The Challenge

Solo for trumpet

by

Eric Walter John Ball, OBE, scoring Robert Getz

(October 31, 1903 - October 1, 1989)

 

This arrangement for concert band, by Robert Getz, was commissioned by Patricia Forguites and is respectfully dedicated to Douglas Alan Dougherty in recognition of decades of artistry and dedication to young musicians . . . "changing the world one student at a time."


Listen to It!

 

The Challenge was written first with brass band accompaniment in 1935 by Eric Ball, then an Adjutant in The Salvation Army in England.  However, it was not published until 1939.  The piece was written specifically for William "Will" Overton, then principal trumpet in the BBC Orchestra and a Deputy Bandmaster in The Salvation Army.  Will and Eric (piano) recorded the piece for Regal Zonophone records at the time, which recording survives on a 78 r.p.m. disk, issued in 1943 (see: www.regalzonophone.com).  

 

Eric was then the darling of The Salvation Army world, including early rank promotions and appointment as Bandmaster of the preeminent International Staff Band.  His talent was colossal and his persona was gentle, genteel and spiritually charged in a quiet way.   As a musician (composer, conductor, pianist and euphoniumist) he was self-taught.   Regardless, he had flawless technique, was totally at home with classical forms, and was even engaged to conduct the London Symphony in a series of concerts in 1948.  

 

Eric remains the leading composer in the history of the worldwide brass band movement and was a beloved saint.  On April 6, 1944 he was forced to resign his commission as a Salvation Army Officer (clergy) over a silly misunderstanding of appearances, and was quite ostracized from that organization for well over a decade.  Eventually there was a reconciliation, and finally, in 1977, a certificate of appreciation was presented to him from the General of the Army (worldwide leader).  Through the whole of it Eric never uttered a criticism of the Army or in any way showed any rancor.  You can learn more in Peter Cooke's "Eric Ball, the man and his music" (Egon Publishers, Ltd - UK).

 

The Challenge is well named.  It would be a great mistake to misunderstand that the "challenge" is only of a musical or performance dimension.  Christian spirituality pervaded every fiber of Eric's being throughout his life and dominated even his secular output of compositions. The text of the tune employed is a challenge in its own way.  While the piece follows classical formal lines, it is actually built upon a hymn tune, "All Hail, I'm Saved!"  There is no attribution for the tune other than "Ranter tune" (The Ranters were a radical English sect in the time of the Commonwealth, who were regarded as heretical by the established Church of that period.)  The words are of anonymous origin, but likely from within The Salvation Army.  Eric was very conscious of the words to hymns when he wrote.   However, Eric's treatment of this tune is truly, in this writer's estimation, a case of a master turning a musical sow's ear into a silk purse.

 

 

There are certain aspects of the piece that may guide a performer in its performance.  To begin, it is published for trumpet in an organization that eschews trumpets in favor of the traditional short-model cornets used in the brass band movement.  This should be carefully considered when interpreting it.  It was a very major step for someone to try to buck the extremely rigid and bureaucratic Army of those days.  Yet Eric prevailed and the solo was published for trumpet first in 1939 with piano accompaniment (strangely absent the 4 measure introduction which is included on the recording - Instrumental Album No. 24 -Salvationist Publishing & Supplies, UK.).   In 1990 (55 years after its first appearance, and a year after Eric went to Heaven!) it was finally published for brass band (Number 482 in the Judd Street Collection, SP&S UK).  It can be assumed that there were not enough capable trumpet players within The Salvation Army over the years to make it viable to publish the band version, though it was widely used in manuscript all along.

 

     After the title and use of trumpet versus cornet, the next signal Eric gives the performer is the marking of f marcato (loud and pronounced) at the outset.  It may seem silly to offer these reminders but there is a recording of the piece by an internationally renowned trumpeter that could only be described as effeminate at the outset. Inversely, I own a recording by a woman trumpeter that is most appropriately robust.   I have heard it played on cornet in the syrupy style of the brass band movement with all imaginable permutations of the diabolical upper register trills . . . except those that are written!  This piece is for masters of the trumpet only.

 

 Another clue to interpretation is the opening theme itself.  It is hard to imagine any figure more appropriately "trumpetish" without becoming a caricature or cliche.   This is, of course, not to say that the entire piece is of a robust nature, only that the extremely tender portions will be enhanced by the contrast with pronounced statements of the main theme and other materials calling for stalwart statements.  The musical/emotional/dynamic range of the piece is vast.

 

     The arranger has tried as much as possible to keep the accompaniment from overshadowing the soloist, while keeping the tonal color appropriate, alive and interesting for the listener.   Eric was my dear lifelong friend, and I hope I have done him a service and not a disservice in this arrangement.  As I was reminded by Ms. Forguites when she commissioned this, Emerson said, "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it."   I was aware of Eric's reward in this regard with every note I wrote.  God bless you!     EXCELSIOR!  Bob Getz

 

 

    

      Eric Ball & Bob Getz              Will Overton 1956

 

      Conductors' note:  The piece is scored for at least the following instrumentation - piccolo (optional), Flute (several, not a plethora), oboe, English Horn (or second oboe), bassoons (2), Bb clarinet 1&2 (several each, not a plethora), alto and bass clarinet,  alto sax (2), tenor sax, baritone sax,  cornet 1/3 & 2 (several each, not a plethora), horns 1 & 2 (4), tenor trombone (2) & bass trombone (or 3rd), 2 euphoniums, tuba (one or two), timpani, and percussion (snare, bass, suspended cymbal, crash cymbal, tambourine, triangle. Percussion is as Ball wrote it.  Obviously each conductor will allocate resources according to his/her best judgment.   Deference to the music and the soloist are clearly desired.  The arranger has striven to treat this as the masterpiece it is and not as just another band piece.

 

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