Conductors Comments | Merthyr 2015

Confluence, William Himes (1991)

Having already sat on and broken my baton and received a text from a certain ‘trombonist’ informing me that he had no shoes, all before lunchtime, I was not exactly filled with confidence for the afternoon to follow.

Upon arrival in Merthyr however, my worries intensified. Having only half an hour for rehearsal on the day was much shorter than can usually be managed. The rehearsal itself was dominated by my internal worries that we should have “saved that runthrough for onstage”. It felt to me as the calm before the storm. The revelation of the three point plan, carefully and lovingly constructed in a bar in Cardiff was additionally problematic; when several members of the band pointed out that it was in fact a “five-and-a-half point plan” where four of the points were not even relevant to the percussion section.

As I sat and waited for our turn to register, I thought about the stiff competition from our section; the experience found at Mid-Rhondda, the take-no-prisoners winning-machine that is Ebbw Valley, the rapid improvement that Crwbin have shown over the last year, the youthful enthusiasm from Ynyshir and the rock-solid consistency from Briton Ferry. As the tension grew inside me I began to wonder whether it was all worth doing. Brass bands are supposed to be something we do for fun. If there was so much pressure, why do we do it?

As Cross Keys Band sat waiting to go on, though I noted how it was not the same Cross Keys Band that waited to walk on at Fishguard. The band looked pretty chilled as they sat around chatting and listening to Crwbin through the wall. Threatened no longer with relegation, and worried no longer about the potential mess that could result from an unfamiliar MD, who perhaps just seemed a little overly excitable, nervous, and inexperienced. After a quick reiteration of the five-and-a-half point plan, this team was ready for anything.

The performance itself went extremely well, with no major hiccups to speak of, and every minor error was recovered from quickly and with little fuss.

Soloists were a particular highlight, with Ellis Davies on principal cornet displaying a remarkable change over the past year, from entries that were once simply nervous to ballsy solos full of a nervous excitement; colourful and focussed, as well as engaging and moving. This performance has been the culmination of the progression I’ve seen from him in the year I’ve been taking the band and I hope this development continues indefinitely. Adrian Hawkins also deserves a special thanks for a great performance of the enormous flugelhorn solo in the middle movement, in sharp contrast to the busy opening movement, it was so full of space and lyricism it was just a shame it was so short (even at 15bpm under tempo!).

Some of the more minor moments deserve a bit of a well-done too, with Repiano player Anne Redman carrying

short, exposed solos, and Richard Salmon and Mike Davies on euph for adding in some really emotive playing into many of the countermelodies, without obscuring the main foci of the texture. The back row also has many exposed entries through the piece, that went in without fail this afternoon which also warrant commendation. I also think that Tim Pickles needs a well done too, for learning a new instrument in order to complete our lineup. I hear my predecessor was a trombonist – big shoes to fill indeed. It’s really great to have so many great musicians in the band, and I’m sorry I can’t talk about you all individually, but you were all great. Thanks.

As a final note on performance I leave you with this thought…

“When I come off stage, I always wish I could go back on and do it all again.”

Steve Davies – 2015

Don’t get too worked-up, because it’s always fun by the end, you’ve just got to remember that at the beginning

Having now done a whole year’s contest cycle, this also seems a fitting place to thank those that have brought me on as a conductor since taking it up. Special thanks to Philip Tedd, David Langley, Alan Bourne, and the Cardiff University Jazz Orchestra for their help in the past, and more recently to Mike Davies and Kerry Bowden as well as the whole of Crosskeys Silver Band for helping me begin to grow into my current role. I hope we can continue to have fun over the next years.

Thank you all.

Benny celebrating his first experience of the top three with the band.
Benny celebrating his first experience of the top three with the band.

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