by Philip Wilby
This study looks at the approach taken by one of the world’s leading brass bands in preparation for a competition. Foden’s Band is based in Cheshire, UK, and is currently ranked as one of the finest brass bands in the world. The band has won many awards over its 100 year-plus history including the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain 15 times and the British Open Championships 12 times. They are renowned throughout the world for playing of the highest quality and perform regularly for audiences across the UK and worldwide.
In May 2022 Foden’s were England’s representative in the European Brass Band Championships, held on this occasion at Symphony Hall in Birmingham. This particular contest contains two rounds.
On day 1, all the bands perform the same set work. Saints Triumphant by Philip Wilby, commissioned for this event, is based on the most famous of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s own hymn tunes, Sine Nomine, composed to be sung to the hymn ‘For all the Saints who from their labours rest’. Wilby says that the music “follows the text closely with a sequence of musical episodes, some combative, and some valedictory. It ends, as does the final verses of the hymn, with a triumphant close. Described by a recent Archbishop of Canterbury as ‘A Christian Agnostic’, Ralph Vaughan Williams was born the son of an Anglican clergyman, and was related to both the naturalist Charles Darwin and the potter Josiah Wedgewood. His ‘English Hymnal’ in particular, has made an indelible mark on English musical life. His music forms a lifetime’s backdrop for many musicians, and this composition for brass band, written under his shadow, is my tribute to his mighty example.”
On day 2 of the contest, the bands select an ‘own-choice’ work. Foden’s performed Eden by John Pickard. The composer’s programme note is available here.
Russell Gray is one of the most successful and highly regarded brass band conductors working today. In this film you can see the rehearsal process, discussions with Russell, and the performances. ConductIT is grateful to World of Brass for their kind permission to use the performance footage.
You may find it useful to read this ConductIT article by Russell on preparing for brass band contests.