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My British Open Experience with Grimethorpe

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

For a 43 year old, I consider myself to have very limited top level brass band experience.

I played at the National Finals in The Royal Albert Hall a few times with The Staffordshire Band in the early 2000’s (see picture) but didn’t have much top band experience when I was younger.

Mark Glover on stage at the Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall

However, that being said, I feel that I’ve been lucky enough to have similar if not more high profile soloist experience from around the world than your average top level brass band member might have. Here is a picture of me in Brazil for example.


Mark Glover soloist in Brazil
Soloist in Brazil

Upon joining The Grimethorpe Colliery Band, one thing on my mind was the British Open contest, mainly because I had only ever performed there once before and never on the solo euphonium seat. I had attended many times and was inspired by so many amazing euphonium players. Here I am playing with The GUS Band in 2011 where we came 8th.


GUS Band at The Open 2011
GUS Band at The Open 2011

I was extremely excited about doing The Open with Grimethorpe, but also a bit anxious. I really wanted to do a great job! I have always been a confident person and ready to face anything but maybe since Covid, I had been struggling with anxiety which spilt over into my music making and it has taken me a while to get rid of it and get back to feeling normal in my head. But that is life, we hit little bumps and have to move forwards.


What to do then? The answer was easy. Practice harder than ever before, prepare in every way possible and believe that I have what it takes.


My preparation for The Open began as soon as I found out what the test piece was. Sand and Stars by Thierry Deleruyelle. Basically, one of the hardest test pieces ever to be used at the contest but surely, one of the most popular as well.


I had a recording of the piece and I first spent time listening to it. In the car, at home, before falling asleep etc. I wanted to get an overall picture of the music in my mind so I could almost imagine the whole piece from beginning to end.


Next, as with any new music, my starting point is always to play it through at half tempo. If there are any parts I cannot do at half tempo, I will do at a quarter tempo. My aim is to perfect it at this tempo, including all dynamics and style points, building strong foundations. My target for this to be completed was one week.


Baring in mind that my daily practice routine is very flexible. Some days I get longer than others but on average I spent one hour on the test piece, but always in addition to my own daily maintenance routine and various other daily drills and repertoire.


Usually, after perfecting it at half tempo, I can just play anything then at full tempo, maybe with a little bit of tweaking. This was not the case with Sand and Stars. I needed to gradually wind up the tempo because there were so many technical challenges in the music. I also spent a lot of time working on scales because there were a lot of fast running passages in the piece.


I separated solo passages from the rest of the work and treated those a bit differently. Firstly, I started recording myself and listening back, trying to imagine what the adjudicator would want to hear. I also sent a recording to the conductor to get some feedback. I would play solo passages 10 times in a row, aiming for consistency and grading myself after every attempt. I also tried to memorise all the solo passages.


My progress was slow but I was happy because I had plenty of time. My target was to have the piece 100% perfect before the start of rehearsals after the summer break.


Once I started getting more confident, I added a new practice routine into my daily playing. In the evening, every day, I would run the test piece through with a practice mute (Denis Wick, black one) and play along to the recording. Initially, I found that I was getting tired at the end but over time, and by focussing on more relaxation, this improved to the point where I could comfortably play the test piece through twice. Using the practice mute just guaranteed that I was playing at the volume I would need to with the full band. At home, I feel like I have a tendency to under play dynamics so the mute helps counter this.


For me, the bigger part of performing at The Open was the physiological challenge. Imposter syndrome. 4barsrest comments. Wob Play live stream. Massive concert hall. Massive audience with many people I know. Expectations of a famous band. Etc etc. These are all things I did not want to be thinking about when walking on the stage, so I put some plans into motion. I am not going to go into details here of all my strategies (apart from one coming up) because it is all very personal, but I would be happy to discuss with anyone individually if you are interested in this sort of ‘mind-stuff’. Some can be found in a past blog post.


One idea I used was this. I could sit in my practice room at home and play the piece perfectly. Every person that was going to be watching the contest existed somewhere at the time of my practice but they were insignificant, they had no impact on my quality of performance. I could sit in the band room and play perfectly. Every person that was going to be watching existed at the time of the band rehearsal but they were insignificant, they had no impact on my quality of performance. On the stage, all those people existed, they may have been in the hall or watching online but they were insignificant. Maybe apart from my wife and daughter, who were sat at the very top of the hall and probably more nervous than me!


