RONG ON RIGHT PATH - BB shines a light on one of the rising stars of Norwegian banding

Issue 6062

BACK IN BUSINESS - Boost for bands in England as rehearsals resume

STAGE SET FOR CORY CONTEST - Draw made for online championship, with international flavour

Review: Cory Band Virtual Brass Day

Saturday 27 June, 2020

Review: Cory Band Virtual Brass Day. May 30, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of people all over the world but the ensuing lockdowns have also transformed any previous ideas of ‘normality’. The performing arts have not been immune and brass bands have seen their schedules wiped out as strict rules on social distancing and bans on gatherings made it impossible for them to rehearse and perform. It is a period quite unlike anything people have experienced in recent times but if there is to be a silver lining, it is the way technology has offered a way for music making to continue to flourish.

Step forward, The Cory Band, at the forefront of digital innovations during lockdown with its virtual band performances, which have garnered plaudits from far and wide. With its intensive performance and education schedule brought to a halt, the Welsh band devised an online brass day, welcoming 67 delegates from 14 countries, who could hear from members of the world’s number one ranked band from the comfort and safety of home. The event started as any face-to-face event would, with introductions. Cory musical director Philip Harper welcomed delegates and outlined the carefully structured day before leading everyone through a warm-up session. The music was shown on screen, with Philip conducting proceedings, much to the delight of everyone involved. Joining the Welsh band’s conductor in sharing their expertise were Cory principals Tom Hutchinson (cornet), Ailsa Russell (tenor horn), Chris Thomas (trombone), Glyn Williams (euphonium) and Simon Howell (tuba). All renowned soloists in their own right, they offered guidance on a wide range of issues including dealing with nerves, warming up effectively and developing the use of vibrato. The sessions were well-structured, not overly-long, and saw Cory’s principals engaging with each other on the matters in hand, providing good-humoured hints and advice while providing a glimpse into their own practice and rehearsal routines. Providing moments of sheer joy for the delegates were bitesize recitals, recorded by the principals in their homes, where their demonstrated why they occupy leading chairs in the world’s number-one ranked band; from Tom Hutchinson’s shimmering lyricism in All That I Am to the effortless gliding of principal trombone, Chris Thomas. Delegates were also treated to sectionals as part of the day's offering.

Philip Harper lifted the lid on the ‘secrets’ of The Cory Band, giving an insight into how the band operates. To many, it will have offered grounds for optimism to hear that the basic rehearsal routine of the band is broadly similar to that of bands up and down the land, albeit very well-organised and blessed with high-class players around the stands. There was something for everyone to take from these sessions, from the practical playing tips to advice on how to structure rehearsals and the build-up to contests. Teaching resources and presentation slides were available to delegates, giving them the opportunity to reflect upon their learning in the days and weeks afterwards.

Naturally, there are limitations to a digital offering. Audio quality sometimes fluctuated and was Philip’s chatting was occasionally out of sync with the pictures, though never horrendously so. It is impossible to play together successfully; the compromise is to play along to someone’s visual direction, or a backing track, but all the performers need to ensure they are muted to prevent the session descending into anarchy. Also, the live video meeting environment, which displays everyone in little squares on screen, is very useful but will never fully replicate the benefits of interacting with people in a room; subtle aspects of body language are missed and it is very difficult for session leaders to ensure that all participants are ‘on board’. Cory was fully prepared for this and ensured delegates were able to get in touch at any point with questions; musical, technical or otherwise.

At a time when live music making has been brought to a halt, it’s easy to become despondent. Artists, though, are renowned for their creativity and it’s heartening to see the brass band world finding new ways of interacting. Naturally, we all long for the day when live, face-to-face music making can resume in earnest but it’s fast becoming clear that life will not simply revert to any previously defined ‘norm’. The opportunity to engage with other musicians in other corners of the world, using technology which can be found in most homes with an internet connection, will inevitably see the future of music performance and education become a hybrid of in-person and online offerings.

At the forefront of this innovation within the brass band scene is The Cory Band – and brass players across the globe are grateful.

Mark Good