Review: Waratah Brass Presents ‘Band in Bits’

February 12, 2012 Off By R B

Band in Bits:  Lake Macquarie Performing Arts Centre, Warners Bay
Waratah Brass (Steven English)
Review by GSM

Entering the Performing Arts Centre one could hear and feel a sense of anticipation for this concert as it was the first offering from Waratah Brass for its 2012 season of performances. Band members eagerly chatting with the audience. Ticket sellers busily assisting a line of those waiting to find seats and the chatter of interest when a “Programme” was first viewed just seeing what was on offering for today’s listening pleasure. It was obvious this was a day some had been waiting for just so that they could once again see the sights, and hear the sounds of this Band. 

David Wilks & Allan HumbleyLooking at the title of this concert one didn’t gain any real insight as to what we could expect as it actually sounded like the band had either broken some instruments or we were only to hear a portion of the band. I soon found a full band splendid in attire entering to the applause of a near full concert hall. Then from the opening work Andross Castle I could see we were not going to be disappointed with the quality of the works chosen for this afternoon.

Professor David King famous throughout the world of Brass was a resident of this region by birth who previously led The YBS Band. Waratah’s opening feature was the 1st Movement of Hymn of the Highland (Philip Sparke) a major composition written for Dr King and that band. Today’s opening rendition was quality- it had light and shade, good intonation and splendid solo work portions. 

Band in Bits, a clever title, was a reference to the fact that just about every section of the band had their BIT to do during this afternoon. We were given an array of solos, duets, ensembles and band works one would need to travel far and wide to hear on any other concert, all presented by this local band “Waratah Brass”.

The Salvation Army music world has produced many fine musicians, composers and published huge numbers of brilliant band works. Colonel Norman Bearcroft a retired Salvation Army Officer composer / conductor was first to be featured with his Open-Air style gospel shot testimony piece Just like John (Bearcroft). This is based on the Negro Spiritual words ‘I wanna be ready to walk in Jerusalem just like John’. Every section of the band gets a go at playing this theme in a jazz idiom ending with the entire ensemble of Cornets in full array. Despite being something like 35 years old this number still stacks up today as one difficult piece this band seemed to enjoy playing.  

Later in this concert we were privileged to have the bands Euphonium players Ossie Jellyman and Steven Grice perform Bearcroft’s Timepiece duet. Loosely based on the old George Doughty solo ‘My Grandfathers Clock’ this 3 movement duet is something only soloists of the highest caliber can muster with the need for a good backing band as well due to the complexity of the accompaniment. Bearcroft’s trademark has been his intentional scoring of extremely high euphonium portions in almost every piece he has ever written and this work is no exception. Movement 2 of Timepiece with its soaring range of notes was a joy to hear and see performed.

Therese Curry has given numerous years of service to the band in various positions and is presently on 1st Baritone and one capable player. Her daughter Bronte is a recent addition to the cornet section and together Mother and Daughter gave a fine rendition of Air by Mozart (Arban) as a baritone and cornet duet which was well received by the audience and nicely played indeed.          

Featuring another of Waratah Brass sections on our trip through a ‘Band in Bits’ the trombone section were augmented with Ossie Jellyman (Euphonium) and David Kimpton (Percussion) joining them playing trombones. Salvationist composer Stephen Bulla wrote this work for himself to play with the Southern Territorial Band USA for a 1990 Tour to England performing at the World International Congress of The Salvation Army. Recorded and played the world over this Trombone Ensemble Peace Like a River (Bulla) is another work based on a Negro Spiritual this one being ‘I’ve got peace like a river in my soul’. A fine rendition greatly received by the audience.

The name Harold Walters is mostly associated with New Zealand and the National Band of that country and his composition Hootenanny was chosen to end the first half of this concert. This was great, the audience loved it, the band seemed to like it, and it was good playing all-round.

Following interval the audience was quickly bought back to their seats with a delightful rendition of Seventy Six Trombones (M. Wilson/ W. Duthoit) that was then followed by a humourous introduction by one of the soloists for the next item. Allan Humbley proceeded to explain to great laughter that he was in fact Ida and the soloist standing next to him Bob Akerman was Dot. Allan even went as far to place a stick on dot to Bob just so that he could remember as well.

Allan and Bob then proceeded to play the cornet duet Ida and Dot (F. H. Losey) with laughter still coming from the audience. This duet gained fame in the late 20’s with the famous BHP Steelworks Band soloists Arthur Stender (Principal Cornet) and Dan Taylor. It is interesting to note that Allan Humbley in his early years of playing actually had cornet lessons from Arthur Stender.

David Kimpton - Russky PercusskyPercussion instruments of all types play a big part in brass compositions now days, especially so in the contest arena. One player that is well versed in such is David Kimpton. I have seen and heard David perform in the past but nothing like today’s solo performance titled Russky Percussky written by the late Dr Goff Richards. This piece requires one not only to be able to read multiple percussion instrument parts and be able to play them, but do so whilst running between the different instruments as well. 

Run yes because this piece is backed by a band arrangement that defies belief as well for its tempo. David’s display was nothing short of a virtuosi display of musicianship of the highest. He is indeed a freak in the nicest musical meaning of that word. The work required him to play timpani, glockenspiel, tubular bells, xylophone, Chinese gong with a series of mallets, hammers, sticks and he did so to the wonderment of the audience who gave prolonged applause at the conclusion.

If having not been blessed with hearing quality soloist already during this concert this half of the afternoon included several more solos of high level. Featured previously in 2011 at a major concert in Newcastle’s Christchurch Cathedral trombone soloist Hannah Gibbons gave an encore performance of the taxing Dance Sequence (Gareth Woods). Once again this soloist showed she is capable of holding her own in probably any band, anywhere. This was class playing from Hannah and good tight backing from the band.

Flugel Horn player Clarence Leung choose to play a Bb Cornet for his solo featuring a melody taken from the Ira and George Gershwin 1926 musical titled ‘Oh, Kay!’. This classic melody Someone to Watch Over Me (B. Broughton) proved to be both well liked and known and was a fine rendition the quality of which Clarence is known for displaying in his solo works.

Another exceptional musical talent of Waratah is the Conductor Steven English. He is three times NSW and Australian National Open Soprano Cornet Champion presently holding both titles. It was a delight to have him render one of the finest works arranged for the Soprano Cornet.

The solo Steven performed comes from the opera ‘Pagliacci’ 1892 by Ruggero Leoncavallo with this arrangement of On with the Motley for brass band composed by Ray Farr. This was exceptional in tone, quality, and presentation with full marks going to the band for such sensitivity with the accompaniment ably conducted by Rowan Taylor.

To end this afternoon the band chose to give The Irish Blessing (Bacak/ S. Bradnum) ‘May the road rise up to meet you…..and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand’.

Following some farewell words from Conductor Steven English thanking all for attending the band gave a snappy rendition of a march that is becoming somewhat of a signature tune for Waratah the circus march of J. J. Richards The Waltonian. With its chromatic runs a plenty this was a pleasing end to a very good afternoon of quality music making. 

Waratah are an ensemble that loves to perform for an audience. If you have not yet attended one of their concerts why not try and come to further performances. You will not be disappointed and may well be very surprised to find that brass bands are not a relic of the past as some think, but are as modern a music making concern as any music of today.

Thank you

Review ‘Band in Bits’  12 February 2012