Faster, higher, louder:the effects of competition on the British brass band movement from 1913-2013

Osborn, Christopher (2018) Faster, higher, louder:the effects of competition on the British brass band movement from 1913-2013. Masters thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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This thesis examines the effects of the centrality of competition on the British brass band movement from 1913-2013. Competition has been an important activity for British brass bands since the 1860s, when the concept of an all brass band was still in its infancy. The brass band contest maintained a recognisable form from the middle of the nineteenth century to the present day. The consistent contest structure based around sections allows for the identification of changes to levels of musicality and technicality in players, the idiom of brass band contest performances and stylistic influences on test piece composition. This is possible in a more detailed and accurate way than is possible for other competitive arts movements. Since the commissioning of the first original test piece in 1913, the composition of test pieces has dominated serious and long form composition for brass band. The constraints placed on test pieces that made them suitable for their use in contests, the requirements for length and technical difficulty that vary by section, helped to create a repertoire of music that is unique. However, the brass band movement has not been examined through the lens of its contesting activities despite being the subject of both social history and musicological studies. My primary sources are records of test piece use and results for individual sections of the National Finals and British Open contest series in The British Bandsman archive, supplemented by other primary sources from the brass band media. I have used this evidence to construct a database of test piece use and contest results that I was able to analyse statistically. This has enabled me to track the standards and styles of playing demonstrated by the selection of test pieces for different contest sections at different times. These patterns of test piece use were presented to leading figures in the brass band movement and their thoughts and reactions captured in seven interviews with players, conductors, composers, adjudicators and journalists. These interviews provide contextual evidence to identify the reasons behind the changes demonstrated in the test piece database and are supported by additional sources from the comments sections and contest reviews in The British Bandsman and brass band news website 4barsrest for the latter period of my research. This combination of new material from archival and oral sources provides new insight into the brass band movement and its role as the premier form of amateur music making in Britain during the twentieth century. The thesis analyses the test pieces used in contests, selecting the twenty-nine most frequently used and dividing them into groups based on patterns of use. The next section includes analysis of these groups and patterns alongside the individual pieces. This is not a musicological thesis, but where relevant there is musical analysis of selected pieces. The final section examines changes in the brass band idiom and compositional styles of test piece to place changes in musicality and technique in their historical and musical contexts.

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Thesis (Masters)
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20 Aug 2018 14:04
Last Modified:
17 Sep 2023 03:33