Jaime Rolfe Interview: Playing with Brisbane Excelsior, Performing Solo on Soprano Cornet and Thoughts on 2018 Nationals Panel of Adjudicators
I had a chance to ask Brisbane Excelsior's Soprano Cornetist Jaime Rolfe some questions about playing with Australia's leading brass band, as well as her experiences as a soprano cornet soloist. We also discussed the Melbourne Nationals in 2018, and her thoughts on the panel of adjudicators.
Jared: When did you start playing brass? How did you progress to becoming the Soprano Cornet player of Australia's greatest band of the last decade?
Jaime: I started playing the trumpet in primary school at the age of 8. I was involved with concert bands and orchestras until taking a break after completing music degrees at Newcastle and Sydney Conservatoriums. In 2000, I switched to the soprano cornet and joined Waratah Brass when John Kellaway (my trumpet teacher in Newcastle) asked me if I'd be interested in giving it a go. John was conducting the band at the time, no one told me it was a high pressure chair so I went in without any expectations and loved it.
I permitted with Excelsior in New Zealand in 2008, and when I moved to Queensland in 2009, I joined the band. Every contest and performance is a challenge. I strive to maintain a high standard and am always trying to improve.
What is it like playing with Brisbane Excelsior?
I love playing with Brisbane Excelsior. The relationships within the band is what makes it so awesome. Some of my closest friends are current or ex-players in the band. The band has changed a lot since I first joined but there are always high expectations on everyone. The work ethic of the band has always been very high since I've been there. We rely on everyone to do their bit and practice, so the band can grow together.
We have been very fortunate to have Howard as conductor of the band for such a long time. He has invested a lot of time and energy into the band and has largely contributed to the successes of the band over the past decade. Howard expects a high standard from all players in the band at all times.
Brisbane Excelsior were the 2017 New Zealand Champions, narrowly beating Wellington Brass. How did the band react to their victory, in light of Wellington's success at the 2015 Australian Nationals in New South Wales?
It was a wonderful victory, enjoyed very much by all. We knew it would be tight at the top end and there were a few bands in the mix but we were determined to do our best. There was such a great display of top banding but our dedication and determination paid off coming out with the victory.
We have enjoyed a friendly rivalry with Wellington and Dave Bremner over the last couple of years, and we are always happy to share a drink or two post-results. I think it is important that the top bands keep pushing each other so we all develop and continue to make better music.
Brisbane Excelsior will be returning to the Australian National Championships in 2018. What will the band be aiming for at the contest?
As always, we aim to put on the best performance possible. Of course we love to win, however, if we don’t, but know that we have all put in our best efforts, then we will accept the results. We are happy if we walk off stage knowing there was nothing left to give and each member has given 100%.
The Melbourne Nationals next year will see a panel of adjudicators, rather than only one adjudicator. Do you have any thoughts on this move by the VBL? What is your stance on how contests should be adjudicated?
I think it is a great idea to have a panel of adjudicators as opposed to just one. For years, there have been people speculate over the results and of course, there are always critics of the results. By having three adjudicators, it should hopefully ease the minds of the few with doubts over the results and provide a more accurate standing of the bands that compete.
Brass bands have historically been male dominated, particularly in the upper grades. Being a high-achieving female performer, do you think brass banding should be more accommodating for female musicians, particularly in upper grade bands?
I've had absolutely no dramas being a female in the banding world. I have never felt in any way disadvantaged or uncomfortable. Excelsior has a strong female representation and they are chosen to play their position based on ability, not gender. For example, since I have been in the band, we have had three amazing female Principal cornets who have done the job remarkably in Australia, New Zealand and England for the British Open.
You have also guested with New Zealand brass bands. How does the New Zealand banding scene compare to Australia?
New Zealand have a very high standard in A Grade and I have found it to be very similar. As I touched on before, Excelsior have a friendly rivalry with a lot of bands and I maintain friendships with a lot of people from New Zealand. Every band I have ever guested with both in NZ and Australia have been excellent hosts. I always have a lot of fun wherever I go.
You have been an extremely successful soloist, with a number of National and Queensland State Soprano Cornet Championships under your belt, plus the 2015 National Open Champion of Champions. What do you love so much about the soprano cornet?
I love the challenge the instrument presents. I enjoy that I have my own part in the band and that there are so many different sounds and timbres you can achieve through the different registers and dynamics.
When it comes to playing solos, I love playing solos that are specifically written for soprano. I do find that I have had to use a lot of Horn and transposed cornet solos to expand my repertoire. I also spend a lot of time preparing the solos because again, I like to keep my standard as high as I can get. When there is the opportunity to have a lesson with a visiting guest, I always take the opportunity to improve on even the smallest thing.
I think that the solo competitions should mirror how it is done in New Zealand and be held before the banding contest. This would let the soloist go and compete and then focus all their attention on the contest stage with their band. It is always hard to refrain from celebrations and catching up with friends after the results so I can prepare for the solo competition on Monday. This might also encourage more people to compete.
How do you push yourself as a player to improve, both as a soloist and an ensemble player?
I always seek advice from other musicians. We have been very lucky to have many very talented conductors and players through the doors at Excelsior. I love spending time with guests we have; the knowledge that they pass on is invaluable. Howard has always been very supportive and has pushed me to improve. There's always room to improve, everything can be done better. PRACTICE!
How do you think we can keep Australasian banding going strong?
I hope that bands and players continue to strive to improve, so that young people stay involved and our movement doesn’t fade away. Banding is an important part of our culture, giving amateur musicians an avenue to pursue their music at all levels of ability. We have a lot of very talented amateur musicians in the banding world. I love it when we get visits from international artists and I hope they continue to think that Australia is a worthwhile place to visit, so that all the bands in Australia (and New Zealand) from A grade to D grade can benefit from the knowledge they bring.
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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.