4BarsRest logo



news desk

articles & features


results archive


classified ads

your comments

go shopping




Variation on a Theme by Bach:
4BarsRest takes time out to interview Markus S. Bach

Markus S. Bach (MSB) loves all music, but especially brass bands; the players, the conductors, the music and even the administrators . When you speak to him, you get the feeling that you have come across a man who has found his calling in life, and a feeling that you have met a man of almost eternal optimism.

As President of the European Brass Band Association (EBBA), Markus S. Bach is the top man of European banding, a figurehead and administrator who oversees the continued development and progression not only of the annual European Brass Band Championships (EBBC), but also of the expanding brass band movement in Europe.

4BarsRest therefore felt it was about time we caught up with him and put a few pointed questions in his lap.

The Interview:

4BR – How did you first get involved in brass bands?

MSB. - As a young man I was a student of the trumpet and trombone, and although the Swiss villages and cities had their own Fanfare bands and Wind Bands (almost 2,200 bands in total in a country of 7.5 million people) I got little enjoyment from playing in them. When the first bands from England came to Switzerland in the early 1960’s, such as CWS Manchester, I knew I had found the type of music making I wanted.

It was the special sound and the technique, and soloists such as Derek Garside, Lyndon Baglin and Barry Perrins were amazing. I knew then that we had to have brass bands in Switzerland.

4BR – And how did the movement develop?

MSB. – Slowly at first, but then with a great flourish. People such, as Ernst Graf who had returned from Northern Ireland was one of the first pioneers. In 1957 he started to change his village band Speicher (near the Austrian border) into a brass band. Ex-Salvationists like Ernst Egger, Andy Winkler, Daniel Aegerter and Roger Volet also started to change Swiss bands into brass bands and they were followed by conductors like Sisin Eicher, Ernst Obrecht and Jean-Charles Dorsaz, who created brass bands in their regions.

When I returned from living in London in 1968/1969, I formed the Brass Band Berner Oberland, which I conducted for 23 years. In 1972 with Jean-Pierre Birbaum, we founded the Swiss National Brass Band Championships, in 1974 I founded the Swiss Solo and Quartet Championships and in 1976 I founded the National Youth Band of Switzerland. By the 1990’s we already had over 400 soloists and 40 quartets enter this contest alone.

4BR – Did you base the development of the bands and organisation on the British model?

MSB. – To start with yes. We had to develop the brass bands from the grass roots, but we did try many innovations – some that worked and some that didn’t, but we had a great respect for the way in which banding was run in the motherland of brass bands in Great Britain and we used to send literally hundreds of supporters and fans to hear the bands at the National in Royal Albert Hall and to the Open at Belle Vue each year. They were great trips that showed us how far we had to go to be able to compete and we even visited the Boosey and Hawkes factory in Edgware to see how the instruments were made.

4BR – How did Markus S. Bach become an administrator?

MSB. – Before I studied Music I also had a commercial and management education. I am headmaster of a big music school and I conducted many ensembles, wind and Army bands and of course Brass Band Berner Oberland in many many concerts, in Nationals and Entertainement Contests and also in four European Championships. We won many first prizes at home and abroad. In the late 1980’s, Boosey and Hawkes had set up an Advisory Committee to try and involve the Europeans more in the development of the European Championships and banding in general.

However, in 1995, we founded the European Brass Band Association (EBBA) together with people such as Jappie Dyjkstra and Tom Brevik, Robert Schotte, Fred Harles and James Abbott. Through this body it enabled Boosey to take a step back and to become the main sponsors of the European Championship through a management contract. It was a significant step and one that I believe has been for the good of banding throughout Europe.

4BR – So the European Championships are in safe hands then. So why is it that some people are not happy with parts of the EBBC weekend?

MSB. – I don’t agree that there are major problems. Each country has its traditions and its way to organize a band contest. As a participating band, as a player or conductor you must learn to accept other traditions and mentalities (especially outside Britain!) when you travel to the different European countries. I think the European Championships as being at the forefront of brass banding, breaking down barriers, initiating innovation and new ideas and widening the profile of banding to the public at large.

I think the EBBC and EBBA should always be two steps ahead of the game, and not be afraid to try something new. Others may not share that view, and there are some that hold and cherish the old and traditional as the only way in which things can be done. I think this is wrong and we should move forward quicker. Brass banding is like our life - it’s like a train that moves forward – either you jump on or you jump off and stay at home.

4BR – So what about Open Adjudication then?

MSB. – Let me first say that this is something we have discussed and will continue to discuss again for the European Championships. Personally I see no problem with it, or for that matter the use of a jury system of judging rather than three men in a box giving marks. We brought in the process for the judges not giving written remarks three years ago, so that they could be free to listen just to the music and not be distracted by other tasks when having to judge on complex scores and exceptionally difficult pieces of music.

The recent research of different universities in Norway and Switzerland also came to the solution, that writing remarks and at the same time listening to the top bands is like driving on the motorway and using the mobile phone. I think this has been a very positive development. The jury members all told us that they can now concentrate much better to listen to the performance of the bands.

4BR – So it's possible Open Adjudication then?

MSB. – Yes – but only if the conductors and bandsmen themselves want it, and if the delegates of the EBBA members countries will vote for it at the next general meeting. The conductors and bands themselves should also decide the direction the contest moves in. We would like to involve the opinion of the bands much more into these decisions. The contest is for the bands and not for the organizers – some organizers are forgetting this sometimes! Get the bands to inform the delegates what they want, and we will initiate it.

