Band Training Studies - 5. Balance and Blend

The subjects we have already discussed, which come under the general heading of precision, have to do with the more mechanical aspect of ensemble playing.  Even so, it was necessary to urge that each individual performer must be encouraged  to take an intelligent and critical interest in what he was doing; and now, in the consideration of Balance he will need to feel anew his sense of responsibilty to the whole.

Balance and blend in the simplest form is exemplified in the kind of playing required for a hymn tune.  Here the weight of tone required from each player is more or less equal.  Whether the playing be forte or piano, all move together, and no complications arise.  Here the third-part player has equality with the soloists, and he should be encouraged to realise this.  For brass bands, the great pleasure derived from hymn tune playing largely derives from the rich sound given to the harmony by the inner-part players, and the resonant bass.

This simple ensemble work is carried only one step further in ordinary march - or waltz-playing.  It is true that certain melodies or counter-melodies call for a little prominence at times, but on the whole there is little that is involved from the standpoint of expression in average pieces of this type.

In more advanced and intricate music, greater problems arise.  Every part is still of importance, and must never be looked upon in any other light; but sometimes it must be subordinate to another part, only to stand out from the rest of the band in some different passage.

Here we touch upon the matter of interpretation, and it is precisely here that the conductor must be the authority.  Having studied the score, he will know the relative importance of the various parts; and he should be at pains to let the bandsmen know exactly why this part must be subordinate, or why that part is brought into prominence.

Yet even in this, the general ensemble must still be realized.  A soloist may be lording it with a superb melody; but the supporting chords must be played with taste and understanding.

In the most involved music, it may be that the score denotes a kaleidoscope of colour; here every changing effect must be given its momentary prominence - yet remain relative to the whole.  For this kind of playing the team work of the players must be highly evolved.

Thus it will be seen that balance and blend - 'playing together' - means very much more than a kind of musical drill.  It calls for understanding and a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone concerned.

Printed with kind permission from The British Bandsman.

Posted on November 14, 2012 .