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Shining River

by James - 14:59 on 13 March 2010

At the time of the Midlands Area Contest in 1981 I was in my second year studying music at the University of Nottingham.  Whilst there I got to know one of the university's maths lecturers, Dr. Keith Wilkinson, the conductor of the G.U.S. Band.

The test piece that year was Variations on the Shining River by Edmund Rubbra a piece I had been distinctly underwhelmed by when I had played it some years earlier with the Spillers (Gainsborough) Band.  But in the hands of Keith and his band I heard it afresh, transformed and impressive.

Personally, I think that, in the early 1980s, G.U.S. was a superb musical ensemble.  Of course, there were individual stars like Brian Grant and Paul Filby, but when the band played together you could feel they possessed a synergy that took them further than the sum of the individual talents.

On that day back in 1981, the band played beautifully.  The performance was not faultless, for a brief moment it rocked a little during the 5/4 section, but the quality of the rest brushed aside this momentary lapse.  The trombone solo played by Paul Filby was astonishing, so light and quiet, the mouthpiece must have hardly been touching his lips at all!  And, as the piece neared its end and the band reached the reflective, meditative variation filled with solos and duets, the playing was just lovely.  The quasi-cadenza runs and trills were executed flawlessly as if by one perfectly tempered voice.

Too often the trills in this final section are played with an excess of vigour that, in my opinion, destroys the very mood that the music is seeking to create.  They need to start slowly and, even at their zenith, the movement from one note to another needs to be distinctly heard and carefully controlled.  Not too fast, just a gentle melting together of the two notes.

This is how G.U.S. played that day and it was no surprise, therefore, that they won the contest by a country mile.  Almost as rewarding was the fact that the adjudicator, Bernard Hazelgrove, was spot on when he picked Loughborough as the unlikely runner-up.

If I remember rightly, this decision caused a bit of a fracas both at the event itself and in the band media afterwards.  But, without a shadow of a doubt, it was the right one.  Despite the other big names in attendance that day, Loughborough played a blinder and, for me, were always next in line after G.U.S.

I’m not sure that Bernard Hazelgrove was invited to do much adjudicating after that!

At the National Finals later that year G.U.S. and Loughborough finished equal 7th on Blitz by Derek Bourgeois.


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