We spent this evening in the beautiful Flemish city of Mechelen, in the Stadsschouwburg, following the Flemish Open Brass Band Championship. What took me there was my friendship with composer Nigel Clarke and the poem he commissioned from me to accompany his new composition, Earthrise. Nigel is the composer-in-residence for the Belgian champion brass band, Brassband Buizingen. There were six bands in the finals: Amsterdam Brass, Festival Brassband, Brassband Buizingen, Noord-Limburgse Brassband, Brassband Willebroek, and Provinciale Brassband Gronigen. Each had to play a set-piece exercise, and then two other pieces. There were strict time limits, with each band getting thirty minutes overall and with a narrow fifteen minutes between each band. The bands drew lots to decide the order in which they would play. Brassband Buizingen drew the last place. There is a whole competitive world out there about which, before Nigel drew me into it, I knew nothing. The Bands had their rival supporters and at times they got quite raucous. There was a strong rivalry between Willebroek and Buizingen in particular. Buizingen beat Willebroek to be Belgium’s representative at the European championships (Willebroek won the championships in 2008), which will be held in Linz in a month’s time. So tonight the two bands had different strategies. Willebroek were out to win – and they did. Buizingen, on the other hand knew they couldn’t win, since they are still polishing a new piece for Linz, but they showed Willebroek that they could have done if they had opted for a classic, since they won first prize for their execution of the set-piece exercise. The atmosphere was great. There was a beer tent on the square and to cap it all four young musicians from Brassband Buizingen, in an ensemble called Exit_Brass!, gave a very witty pastiche of Michael Jackson’s hits before the results were announced. It was a memorable and most enjoyable occasion and, oh, yes, I got to read my poem to the band. But the most extraordinary aspect of the whole event was that – amazing though, really – although the level of the musicianship was extraordinary, every single musician was an amateur.