The Foden’s Band Euphonium, Baritone, and Tuba Sections
Credit photos to: Ian Clowes, www.goldysolutions.co.uk
The Foden’s Brass Band from Sandbach in Cheshire, UK have been one of the very best brass bands in the world for over 100 years. Originally the Foden Motor Works Band, after its original sponsor, the band has had a terrific and storied history, leading to the distinction of Double Champions in 2012 for winning both the National Championships at the Royal Albert Hall in London and the British Open in Symphony Hall, Birmingham. Here I had the opportunity, through my friend Mark Bousie, to interview the tuba and euphonium section for the ITEA Journal. I believe you will find the discussion both interesting and inspiring and my hope is that many of you will subsequently seek out or create the unique brass band experience for yourselves.
The main contributors to this article are Mark Bousie (euphonium), Mike Warriner (baritone), Stewart Baglin (Eb Tuba), Phil Green (Eb Tuba), Samantha Minshull (“first call” Eb Tuba deputy) and Alan Hodgkinson (BBb Tuba).
Steve Allen: What attracted you to brass bands?
Mark Bousie: I think that there are a number of significant reasons that I was attracted to brass bands:
1. Engaging and demanding music- For euphoniums, baritones, and tubas (the latter referred to as basses in brass band talk) the parts are busier, more technically demanding, and generally more exposed than the average wind/concert band or orchestra.
2. High musical standards- At the highest level of brass banding in the UK, the musical standards are extremely high. While brass bands are regarded as amateur organizations and most of the players in bands are not professional (performing) musicians, the standard of playing at the top level is most definitely professional.
3. Wide ranging and varied repertoire- In what other ensemble do you get the chance to premiere contemporary works, but at the same time play lighter original concert works alongside classical/jazz/show/pop arrangements? The brass band is extremely flexible and performs music to suit the tastes of all players and listeners.
4. Social- For many of the players in Foden’s, the band is the center of their social lives. We spend a lot of time together (at least two rehearsals per week and frequently at least one concert/contest/recording on the weekend) and clearly we all share a common interest/hobby/passion.
Natsumi McDonald-Principal Baritone
Phil Green: Brass Bands are big enough to take all sorts of people but small enough for everyone to be important (unlike perhaps a symphonic wind band or orchestra). For some players in Foden’s, brass banding is something that is ingrained in them and something which they’ve grown up with.
Stewart Baglin: Brass banding has been with me all of my life, actually forming some of my earliest memories. My father (Lyndon) was a [euphonium] player of some note and as a small child I went along with him to rehearsals, so I was exposed to playing of a very high standard from an early age. When I was a child my bedtime corresponded with my father’s daily practice and my lullabies were Arban scales and exercises. This provided me with the model that I wanted to emulate.
Mike Warriner: I come from a brass band background. Both of my brothers played brass instruments so it was natural for me to do so as well.
Samantha Minshull: I was attracted to brass bands by a sense of enjoyment as well as the hunger and determination to make great music. I began playing in brass bands at a very young age. I grew up in the brass banding world, progressing through youth bands to adult bands. Throughout this time, the sense of enjoyment I’d had as a child remained. However, the will to improve and move onto bigger and better things grew over time and still does to this day!
Mike Warriner-2nd Baritone
SA: What makes Foden’s unique for the low brass?
Mark: One of the special things about Foden’s Band is that the playing personnel is very steady. This has meant that the band in many ways has grown together musically and socially, allowing the band and section sounds to blend and develop. This is reflected in the euph/bari and bass sections.
Glyn Williams, the band’s distinguished and long serving principal euphonium player, has been a member of Foden’s for 18 years. Natsumi Mcdonald has been principal baritone for 10 years and Mike Warriner, 2nd Baritone for 11 years. I (Mark Bousie) am a relative newcomer having been with the band for four years. Stewart Baglin, the band’s principal Eb bass, has been with the band for seven years and 2nd Eb bass Phil Green returned to Foden’s for a second stint in 2012, having previously served the band for 11 years. The BBb bass section has seen the most change recently with Alan Hodgkinson joining in 2011 and David McGlynn in 2012. The new bass line-up immediately worked hard on establishing a fine section sound to compare with its predecessors and this was almost certainly a big factor in Foden’s outstanding competition successes (winning the British Open Brass Band Championships and the British National Championships) in the latter part of 2012.
