Youth Band in Name Only: Foden’s Youth at the RNCM Brass Band Festival.
Band Geek Central
What a team! Foden’s Youth and Musical Directors: Michael Fowles and Mark Bousie.
For a young brass musician, the RNCM Brass Band Festival, is a treasure trove of inspiration. With opportunities to watch the ‘big boys’ of banding: Grimethorpe, Black Dyke and Foden’s to name a few, as well as the RNCM brass band (which was definitely a source of motivation…to practise in order to have any hope of playing in the already talented ensemble) and recitals from talented student ensembles and soloists, it is a catalogue of inspiration for young aspiring players to work hard to reach such virtuosic standards of playing.
Repertoire-wise, it offers the chance to listen to the work of a range of composers, with this year honouring the music of McCabe, Goffin, Horovitz and Ball- representing the heritage of brass band music, alongside the work of young, forward-thinking composing talent from the likes of Tom Davoren, Simon Dobson, Paul McGhee and Jonathan Bates, ensuring the audience has plenty of musical variety to keep them satisfied- like a musical Cadbury’s milk tray… But a little lighter on the calories and shouldn’t affect your new year-new you diet.
Now, as a band geek, you would have thought I will have paid this annual festival a visit a few times…sorry to disappoint, but with one thing and another I’ve previously, never had chance to watch the Festival, hence I cannot wait to live locally next year then I can watch everything and geek to my heart’s content.
However this year, I had the opportunity to play at this amazing festival with the Foden’s Youth Brass Band, and I can honestly say it was one of the best concert performances I’ve ever been involved with.
Youth and Yore
Our programme included works the from the honoured brass band composers:
A Cambrian Suite– Michael Ball (and no I don’t mean the musical theatre ‘lovey’, whose vibrato sounds like he’s sitting on a washing machine when he sings) which is being used as the 3rd Section test piece at this years’ area contests and is full of life and vitality, conjuring up images of peaceful Welsh landscapes and lively villages, you can almost see the daffodils and hear the sheep.
Meditation: The Light of the World- Dean Goffin (one of my favourite composers, ever) which is a hymn variation, and a stunning one at that, starting with a haunting solo rendition of Aurelia…I think (number 4 to you and me who use the red hymn books) which is then continued with dramatic and quite dark sections, which reminded me of parts of Resurgam by Eric Ball, sombre yet full of religious adoration and respect which is then escalated by a triumphant return of the hymn tune accompanied by beautiful cornet counter melodies that float over the top of the hymn tune- it was a stunning piece to perform and I felt both soloists and the band truly did it justice.
A Music Hall Suite- Joseph Horovitz, in which the first movement entitled the ‘Soft Shoe Shuffle’ was particular favourite of mine and some of my friends in the band. It’s cheeky first movement really paints a picture of slap-stick comedy of the early 1900s. The jaunty melodies and mischievous entries from the soprano cornet, make it easy to imagine it as the soundtrack to a Laurel and Hardy sketch. The second movement- Adagio Team, I imagined a sulky, yet glamorous Edith-Piaf- type character lamenting about some lost love on our imaginary vaudeville stage- pretty yet melancholy. The last movement – Les Girls, sparkly and exciting, depicting images of the glitzy showgirls of the early 20th century- ooh la la.
In amongst these great traditional works, we played two very modern works from two fine examples of modern brass composition.
3 Minute Warning- Lucy Pankhurst, which evokes feelings of panic from…well we don’t really know, could be an alien invasion, zombie apocalypse, the potential election of Donald Trump, using rhythmic percussion, layers of rhythms from all sections, siren sounds and racing heart-beat rhythms. Despite the absence of a clear melody line, this very percussively written piece graphically describes a picture of confusion and rushing from an unknown peril.
Firefly- Simon Dobson, was definitely my favourite in the programme. I’ll include a link to us playing it at a concert last September, and you’ll see why it’s fab. I literally cannot play it without bobbing my head in time, it’s become an involuntary action, I tried to be professional when playing it at the festival, but still ended up bobbing along looking like a chicken with a trapped nerve in its neck. With a cool cornet hook repeated throughout, the use of dynamics and repetition to give an echoey diminuendo effect, like someone slowly turning the volume down on a stereo, sliding trombones, explosions of colourful rhythmic sections and an infectious beat, for me it’s a cracker of a piece that I don’t think I’ll tire of playing any time soon.
Youth Band in Name Only
As a young player, participating in a festival which is so prestigious and in which any number of brass enthusiasts, composers and performers could be sat in the audience, was a daunting thought, but once we started playing all the nerves vanished, the whole band played with both precision and expression, with impressive soloists around the stand. The buzz I felt when coming off stage after such a rewarding performance, was something which makes performing so addictive- I’m a band junkie.
The theatre was full, we had a great programme and I had the privilege of, not only sharing the stage with some of the finest young talent the brass band world is lucky to have, but showing an audience of music enthusiasts as well as the composers of our programme, that (in the words of one of our MDs Michael Fowles) we are youth band in name only.