This is a very weird thought because normally, in any concert or performance, the audience are at the forefront of my mind. I am entertaining them and they are very important. For a contest like this though, which is judged by 3 adjudicators, it is pointless giving the audience or the occasion any more thought than I would have when sitting at home by myself. It is actually quite a clever concept in my opinion but I also appreciate, to others, it might sound bonkers!


By the time we started rehearsals after the summer break, I was confident and ready. This was about 3 or 4 weeks before the big day. My practice at home consisted of my daily routine, a test piece run through (no mute) and then for the rest of my practice I would work on other music. I had moved past the need to practice the test piece. I know some players don’t like to peak too soon but for me, without insulting anyone, that is a very lower section band mentality. Just perfect the piece and maintain its consistency, end of story. Your peak is your peak and you should never drop below it.


Playing for a band like Grimethorpe made this contest easier in a way because they are a busy band. We perform to sell out audiences and play heavy concert programmes. Sometimes with a test piece in the concert, so one 20 minute performance of a set test in a contest would be easy.

Grimethorpe Colliery in concert
Grimethorpe Colliery in concert

The big day arrived and I kept expecting the nerves to kick in but they didn’t really at all. Actually the most nervous I felt was waiting for the result of the draw to see which order the band would play in. We drew 13 so I met up with my wife and daughter, went in to watch the first band and then I went back to the hotel for a 2 hour nap.


We had another rehearsal in the afternoon before heading back stage. The spanner in the works however was the heat. No one expected it to be as hot as it was in September and for some reason it seemed The Symphony Hall in Birmingham had no air conditioning. It was clearly causing some players some trouble and this was the topic on everyone’s lips. I purposely kept myself to myself, I’m not interested in what other bands did, who split notes, which bands were awesome. At this point it is all about belief in me. I like playing in warm conditions; I performed in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil etc. I would prefer it to be warm…this is what I kept telling myself anyway! This picture shows me after a recital I gave in Pune, India. No air con in the hall and I was very sweaty after!

Mark Glover in India
Soloist in India

On stage it was brilliant. The band played very well, yes things could have been better in some places but I was pleased with how I performed. I always feel that I should have taken more risks or should have done something more or that something wasn’t quite my best but I know I am hard on myself and wouldn’t have it any other way. The comments from friends and people in the hall were lovely and I still didn’t really believe it was me playing with Grimethorpe.

Grimethorpe at The Open 2023.
Grimethorpe at The Open 2023

The most rewarding thing for me was reading the adjudicators comments because to be recognised by very distinguished judges is very empowering, especially when there is a big, important cadenza in the test piece and it just helps to know that what you are doing is right. Here are snippets from the adjudicators comments.




I did have a little emotional ‘moment’ back at the hotel alone after, where I felt relief or maybe it was just pride. Everyone who performed had put in huge amounts of work and time and when you get a good result it is an amazing feeling. When you do not get a decent result you just have to get back up and try again but I appreciate this is one of the frustrating sides to brass band contests.


Some great time was spent ‘after hours’ having a few beers, socialising with the band, meeting new people and catching up with old friends. A fantastic weekend and I cannot wait to do it again next year!


4th place was a brilliant result and for me, the next day I was back home in my cellar practice room working on something else, playing to my cat, looking forward to the next challenge.



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Mark Glover

Sept 2023

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1 Comment


robin
Sep 20, 2023

Interesting and well written, Mark. You and Grimethorpe did very well. A little comment: I'd mention your considerable international solo experience, before mentioning that you have less top tier band experience. I feel you're selling yourself short. You are a top tier soloist who's making the leap into top tier banding. Most soloists graduate from the outside seat to the front of the band. You're graduating in reverse! When Alison and I were talking to Steven Mead before he played Principal Euphonium with WEFL Fairey Band at RNCM in January 2022, he openly confessed his nerves and anxiety about playing in the band instead of in front of the band. You've faced up to your nerves and triumphed as noted …

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