Its been a while since I last wrote a blog, but I’ve been inspired to put cursor to screen having witnessed music-making of the very highest order this week. Both events were polar opposites, but the levels of skill and talent on display were never in question.
First up was my brass band “Fest” watching the live streaming of the European Brass Band Championships from Oostende, where 12 of Europe’s finest (including the Cory and Tredegar Bands from Wales and Brighouse & Rastrick Band representing England) were vying for the coveted title.
The 24 performances – each Band performed a set-work (Kevin Houben’s “Where Angles Fly”) plus an own-choice work – over the 2 days was quite frankly astounding. I’ve been privileged to have performed at the Europeans on 8 different occasions and the standard of playing since I first appeared in 1990 has risen year on year, to a point where you’d be hard-pressed to say that these weren’t professional ensembles.
Wales once again were at the forefront come results time, with Cory (defending Champions) being placed third and Tredegar coming in fifth. The winning Band this year were Eikanger-Bjorsvik from Norway, led by their inspirational conductor Ingar Heine Bergby, who won following a near 30 year gap since the last time they lifted the trophy. Their stunning own-choice performance of “Fraternity” by Thierry Deleruyelle will live long in the memory.
Following the Europeans, my next source of inspiration was at Cardiff’s St. David’s Hall, where the wonderful, zany, jaw-dropping, breath-taking etc. etc. “gentlemen” of Mnozil Brass wowed the audience with the mastery of their art. Musicality, power of recall – playing everything from memory, humour, timing, stamina (where do they develop that staying power?), diversity, subtlety and innuendo and so much more. A sheer joy to hear and watch, leaving the audience shell-shocked and spellbound in equal measure. Superlatives are often over-used, but each one I have used was hugely earned and justified.
So, the point of today’s blog is, why do the general public get pawned off with rubbish on television and radio and the publicity given in column inches in the press/social media, when there is so much REAL talent out there? Admittedly, the European Brass Band Championships is very much a niche market, but when Cory Band last year (2016) won the “Grand Slam” of European, National, British Open and Brass in Concert titles (an amazing achievement), they barely made a mention in the local paper. Eikanger’s win at the Euro’s last weekend earned them a massive welcome reception at the airport on their return, with TV and media crews in attendance! Says a lot for what we think of our Champions doesn’t it?
Mnozil however, is an ensemble that could easily be featured on mainstream TV, or at very least on one of the Arts-focused stations. But no, we are subjected to performing dogs or yet another 11-year-old bashing out a Celine Dion hit and being told she has “amazing talent” and will go far etc. etc.
As “defenders of the faith”, perhaps we need to be more pro-active in demanding that the TV companies and media do cater for the more discerning audience and not settle for the rubbish that is often forced down our throats.
A small ray of sunshine in this gloom of mine, was Cory’s invitation to appear on ITV’s ‘Tonight at the London Palladium’ programme hosted by entertainment star Bradley Walsh.
Their performance was recorded live in front of a packed audience of 2,200 people and subsequently broadcast to an estimated audience of over 5 million people last night (03.05.17). Perhaps this is a significant step towards redressing the balance and highlighting the TRUE talent that can and should be presented to audiences the world over.
Here endeth the Lesson!
The opportunities of hearing Brass Quintets in Concert are sadly rare, as most of our work nowadays is either for Weddings or for corporate events, so when Music for You were invited to perform for the Rhymney Valley Music Club, we jumped at the chance.
The Concert (which is supported by the Night Out Scheme/Arts Council of Wales) takes place on Saturday 1st of April at Siloh Christian Community Centre, Oakfield Street, Ystrad Mynach, Caerphilly, CF82 7AF and starts at 7.15pm.
Before we go any further, I’m in danger of assuming that everyone knows what a Brass Quintet is, so just in case, a Brass Quintet comprises of 2 Trumpets, French Horn, Trombone and a Tuba and this line-up has become the most popular for chamber brass ensembles over the years, as pioneered by the late great Philip Jones. He founded the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and when they weren’t performing as a 10-piece ensemble, this was their smaller group and he was hugely influential in developing chamber music for brass instruments.
So back to the Concert. Being the sole performers, the evening gives both the Quintet and members of the audience a chance to get their musical teeth into repertoire they would otherwise be unlikely to perform or hear, outside of a Concert setting. This in itself can cause problems however, as musicians often want to get stuck into some really challenging and high-brow repertoire that leaves all but the avid quintet connoisseur underwhelmed and unimpressed. On the flip-side, “dumbing down” a programme to contain a succession of light 3-minute “toe-tappers” or light classical items, means the audience are treated with contempt and the assumption that they couldn’t handle anything more serious than a John Philip Sousa march or maybe (if we were daring enough!), Samuel Scheidt’s (Yes, that’s his real name!) “Battle Suite”.
