Test Pieces


Championship Section

Handel in the Band (Kenneth Downie), published by Faber Music

Royal Albert Hall, Saturday 6th October

Commissioned by Brass Band Treize Etoiles for their performance at the 2013 Swiss National, the piece was last year’s top section test at the 37th Dutch Nationals. The title is a reference to Percy Grainger’s popular Handel in the Strand, and is a virtuoso set of symphonic variations based upon one of Handel’s best-known keyboard dances: the Sarabande from his Suite in D minor, HWV 437. Kenneth Downie draws heavily on its La Folia motif and original bass line to create his own variations and spectacular finale.


Kenneth Downie was born in Glasgow in 1946 and educated at Greenock High School, the Royal Manchester College of Music, and Durham University. He became a music teacher, finally leaving his position as head of music at Poole Grammar School to enter the jewellery business in 1976.

His published compositions, now numbering over 70, many of which have been recorded and broadcast on national radio, span a period of over 30 years and are mainly for brass band or choir. Recent commissions include music for the Hampshire County Youth Band, City of Winchester Brass, the Swiss and Norwegian National Brass Band Championships, and the European Brass Band Championships in 2004.

In April 1998 he was appointed to the post of Composer in Residence to the Yorkshire Building Society Band, and thus began a fruitful relationship involving concerts, broadcasts, and recordings.

Kenneth lives in Winchester with his wife Patricia, who is also a musician, teaching piano and singing, and they are both active lay-Salvationists with special responsibilies for music.

In November 1999 his contribution to Salvation Army Music was recognized by the New York Staff Band when he was invited to be the guest at their annual Profile Night.

In July 2001 Kenneth was appointed Creative Consultant to the Salvation Army’s Music Ministries department in the United Kingdom, writing for Salvation Army publications and mentoring developing composers.


Section 1

King Arthur - Scenes from a Radio Drama (Benjamin Britten arr. Paul Hindmarsh), published by Faber Music

The Centaur @ Cheltenham Racecourse, Sunday 16th September

In 1937, the BBC commissioned Benjamin Britten to compose the music for an ambitious dramatisation of the life and times of King Arthur and his Court. In 1995, Paul Hindmarsh prepared a suite for orchestra from Britten’s score and later arranged a second suite for brass band for Foden’s to perform at the 2015 RNCM Festival. Various scenes are grouped into four movements: Overture and Wild Dance, Galahad and the Holy Grail, Lancelot and Arthur, and The Death of Arthur, although for the purpose of the contest, Lancelot and Arthur will not be performed.


Benjamin Britten is widely regarded as the greatest British composer of his generation: a master of dramatic music in the forms of opera, choral and orchestral works. Often alienated by the prevailing musical establishment, Britten brought into his music influences from European and American contemporary composers, as well as Balinese gamelan. He was equally adept at writing for professionals, amateurs and children, and composed prolifically throughout his life until illness curtailed his activities. He was awarded a life peerage in 1976, becoming Baron Britten of Aldeburgh where he lived for more than thirty years and founded the famous festival in 1948.


Paul was introduced to music through the brass bands of the Salvation Army. His varied professional career has embraced vocal performance, choral and brass conducting, radio and CD production, music journalism, editing, arranging and academic research. A graduate of Birmingham University, hel undertook academic research (the music of Frank Bridge) in tandem with the development of a singing career, specialising in the baroque and contemporary repertoire for tenor.

Between 1985 and 2006, Paul was a Producer for BBC Radio 3, working on a range of programmes with an emphasis on chamber, choral and brass band music. He established the BBC (now RNCM) Festival of Brass in 1990 and received several Sony Award nominations and one bronze prize.

Paul was the Musical Director of the Besses o’ th’ Barn brass band in the 1990s and continues to work with bands on a freelance basis. He is Artistic Director of the RNCM Festival of Brass, Director of Concerts for the Manchester Midday Concerts Society (Bridgewater Hall) and Series Editor (Brass and Wind Bands) for Faber Music Ltd. In 2005 he was awarded the Iles Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians for his services to the brass band movement.


Section 2

Firestorm (Stephen Bulla), published by De Haske

The Centaur @ Cheltenham Racecourse, Saturday 15th September

Firestorm was composed by Stephen Bulla for the tenth anniversary of the United States Army Brass Band and received its first performance on 27 April 1991.

Inspired by the war in the Persian Gulf, the work is presented as a single movement rhapsody, framed by the riveting sounds of airborne bombing raids, with flashback sequences evoking a Baghdad market scene and the unspoiled beauty of the Iraqi countryside before its siege. Stephen Bulla noted that his sense of inner creativity surrounding this project was directly related to the emotional impact of the war upon him. The final page of his score bears the following poignant inscription: ‘Completed February 26 1991, Kuwait liberated today.’


Stephen Bulla began his musical instruction at age six, growing up in a musical household where his father played tuba and his mother played piano. He eventually graduated Magna Cum Laude from Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied trombone with Phil Wilson and Composition/Arranging with Herb Pomeroy.

In 1980 he won an audition for the position of Staff Arranger to "The President's Own" United States Marine Band and Chamber Orchestra in Washington DC. For the next thirty years he would provide musical scores for myriad White House events, beginning with the Reagan era until 2010.

