Motor City Festival of Bands 4

Motor City Brass Band is pleased to announce Motor City Festival of Bands 4 on Sunday, March 10 at 3 p.m. at the Michael Guido Theatre in Dearborn’s Ford Community & Performing Arts Center (FCPAC).

Following three years of success, MCBB (Craig Strain) is thrilled to bring back this family-friendly event to metro Detroit residents. Chosen for their musical excellence, each of the participating bands will perform individually, as well as in the Festival’s grand finale. More than 200 musicians will take the stage for an electrifying and all-encompassing performance led by guest conductor James Gourlay, General Director of Pittsburgh’s River City Brass.

Four talented bands from across the state of Michigan will join MCBB in this year’s Festival. They include: Birmingham Concert Band with conductor Grant Hoemke, Farmington Community Band with conductor Damien Crutcher, Oakland University Brass Band with conductor Kenneth Kroesche, and West Michigan Concert Winds with conductor Gail Brechting.

Motor City Festival of Bands 4 will begin with separate short and energetic 20-minute performances by each band. The afternoon will culminate with a riveting performance by all five bands of three major well-known works led by Gourlay.  Stephen Bulla’s “Intrada Festivo” will kick-off the combined performance, followed by “Mars” from Holst’s The Planets, and finishing with one of the most famous American marches of all time, “The Stars & Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa.

James Gourlay photo by Christopher Bowen

James Gourlay
photo by Christopher Bowen

James Gourlay currently serves as General Director of Pittsburgh’s River City Brass,a full-time and professional brass band. Born in Scotland, Gourlay holds a DMA from the University of Salford, a MMus from the University of Leeds and is a Fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music (FRNCM) and the London College of Music (FLCM). An active tuba player, he has performed with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London, and the Zurich Opera House Orchestra. Before leaving to serve as Director of River City Brass, Gourlay served as Deputy Principal (Music) at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

Motor City Festival of Bands will take place on Sunday, March 10 at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center (FCPAC) in Dearborn. Performances begin at 3 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the FCPAC Box Office or online at

Championships Test Pieces: Third Section

photo by Laurel Daunis Allen

Editor’s Note: I asked NABBA President Dr. Stephen Allen to provide some background for each of the 2013 NABBA Set Test Pieces.  In later posts, he’ll describe Ellerby’s Elgar Variations, Four Dances from ‘Checkmate’ by Sir Arthur Bliss, arr. Ball, and Fletcher’s Labour and Love.


Philip Sparke has always been drawn by the aesthetic of French Music. (Witness, for example, the presence of Ravel in his Harmony Music.) The French, unlike the Germans, do not emphasize emotion in their writing, rather they glorify the Apollonian traits of order, form, clarity, precision, and color. Ironically, great emotion does exist, but usually under the surface.

As a result, this kind of music can sound superficially ‘easy,’ as if it somehow took
less struggle or effort to produce. That is, until you try writing it—especially crafting
a musically satisfying work for Third Section bands. Then you quickly realize what an
amazing skill and talent Mr. Sparke has: the Sparke of Genius.

The composer had long wanted to write a set of variations on the famous chorale from
Saint-Saëns ‘Organ Symphony’ No. 3 and a commission from a symphonic
concert band in Las Vegas allowed him to do this. He reworked it for brass band in 2009.

A brief perky introduction leads us into the chorale (which you may recognize if you
have seen the movie Babe, if you don’t recognize the original itself). Sparke then
proceeds with what might be best described as high-quality light music in a chirpy
variation that is nonetheless expressive. The chorale returns in a manner reminiscent
of his uses of the Tallis hymn in Tallis Variations. Each phrase is interlinked with
solo turns. Then we hear one of the classic gorgeous Phil Sparke melodic lines. This
composer is blessed with a veritably limitless melodic gift—almost Mozartian in its
expressivity and inevitability. This is a true heart-melter!

Trombones lead off in a stentorian waltz which surges through successions of keys. A big climax recalls the style of the very best old-style test-pieces, the waltz rhythm connecting all the gestures into a convincing return of Saint-Saëns’ chorale in a compacted coda. This work is a real gem – a joy to play and a certain audience pleaser.

I’d like to remind and strongly urge bands and band members participating in the NABBA XXXI Championship to refrain from posting any information about their Own Choice piece on any websites or social media. This includes concert advertising and online programs. Our adjudicators take all pains to avoid deliberately seeing any such information on the internet, but please assist them as much as you can in these respects. Many thanks indeed for your collaboration in this matter. Very much looking forward to seeing and hearing you in Cincinnati. Very best wishes with all your preparations.

Dr. Stephen A. Allen, NABBA President