Mike Kilroy’s presentation to the All Party Parliamentary Group at Westminster.
My own story:
My journey started when I began to learn to play aged 8 with Delph Band, inspired after hearing a brass band at my school.
It has since developed into a lifelong passion that has brought wide ranging benefits that upon reflection are more significant in their impact than I could have ever imagined.
My belief that participation in brass bands has had significant positive impact on me and many, many others form the basis of the main focus of this presentation.
On September the 6th 2014 the date of the British Open Contest it will be exactly 50 years to the day since I stepped through the Band room door in Delph, testament to the longevity of the influence and continuing impact of this art form.
An overview of the history of brass bands in the UK:
The Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851 was a turning point in the development of British brass bands.
Factory owners used brass bands as one of the mechanisms to combat wide ranging social issues and subversive political activities caused by changing social landscapes and environments in industrial Britain in the mid-19th Century.
Bands provided outlets for creative minded people and helped to form links between industry and the community.
The arrival of John Henry Iles, a successful entrepreneur, was significant in brass band development.
He first came into contact with brass bands at the 1898 September Contest in Manchester and immediately recognised their commercial potential. He consequently bought the British Bandsman newspaper, R Smiths music publishers and founded the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain in 1900, with the assistance and support of Sir Arthur Sullivan.
At this point there were approximately 20,000 brass bands in existence in Great Britain. Iles developed a genuine passion for this creative activity and was responsible for commissioning major new works from Elgar and Holst among others, whilst ‘A Downland Suite’ (John Ireland) was subsequently re-scored for strings which demonstrated the high quality and acceptance of these new compositions by other genres.
Currently there are approximately 570 registered brass bands participating in competition; however it is believed that there are approximately 2000 brass bands in the UK at present.
In terms of people involved in the activity with the combination of players, conductors, adjudicators, teachers, administrators, associated groups, volunteers and those employed in sector based enterprises it is thought that there are over 100,000 people actively engaged in brass bands at any one time.
There is also a large alumni group that are no longer active but can demonstrate benefit from past participation.
The outreach and audience visibility of brass bands have almost no equal.
The wide variety of events featuring brass bands make them one of the most accessible forms of entertainment in terms of live music; ranging from those that are community based through to high profile occasions in some of the world’s most prestigious venues.
Although it is commonly believed that brass banding is mainly a ‘Northern’ based activity, it should be noted that one of the most vibrant and growing areas in the country is London and the South East Counties.
It is unfortunate, yet true, that in recent years, brass bands have become increasingly isolated from communities and each other along with an introspective attitude that has crept up over this community over a number of years.
Leadership has become fragmented and unfocused. Although driven by a true sense of willing and purpose it is too often divided by differing interests and personal agendas.
In truth, brass bands have in many cases lost sight of their common purpose and are not fully aware (if at all) of their value and importance. On the plus side there are many examples of excellence and best practise driven by people with clear aspirations, aims and objectives.
Sadly these are generally isolated examples.
Benefits of participation:
What brass bands do is well known - they make music.
However what is not often considered are the additional benefits that are often more significant in their long term effect.
a. Social Awareness
c. Teamwork and its value
e. Feeling of belonging, self-worth and purpose
f. Understanding of collective and individual responsibility
Artistic and Creative development
a. Opens minds
d. Enables Innovation in later life (prevents the narrowing of an individual’s imagination and creativity often seen in most industries and professions)
a. Implementation and application of learning
b. Raised academic attainment
c. Positive impact on behaviour
d. Evidence that Universities and employers are looking for candidates to demonstrate engagement with team based activities, a person who demonstrates a better balanced view of the society in which they live.
Brass bands provide an environment where people (mainly the young) can become well rounded individuals who through participation learn a wide range of skills that are transferable into other aspects of their life either socially or in their careers.
Brass bands create routes too, and skills that can, lead into employment such as:
• Professional musicians
• Sector based industry employment opportunities
• People who create businesses from their hobby
• Those that use the transferable skills in commercial enterprises in mainstream commerce.
