I titled my last blog post ‘Brass Banter’ because I was led to believe that everything in the brass band was banter. This weekend, I realised this wasn’t the case.
Let me backtrack. On Saturday, we had what’s called Campus Fest. This was a fantastic afternoon/evening of performances from various music, dance and other entertainment societies and acts on campus. We had two main stages set up as well as a ‘culture corner’ tent with hay bales to sit and listen to some good quality acts. A true festival feel standing outside listening to good music with a burger from the burger van. Everyone I saw really was great from the Barber shop, to the folk group, the solo artists and the big bands, and I was there for pretty much the whole time, except when I popped home for about ten minutes to gather more clothes as it wasn’t quite as warm as expected. All this was then topped off with a big firework display at half past ten accompanied by the headlining act by the music society; a combined medley by the university symphony orchestra and choir.
As well as watching friends and listening to great music, I also had the privilege of actually playing in Campus Fest on the mainstage with brass band. We did a very similar set to our UniBrass set, including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Pocahontas. In fact, it seemed that Disney was a bit of a theme as the final medley was also a Disney number as was discussed at our last band rehearsal. I got quite excited as a Disney lover myself which is when our conductor said to me “well you might as well come along then, we could do with an extra person on the trombone part.” Now, this joke about me playing the trombone had come up a couple of weeks previously because, in case you didn’t know, I don’t play the trombone (although incidentally, have taught it but that’s neither here nor there). So I decided to play along with the joke, laughing and saying “yeah, alright, I’ll just turn up to the symphony orchestra and see what happens, I’m sure they’ll love that.” At which point, our conductor replied, giving me four instructions saying, “great, be at the mainstage at half past ten, bring an instrument and be sober enough to walk up steps.” I suddenly had a horrible feeling that this might not be a joke anymore.
The day before Campus Fest, I found out it was indeed not a joke after asking if he was serious and being told he’s already written me a part. It’s always awkward when you’re joking and the other person isn’t. Anyway, I followed all the instructions and even played some notes, some of which I’m sure must have been on at least one of the parts somewhere. Not really sure how I get myself into these things but for one night ad one night only, I was a part of the university symphony orchestra. I can’t say everything I played was pretty and I did end up sitting next to the one person that asked me not to sit next to them but all in all, it was great fun and at the end of the day, at least I wasn’t the one to drop my trumpet on the concrete giving it a hefty dent just before walking on stage. Although, as much as I enjoyed it, I do think it will be more of a one-hit-wonder kind of deal rather than a debut performance.
Having played in few brass bands, I have often found that conductors are nearly always full of banter, until they want you to do something. Although, it also wouldn’t be fair to restrict the stereotypes to just the conductor. In fact, I think you can tell a lot about a person in a band from what they play. For example, the basses, great, but won’t know what’s going on, ever. (Potentially because they sit so far away). The trombones always want to be the loudest hence why they are also often the most vocal outside of rehearsals too. They also get way too excited when they see the word ‘gliss’ on any part as it makes them feel superior to valved instruments being able to do things that others in the band can’t. The baritones are nearly always the loveliest people in the band and usually relatively quiet people (although secretly aspire to play euphonium). It is a well known fact that the euphoniums are simply the best section of the band, not really much more to say on that, other than everyone else in the band is secretly jealous of their parts and general awesomeness. As for the horns, they are the boss at offbeats but beyond that it doesn’t get much more interesting. This is often (but not always) reflected in their social life outside the band. Then there’s the flugel. If we’re being honest, no one’s quite sure what this is, they like to think they’re in both the cornet and horn section but realistically aren’t in either. However they do get all the nice solos so people are willing to get over their unique individuality. Then we get to the cornets. There’s always an army of cornets and it’s true they probably have the best best banter simply because there’s so many of them but it’s not a secret that together they are trying to take over the band. It’s cornets vs the rest of the band. Then there’s the soprano. Now the sop is a special kind of cornet, sharing the goal of trying to take over the band however their aim is to do this single-handedly. They nearly always aspire to be the conductor while feeling fully integrated in the cornet section, sharing in their banter, although in reality the rest of the section are sick of their screechy notes and would rather they were a section of their own. Finally we come to percussion, how could we forget them? The ones that just want to hit things, but, strangely enough, it’s always the quiet ones. Wonderful people and one thing’s for sure, they’ll keep to time, never early, never late. They will resent the fact that people think it’s not a real instrument, however will rarely, if ever, play what’s on the page. Secretly, they believe themselves to be in control of the band rather than the conductor, they demand the most stage space for probably the smallest section and this is why they are the most fun to watch in concerts. They are also often misjudged and are usually obscenely clever people.
So there you have it, a brass band, full of banter although maybe not the best idea to take everything as a joke. Although having said that, it did result in me having a fantastic day on Saturday and as people kept telling me, what’s the worst that can happen? 🙂