol of sovereignty. Potter fans, remember Rowena Ravenclaw’s Diadem? Yeah one of those tiara things. And similar to the Ravenclaw Diadem, there is a bit of a mystery about Diadem of Gold. It was supposedly written at the turn of the century by George Bailey (not the guy out of It’s a Wonderful Life, he was too busy talking to angels). However it was a far more simple piece and it wasn’t until Frank Wright transcribed it for the National Finals in 1953 that the piece really took off. Why was it more popular when Frank had his hands on it?

We’re not sure, maybe because brass bands were the way to spread music to the masses in those days? Who knows? For a piece that sounds so beautiful, to some it’s nothing short of musical hell and by some, I mean soprano cornet players. Let’s have a quick run through the piece.

The Piece

Older writing has always had a place in my heart because they are deceptively simple sounding, yet intonation, dynamics and slow melodies can make them fiendish to play. Togetherness, intonation and a sense of rhythm is vital in the beginning.The opening is moody but with precision. The arpeggio motif can become an easy target if nerves take over.  The slurs end together for a clear chordal movement. Accidental clips, blips and not coming off together can hinder the opening quite easily.

An isolated soprano solo leaves very little room for nerves to take over. Despite the fear factor it is a brilliant solo as it shows off the control and sweetness of the soprano, which can sometimes be forgotten for loud vib-tastic screeching in some modern pieces. The bare structure may leave the two cornets in the muted section feeling a little bit exposed. Add a mute and a moderate dynamic and it will be tempting to play a little quieter or more hesitant than what is needed.

It’s incredibly atmospheric with the rumbling lower brass adding a touch of darkness before a rousing crescendo into the double forte section. The quieter dynamics before this will really need to be emphasised in order for this loud dynamic to be effective rather than little contrast being made.

The cornet accentuated quaver motif is dramatic. I love the use of this motif later on, together with a crescendo, to build up the band from the bottom upwards like musical lego bricks. As long as the piano is a definite quiet dynamic and the crescendo is perfectly graduated, like someone turning the volume dial on a stereo, it’s a brilliant effect.

The recapitulation of the quaver motif is still fueled with fire. I like the drop in dynamic whilst maintaining the accents as this will really test a band to notice the difference and when it is done properly it’s a more dignified, controlled version of quite an angry motif- very effective.

 The euph solo concluding this section before the Allegro Moderato is brilliant. I’m so used to euph solos being big, brash and full of vibrato, but the solos in Diadem are subtle and beautiful. The rhythm and pitch almost sounds like the intonation of somebody talking, it’s something quite different and soothes your ears from the bold double fortes that went before.

Which is a perfect lead into the light and airy Allegro Moderato.  The change of tempo comes out of nowhere and, as long as it settles at the beginning, it’s light and fun There’s so many different articulations that, with the speed of this section, you’d be tempted to slur them, but then you’d lose all lightness and definition. This is a real test. Not 32 bars of copy and paste dissonant semi-quavers, but noticing little differences in articulation and ensuring this remains nimble and clear during the gradual dynamic increase.

The cornet solo is typical melodic writing of the time, simple yet emotional. Again, this is a test of stamina as I imagine the solo cornet will have had a bit of a bashing with the loud dynamics and ledger line notes….if they’ve not left it to the minions on front row- the unsung heroes. It’s also a test of playing quietly and not getting tempted to get louder during the ascending quavers.

Coincidence that one of the harder sop solos falls on section 13? It’s clear to see why this is not a kind piece to the soprano player. I’m guessing Mr Wright had a vendetta against a sop player when he arranged this. Why settle for a tiff with a player when you can write a piece that makes every sop player angry? I’m beginning to like Mr Wright’s thinking…

After this light airy section, a melee of textures brings us back down to earth. Trills and loud dynamics can make for abrasive listening, but it does serve as an introduction into the aggressive repetition of the opening motif, this time sans slurs (oooo!) Trombones do what they were born to do in this section, loud, honking (tunefully) above everything else. Maybe Frank was BFFs with a trombone player…maybe they ganged up on the Soprano player…

Moving on to the ending. We have that soaring euphonium line, before the repetition of the Allegro Moderato melody- it’s really beginning to grow on me that melody. No sooner had the sweetness started, the chaos is back, trills and all- whoever is wearing this diadem is a moody madam. At this point I’m imagining a really annoyed Queen Victoria stomping about in her black brocade like an angry beetle.

The diminuendo tremolo and repeated cornet beats, are a great dynamic effect and are quite modern sounding for a piece that was supposedly written at the turn of the century and then arranged half way through the century.

The Allegro Moderato returns again (I’ll admit, getting a bit sick of it at this point) but the strong lines in the trombones and basses hold my interest) Have fun cornets on that run down towards the finish! Many a false ending that will have that first audience perched on the edge of their seats trying to anticipate when to clap (hint, it’s when the band put their instruments down). What an ending though, I wouldn’t mind listening to that twenty times.

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All in All

It’s a great piece full of subtle writing, big chordal moments and tender solos. It’ll be a challenge for any band. Main things to think about, in my humble opinion:

  1. If you’re a soloist, you’re going to feel exposed, have confidence. You can do it and if you don’t quite manage it on the day the world will not fall and there is beer in the bar.

  2. If you’re nervous there is no harm in playing just a touch louder to ensure your sound makes it out the other end of the instrument

  3. DYNAMICS!!!!!


  5. Give your all on that last note- timpani, I’m looking at you.

  6. Just have fun.

And if you do ANYTHING at this contest, make sure you buy your sop player a pint. It’s not their fault Frank hates them!

Image result for beer gif
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