The Year of the Dragon, Philip Sparke
Other than the regular fix provided by the LCB Weekly Newsletter, Track of the Week’s supply of lockdown light reading has been becoming ever more depressingly reliant on the varied contributions found on the Facebook group Bored Bandsman. This past week, members have been invited to vote in an exclusive poll to find the brass band hive mind’s favourite Test Piece. As of the time of writing, The Year of the Dragon by Philip Sparke is in the lead with 95 votes (i.e. 95 more than he’s got so far for Saint-Saëns Variations), meaning that I’m unilaterally giving it the further honour of making it the subject of this latest write-up. The Year of the Dragon, as any fool can tell you, was written for the centenary celebrations of the Cory Band (that’s the Cory Band from Wales, geddit!?) in 1984, coincidentally after they had also just won two consecutive national championships. The opening Toccata (Italian for ‘how fast can the band double-tongue’) features a delicate interplay of militaristic blasting themes with mischievous dance-like passages, eventually giving way to a mournful Interlude primarily based around an edge-of-seat trombone solo. The closing Finale, following without a break, starts with a melodic ode of love to the semiquaver, before the sound of a distant ice-cream van ushers in a high-octane conclusion. While the work’s evident quality has won it many fans, I feel the central idea is ultimately flawed, in that my trusty guide to Chinese astrology informs me that people born in the Year of the Dragon (that’s 2000, 1988, 1976, and 1964, among others) are typically glamorous, egotistical and showy, and therefore would have little in common with top-flight brass banding. As far as the wider standard of contesting ethics goes, meanwhile, I need only observe that, controversially, 1984 was officially the Year of the Rat.