At last, the final instalment of my Preview and Prediction series for the Australian National Band Championships for 2017. With a week to go, it has been exciting to go through all the competing bands and recognise their achievements and motivations going into this year's very exciting competition.
For those of you who are visiting my website for the first time, I am a Melbournian composer and arranger, and am currently studying brass band composition at University of Salford under the mentorship of Dan Price, Peter Graham, Tom Davoren and Robin Dewhurst. If you would like to have a look at some of my music, make sure to visit here for my self-published works, including a B-Grade test piece Buckley and three hymn settings for bands of all standards.
The A grade this year is set to be an incredible contest with 15 competitors from around Australia and beyond. This will be some of the best banding in Australasia across a fantastic weekend of music. Looking to retain their National title are Central Coast, but with bands like Brisbane Excelsior, Warringah Concert and Wellington Brass competing this year, there is no clear front runner in the competition.
Test Piece - 'Time Machine' by Thomas Doss
This selection certainly puts the "test" in test piece. 'Time Machine' will not be an easy work for any of the bands. Like most Thomas Doss test works, this selection will challenge bands rhythmically, with cross rhythms, difficult tempo changes and no respite even in the slower mid-section of the work. Furthermore, every single part is exposed at some point in the work, so bands will struggle to hide their weaker sections. Tuned percussion players will also be in high demand, with many sophisticated parts to be conquered. In my opinion, 'Time Machine' lacks the opportunity for bands to showcase their musical sensibility, but will definitely be a strong assessment of a band's technical prowess.
None of the competing bands at the 2018 Nationals have performed 'Time Machine' before, yet Doss' compositions have been a regular selection for many of Australia's top bands. At the 2016 Victorian State Championships, the A Grade bands were tested by 'REM-Scapes', while Central Coast, Preston and Willoughby have all selected Doss works as own choices once across the last three National contests. Doss' compositional technique and sound is very similar across his works, so I believe bands who have played his style will have a great advantage over the other bands. For that reason, my money is on Preston to likely win the Test Piece, having played both 'REM-Scapes' at the 2016 States and 'Spiriti' at the 2016 Nationals.
However, I think the competition will be greatly shaped by the other three on-stage categories. For example, at the previous three Nationals, the winner of the Hymn work has been the overall on stage winner. Would a strong hymn selection this year define the competition again?
I am, however, most interested in the Own Choice selections, which are yet to be announced. It would be fantastic to hear bands tackle the likes of Thierry Deleruyelle's 'Fraternity', Peter Graham's 'Angels and Demons' and Paul Raphael's 'Destination Moon'. All very ambitious works, but a fantastic performance would secure a red hot chance of a National title.
Perhaps we will see some world premieres in the Hymn and Own Choice sections with a number of bands with close ties to emerging composers. Sonamu Brass have an in-house composer Dong-gyu Kang, Footscray have close ties with New Zealand composer Todd Smith and Brisbane Excelsior's principal horn Benjamin Tubb-Hearne also composes for his band and beyond. A brand new work may be the deciding factor in a competition of 15 fantastic bands! I can't wait to see the selections made by the bands!
The A Grade is looking to be an intense section and an incredible competition.
From Australia, Brisbane Excelsior looks to be the band to beat, having held the Australian National title for the majority of the last decade. They come to Melbourne as the New Zealand National Champions, as well as Queensland State Champions for 2017. Also from Queensland are the South Brisbane Federal Band (the 2017 Ian Mathers Trophy Winners), and Brisbane Brass, who both may be stretched by a challenging test piece compared to the 2017 Queensland State Championship A Grade test work Oliver Waespi's 'The Raid'.
Central Coast Brass, led by Conrad Curry, are the reigning Australian National Champions after their Launceston victory. However, it can only be questioned how the band will go against a list of 15 bands, compared to the mere 7 bands competing last year. Also coming down from NSW are the NSW State Champions Warringah Concert Brass, who will be confident after narrowly knocking off the current National Champions. They are also joined by the 2012 National Champions City of Holroyd Brass Band, and Willoughby City Band, who placed 3rd at the 2017 NSW State Championships.
From South Australia, we have Tanunda Brass, a quiet battler in the A Grade section and, on a good day, have the capacity to take out a title. The only Tasmanian A Grade contender Glenorchy City Concert Brass is in a similar position, and will hope to perform better than they did at their home state Nationals last year!
Four bands enjoy a home state advantage. Leading the charge is red hot contender Footscray Yarraville, who have placed in the top 3 at the last two Nationals, plus earned the Victorian State Championship title in 2017. Darebin City Brass Preston Band will be hunting for victory after failing to win their 5th consecutive state title, as well as being let down by a tough Good Friday performance last year. Kew Band is making their first Nationals appearance since 2014, but enjoy the competition being around the corner from their band hall. The band with nothing to lose are Boroondara, having been promoted from the B grade after their previous two comfortable Nationals victories. While they will likely struggle with the Test Piece, a well-played Own Choice selection may surprise some of the more experienced A Grade bands.
However, I am most excited by the two international bands coming in to compete. Firstly are the Korean Sonamu Brass Band. The band looks young, but they sound impressive online, and cannot possibly imagine the showstopping performance I am sure they would be capable of producing at the Nationals. The big contender though will be Wellington Brass. Disappointed to not be able to secure the 2017 New Zealand National title after Excelsior knocked them off, I am sure they will be fired up for success back on Australian soil. They have called in Nigel Seaman to conduct, so I would suggest that the A Grade competition should be on their best form, because I think Wellington may well be the band to beat.
With that all in mind, here are my predicted top 5 bands:
1) Wellington Brass
2) Brisbane Excelsior
3) Footscray Yarraville
4) Warringah Concert Brass
5) Darebin City Brass - Preston Band
Wild Cards: Sonamu, South Brisbane Federal, Central Coast.
What do you think of my predictions? Let me know in the comment section below!
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Jared loves to share his passion for music and artists through music reviews and commentaries. These include a selection of reviews written for community radio stations 3MBS and Radio Monash.