Eric Ball: Torch of Freedom


Eric Walter John Ball was born in Gloucestershire in October 1903 and was the eldest of 16 siblings. He learned to play the piano and organ and by 1919 Ball started to work in the Salvation Army musical instrument department in London. Ball is known for his extensive work as a conductor and composer, and it was in the Salvation Army that he developed these skills. From conducting the Salvation Army National Orchestra, to becoming bandmaster, with the rank of major, of the International Staff Band, Ball was a dynamic and versatile conductor. 

After suddenly deciding to leave the Salvation Army in 1944 after the unfortunate death of his sister, Ball became involved in judging brass band competitions. Swiftly following this he also became conductor of Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, winning the National Championships the year after. Ball was also involved with the CWS band, where he won the British Open with the Manchester based band in 1948. Ball is also remembered as the editor of the much-loved British Bandsman magazine. 

During the mid-1950s Ball stopped conducting competing brass bands so that he could concentrate on teaching and composing. Through his invaluable experience within the competitive brass band circle, Ball began to compose many test pieces for competitive bands including well-known works such as Resurgam (1950), Tournament for Brass (1954), Journey into Freedom (1967) and The Wayfarer (1976). Throughout the years these works have been used at a multitude of different contests and have been performed by a wide range of bands. 


The Music

As well as composing a number of tone poems and big symphonic-like works for brass band, Ball also wrote a number of contest marches. Torch of Freedom was composed in 1972 for use in march contests. Perhaps one of his lesser-known works, Torch of Freedom is a light-hearted march that resembles some of Ball’s classic style.

The march starts with a theme played in near-unison and led by the cornets. The lower band shadow the theme during the small gaps the cornets stop playing. The bouncy main theme of the march then settles in, with the snare drum adding that march-feel to the music. Ball utilises chromatic movement and colour flashes of harmony that add to the musicality of the piece. The tempo is a comfortable pace that does not change for the duration of the piece.

The bass theme is a variation of the main cornet theme, with the warm bass sound adding to the presentation. The slower central section sees a a cornet duet and euphonium play around with a new theme, although is interrupted by a new full band section. Ball’s bold use of dynamic changes creates excitement during this march, as the listener is never quite sure where the music will go next. As the opening theme is revisited one last time, the conclusion of the march comes in the form of a small climax followed by some tutti stabs. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!


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