A show of confidence at the Grieghallen once again...
You could never accuse the Norwegian banding movement of lacking self confidence.
However, the National Championship at Bergen’s wonderful Grieghallen seems to have reached a critical mass – and as a result, the happy, carefree vibrancy that was so much a feature of the event’s development has started to display an occasional edge of cynicism.
There is no denying that the first signs of a damaging sense of hubris may be permeating its contesting persona.
The most obvious example is the growing problem of ‘contest sickness’ - a very particular Norwegian medical phenomenon that seems to affect certain bands in the first two weeks of February each year.
Star players are now shipped in from over the world like a brass band version of Médecins Sans Frontières to provide life saving help in various sections to either safeguard against relegation or enhance contest winning potential.
When asked, the organisers smile, shrug their shoulders and deny that any subterfuge has occurred; yet they know only too well that genuine cases (and there were a number this year – and the rules are very clear) are now far outstripped by pre-planned dodgy imports backed by a ‘sympathetic’ medical certificate.
Overseas help sandwiched between the regulars with Stavanger...
The Norwegians are a very literal banding people – but this corrosive contesting mentality is starting to damage the integrity of an event that prides itself on transparency and a sense of fairness:
Promotion and relegation is straightforward, new bands enter at the bottom of contesting ladder, the adjudication is open, the results displayed for all to see.
The very best of Norwegian banding remains as thrilling and heart warming as ever – from the immense battle for the Elite title between Eikanger and Manger, to the overall excellence of the First and Second Divisions and the clearly defined levels of quality that separates the ambitions in the Third and Fourth Divisions.
Even so, some unease prevails:
The Fifth Division remains fun, although the inclusion of two debutants bands filled with players with obvious high grade experience easily claiming two of the podium places made its recent addition to the contest structure somewhat redundant.
What exactly is its purpose?
Fifth Division debate and delight this year
Elsewhere, there was a rather cynical view that in certain parts of the country, ‘contest sickness’ was being alleviated by the importation of specialist Belgian musical aid convoys.
Whatever the reasons - perhaps the depressing answer lay in what one highly respected Norwegian banding observer told 4BR over a pint on the eve of the contest.
“We’ve always looked to the UK for inspiration – and copied what goes on there. The top bands there seem to get away with it to win contests – so why not us.”
It was said without the merest hint of irony.
A single champion on parade with Eikanger...
One reciprocal oddity though that would perhaps never be exported in return was the lack of any post contest celebration seen this year after Eikanger Bjorsvik won their 14th National title.
After such a wonderfully exciting contest, and nail biting results finale – to see just one player on stage to accept the magnificent National Trophy on behalf of the winning band seemed a touch bizarre.
Even 20 minutes after the result was announced and with the hall still packed with people, there was no sign of any other player, band spokesperson or conductor coming into the hall to enjoy the moment of glory or give an interview, get their pictures taken for the excellent local and regional media or receive the congratulations of rivals and supporters alike.
It may not have been intended, but it still managed to look like inexcusable hubris (especially as the organisers took great pride in presenting a feature on the band’s forthcoming television appearance at the Gala Concert).
Thankfully, contesting goodwill and innovation continues to flourish elsewhere at the event, with the outstanding organisation led by Stig Ryland and his team enabling players to be interviewed in the immediate aftermath of their stage performances.
Meanwhile, the live internet coverage was excellent (which was also transmitted into the bar areas of the Grieghallen), enhancing the lively atmosphere found in the main auditorium and Peer Gynt Hall - which is always such a welcoming feature of the championships.
One man and his well deserved medal - the great Tom Brevik
As always, the results presentation and Gala Concert was a great mix of fun and information, with Cory on top form and the great Tom Brevik - a man who represents the very antithesis of hubris - receiving the King’s Honorary Medal for his amazing contribution to Norwegian musical culture.
His love for the true spirit of banding has been one of the main reasons why this National Championship has grown to be such a truly great event – and one that is always such a pleasure to come to Bergen each year to enjoy its hospitality, openness and superb musical atmosphere.
Perhaps the time has finally come for the Norwegians to remind themselves of it too.