Foden’s Band is renowned for its ensemble sound throughout the brass band world. A big feature of this sound is that it is built from the bottom upwards, with a strong and sonorous bass sound and a rich and powerful middle of the band sound, of which the euph/bari section is a key feature. The band and the individual sections pride themselves on their sounds and are consistently working on upholding and improving these tonal qualities. The band has a number of outstanding soloists renowned throughout the brass band fraternity, but for them the position of section leader and promoting teamwork throughout their section is more important than personal glory. This is certainly reflected in the euph/bari and bass sections at Foden’s.
Phil: Overall quality. There have never been any “passengers” in the lower band. Plus, we’ve never limited ourselves to certain styles or colors like many extended tuba sections. If it needs to be in your face we can do it; if it needs to be dry ice, falling off the stage and vibrating the foundations of the building, we can do it. This allows the upper band to concentrate on the sound they want to make, no compromises required. Finally, in my (unbiased!) opinion, Foden’s has always been able to play quieter then any other band with a quality of sound that nobody can match.
Stewart: Foden’s has a long tradition of a very strong bottom end and for me, as a member of the bass section, I feel a responsibility to try and continue that tradition.
Mike: When I was growing up, Foden’s always had a reputation for having a strong bass end, so it is great to be a small part of that. I say a small part because being a baritone player you are also part of the middle of the band.
SA: Why would you recommend that low brass players get into or begin a brass band?
Mark: The technical and musical challenges presented to low brass players in a brass band are like those of no other musical ensemble in the world. These are not only personal challenges, but also group (section) challenges. There really is never a dull moment!
Mark Bousie-2nd Euphonium
Phil: The parts are challenging and stretch one as a player; no 300 bars rest like in an orchestra or providing just a bass line in the wind band. The famous orchestral tuba excerpts wouldn’t even get a mention if banding tuba excerpts were more widely known. From Journey into Freedom (a classic test piece written in the 1960s by Eric Ball) to Vienna Nights (a more contemporary test piece from the past decade, composed by Philip Wilby) the tuba parts are amazing. Plus, the social side of banding is unlike that of any other musical scene I’ve come across.
Stewart: Most of my 35-year playing career has been within the brass band movement, the last 22 years as an Eb bass player. My experience of orchestral playing was extremely limited until I entered music college four years ago. The orchestral tuba player is primarily a soloist within the orchestra in a team of 1. They are there to be heard and their playing style and techniques are developed to do just that. This is almost the polar opposite of the brass band bass player. Our primary role is to provide a firm foundation for the band to sit on, more akin to the double bass section of the orchestra. Involvement in a brass band develops a better sense of ensemble playing far more quickly than solely being involved in orchestras.
Glyn Williams-Principal Euphonium
Alan: In the current climate, player numbers for all sections are dwindling. However, the rarest are bass players. Young people should be encouraged to pick up any instrument. If they do well, then encourage them to play a lower brass instrument. With a bit of hard work and commitment, these young people could achieve great, great things. The general pool of players in the UK is very low (no thanks to things like X-box, DVDs, mobile phones, etc.) The younger generation needs to be encouraged!
Sam : I have found that playing in a brass band really pushes you to play with a larger sound and encourages you to play well. I don’t think I would ever sit in a practice room and practice at the same intensity and fully concentrate for the same length of time that I do in the band room. Personal practice is very important but knowing that other people are listening to you when in a band environment makes you want to prove you are a good player. I’ve heard many people say “you play to the standard of the people around you” and in some ways that is true because the rest of the band can push you to play your absolute best. However sometimes, in different situations such as personal practice, you may not work as hard and therefore you wouldn’t reach your maximum potential. For a low brass player, playing in a brass band can develop all aspects of playing as we tend to have multiple roles.
SA: What are the best aspects of the brass band repertoire?
Mark: I very much enjoy playing new repertoire, of which there is a frequent supply in the brass band genre. The leading brass band contests frequently commission composers to write new works and there is nothing more exciting than working on a new piece in great detail in order to deliver the finest performance that your ensemble is capable of. These “test pieces” are naturally showpieces, so they are almost always exciting to perform and listen to. I also enjoy the great variety of works and genres that are performed by bands of all standards.
