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.
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
1960s, 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 1990s 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 didnt, 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
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 1980s, 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
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
MSB. I dont 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 - its 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
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 wasnt 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
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
4BR Many people think that the concept of the Gala Concert
is now outdated. If you are willing to be innovative, why not drop
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
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
4BR People also complain that the testpieces used at the Championships
are only played once and never used again. Any ideas to overcome
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.