Commonwealth Brass Band

By Quentin K. Sharpenstein

Maybe you have noticed a new musical group performing around town without strings or woodwinds. If so, chances are you heard the unique sounds of the Commonwealth Brass Band.

Unique is certainly the operative word here. Louisville has not seen the likes of a British-style brass band in many a year.

Formed in 1989, the band is led by J. Jerome Amend and plays about twelve concerts a year, including churches, concert halls and park concerts.

We were invited to perform and complete with eight other groups at the Tenth Annual North American Brass Band Championships on April 10 and 11, 1992, in Columbus, Ohio.

The North American Brass Band Association (NABBA) was formed in 1980 by J. Perry Watson to promote and network with other British-style brass bands in North America.

NABBA bands gather annually in a different city to compete, socialize and immerse themselves in brass band music for a weekend. The band judged the best at this competition can rightfully claim to be the best brass band in North America for that year. With this in mind, the commonwealth Brass Band eagerly answered the challenge to "lock horns" against groups from such far flung outposts as Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Hammonton, New Jersey; and Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

While the idea of a competition runs against my beliefs regarding what music is all about, I must admit that in preparing for this competition, the band improved faster than during in any period in our three-year history.

The competition/concerts were held at Dublin High School in their state of the art auditorium. Judging the championships were Geoffrey Brand from London, England; Gordon E. McGowan from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; and Captain Thomas E. Palmatier from the United States Army Band, Washington, D. C. IN particular, we felt very honored to be judged by Mr. Brand, famous conductor, author, adjudicator, educator, and McGowan, composer and arranger. In addition to his judging duties, he also served as clinician and guest conductor.

The judges sat at three separate tables with paper, tape recorder and microphone. During the band' performances, they would write furiously and make comments on tape regarding each band's interpretation of the music. Typical comments would be as follows: Opening shaky . . . measure 10 Eb horns beautiful . . . nice cornet at the allegro . . . low brass! . . . it sounds like the "dogs of war" were unleashed at measure 54! . . . ending should whisper away to nothing . . . overall an excellent performance . . . your point total is 237.

Yes, you are right. The judges can be brutal and mince no words in dissecting a performance.

How did we do? You had to ask, didn't you? In our first year of competition, we placed fourth. However, informally we were told our performance was like a breath of fresh air. We were also showered with positive comments which included "How did you get so many great soloists in each section?"

Next year, the North American Brass Band Championships will be hosted by the United Stages Army Band in Washington, D.C. on April 2 and 3, 1992. The Commonwealth Brass Band is already talking about setting our sights for the championship next year. We'll keep you posted.