Taunton Festival February 2016
Before J25 presented its entry at the Festival there were two individual entries in the Free Reed class to entrance the adjudicator who admitted he was completely unfamiliar with the English Concertina.
Claire Wren was first and began by giving a short explanation of the layout of the instrument. She played her own arrangement of “Tom Bowling”, a haunting melody written as a song by Charles Dibden (1740-1814) on the death of his brother Thomas (search Charles Dibden on the internet - he has a fascinating history).
Claire started simply with the air, adding chords and delicate ornamentation the second time. Played slowly and quietly and seated right in front of the adjudicator, he couldn’t have had a better
introduction to the instrument and how it is played. Her second piece was the lively “Danza Gaya” by Madeline Dring, accompanied on the pianoforte by Angela Hammond. Here the concertina had a lovely soaring part, showing it at its best.
By contrast the second entry, “Swing 39” by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, was a duet arranged and played by Jan Usher and Roger Campbell. It was fascinating to hear how the very different (and difficult) violin and guitar parts were interpreted by the concertina players as they each in turn took the lead.
The adjudicator, James Stretton was hooked! He was warm in his praise for both entries and he finished by saying he couldn’t wait to hear the band … and he certainly wasn’t disappointed!
Identifying music which best allows you to demonstrate technique on your instrument and musicianship in your playing is the first step. Taking the music to pieces and listening to all the bits of it is the second. Listening is really the key. Understanding there is a difference between a staccato crotchet and a tenuto crotchet is great but you have to really, really listen to what you are playing if you wish to make that difference heard. This kind of attention to detail is crucial, particularly in ensemble work, to keep your performance tight and give your music heart and soul.
Although logistically only half the band would be available to enter the festival, J25 embraced the challenge to improve upon and demonstrate personal and ensemble musicianship. The pieces chosen were a brilliant arrangement by David Farnon of Lillibulero, full of the desired musical subtleties, followed by the flashy Concertina Breakdown, a boogie for Concertina Band by band director Claire Wren. If J25 pulled it off on the day that would be great but the journey was the reward. With all the intense rehearsal, everyone in the band had already become a better player – the purpose all along – tick!
In the event J25 did pull it off on the day. Hoping at least for distinction (the previous adjudications) the band’s hard work was rewarded with a speechless adjudicator who declared J25 “In a word … Outstanding” and presented the ecstatic group with a certificate and the Adjudicators’ Cup.