All of these benefits exist within close proximity of the majority of the population in the form of easily accessible, regular, low cost, well-structured music making.
There are very few barriers to access in regards to age, social status, racial heritage, gender, ability, physical attribute or sexual orientation. The main focus of a band is to perform music to the best of its ability using a musical score that provides the best set of detailed job descriptions imaginable - something that many project managers in industry could be envious of.
Brass Bands across the world:
It is clear that other countries around the world have realised the benefits of engagement of this activity and there has been phenomenal growth where the value to communities has been recognised.
Scandinavia, mainland Europe, USA and Japan were cited as areas that were not restricted in terms of development by practises, approaches and values driven by heritage and historically based views.
These areas are showing growth and development which is outstripping our own in regards to investment, innovation and perceived social value which is leading to an increase in performance standards that are challenging our own at every level.
Brass Bands England role:
The focus of Brass Bands England is to coordinate, support, promote and educate people in the broadest sense about the many benefits of engagement with brass bands.
It is also there to provide access to information and practical support for all. Encourage participation in both playing and audiences alike. It also has to encourage brass bands to be more proactive and outward facing, re-engaging with communities and other bands sharing resources and experience.
Already we have seen many examples of our ‘elite’ bands taking up the challenge with a number of them hosting workshops delivered by BBE inviting bands from their surrounding areas with great success.
Already there has been positive encouragement from the brass band media and by utilising these resources and other media outlets that are wider reaching it is hoped that this All Party Parliamentary Group can get the messages about importance of brass bands and the benefits that they provide to Government, public bodies, the wider public and most importantly to the bands and participants themselves.
The purpose of the APPG:
I am not asking for financial support - Brass Bands England and others must be credible and organised well enough to stand on their own feet and obtain funding and other support based on the attributes and compelling arguments they construct and demonstrate, and compete in fair competition alongside other representative organisations from other sectors that rely on external financial support.
My hope is that this group can be the proactive catalyst, the vehicle for attitudinal change by promoting awareness and extolling the measurable benefits that this activity brings through its understanding, support and advocacy for brass bands in Britain.
It is hoped that future meetings will feature presentations from leading people from the various employment and development strands mentioned previously representing all beneficiaries of the engagement with brass bands.
One of the meetings should be at the National Championships of Great Britain at the Albert Hall in October where members of this group will be invited to attend the Championship Section final of the world’s largest competition for brass bands.
There they will hear performances, speak with players, conductors, administrators, exhibitors and audience members, the press and the organisers to gain a first-hand overview of British brass banding at its very best.
I also suggested that the group go to the Queens Mews to experience brass band’s people enjoying themselves to the full whilst maintaining good order and excellent behaviour which is a trade mark of brass bands in this country.
We’ll see about that!
The Group should:
• Represent all beneficiaries and stakeholders views and interests in British brass banding without exclusion
• To promote and support engagement with brass bands (players and the wider public)
• Understand fully the positive benefits and impacts that brass bands provide and extol the virtues of brass band participation and development.
• Broaden proactive engagement with Government bodies, funders, general public and brass bands
Work to encourage, support and promote:
• Bands to be more outward focused, engage with communities and other bands sharing resources and expertise
• Be proactive in the promotion of the value of engagement with brass bands to the wider public, funders, organisations, stakeholders and all strategic partners
• Look to continue the workshops that have recently focused on access to funding and consider other subjects such as finance, marketing, administration, player development and marketing using digital technologies along with legislative areas like Health and Safety, Safeguarding, Equality and Diversity to name but a few.
• Promote innovation and engagement with other art forms
• Use a number of resources to launch a campaign to attract and reach wider audiences
• Use the new website to provide up to date information and resources that will assist bands to be better informed, well organised and sustainable.
This group and all those associated with brass bands must ensure that this message is widely broadcast and its importance is fully understood:
“Brass Bands make music and in doing so create environments where people from all walks of life can flourish and develop, socially, educationally and artistically.”