Phil: You get the chance to play many transcriptions of the classical world’s greatest pieces in an ensemble that is better than most of the orchestras one could perform with.
Stewart Baglin-Principal Eb Tuba
Stewart: Repertoire differs greatly between brass band and orchestral playing. In the orchestra you can sit for long periods before being required to play. The brass band bass player generally plays throughout the whole piece and has to deal with difficult technical passages.
Alan : Probably the diversity of the music we play. It’s everything and anything from original works to transcriptions of Ravel and Lady Gaga! How could anyone fail to enjoy this? It is challenging. Playing music by Ravel is a totally different challenge from playing music by (leading British band composers) Philip Sparke or Peter Graham. And that is the joy of what we do.
Mike: Test pieces are certainly the most enjoyable part of the repertoire for me, with composers such as Peter Graham and Philip Sparke ticking all the boxes in that category. They just have the ability to write pieces that test you to the limit yet are enjoyable to play at the same time. Graham’s Harrison’s Dream and Sparke’s Harmony Music (which we are currently working on for a forthcoming contest) are great examples of this kind of repertoire.
SA: What is the status of baritones today in relation to euphoniums?
Mark : The role of the baritone players in a brass band is quite unique and has certainly grown in importance over the past decade or two. The baritones not only add an individual tenor voiced colour that is lighter in timbre than the euphoniums, but they also provide a link between the euphonium section and the tenor horn and trombone sections as they can blend so well with all of these instruments. They are low brass chameleons! In the past, the baritone has played very much a subsidiary role to the euphonium. However it is now coming into its own as a solo voice in general repertoire. This has coincided with a number of improvements in instrument design, significantly giving the baritone a more rounded tone and improved intonation across the range. The last decade or so has witnessed the beginning of a repertoire of solo works being written specifically for the baritone and a number of well-known soloists. These include Katrina Marzella of the Black Dyke Band and Foden’s very own Natsumi McDonald.
Mike: The status of the baritone in relation to the euphonium has changed a lot over recent years. Players like Katrina Marzella have come along and given the baritone a new identity. She is guest soloing all around the world and has put the baritone firmly on the map. My partner in crime at Fodens’s, Natsumi McDonald, really has made the instrument her own. She creates the most unique sound on the baritone and never compromises it. The baritone is still part of the euphonium line but very much has a status of its own now.
SA: What are the best aspects of playing BBb and Eb basses (as opposed to CC and F)? What are the general benefits?
Phil: The Eb is in my opinion ideal. While technically a bass tuba, it can easily perform all but the most extreme contrabass parts and certainly all of the high bass tuba repertoire often performed on F.
Alan : The challenges of the two are very different, in my opinion. The Eb is very much a soloist instrument. A BBb needs more air, and needs a lot more work to get the notes out on technical passages. An Eb’s sound can sing over the band when needed while a BBb provides the foundation for any brass section. My favorite thing about playing the BBb is the challenge. It is so very difficult to master. Pedalling is an art form and only the very best players can master this. In the hands of the finest exponents pedalling can enhance the musical color a band produces. However, frequently players pedal in the wrong place or they do it all of the time and the effect is lost. The secret to the art is that it needs to be done only when it will enhance a chord or a particular passage.
Phil Green-2nd Eb Tuba
Sam : I haven’t tried playing an F or CC tuba in a brass band. I find with Eb tuba the range is a lot more comfortable than with F tuba as you can play low register passages with much more ease and with a better sound. I find the CC tuba easier to play than a BBb, as the notes are easier to center and clarity tends to be better.
SA: How do you (baris, euphs, basses) work as a team? Do you have sectionals? Do you work out soloing etc.? How do you divide up the work?
Mark : A few weeks prior to competitions (contests) each section in the band always has a sectional. Normally the euphoniums and baritones will have a sectional separate from the basses. Occasionally, depending on the musical and technical requirements of the piece, we will have an additional rehearsal where the two sections are put together. Usually the section leader and principal will take the bulk of the solo work. However, a strength of Foden’s is that a number of the second players have been principal players with other bands and ensembles in the past and are more than capable of stepping up to the mantle if necessary. Naturally, we all have different playing strengths, and we try to bear this in mind when dividing up the work.
