If You Go Down to the Woods Today...
You’re sure of a big surprise! Or so the popular nursery rhyme goes, and being full of surprises is certainly a description that can applied to the band’s performance at the recent Bolsover Festival of Brass.
The annual contest held at Heritage High School took place on Sunday 6th October with 57 bands across all sections taking to the stage. As this is an entertainment contest, rather than the bands prepare the same piece of music, this time we were required to put together a 20 minute programme with narration using music of our choice.
2019 has had a couple of historical milestones that many bands based there programmes around. Some paid homage to the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing, others the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. An entertainment contest can also be the chance to do something completely different….guess which category we fell into!
As this year’s contest was in October, an opportunity to take advantage of an annual event was presented…..Halloween – a celebration of the macabre. However, this was not going to be a comedy routine, this would be a serious performance with elements that would be dark, eerie and slightly chilling. At 7pm, we assembled into our rehearsal space, and began our final (secret) preparations.
To really make the most of our chosen theme, we decided to introduce a visual aspect to our performance. Wearing execution style hoods, we walked on to the stage to confused murmurs around the room. Our faces were kept hidden as we started the opening piece, The Teddy Bear’s Massacre by Paul McGhee, a twist on the Teddy Bear’s Picnic children’s poem, and to quote Iwan Fox of 4barsrest and Chris Thomas of Brass Band World during the live stream coverage “a very very different type of piece”. Stunned silence greeted us at the end of this piece as the atmosphere grew increasingly tense and unnerved.
Our second offering was the march Mephistopheles by Shipley Douglas, based on a demon in German folklore to whom the scholar Faust sells his soul in exchange for unlimited knowledge and reckless abandon.
At this point, we raised the chill factor further as we slowly turned to stare at the audience and as one, removed the hoods revealing that we were painted to look like the band of the dead, complete with scary teddy bears, creepy clowns, demons and conducted by the Sith Lord Darth Maul. No smiles were cracked as the band remained in character.
At this point, we introduced our soloist, Maria Beazer who played a hauntingly beautiful piece, the Adagio in G Minor by Albioni, on flugel. The music has been used in many film productions to illustrate death, loss and sorrow, notably a scene in the 1991 film The Doors while in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. Maria played exceptionally well, and received high praise from around the audience.
The finale to round off our performance was March to the Scaffold from Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz, which tells the story of a lovesick artist who poisons himself with opium and experiences the most horrific visions including his own execution by guillotine - a fitting end to the most macabre of programs.
The band’s performance was praised for being completely different to all the previous performances of the day, for everyone buying into the idea. The “brilliantly demonic approach of John Davis” who “played the part to perfection”. In the words of Chris Thomas, “If you’re going to do something, you go for it, and that’s what they just did”.
While many of the audience and fellow bandsmen enjoyed our performance and praised us for doing something so different to other bands, sadly it was not to our adjudicators taste. Our performance was always going to be high risk, but we all felt it was worth it and threw ourselves into it. It may not have found favour with the adjudicator, but it was certainly a talking point and was completely different from anything else heard that day.
The band would like to thank John for going all out when creating this programme and the visuals along with it, to Karen Bolt for the exceptional make up contributions and to Maria for making all those hoods and teddy bear masks. The music selection, visuals, attitude of the band while performing and our enthusiasm behind our theme, helped make this a performance to remember. If there was a phrase to sum up the spirit the lyrics of the Teddy Bears Picnic are certainly apt – If you go down to the woods today, you better not go alone. It’s lovely down in the woods today, but safer to stay at home!
The performances were all live streamed across social media and Youtube platforms. If you would like to experience the band’s performance, you can still watch on the link below. Our performance starts just after the 5 hour 34 minute mark.
Thank you also to Carole Hirst and her team of volunteers for organising and running another great event.