After a three-year competition hiatus, the Georgia Brass Band is putting the finishing touches on two pieces with which they hope to wow the First Section judges at the North American Brass Band Association (NABBA) Championships on March 14th. Plenty of tickets are available through Ticketmaster and you can get a lot more information about the host city of Fort Wayne, IN, here.
The North American Championships (yes, there are Canadian bands there, too!) has a similar format to various European championships, which feature different “test” pieces for different “sections.” Each band in a section must play the test piece for a panel of “blind” judges (the judges are seated behind curtains in order to protect the bands’ anonymity). The band with the highest score in each section is the winner.
The North American contest does all of that, but this side of the pond has introduced a few tweaks to the format. For starters – probably due to the distances that North American bands have to travel to get to the contest, each band in the NABBA contest performs not only the test piece, but also “Own Choice” music, which is just what it sounds like: each band picks something else to play. This can be a single piece of music (and normally is) or multiple pieces. The only rule is that both the test piece and the own choice piece(s) must be performed within certain, strict, time periods; and bands that play for too long (or for not long enough) are penalized with deductions from their final score. This can be a challenge. In the GBB’s first attempt at the contest, they had to request that the audience NOT applaud between pieces – in order to save time.
Another difference between the European and North American championships is the placement of bands within sections. The different sections indicate different levels of proficiency. An accurate comparison can be made to baseball levels. The Championship Section in brass banding is equivalent to the Major Leagues in baseball. Just a step below those groups are the First Section in banding (or AAA baseball). Logically, the next lower banding group is the Second Section (AA baseball). The Third Section corresponds to Single-A baseball and so on. NABBA normally also has at least one Youth Section and, often, an Open Section (for bands that, for whatever reason, cannot meet all of the membership or instrumentation requirements to compete).
In European contests, bands are normally placed in the different sections based on the number of points that they’ve earned at various regional contests during the previous x-number of years. Logically, the best competing bands would rise to the Championship Section while bands that scored lower regionally (or which choose not to compete) would fall to the lower sections. A modified version of this seeding process has been kicked around for years at NABBA. For now, however, each band simply chooses which section best fits them. The GBB has elected to compete in the First Section this year. In previous appearances, the band has won this section once and placed 2nd three times – yes: the GBB is the three-time second-place finishers in the First Section!
The test piece for the First Section this year is Gareth Wood’s Brass Triumphant, a rollicking 4-movement piece that is both fun (and tough!) to play and very easy to listen to. The band’s Own Choice piece is equally tough, equally fun, and equally listenable; but the contest’s tradition for secrecy demands that we don’t divulge what it is!
So if you’ve got a few days free next week and want to visit a nice town in Indiana and hear some of the best brass bands on the continent, get yourself to Fort Wayne! You’ll have a great time – and you know the GBB will have one, too….because we’re gunning for those guys in the Central Ohio Brass Band this year.