Saturday, April 10, 2010

NABBA Approacheth

Today's my last day without a brass band rehearsal in it before the North America Brass Band Association (NABBA) contest in Raleigh.  We have our usual Sunday PM rehearsal tomorrow, expanded to a full four hours.  Then on Monday, I work 9-5:30pm, then rehearse from 6-10.  On Tuesday, I work 9-5:30pm, then rehearse from 6-10pm.  And on Wednesday... the same thing happens.

But on Thursday, I finally break the working cycle and head to the airport. 



Off to Raleigh, a city I don't think I've ever visited before.  Raleigh is the second largest city in North Carolina, while Charlotte is the first.  I have been to Charlotte before, playing in the Carolina-area Salvation Army Brass Spectaculars a couple of years ago.  In fact, the man who organizes that, Jamie Hood, is an adjudicator at this contest.  Another adjudicator this year is Frank Renton, who I've spoken about before (he was a judge at the Scottish Open in November and recordings of our performances appeared on his BBC radio show).

The required test piece this year is "Variations on an Enigma" by Philip Sparke.  For those of you new to my brass band competition posts, each competing band prepares two pieces.  The first is selected by the NABBA committee far in advance and is required by every band in a particular section.  "Enigma" is the required piece for each band in the Championship section.  And -- just for fun -- Mr. Philip Sparke is ALSO a judge.  He's either a really good sport, or a glutton for punishment to agree to hear five or six American bands attempt his piece.  Or maybe he's a composer that just loves hearing his pieces get playtime.  Or they paid him a fortune in Big Macs to come.  Whatever the reason, I'm anxious to hear his opinions on our performance.

The second piece that every bad performs has traditionally been a second "test piece", approximate in length and difficulty to the required piece.  Due to confidentiality and competition rules, the bands are kept anonymous when announced on stage ("This is band B").  The judges know which pieces are to be performed, but they do not know which band is which, nor which piece is performed by which band.  In keeping with that, I'm not going to say what our second piece is -- only that it is difficult. More so because this year, because both test pieces are performed back to back.  Each band must have the endurance to get through 30 minutes of difficult music while not collapsing (in the structural sense, though the physical sense is also a possibility).

Part of the difficulty with the anonymity is that I don't really know who we're competing against, and won't until I arrive to see a program.  The process is so secretive (or the website has such a problem being updated) that there isn't even a list of which groups are attending.  I assume that James Madison University will be there -- we've picked up a couple of their players over the years as they move on for higher music degrees.  The Chicago Brass Band may be there, Florida may, BB of the Potomac may...  I'm sure our band president has a much better idea, but as a lowly bass trombonist...

People who have been doing it for years may have built up a sense of who the various bands are, but I confess that this NABBA (my third) still hasn't resolved in my brain.  It always seems like it is us "blue shirts" against the "red shirts" and the "yellow shirts" and the "black shirts".  The only time I ever see or hear about these bands is at the two contests we do.  And since not every group shows up every time, it kind of becomes a wash. 

So I tend to compete against myself.  I've certainly improved in the years I've been playing with Fountain City.  And this NABBA will probably be no different.  I've never performed absolutely the way I've wanted to on stage, so I'd imagine I'll inch a biiiit closer this year.

I also listen to other bass trombonists.  Are they catching my attention for the right or the wrong reasons?  What's their sound like?  Are they primarily attack oriented, or do they have the goods to stretch to the appropriate end of sound?  Do they balance into a section, or is it just a big lung honking away because the director won't shut 'em up?

I'm not acquaintences with any other brass band bass trombonists.  Having played in several groups, I know many multiples of other instruments.  But since a brass band only ever contains one bass trombone, for every group I've played with it's been ME.  There's not a whole lot of opportunity for me to meet others "of my kind".  I did meet a Bass trombonist in Scotland, but he was there in his role as a photographer.  Perhaps that means I'm building up a latent competitive spirit that has no outlet.  Or maybe it kills whatever individual competitive drive I might have.

One thing I do like about having competed several times is that now I have an ever-growing mental library of pieces.  So that when I heard a band doing a piece that we've done, I can make a better comparison between the performance and however Fountain City Brass Band did it last time.

I'm sure I'll have more to say as I proceed through this tough week.

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