Preparing for Band Competitions

Imagine if you were a conductor engaged to rehearse and conduct a performance in a competition. You must study the music very carefully before you venture into your first rehearsal. You must be able to conduct the piece and have a clear vision of what the music means and how it is going to sound. Then you must be able to hear any technical issues that your band may not be able to fix. It will be the conductor’s job to find solutions to those problems and be able to inspire the musicians to perform at their peak when they are on stage. 

In some cases, there can be in excess of twenty bands at a competition playing the same piece. How can you maximise your chances of a successful result? Your task is to be remembered, to stand out from the crowd, be different from everyone else. There will be many decisions that you have to make. Most of them are musical, but perhaps some will be tactical.

-Russell Gray

Competitions are a big part of the amateur music sector, especially for wind and brass bands. One should not underestimate the power of competition. Working towards a common goal may not only improve motivation and raise the musical level of the band, but social factors are also important motivators for band participation. Playing at a level that makes the band succeed in competitions may positively affect the sense of ownership, pride and belonging to the band and influence the identity of the musicians (Bårdsen, 2017)*. 

Renowned brass band conductor Russell Gray has enjoyed considerable success within the world of brass band competitions with leading ensembles in Norway, Denmark, Finland, France, Switzerland, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Switzerland. career as a conductor began in 1998 when he was appointed as the resident musical director of the Stavanger Brass Band (Norway). Since then his reputation as an authoritative interpreter of brass band music has been acknowledged at home and aboard. More about Russell here.

Russell will in his text below enlighten some of the musical and tactical choices that conductors consider in their preparation for competitive music-making. He will also take you through a suggested timeline to performance and advice on the different leadership roles conductors may need to tackle before stepping onto the podium.

The text specifically addresses brass band competitions, but much of the content is highly relevant for other competing ensembles as well.

Open pdf here:

If you are interested in reading more about brass band instrumentation, layout and competition grading standards (in the UK), you may also want to read this by conductor Alex Webb:

*Bårdsen, Haldis. (2017). An ethnographic case study of a multiple award-winning school brass band in Bergen, Norway. Retrieved from here. 

Scroll to Top