Brass Band Competitions

Elsewhere on our site you may have seen references to brass band contests. You may have wondered what this is all about and what relevance doing well in them (as we have done in recent years) has for us, or indeed yourselves. Most people are familiar with hearing a brass band outdoors on a Summer’s day, but if you’d like to know what we get up to for much of the rest of the year, then you’ve come to the right place!

Since 2000, the band has risen from Section 4 to Section 1 of the London & Southern Counties Area grading system and also represented their region at the National Finals. What does this mean and how did it happen?

Every year, all over the country, brass bands come together compete with each other at numerous contests. These contests take a number of forms. Sometimes, each competing band will have to play the same piece of music and sometimes each band will play a piece of its own choosing. In both these kinds of contest, the pieces of music will be ‘serious’ in nature, often written especially for a brass band and sounding somewhat like a piece of classical music. This is a world largely unknown to the general public! Another form of contest is where each band plays a 15-20 minute programme of shorter, perhaps ‘lighter’ pieces, a bit like a mini-concert and sounding more like something most people would associate with a brass band.

Competitions are usually divided into separate graded sections, ranging from Championship (a bit like football’s ‘Premiership’) through Sections 1, 2 3 and 4 beneath this. You can enter competitions all over the country in any section you like, providing it is not lower than your official ranking. Are you with me so far?!

So how do you get to be in a particular Section? There is one particular annual contest (known simply as the ‘Area’) that is the most important. Here, region by region, bands compete against all the other bands in their section, with a particular piece of music being set for each section. Each year, the results of the last three contests are aggregated (1st place = 1 point and so on). The top 2 bands are promoted and the bottom couple relegated. As a bonus, the top 2 bands in any given year also go on to represent their region in the National Finals (as we did in 2004).

Now armed with this knowledge, you will have some idea of the nature of St Albans City Band’s achievement in rising from Section 4 to Section 1 in such a short time. Anyone who has regularly heard the band over this period will testify to the improvements made which are reflected as much in our concert as our contest work.

Author: Pete Scrowther