In compiling our programme for this particular event, we’ve tried to appease both appetites and hope that the audience will discover works by composers covering a 600 year period, that will be both enjoyable, stimulating and perhaps even educational. There will even be music from a living Welsh composer!
The Art v Commerce approach of programming concerts, has and always will be a hot potato for musicians and marketing departments the world over. I’ve always been a strong advocate for introducing audiences to new repertoire and composers, by gently broadening their musical horizons and not metaphorically ramming it down their throats, with the underlying message of “here it is, YOU WILL like it …. or lump it!” or “if you haven’t heard this before, you should have!”.
I very much hope, that we have succeeded in putting together a programme which is balanced for all tastes, but also gives us as performers, a rare opportunity to get our creative “juices” going a bit too. even the Brass Quintet aficionado will discover lots of new repertoire, so don’t expect the “same old, same old” programme!
Without giving too much away, there will be works by Handel, Rimsky-Korsakov, Gordon Langford, Edvard Grieg and Koetsier to name but a few.
So why not pop along and have a listen – it would be great to see you. Remember, there’s nothing quite like live music and even if there is something you want to watch on telly, you can always record it!
In the words of our strap-line “Music for You – it’s just that!”
Today (March 1st) is the National Day of Wales – St. David’s Day or Dydd Gwyl Dewi.
To all my fellow Welsh compatriots “Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus i chi gyd, ble bynnag yr ydych yn y byd!”. Happy St. David’s Day to you all, wherever you are in the world!
(Picture – The Welsh Dragon Memorial is at Mametz Wood in France, erected to remember the lives lost of soldiers from the 38th Welsh Division during the Battle of the Somme).
On this day (October 29th) in 1787, hours before the first performance of his opera “Don Giovanni” is to be given, Mozart is reminded that he is yet to write an Overture. He duly instructs his Wife to serve him punch and tell him fairy tales throughout the night, until the work is complete.
“The ink was hardly dry on some of the pages when they were placed on the desks of the orchestra” – Wenzel Swoboda (Double-bassist in the orchestra).
It seems that anyone getting married nowadays is on a quest to find something “different”, “unique” or “unforgettable”. So, when entrusted to perform at someone’s special day and with these ingredients in the mix, there’s just a hint of pressure, both from the Bride and Groom to be and self-imposed by me (as a musician and business owner) to deliver the goods.
The Music for You Brass Quintet was recently booked to perform at Catherine and Ryan’s Wedding Ceremony and Drinks Reception. The venue was the majestic setting of Leigh Court in Bristol, where the acoustics lend themselves brilliantly to brass instruments.
The brief was to play some music as the guests arrived for the Ceremony, then play the Processional Music for the Bride (and stunning she looked too!), as she entered to the elegant sounds of Handel’s Air from the Water Music. Music by Gershwin and the Carpenters followed for the signing of the Register, with the rousing sounds of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom heralding the newly married couple out for the Recessional music.
Once the formal part of the day was over, we then entertained the guests during the Drinks Reception, with an eclectic mix of repertoire, ranging from light classics, to songs from the shows, operatic arias, pop songs and music from the silver screen.
During this session, whilst seated just outside the main Reception room, we were asked to move twice. “Too loud” I hear you thinking!!! Not in the slightest – in fact, we were asked to move closer each time, because the guests were gently moaning that they couldn’t hear us and wanted to enjoy the music.
Unfortunately, I was unable to grab a quick word with the Bridal couple before they and their guests departed for the Wedding Breakfast, so was unable to congratulate them personally and get some brief feedback and check that they were happy with our contribution to their special day. I naturally sent a thank you e-mail the following day and asked if they’d be kind enough to share their thoughts on our musical contribution.
In the age where, if someone doesn’t reply to a text, e-mail or voicemail within a maximum of 15 minutes (perhaps less if you’re of a certain generation!) then something’s seriously wrong!!!!!! You go through the terrible “OMG, they hated it”, “We played their most hated piece of music”, “We looked dreadful” etc.
You know that they have got stacks on their plates, even after the Wedding’s all done and dusted and they’ve probably gone on honeymoon, but you’re still on pins wanting to know whether they were happy!
