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We found pretty much the same here (Australia, specifically New South
Wales).  Our band competed two successive years in D Grade recently (A is
top, D is lowest for adult bands).

First time, the piece was very difficult, with a need for four
percussionists who were essential to the piece.

Only four bands competed - many D Grade bands took one look at the piece and
opted out.  Of the four that did compete, only two came close to mastering
the piece.  The two bands that did get their hands round it were immediately
offered promotion to C Grade.  (We came second to a better band.  They took
the deserved promotion, we decided to compete at D Grade again the next

So, the piece was clearly not suitable for the grade it was set at - even in
the administration's eyes.  Why was it set?

We have a large band (up to 35 players), with a spread of ability from past
State Champions down to people who just like to have a blow.  This is
typical of (or perhaps a bit better than typical of) a lower grade band.
Although we are a good size, we only carry one percussionist and certainly
no tuned percussion.  If nothing else, we just don't have room to store it
(we share our band room with other, non-music, organisations).

The second year's selection was a little better and seven bands entered, but
it still stretched our resources, particularly in the percussion department.
We won, and were again offered promotion to C Grade, which we took.

Selecting a contest piece is obviously a very difficult thing, but it's
gotta be done better for the starter-grade bands.  It should challenge
without intimidating.  In particular, it should not REQUIRE resources which
are unusual in the grade of band.  For D Grade, every band with a full
complement at varying abilities and a single percussionist should be able to
produce a performance they can be happy with.  The good bands will then
shine because of their superior numbers, section coverage, percussion, etc.

Part of the problem I believe is a tendency to commission pieces to be
written specifically for the contests.  IMHO this is a terrible idea for the
lower grades, as it's difficult to develop "to a budget".  Additionally, the
committee can probably only commission one piece for the grade, so is
hostage to the ability of the composer to design a piece for the grade, as
well as making a nice piece of music.

For the lower grades, pick the pieces from a (small) set of tried and true
pieces.  Alternatively, try new pieces out on a band newly promoted to the
next level - they have the recent knowledge and can advise on the
suitability of the piece - if it's difficult for them, it's too difficult
for the grade.

Principal Horn, Assistant Conductor
Manly District Band


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