Phil : Generally the euphs and baris listen to the tubas and copy our style, dynamics and tuning! Seriously, it’s a team game and while all principal players have an idea of “how it should go” there is so much experience around the stand that no one person can declare the “right way” other than the music director.
Stewart : As a team of four players we have to blend with each other. Our sounds have to complement each other with no one sound too prominent. Our articulations have to be similar in order to produce an overall picture that satisfies the musical requirements. The brass band bass section breathes as a team- no two players breathe in the same place at the same time, with the ultimate goal to produce a seamless sound. Sectional rehearsals generally only come into play in the run up to competitions and allow any issues to be dealt with outside of normal rehearsal time. Both Eb and BBb basses have a 1st and 2 nd player; any exposed solo passage will normally be played by the person sitting in the principal chair.
Alan : Once the sectionals have been done and it has been decided that which person is doing which part then we get together as the greater sum to work as an overall section. In a sectional we decide amongst ourselves who will do what. It may be that one person is better at pedalling than the other; it may be that one has a nicer sound or smoother sound for a particular passage. By working this out together it helps to make what may be a very difficult passage sound easy. Covering notes so that your colleague can get enough air in to pedal or prepare for a solo passage is essential teamwork. And most importantly, you all have to get on with each other.
David McGylnn-Principal BBb Tuba
SA: Why do you devote the main part of your lives to brass bands? What is it that makes you so passionate and committed, and what do you get out of it?
Mark : Playing in a team of like-minded individuals, all intent on achieving the same musical (and sometimes competitive!) goal is an experience to behold. The thrill of preparing and performing challenging and varied repertoire to a high standard keeps everyone interested, engaged and coming back for more. As previously mentioned, the majority of players in brass bands are “amateur.” Playing in a brass band gives us the opportunity to perform at a level equivalent to or occasionally higher than (!) that of our professional counterparts. Quite simply, at any level of banding, it’s about trying to achieve your best and fulfil your musical potential. The social and teamwork element cannot be underestimated either.
Phil : I get a sense of musical excellence that I don’t get anywhere else (and I’ve tried most kind of performance ensembles). I get a camaraderie and, to an extent, tribal sense of community. It stretches me, musically, technically, and also, perversely, commitment-wise which gives its own sense of achievement after a run of 10 nights on the trot. But, at the end of the day, I bloody well love playing my tuba at the highest level I can attain or aspire to and you can’t aspire to play for anyone better than Foden’s.
Stewart: I devote my time and effort to brass bands because it gives me an immense sense of satisfaction and pride. Satisfaction that I can overcome the challenges that each piece of music brings and satisfaction that the sound the team produces adds to the efforts of each of the other band members. The pride comes from playing week in and week out with some of the finest players within the movement and being part of an organization (Foden’s) that has enjoyed a long history of being the best and continues to be the best.
Alan Hodgkinson-2nd BBb Tuba
Alan: I think this is the easiest of all the questions to answer. It’s because I love everything about it! The teamwork, the social aspects, the music, the challenges, and the buzz you get playing to an appreciative audience. Playing at venues such as the Royal Albert Hall (London) or the Symphony Hall (Birmingham) with some of the most talented players in the world and working with such brilliant conductors such as Allan Withington or Bramwell Tovey… it doesn’t get any better! And that’s why we devote our time and effort to our “hobby.” Because it’s one of the most rewarding hobbies you can have (especially if all the things that you work on go right on any given day), as has been proved by Foden’s in becoming Double Champions!
Mike : Playing for a band like Foden’s makes it very easy to be passionate and committed because you know the rest of the band has equal passion and commitment. You know more often than not that when you start a rehearsal you are doing it with a full band around the stand. I travel 140 miles round trip so it would be much easier for me to find a more local band, but you don’t get the same commitment. The reason bands such as Foden’s are at the top of their field isn’t just because they have some of the best players. Their dedication and commitment, even in this day and age where people have so many other commitments, is outstanding and naturally as a result the band plays to a much higher standard.
Sam: Brass banding has been a big part of my life. I’ve never had a time without it and therefore don’t know what it’s like to be without it! But mainly I do it because I enjoy it. On top of all the other things I’ve said above, brass banding is a social life as well as making music. I have met most of my closest friends through being in a brass band and I think this is probably why I am so passionate about it all.
Dr. Steve Allen is President of the North American Brass Band Association and Professor of Euphonium at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.