Open adjudication is based very much on trust and that is why I feel a jury system is so much better. We could have 5-10 judges from all musical backgrounds listening to the performances and then returning to give a verdict after a serious jury meeting where all the opinions can be discussed and then take a vote with the jury members to whom gets 1st, 2nd 3rd, place. With our present system of the box – the jury members are always chased to give a very quick decision and have nearly no time to discuss the performance. Also, it is actually impossible to remember really seriously the performance of twenty bands - I think about 12 bands in each section would be just right.

4BR – If as you say you wish to encourage openness, why then all the secrecy about the music that is played?

MSB. – I know that this year 4BarsRest enquired with all the participating bands what own choice piece they would play in Montreux and put it then on their website. I think this wasn’t a very good idea as long as we have closed adjudication. The conductors and bands did not like it at all.

4BR – This brings us to our other query. Why the delay for the results until the Gala Concert?

MSB. – I believe this is a better and more constructive way of doing it. Time should be taken to reach a result. Too many bandsmen these days want just to play and then go to the pub, not listen to any other bands, come back, get the result and go home. We must try to change this attitude and bring the process more up to date. The European Championship is a Festival weekend that should show the world that we are a serious musical force. The results should be the climax to a weekend of competition and music making that celebrates our movement – that is why it is done in this way.

4BR – What does EBBA think about promotion and relegation for the European?

MSB - This is a good question. We are discussing at the moment the possibility to make rules for this. In my opinion promotion and relegation for the championship section would be very good indeed. We could for example reduce the number of bands in the top section to approximately 8 and we would then have more bands in the B-section. This could also be an advantage for the timetable of the EBBC and maybe we could think of a testpiece plus a short program of maximum of 30 minutes for all the bands. The EBBC could then be much more attractive for players and especially for the audience.

4BR – Why is it that the winners of the English Masters does not get an invitation to the European as the Champion Band of England?

MSB. – This is something, which should be discussed in England. At the moment the British Federation of Brass Bands is nominating the Champion of the British National Championships in the Albert Hall for participating at the European.

The rules of EBBA say that we invite the National Champions of each country, or where there are no such National Championships the EBBA will invite a band by recommendation of the EBBA music commission. We know that Wales and Scotland (judged by only one jury member!!!) send their Regional Champions to the EBBC. This is because their Associations want it that way. If the British bands want another system for nomination, they have to discuss this with their Associations.

4BR – Many people think that the concept of the Gala Concert is now outdated. If you are willing to be innovative, why not drop it?

MSB. – What people must realise is that it costs an enormous amount of money to maintain and develop the European Championships and we only get a certain amount of sponsorship. Bandsmen must also realise that if we are to continue to be able to perform at places such as the Stravinsky Hall Montreux, Palais des Beaux Art Brussels, Grieg Hall Bergen, Birmingham Symphony Hall, etc., it costs a lot of money. We do not want to go back with the contest to some sports hall. The Gala concert also gives us the opportunity for the marketing of the movement and to draw in an audience to listen to a concert given by the very best performers in Europe.

It is always a success and forms an integral part of the Festival weekend. It also raises the money to pay for hiring the hall, the test pieces and many other expenses such as putting on the European Conductors Competition, Soloist Competition and next year in Brussels, a Composers Competition. Bandsmen cannot have it both ways. If the bandsmen will not buy any tickets for their Nationals and the European Championships and also for the concerts, the organisers will in the future not be able to hire these beautiful halls anymore. The conductors and bandsmen must surely recognise this and support it much better.

4BR – Why not expand the European Championships to be like the Champions League in football?

MSB. – This is a question of philosophy and costs. At the moment EBBA is doing it like the European Athletics, Hockey or Football Championships. This means a country is either in league A or B, therefore you cannot participate with more then one band in two different sections. Of course we would like to develop the First Section more, but for countries like Finland, Ireland, Slovakia, it is mainly the travel expenses which prevent them from participating.

Other countries like Italy, Germany, Austria only have only one or two bands in their country and are still struggling to develop a brass band movement. Some countries or Associations now have started to give their bands a subsidy to participate at the EBBC. All the Associations should possibly do this. If the EBBA had sponsorship like in football etc. we could give a subsidy for travelling to the bands participating.

The EBBA is not a full time organisation and does not have full time officers or premises, so change must be well thought out and financially viable.

4BR – People also complain that the testpieces used at the Championships are only played once and never used again. Any ideas to overcome this?

MSB. - This is a great pity, as there have been many fine pieces of music that have been written for the European Championships and we do encourage different band associations to use these compositions again. On the Continent we are also commissioning compositions, which are then used in different countries for their Nationals. The continental bands usually perform a large repertoire in their concerts, which also includes testpieces from composers in Great Britain and from the Continent.

But it seems to be, that especially the British bands do not often play (why?) music from Continental composers. It would also be a delight if the British would use compositions from outside of their country more often and perhaps use them for their National or area contests. There have been many fine pieces written and we have encouraged many young and talented composers to write for brass bands. Everyone should encourage this.

4BR – We have covered many aspects then and you have been very clear that propositions for change should come from the bands themselves – if they want it. Can you see further possible changes?

MSB. – Of course. I think in a very positive manner and I believe that the European Championships should be at least two steps ahead of anything else in developing brass banding. If this means open adjudication, jury judging, the openness of knowing what music is to be played, the development of new ways of qualification for the contest, then so be it. The bands themselves have the power, but they should use it.

If they want changes, then they must tell their delegates what they want. We must go forward and although we respect the past, we must strive to make banding much more popular and relevant. The whole band movement all over the world has lost some market and the public is not so interested as it was 10 years ago. Therefore we must do many things to change it again – better marketing strategies, much better promotion for Concerts and Contests, much better and interesting concert programs which attract the younger generation, better contacts and more promotion through the media, etc. etc.

© 4BarsRest.

back to top

markus s bach

ebba logo

EBBA website:

 © copyright & disclaimer

Fax: 01495 791085 E-Mail: