My Top 10 Pieces of Brass Band Music
Explore Some of My Favourite Brass Band Music
I’ve been playing in brass bands for nearly 20 years now - which is staggering to say (well, write) out loud. It doesn’t feel like five minutes since I first stepped foot in a band room! Within those (almost) 20 years, I’ve had the pleasure and the privilege to play or listen to a lot of wonderful brass band music, both original material and arrangements. Here are some of my favourite pieces of brass band music of all time!
1) The World Rejoicing | Edward Gregson
We’ll start with the most recent. Edward Gregson’s ‘The World Rejoicing’ was commissioned by the National Brass Band Associations of Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the British Open, as the test piece for their competitions. It was the latter event where I heard it first. Now, I’ll be honest, there hasn’t been a piece from the pen of Edward Gregson that I haven’t loved. In my opinion, his ability to create some of the most stunning melody lines I’ve heard in the brass band world has kept me coming back for more.
The piece is based on the hymn, Nun Danket Alle Gott (Now Thank We All Our God) - it’s number 65 in the red hymn book, for those interested - and presented in a form that Gregson has used in quite a few of his compositions: variations. The piece is partly autobiographical, with quotations from Gregson’s other major works for brass bands, such as Of Distant Memories. Speaking about the composition, in a quote taken from Edward Gregson's website, he said:
“The World Rejoicing sums up a particular facet of my life as a composer, and reflects the admiration I have always had for what is surely one of the great amateur music-making traditions in the world”
It’s a stunning work and one that I’m very much enjoying working on in preparation for the Grand Shield contest next month.
2) Resurgam | Eric Ball
Resurgam will always have a special place in my heart, as it was my first Area test piece and the first original work for a brass band that I fell in love with. The title translates to ‘I Shall Rise Again’ and it’s based upon the following passage from the Book of Wisdom:
“The Souls of the Righteous are in the hand of God, And no torment shall touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died. Their departure was accounted to be their hurt, And their journeying away from us to be their ruin. But they are in peace."
However, the piece was never intended to be a kind of descriptive fantasia to illustrate these words, although the opening motif does fit the first part of the quotation above and is used throughout the piece. The piece is full of moments that contrast, from highly lyrical, sometimes sonorous moments that make you feel like your soul is about to take flight (especially if you’re playing it), to incredibly evocative, emotional moments, such as the lamenting cornet solo, that is so despairing it could break your heart.
The piece is open to so much interpretation regarding its meaning. For me personally, I’ve always thought of it as an illustration of the human experience - full of contrasting moments, from sheer joy to darkest despair. This piece of music is one of the first reasons I fell head over heels with banding and it will always be a masterpiece in my eyes and just one piece that demonstrates why Eric Ball will always be one of the greatest composers of our community.
3) Paganini Variations | Philip Wilby
This piece is a tour de force. I’ve always enjoyed this piece to listen to, but after my first playing experience of this piece in the 2019 Rochdale Contest, I have been obsessed with it ever since. On a personal note, this piece will always mean a lot to me as it was the piece that brought me and my other half together, through our competitive natures that led us to having our own private competition on stage (first one to split owed the other a pint). I won and he’s not been able to get rid of me ever since. Moving on…
This piece was commissioned by the BBC in 1991 for their ‘Band of the Year' event and has been set as a test piece for the Championship section in 2011, as well as being a popular choice at own choice contests. As the title suggests, the piece is based on a theme from Niccolò Paganini’s 24th Caprice and it’s a real test for all players around the stand, particularly principal players, with fiendish passages and isolated moments for Cornet, Soprano and Euphonium, as well as a melodic solo for the Flugel player that I just adore. It’s a piece that really shows off everything the modern brass band can now achieve.
It really is a dramatic piece, with moments of musical tempest, big warm chordal moments and luxurious, beautifully tender passages that pull on your heart strings until they nearly snap. The ending of this piece in particular is a thing of beauty. It’s one of the first pieces, I've played where I cried on stage and I really hope, if you’ve never had the chance to perform this piece that you get the opportunity to - it’s phenomenal.
