Are we a Brass Band ?

There can be some pretty sniffy reactions by brass ensembles when some punter calls them a brass band. And to the casual listener the distinction can be somewhat academic. But to answer to the question, no we’re not a Brass Band. Here are some reasons:

  • We’re too small. An up to strength band will have 24 or 25 players plus percussion. We do however take up much much more room. Even as a quintet we sometimes struggle to fit onto a stage you’d have no trouble getting a band on.
  • We use “orchestral” brass instruments. The trombone and tuba of course are used by bands and orchestras, and we also use flugel horns regularly and sometimes one euphonium in our large ensemble repertoire. This really is not such a big deal. The modern trumpet has become very cornet-like in its internal dimensions and the more lyrical qualities of the cornet are as much the result of playing style as physical differences.

  • We don’t play in contests. As a side benefit we don’t have to listen to them either.
  • We don’t wear a uniform. Well I suppose a DJ is a kind of uniform and when we dress down we wear black or coloured shirts. We also don’t do deportment and sometimes wander around the stage looking lost or for music (see remarks in last post on our unique GMS).
  • We can’t get anybody to turn up to rehearsals once a bloody month let alone twice a week.
  • The best bands have a fabulous technical facility and tremendous stamina and range. Now, we have some pretty good players, but see the previous point.
  • Brass bands provide a tremendous and often well structured and organised training ground for young players. Many of the principal players in (probably) the majority of British orchestras started their musical life in banding. We also (as our web site says) seek to encourage and develop new talent but they must be old enough to buy a round in licenced premises.

Many of us in Bristol Brass of course (apart from the horn players who sometimes mix it with the woodwind) have played in a brass band at on time or another. There is a less than flattering picture of me here from my time at Tadley Band in Hampshire. (Yeah, that’s me on Flugel, second one in on the far left).

Seeing this picture after quite a few years reminded me that there’s nothing quite like wearing a second hand uniform.

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Pushing pages

The wedding gig on Saturday went very well for the quintet. Even our sight reading of Sousa’s “Semper Fidelis” march was fine despite it being a 10 piece arrangement and each of us having to cover two parts. Having the appropriate music to play is of course, all part of our unique Bristol Brass “Gig Management System” (GMS) ™. Still, the bride was lovely and there was a fee and some free beer so all’s well with the world.

The next Bristol Brass concert is not until 19th December at St. John’s Church in Axbridge, Somerset followed by a similar event in Weston Super Mare on the 21st. Thanks to our foolproof GMS, except for Paul none of us knows precisely where this gig is. Both concerts will feature the respective church choirs and lots of Christmas favourites.

If you’ve never been to one of our concerts (you see, there are some things to be grateful for) and wonder what we sound like then check out the CD Track Listing page of our website where there are some excerpts of our CD “Music for Metal Instruments”. Or better still visit the Concert Diary page where again, thanks to the indispensable GMS you may find details of forthcoming concerts posted before we actually perform them.

Incidentally, as Christmas is fast approaching and you’re probably looking for some non-naff Christmas cards, try out the Musicians Benevolent Fund website where you can get some classy cards at very reasonable prices.

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Bar too far

First things first, that’s the last of those silly bar number titles. Can’t think what possessed me to use them (keep your thoughts to yourself). Just something to get me started, I suppose.

Next, I should say something more about the Bristol Brass Consort. You could of course, just click on our logo and visit the web site if you want to find out more (on the right if I haven’t changed the style of the blog yet, on the left if you’re reading this after Easter 2006).

But it’s only here that you’ll find those little personal details that flesh out the bare bones and show what a waggish but strangely endearing lot we are.

So, Bristol Brass was formed as a quintet in 1985. Of those original players, three are still with the group – which just goes to show what happens if you don’t practise and fail to get on in the world. Paul (trumpet), John (trombone) and Simon (tuba) are still the mainstay of the ensemble and over the years have compiled most of the repertoire we now delight our audiences with (ok – who said blight !). Liz Lane and Lawrence Dunn (who originally had the idea for Bristol Brass) left fairly soon after the group was formed, so I guess there must have been some artistic differences?

(Liz, Lawrence – get in touch if you’re out there and dish some dirt)

In a future instalment ! How Bristol Brass turned to the dark(ish) side to get a high quality 1st trumpet. (Have to maintain the inerest somehow)

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Bar 3 – Post gig blandness

Well the St. Stephens gig went ok. No bag ladies today, just some old boy who commended me on how my tie reminded him of some some rather nice material he’d seen in a tip the other day. Not a bad sized audience for a Wednesday lunchtime, and at least we seem to have seen off the sparrows. However, not one of our more polished performances and my own playing seems to be uniquely targeted at the terminally hard of hearing at the moment. Hmmmm, must do something about it (as the ghost of long note practice creeps silently out of the room).

What’s next ?

Quintet again at a wedding reception (hooray, booze) near Tetbury this coming Saturday.

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Bar 2 – Top gig

We have our “almost” annual lunchtime concert at St Stephens, Bristol City centre tomorrow at 1.10pm. We always intend for this to be a “safe” outing for any new stuff we’ve been working on, but as invariably happens we’ve all been too busy for any serious rehearsals lately. So it will be a last minute selection of our usual brass quintet standards. Still, there’s little cash in it for us and the typical audience is a small gaggle of office workers with their lunches in plastic boxes, a bag lady (or two) and a couple of confused sparrows. Ah, there’s nothing quite like the big time.

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Bar 1 – Andante trepidico

This seemed like a good idea until the “Start Posting” button appeared. Is a blog an effective way to promote and publicise a symphonic brass ensemble? Maybe, but an advert on the side of the no. 99 bus now seems a far better bet.

Anyway, doesn’t a brass ensemble with some of the South West’s best players sell itself? When they’ve commissioned over half a dozen new works for some of the best young composers in the Bristol area? (Including Will Gregory of Goldfrapp fame). When they’ve performed such virtuoso brass classics as Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Bernstein’s West Side Story at St. George’s Bristol?

Well bugger us, no it doesn’t.

So, how much does that advert cost?

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