Finally, after some 3 weeks after the Wedding day, an e-mail comes through as follows:
“Andrew was a pleasure to deal with from the first time I got in touch right through until after the day. He and the musicians have an enormous and diverse repertoire and played beautifully on the day. It created the most beautiful atmosphere on the day, so much so that I saw my new husband cry for the first time as I walked down the aisle. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.”
Needless to say, I was heady mix of relieved, ecstatic, proud of the efforts of my fellow musicians and reassured that Music for You is capable of providing its clients with “something different, unique and unforgettable”!
I’m currently updating the page, so if some stuff looks a little “confused”, it’s because I am too!
Normal service will resume very soon – I hope!
A big shout-out is due to Paul Fears for his input and expertise regarding the “new look” and for encouraging me to be myself.
Thanks for your patience and I hope you enjoy reading the Blogs and the new look for the site.
The Welsh Nation will start another working week and the hot topic around the water cooler and by the photo-copier, will be the win against Uruguay and the massive upset caused by Japan against the South Africans in the Rugby World Cup.
Whilst on a totally different “playing field” – sorry couldn’t resist that – Wales also starts the week with THREE, yes 3 National Champions , from the world of brass bands.
Big deal huh? Yes, it was a massive deal, as each band had to qualify from it’s respective Region in the UK (typically a field of 10+ competitors) and then beat around 18/19 other bands in the Finals.
The amount of personal preparation, hours of endless practice and self-sacrifice, including financial, might not be on an exact par with the rugby players -it’s certainly a lot safer, that’s for sure! – but the achievement is just as hard-earned and means the world to those involved. This is all the more remarkable, given the standards of performance achieved and the fact that brass banding is an amateur pastime.
So, a big shout out this Monday morning for the unsung heroes of Usk, Ebbw Valley and Goodwick who are now National Brass Champions of Great Britain, in Sections 4, 2 and 1 respectively. This was their Rugby World Cup and if you’re from their area, tell everyone at the water cooler and by the photo-copier, because you’ll have something extra to smile about this morning!
For those of you interested in reading more, go to 4barsrest to see what goes on in the world of banding.
This a great article by Howard Snell, discussing life after Music College and the first steps into the “real world” for a would-be musician.
is a week when I always briefly look back. My first ‘last week of June,’ was in 1956 when my career as a musician started if only because my time as a student ceased. In truth, my career didn’t start: nothing happened. I wasn’t prepared for reality, so it seemed less than nothing, if that were possible.
Those were different days. Not the slightest advice was available or offered to the young. Only a few excerpt books were available to a would-be orchestral musician … Richard Strauss and nothing else that I can remember. ‘Excerpts’ from the orchestral repertoire did not figure in lessons except if the student took a piece in that was listed for an Academy concert, while the practice diet was a meagre ration of studies and pieces with the Haydn and one or two scraps of modern concerti thrown in. How changed things are now. I…
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Bands and orchestras have always had a Conductors. Correct? Sorry, not so!
Nowadays, we are used to seeing conductors, standing in front of their ensemble waving their baton enthusiastically and leading their musicians, hopefully with the common goal of delivering a first-rate performance, but historically they have been a relatively new introduction to the musical world.
In time gone by, it was commonplace for an ensemble to be led or directed by the Leader of the orchestra, who would give all the necessary cues whilst playing and the same would apply when soloists played concertos and they would also lead from the front.
The next stage in the evolution of conductors came with the use of a staff or rod, that was hit on the floor to mark time. This was particularly popular during the 17th Century, but had its drawbacks! Take for instance the case of French Composer, Jean Baptiste Lully, who died from gangrene, having struck his foot with his long conducting staff during a performance of his “Te Deum“. Who could have imagined that being a conductor was so dangerous?
Believe it not, it wasn’t until 1820 when the use of a baton by a conductor in the British Isles was first recorded. This honour fell to the German musician Louis (Ludwig) Spohr, who in his own words stated:
“Quite alarmed at such novel procedure some of the Directors would have protested against it; but when I besought them to grant me at least one trial, they became pacified. The triumph of the baton as a time-giver was decisive, and no one was seen again seated at the pianoforte during the performance of Symphonies and Overtures”.
There are many musicians that might argue, that they play better without a conductor, however the like of Gergiev, Abbado and Karajan have inspired some of the greatest performances ever heard, so they must be doing something right!
For more information about Andrew Jones as a Conductor, please visit www.andrewjonesmusic.com