Brassband Willebroek was founded in 1979 and thus celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. An ideal opportunity to meet up with the founder and driving force behind Belgium's most successful brass band: Frans Violet. Between 2 rehearsals for the Belgian championship we meet in a cozy pub in Willebroek. Together we go over the formation of the band, discuss where the strengths lie and look forward to the future.
Frans fell in love with the brass band in the brass ensemble of Albert De Keyser. It is true that with French horns and trumpets, but they only played brass band music there. And this about 50 to 60 years ago. Real pioneering work!
At the Belgian brass band championships, he saw the competition between Midden-Brabant and Kortrijk, who were the leading bands in the late 1970s. And Frans wanted to be among them, dueling for the ticket to the European championship. Because when Frans does something, he wants to do it well and, if possible, exceptionally well. He is clearly a perfectionist.
BB Willebroek was founded in 1979, as part of the music academy. In the beginning it was not always easy to find musicians and a performance was given with a french horn instead of a tenor horn… The level rose systematically. A first time they participated in the Belgian championship, but with only 2 basses. They soon became champions in the lower division.
During the first participations in the A-section, they narrowly lost 2 or 3 times to the competitors. The year of the big breakthrough was 1985, where they won both the Belgian championship and the big prestigious VARA competition in the Netherlands. It soon became clear that BB Willebroek was not a one-hit wonder.
In the meantime, everyone knows BB Willebroek's impressive list of achievements: 21 times national champion, 3 times European champion and current world champion. And this regularly with a new band. Frans continues to work with young musicians who are enthusiastic and motivated to achieve something beautiful. He gets a lot of satisfaction from working with the youth and enjoys watching them get better.
The fact that Frans conducts without a baton is inevitably also discussed. But a brass band simply has such a small line-up that you can touch everyone, so to speak. It is much easier to have contact than, for example, in a large symphonic orchestra. “And”, Frans confides to me, “I would be a danger to the eyes of the musicians in the front row, while the rest don't look at the conductor that often...”
It again typifies the perfectionist in him: he would like to cut every note into 10 pieces to make clear at what tempo and how it should be played. The search continues until a solution is found that works. When you realize that there are several ways to make things right, the search never ends.
What is also striking when conducting is that Frans still "works" a lot during the performance. He finds it important to respond to what is happening around him in order to make the whole thing even better. And that happens to the individual musician. Sometimes that is interpreted as an unclear style but it is his way of conveying feeling through gestures. It again typifies the perfectionist in him: he would like to cut every note into 10 pieces to make clear at what tempo and how it should be played. The search continues until a solution is found that works. When you realize that there are several ways to make things right, the search never ends. What else can we do to make it more interesting. The concert always comes too early because the process never ends. You can see it as a painter who keeps looking for extra brushstrokes on the canvas.
What is the secret behind the fantastic sound that BB Willebroek displays time and again? Because sound is, after all, THE trademark of BB Willebroek, which until now has no equal. From the beginning, the very specific sound of some English top bands such as Black Dyke, Desford Colliery, Brittania Building Society and Grimethorpe Colliery was used as an example. While they have been following the general trend lately and opting for more power than sound, Frans remains faithful to that heavenly sound.
That secret is in the first place the fact that Frans works with his own students that he himself formed within the Academy of Music and Drama Willebroek. There they receive a very good education and those who wish to continue their studies as a professional musician can go to the Kunsthumaniora Brussels and the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp. That way they have learned the same technique and playing style and they think the same. Frans knows the strengths and weaknesses of all musicians and he uses them in the best possible way.
In addition, Frans' absolute pitch also helps to achieve the perfect sound. Not a single detail escapes him. Couple this with the ability to "articulate" the most difficult passages and you have the recipe for success.
For the 40th anniversary, a real gala concert will be organized in San Marco Village in Schelle on March 28, 2020. In this beautiful hall with its fantastic acoustics, the public will be able to enjoy one musical masterpiece after another. And the All-Star Band with former members of the band had been on Frans' wish list for some time. The highlight of the evening will undoubtedly be the Massed Band performance in which both the youth and the current band will take the stage together with the All Star Band. All details about this unique concert can be found on the band's website.
What will the future bring? As long as health permits and it continues to revolve with the “youth”, Frans will remain faithful in his post. In addition, Young Willebroek has now outgrown his infancy and son Lode has successfully taken over that band. As a dream for the future, he would like to start a new youth band back with real teenagers, with the intention of making the young musicians better. And thus the future of Brassband Willebroek is assured.