4) Eire Time | Andrea Price
'Riverdance', 'Lord of the Dance', 'Gaelforce' - I adore music with celtic influences. From folk songs passed down through the centuries with haunting melodies and beautiful stories to share to fast-paced, energetic reels, with drum lines that make you want to go to take on the world and dance on the tables (Michael Flatley style) in equal measure, it’s a stunning genre of music.
From the pen of Andrea Price, 'Eire Time' is a fierce, virtuosic euphonium solo written for Gary Curtin in 2014. The piece brings together three traditional Irish folk tunes, Star of Munster, The Leaving of Liverpool and Drowsy Maggie. It’s fiendishly difficult, but an absolute wonder to behold when you watch a player absolutely nail it. It’s brilliantly written with all three movements working beautifully together. The slow movement, which is based on ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’ is a stunningly beautiful piece of lyrical writing.
It’s a fantastic piece that really shows off the soloist with gob-smackingly virtuosic moments and a sympathetic ensemble accompaniment that lets the soloist shine. Having played as part of an ensemble accompanying euphonium soloist, Pat Howard, with the Freckleton Band, I can testify that it’s a hard job to focus when someone is playing this piece, due to being in complete awe for the entire time they are performing.
Purchase Eire Time by Andrea Price here.
5) Children of Sanchez | Chuck Mangione arr Reid Gilje
Long time followers of the blog will know why this piece made the list. I may do a post surrounding pieces that represent milestones in my career and explain why, for those who are new, but it’s a story for another day.
It’s an exhilarating piece of music both to listen to and to play as a soloist. From the haunting opening to the Latin-fuelled exhilarating moments that follow, it’s a whirlwind of a piece, with plenty of room for a soloist to truly make it their own. Both the soloist and the ensemble accompaniment provides a lot of excitement for a listener’s ear. If they ever did a sequel to Brassed Off, this would have to be the new ‘Orange Juice’!
6) MacArthur Park | Jimmy Webb arr. Alan Catherall
An all-time great and a favourite of many, both banders and listeners alike. There’s many times my Mum (who isn’t a bander) gets a particular performance (we all know the one, Grimethorpe at Brass in Concert, 2008) up on her phone just to have a listen. It’s a fantastic arrangement by Alan Catherall that features many players, superbly, around the stand. It’s sublime, it’s driving, it’s just bloody brilliant! It’s fantastic to play, it’s fantastic to listen to, it’s one of the most successful arrangements of all time. Although there are few arrangements of MacArthur Park around - when it’s mentioned in conversation, this is the arrangement everyone is talking about. I’ve often heard it referred to as ‘the good arrangement’ compared to others (no disrespect). It’s an iconic piece, there’s no mistake about it.
7) I’ll Walk with God | Nicholas Brodzky arr. Goff Richards
One of the most beautiful pieces of music arranged for brass bands. Goff Richards’ version of ‘I’ll Work with God’ is just a stunning piece of music. Simplistic in format but, when executed well, could bring a tear to the eye of a stone gargoyle.
The original song was composed for the 1954 musical film ‘The Student Prince’ with music written by Nicholas Brodsky and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. Although the role of the Prince was played by Edmund Purdom, it was Mario Lanza who provided the singing voice for his character. I would really recommend hearing the original recording of Lanza singing it, as it’s stunning. For bands who still follow the concert programme format of Overture, Hymn etc, this piece can often feature as the ‘hymn’ element, given the subject matter of the song. It’s a beautiful song, transformed into a stunning arrangement for brass band by the pen of a legendary brass band composer and arranger, Goff Richards.
8) Abide with Me |arr. Matt Shaw
Long-time supporters of the blog (thank you for still being here) will be familiar Matt (affectionately nicknamed Daffodil - it’s a long story) being featured on the blog. He’s part of an exclusive and beloved team in my life known as the Three Banding Musketeers, who have featured many times in my blog posts - usually in some Cointreau-fuelled escapade after a band gig (another long story). Alongside being a fantastic musician (Matt has recently been appointed 2nd Trombone of the Foden’s Band - don’t forget me now you’ve reached the dizzy heights of stardom, Daff!), he’s also an accomplished conductor and composer.
