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My Experience - 2024 Yorkshire Regional Brass Band Championships, Grimethorpe Band.

Having just taken part in my first Yorkshire Brass Band Championships with The Grimethorpe Colliery Band, I have decided to follow on from blog posts I wrote in the past about my experience playing at high profile contests with this famous band.

Grimethorpe Band 2024

Out of all the regional competitions around the UK, which are used as a qualification method for the championship section national finals at The Royal Albert Hall, few deny that the Yorkshire area has perhaps the largest number of quality bands entered. It is even said that the first section in Yorkshire, rivals championship sections in other regions.

To sit in this band and sit on that stage is again, completely crazy for me to contemplate. I still do not believe it and not one day passes where I don't have pure happiness, massive gratitude and sometimes absolute fear, that this is part of my life. I do not take it for granted.

As with all the other championship section brass bands in the UK, we had to perform Philip Sparke's test piece, Variations On An Enigma. I remember, in my first year studying at The Royal Welsh College of Music, I went to watch the Welsh regional contest when this was the test piece and I enjoyed watching all the euphonium players tackle the deceivingly difficult cadenza and solo passages.

I have to confess, I am not a fan of Philip Sparke's music. I know that he is probably the most popular brass band composer and for good reason. I appreciate his music and recognise the importance of his music on the brass band world but just for me personally, I generally do not like it. Perhaps it is music which naturally tests all my weak points as a player, maybe I should work harder to learn all of his test pieces in preparation for the next time.

Grimethorpe Band are busy, so our preparation for the contest didn't properly start until a few weeks before the big day. I had worked on my part at home and mostly it is easy to play but boy, some bits were frustrating. As a player, I pride myself on consistency and I don't think there is anything out there I cannot play technically but I struggled to get consistent with this test piece. Was it psychological, I am not completely certain.

But there were a few other things on my mind in the lead up to the contest that I was struggling to shake, just things in my life, family (there was a death in the family for example) and maybe some circumstances within the band were on my mind.

A couple of things that threw me off a lot were an annoying chesty cough which wasn't going away and wasn't helping my breathing. Also my euphonium (which had recently been professionally serviced), it was amazingly like brand new, but I struggled to get back settled into playing it, something had shifted, it didn't feel like my euphonium anymore and part of me regretted having it cleaned.

Playing for a big band like Grimethorpe, you have to be your best and I work so hard to maintain that standard but I have never really had to juggle that yet with the general challenges life throws your way. I cannot make excuses and must strive to be better. I am still new to this level of banding so I am always learning and I know I will only grow in confidence the more I experience these things.

Our conductor Michael Bach, arrived one week before the contest to whip us into shape ready for the big day. Rehearsals were exciting but still I felt that the band were not settled and consistency was the main issue. Did other bands or players feel like this I wonder? Maybe, despite me not liking the test piece, I have to come to the conclusion that this is a very cleverly written piece, designed to test brass bands in every possible way.

On the day itself, as usual the worst part for me was the draw. I hate waiting to find out what number we will play because it always has a big impact on the day and potentially the result! We were drawn to play last (12th), so more waiting!

The lead up to this contest had been tiring and I was honestly hoping for an early draw and earlier trip back home. Again, not a good sign that my head was in the right place.

I think there has to be a better way for brass band competitions to be run so that every band can know the draw in advance. I understand the challenges this creates but when you get ready, warmed up, for a rehearsal only to then decide the rehearsal will be another 4 or 5 hours later, it's just unreasonable. Not a side of contests that I enjoy even though, depending on the location of the contest it can sometimes be fine.

For some contests, perhaps it is easier to kill the time but for me at this one, it felt such a long boring day. I had my family with me so we went to a local park and then listened to the first two bands. Hammonds, who played 2nd were brilliant and could easily have featured higher in the results. Their solo euphonium player, who I believe is a young student, sounded great.

I normally like listening to bands before going on stage but on this occasion, I think the occasion itself started to sink into my mind and made me feel more nervous. There were well respected brass musicians and press in the audience, plus other players and this played on my mind a little. Just something I need to learn to cope with but imposter syndrome was on full power!

I worked hard on my positivity over the time we had to wait and once it was our turn to get on stage I was feeling very chilled out and excited. I think again for me it is all a learning process. Some members of Grimethorpe and other top bands have been doing this all their lives and I just have to learn as I go and keep doing my best.

On stage, I gave my all, trusted in my preparation, but wasn't 100% happy with my performance. I am never 100% happy with my performance and maybe I am too hard on myself.

Our performance was a long way off the best we had in us and the fact we still came 4th just shows the massive potential that Grimethorpe Colliery Band has. Some very nice (maybe polite) comments from people in the hall and some very nice comments in the adjudicators remarks. I think we were lucky to have played last and if we had played earlier in the day, with the same performance, wouldn't have been in the top 6.

Here is an audio clip from the euphonium duet and then solo section in the performance. Probably my favourite moment.

What next then? A massive load of work, more practice, new music to learn and new experiences to be had. Feel free to comment below if you attended any regional competitions. Congratulations to all that won prizes!

Thanks for reading ❤

Mark Glover


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04 mar

Mark: You're living the good life. You never expected this to be easy, did you? You feel "I could have played better", everybody else thinks "how does Mark play so well!" Jamie got "best cornet". And remember, Grimethorpe were fourth, so another 8 hoped to do better.

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