Irish Music for Wind and Brass Bands    -     Choral Music     -    Fintan O'Carroll Church Music

IABCB Choice Pieces 2012

 I see that the choices for National Competition have generated some heat recently which is why I have invited commentators to use this private members forum to express themselves. But let's stay civil please.  I will remove any posts that attack any individual.  Otherwise, enjoy.

Preferably submit your posts to and I will upload them.


Regarding section 1 brass band test piece "Excalibur"

 Submittied By Annie

This is a post regarding next year’s chosen section 1 brass band test piece “Excalibur”.

I like to begin by clarifying that what I’m writing here is purely my own personal views on the issue of next years section 1 brass band test piece, and it does not in any way reflect or include the views of my fellow band members! This is purely my own feelings about what is happening.

First of all, it is no doubt that this test piece is technically on a much higher level than previous years picked and performed test pieces. I think we can all agree on that.

It now appears that a number of people welcome this decision to go for a more advanced test piece and these same individuals believe it is a positive and progressive decision that will bring the Irish brass band movement forward. They appear to be of the opinion that by technically pushing our bands and players we will improve the general level of playing in our section 1 bands and move closer to the performance standard in Europe in general and especially the British bands.

But in all fairness, is this really a realistic expectation?

Ireland compared to Britain has, and always have had a completely different set up of early music education in general. More children in the UK have had/and still has better access to instruments by cheap instrument hire and very good, not too pricey professional tuition compared to Ireland where music education always have and still is very costly (unless you are lucky to live in a small Irish town that has a band school of music and a junior band feeding young players to the senior band). This seem to be slowly changing in Ireland though, and it is great to see that primary schools bring in musicians to teach children music and start up school bands. But this is new to us.

The point is that because of the better UK system, there are naturally a higher number of brass players in Britain to fill the bands. Also, Britain has a sea of bands on all skill levels and because of this it is easy for brass musicians to find a local band to suit their own appropriate playing ability. They also have a wonderful contest set up and contesting is a natural part of what all their bands do regularly.

Our own Irish brass band scene is very small with few bands and because of this I am sure there is a mix of very competent and technically skilled musicians, but also less skilled individuals within the same band. We also seem to have a greater age span within the bands and this needs to be taken in to consideration when looking for an appropriate test piece for a section. 

With all this in mind, is it really realistic to push for a higher standard in the contest?

By doing this we put more pressure on our youngest players who might not yet have reached the level of maturity needed to play a piece like “Excalibur”. Yes, they might be able to learn how to play the fast notes, but there is more to music than playing fast!

We also have to remember our senior members. Are they not usually the most loyal members and the ones that attend more band rehearsals than any players? 

My own band, Stedfast brass, has many members who are in their 70`s or even 80`s.  These senior members are naturally not as technically able as they were 30 years ago, but they have a life-time of banding experience and a wealth of general music knowledge that is invaluable to any band and to any contest as long as the test piece is, on a for them, achievable level. Fergus writes in his own post that he in the past, as an adjudicator, has placed bands that played a slow piece well, ahead of bands that played a fast and for them too difficult piece.

For me that is spot on!

Playing music is not about performing a piece at a much higher tempo than the composer intended, just to show how many fast notes your players can manage. Or, trying to be too ambitious and struggle through a piece you can play technically, but then loose out on musicality. Music is also about understanding emotionally what a composer wants to communicate and about style, timing etc. and this is where our older players exceed the younger.

By going for a technically more advanced test piece we will both exclude our younger players who are still learning and our older players who wouldn’t be physically able for it, and no sensible MD or band committee would be under the illusion that both these groups can push themselves to the level needed to play “Excalibur” in a few months time!

And do most bands not struggle as it is to get people down to rehearse and fill all the band seats for concerts and our yearly contest? Can we afford to loose players who feel they just can’t do it? Give me one band that is not taking in guest players, as it is to fill out sections!

Also, in this recession people are struggling more than ever with work or unemployment. We have less money, which put more pressure on our families, and this in turn will effect how much commitment we can give to band practise and individual practise.

Because of all the above reasons, I believe that putting unrealistic pressure on our band members will only have a destructive effect on our small banding community long term.

Since we also have a choice piece, why not use that one to separate the technically skilled bands in one group from the others instead of picking a test piece that is just too difficult for some. This way bands that can and want to work even harder and advance to a higher level can pick a technically difficult choice piece to work on and to perform and show what they can do. They can impress the adjudicator and get higher points in the contest that way. The winning band then have the choice to compete on the much higher level in Europe if they so wish. 

 In the end of the day, we are amateur musicians who all play and enjoy band practise because of a shared love a music. We also all look forward to the yearly contest and “the buzz” of the whole weekend. It is great to meet up with other musicians and see what is happing on the band scene in other parts of the country.

So please don’t be too ambitious and prevent loyal bands who normally compete and do well, from entering by choosing an unachievable test piece.

No one gains from that!

Kind Regards Annie Daly



Choice pieces 2012

 Here's my personal take on the whole selection process.  Adam Gorb is a very well respected composer throughout the world.  Well done to IABCB for being able to secure his services for the next National Championships.When you have such a person as an adjudicator, you give him the job of picking the test pieces.  This way, every band is treated equally no matter what the category because the adjudicator knows the music backwards and knows what he wants.  This year, the test pieces will all be original band pieces which I see as a huge positive.

Is the test piece too hard or too easy in your opinion?  For me, better to hard than too easy for the following reasons:

  • it keeps the members attention
  • challenges the band thereby (hopefully) inproving it
  • gives a greater sense of achiievement when problems are overcome

When you think the piece is too easy, you're in real trouble.  The chances are that it will come back and bite you in the ass!  I would hate to have (for example) Holst Suite in F as a test piece.  The band can play it standing on their heads but do ALL of  the membership have the inate musicianship to give a perfect performance?  Will the weaker or less experienced players be the Achilles Heal on the day? If you don't believe me, try playing a simple Chorale with your band and see if you get perfect intonation, perfect ensemble, perfect balance and a beautiful musical line in every part.  If not then an easy piece may in fact be a very difficult one.

One way or another, you have a choice piece through which you can show off the strengths of the band to the fullest - but you must make the right choice for the band that you have!   In the past, I have awarded 1st prize to a band that played an easy piece excellently over a band that played a difficult piece less well.  But every adjudicator is different.   

Finally, it's forty three years since I took part in my first band championships.  Since then, nothing has changed in terms of those that  think the test pieces are good and those that think they are bad.  Stop complaining and get on with the work in hand.  It really is the participation that is the greatest achievement.