Working alongside film score legend John Williams he has transcribed music from "Star Wars", "Catch Me If You Can", and "Close Encounters" for performances by the Marine Band with the composer conducting. He has also scored music for the Discovery Channel ("Wings of the Luftwaffe" and "Century of Flight") and PBS television series "In Performance At The White House." Here artists including Sarah Vaughan, The Manhattan Transfer, Mel Torme, Doc Severinsen, Nell Carter, Shirley Jones, Larry Gatlin, and Jordan Sparks performed his arrangements.

His commissioned concert works are performed and recorded internationally. The Dutch, British, Swiss and New Zealand Brass Band Championship organizations have all commissioned test pieces from his pen. According to a recent ASCAP survey his music has been used on the following television programs: CSI Miami, Cold Case, Jag, Joan of Arcadia, Without A Trace, Guiding Light, Ren and Stimpy, 48 Hours, 60 Minutes, and Survivor.

One of many career highlights to date was a commission from the Library of Congress to complete and orchestrate the last known manuscript march of John Philip Sousa. That music with a recording is available free from the Library's web site.

For fifteen years he conducted the National Capital Band (Washington DC), producing several CDs and touring Australia, New Zealand, Russia, and Scandinavia while directing this ensemble. He presently serves as artistic director and principal conductor for New England Brass Band and Brass Of The Potomac. Both of these fine ensembles are non-profit organizations providing music for community events, arts programs, and educational outreach in local public schools.

Stephen Bulla is a member of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) and has received that organization's Performance Award annually since 1984. He travels often as a guest conductor for All-State band events around the country.


Stephen has sent us a message regarding the upcoming Section 2 Final: "I am pleased to extend my best wishes to all bands that participated in Section Two of the National Finals, performing my test piece “Firestorm". I imagine every band will have a different approach to the music, each highlighting the various details that allow their band to show its individuality and strengths.

My congratulations to all of you. This music is descriptive, even cinematic in style. It seeks to tell a story programmatically through each of its contrasting “scenes", and I suspect that the winning ensemble will find the most compelling way to do just that. Again, I applaud all the musicians and their music directors that are taking the time to study and prepare this music. Well done".


Section 3

Episodes for Brass (Gareth Churcher), published by Kirklees Music

The Centaur @ Cheltenham Racecourse, Sunday 16th September

Despite the title’s inference, the work’s form is not episodic, but more a depiction of various episodes in the life of the composer, who penned it for his wedding to capture the excitement and majesty of the day. The piece is in three movements: Fanfare and Bells of Celebration, Solenne (dedicated to the late Shaun Thomas), and Finale, which starts with a wake-up call, followed by a fanfare for cornets and trombones.     


Gareth was born in Cornwall in 1983 and has lived and worked there since. He resides in Falmouth with his wife Claire and three children Maisy, Milly and Charlie. He started music at a relatively young age taking Piano lessons from the age of 5 and subsequently the Trombone from the age of 10, after gaining a scholarship to learn with Cornwall Music Service.

It was the diversity of the Trombone that really started to enthuse Gareth's love of music and his first ensemble, Pendennis Brass, inspired him to take his playing further.

A few years later, with a hard-won place in Cornwall Youth Brass Band and County Music Service scholarship already under his belt, Gareth earned himself the seat of solo trombone with St Keverne Youth and Senior bands. At this time he also became the solo trombonist for the Helston School Jazz Orchestra and enjoyed playing at venues all over the country.

It is with the St Keverne Youth band that Gareth has achieved what he believes to be his most notable successes as a player so far. - the BBC2 Youth Band of the Year awards in 1999 and 2001, the National Youth Championships in 1998, 2000, and 2002 and an Outstanding Performance Award at the “Music for Youth Festival” at the Royal Albert Hall in 1999.

Gareth is still in high demand as a Trombonist, frequently performing with professional orchestras, as a soloist with the Simon Latarche Jazz Septet, various session recordings and also enjoys giving recitals in aid of local charities.

We are delighted that Gareth Churcher will be attending the Section 3 Final on Sunday 16th September.


Section 4

Divertimento for Brass (Darrol Barry), published by Studio Music                                 

The Centaur @ Cheltenham Racecourse, Saturday 15th September

Especially published for the National Championships of Great Britain in 1989, this work is cast in three movements: Festival, Romance and March. A popular and engaging work at this level, it is no stranger to the contest platform, having been used as the Section 3 ‘Regional’ test-piece in 1990, and the third tier of the Dutch and Australian Championships in 1995 and 1996 respectively.


Darrol Barry was born in Salford in 1956. When he was fourteen he auditioned for the school band on cornet but ended up taking an Eb bass home, much to the joy of his mother, father and neighbours! Darrol joined the local brass band (Windsor) and soon moved onto baritone and then onto euphonium. The conductor of Windsor Band, Jack Clayton introduced him to the mysteries of brass band transposition. Darrol soon discovered he had a flair for arranging and also started some small compositions. His favourite composer was Eric Ball but he was soon captivated by the music of Gilbert Vinter and Edward Gregson. On leaving school Darrol became an apprentice joiner but continued arranging and composing while teaching himself harmony and counterpoint.

In 1978 Darrol enrolled on the band musicianship course at Salford under Roy Newsome, Goff Richards, David Loukes and Geoff Whitham who all helped him greatly. In fact, it was through Roy Newsome that Darrol went on to study with Joseph Horovitz at the Royal College of Music in London. Darrol went on to become a freelance composer and arranger working for several publishers and lectured in composing and arranging at Salford University, Barnsley and Accrington and Rossendale Colleges. Darrol conducted and adjudicated throughout the United Kingdom and Europe at all levels.