Having been friends for so long and been involved in playing in brass bands together, I’ve had the pleasure and the privilege to perform many of his arrangements and original works, including one of my other favourites of his, Fight or Flight - which I loved so much I asked if I could use as the title track for my YouTube vids! However, his arrangement of the hymn, ‘Abide with Me’, has to be up there with some of the best pieces I’ve ever played during my time as a brass bander. There are no other words to describe it other than exquisite. Dedicated to the memory of Peter Styles, the Grandfather of Natalie, his lovely wife and one of my banding besties, it’s a stunning arrangement that features subtle yet emotive moments from soloists around the stand and the warm, chordal moments that our ensembles do best.
Purchase Matt's arrangement of Abide with Me here.
9) The Millionaire Waltz | Queen, Arr. Adam Taylor
As a HUGE Queen fan, brass bander and enthusiast of Adam Taylor’s writing (I’ve waxed lyrical about quite a few arrangements of his on the blog before now) this piece ticks all of the boxes. A Day at the Races is one of my favourite Queen albums, as it features my favourite song of all time and go-to karaoke tune - Somebody to Love and this song is a lesser known song for mainstream audiences, but it is an absolute belter.
Queen are known for their complex musical orchestrations - every track is created from layers upon layers of sound, perfectly weaved together. If you really listen to their music every time you pop one of their songs on, you will be able to pick out something new in the texture, I will guarantee you. The reason I adore Adam’s arrangements in general, but especially this arrangement, is his ability to take all of the elements of the music - not just the tune and a bit of harmony - and rework them so they work for brass band, so it is a version that captures the exact musicality, integrity and spirit of the original…and it feels bloody boss being a part of a performance when a band is playing in full, thunderous, ebullience during the hard rock section, speaking from experience.
Purchase Adam's arrangement of The Millionare Waltz here
10) Concierto D’Aranjuez | Rodrigo arr. Kevin Bolton
Tell me this blog post was written by a flugel player, without telling me it was written by a flugel player. Concierto D’Aranjuez, composed by Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo, is a sublime piece of music. Originally written for classical guitar, it was arranged for flugelhorn by Kevin Bolton (for the Wingates Band - fun fact!). It’s this arrangement, lovingly known as ‘Orange Juice’, that has become iconic within our community and all those who love us thanks to its feature in the film, ‘Brassed Off ’. Although Tara Fitzgerald portrayed the character of Gloria Mullins, it was the dulcet tones of Paul Hughes that we heard during the famous scene. It’s a stunning, emotive piece of music and for me the arrangement for brass band evokes a different kind of emotion compared with the original composition. It’s raw, passionate and incredibly evocative - given the story line that surrounds this piece of music within the film, it is the perfect incidental music that epitomises the anguish, turmoil and anger depicted in the scenes of the discussion of the future of Grimley Colliery.
As a player, there is something so special in being given the opportunity to perform this piece. Given its connection with the brass band community and the stunning craftsmanship of its melody line, it provides a lot of room for a player to breathe emotion and feeling into every phrase. It’s a rare piece that I feel truly connects us as bandsmen with loyal brass band audiences, of whom ‘Brassed Off’ may have been their first introduction or fuelled their love of brass bands.
Thank You For the Music
I’m grateful that the world of brass bands has introduced me to so much music, both original compositions and arrangements from composers from other musical worlds, from stage and screen to choral and orchestral. I could keep going listing music that I’ve had so much joy performing over my nearly 20 years in banding, but the list would be longer than my TikTok’s For You Page - yes I’m down with the kids, the blog has a TikTok page. For those of you who have it and want to see me make an idiot of myself - feel free to follow here.
The great thing about being a bander is that this list of music that makes my soul happy will continue to grow. From the memories I’ve made playing them, the times in my life they’ve seen me through and the friends I’ve performed alongside - the music of our community is incredibly special.