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Southampton Concert Wind Band

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National Concert Band Festival - November 2021

By Chris James (SCWB Chair)

What do we want? PLATINUM! When do we want it? 2021!

It has to be said, Southampton Concert Wind Band has a bitter / sweet relationship with NCBF. No more so than in our first involvement in 2012. The idea of putting the band up for judgement and criticism was greeted with very mixed feelings by band members. The motivation, supported by the committee, was to create an opportunity to move away from rehearsing ten or so pieces for a concert, and make space to work in the minutest detail on just three pieces - to find every possible nuance and detail within those pieces, and bring them all out in a single, intense performance. Reservations were overcome; SCWB entered our first NCBF, and came away with our first, of which was to be many, platinum award.

Pandemic. Lockdown. The music stopped. With COVID hitting the world, it is safe to say that everybody has been affected. In the environment of serious disease, economic difficulties and deaths, it is hard to lament the loss of music making. Music making is, though, a large part of the lives of many, and a source of pleasure and balance in otherwise difficult lives. Whenever the opportunity arose, SCWB were back in rehearsal, albeit in a cut down, COVID safe way. As restrictions lifted, sheet music came out for public performance. The first outing was a bandstand appearance in August, and then an indoor concert in October. The programme was picked, acknowledging there was some 'getting back into the swing of things', to do - music familiar, and not too challenging. But SCWB hit the ground running, and the challenge of NCBF was perfect for the reintroduction of precision and detail into rehearsal. Led by our MD, Calum Gray, SCWB was ready to step into the NCBF arena again.

SCWB entered into an NCBF regional event, only for that event to be cancelled. There were simply not enough bands at the stage of preparedness to enter to make the event viable. Thinking we had fallen at the first hurdle, we were delighted to be then offered the opportunity of NCBF coming to us! An adjudicator was assigned to us, who we would perform for at our own rehearsal venue. We were back on.

Our adjudicator was Duncan Stubbs, who not only graded us on behalf of NCBF, but also offered to lead a 90 minute workshop afterwards. Our festival set was:

Though we did not know it, Duncan arrived early and listened to us warming up. From what he heard, he thought a secure Gold award was a likely outcome. Of course, what he was listening to in the warm up were carefully selected elements of the set which needed an 'on the day' run through. They were, by definition, our weakest areas in the pieces. In his feedback Duncan was very happy to say that in performance, SCWB played not one, but several notches above the warm up level.

Performing in an NCBF event can be nerve-racking. A band exposes itself to judgement, their flaws laid bare. It is an immense amount of work for the Music Director, who must study the music intimately; planning and leading rehearsals within the inevitable time constraints. The feedback, however, is always constructive. It highlights for a band their qualities that they can build on, and areas of performance that can be improved. The attention to detail within preparation is a discipline that can only enhance the rehearsal and performance experience which is sustained well after the festival. It becomes the new norm.

And the outcome for 2021 - what did we achieve? PLATINUM!

We are delighted to share this recording from the performance - watch and judge for yourselves!