Following our successful second-place finish at the Regional Finals in March, on 16 September 2018 Saints made the relatively short trip up the M4 to Cheltenham to join 17 other bands at the National Finals at the Racecourse. This was the second time in three years we had made it to the Second Section Finals.
This year, bands in the Second Section had been set Stephen Bulla’s Firestorm as the test piece. The piece was composed for the tenth anniversary of the United States Army Brass Band and had its first performance at the Gala Concert of the North-American Brass Band Championships on 27th April 1991. The inspiration for the piece was the war in the Persian Gulf and its continuous presentation to the world through the medium of television. Bulla wanted to capture the emotion and colour of the events of war as they were played out on the television screen. Comprising the sounds of airborne bombing raids, flashback sequences, a Baghdad market and the unspoiled beauty of the Iraqi countryside before the siege, the final page of the score bears the poignant inscription: Completed February 26 1991, Kuwait liberated today.
Unfortunately for us, this was an occasion where we very much ‘left our best in the bandroom’, and it is fair to say that the performance we gave on the day was not of the standard we had achieved in the run-up to the finals. Once the dust had settled we found ourselves ranked seventeenth. While obviously a disappointing result after all the work we had put in, it was a privilege just to be able to take part in the finals and compete with the very best bands in our section from across the country. Getting to grips with such a difficult piece was certainly an experience which benefited the band greatly.
A special thank you must also go to the Pontardulais Town Band, also competing in our section, for lending us a Bb Bass at the very last moment before we were due to take to the stage. In the final rehearsal in the warmup room before our performance, a valve guide on one of our own basses decided to pick that moment to snap in two, and the Bb Bass player of Pontardulais did not flinch in lending us their instrument. This very much summed up the spirit of the weekend.