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How banding needs planning not upbeat rhetoric to secure the future

The post-Covid banding future may be on the horizon, but banding needs to plan for it and not rely on misplaced good intentions.


A vaccine answer is now on the horizon...

Despite the upbeat rhetoric surrounding the potential of a Covid-19 vaccine, the cancellation of the 2021 European Championships is a stark reminder to the brass band movement that a return to a form of inoculated ‘normality’ remains far from certain.

Arguably it is now on the horizon - but it is a distant point in the future.

Ongoing health and safety requirements, such as social distancing and air ventilation in rehearsal facilities as well as major concert halls will surely remain for some time to come.

Because of this, the financial implications to venues of being able to balance the books from limited paying customers will be imposing to say the least.

Brass Band Commission

Back in July 4BR proposed the setting up of a Brass Band Commission to look at potential solutions to the current challenges faced, and where we thought we would like to be in a decade’s time.

https://www.4barsrest.com/articles/2020/1885.asp

That was then though - prior to the consequences of the ‘second wave’ of infections that further engulfed ambitions and loved ones.  

Blah, blah, blah... 

And now, despite the hope of a vaccine being licensed and available in the Spring/Summer of 2021, the prospect of a post-Christmas ‘third wave’ looms before the banding world can start contemplating that long awaited full return to playing.       

We need much more than the usual political blah, blah, blah, especially as six months has gone by without anyone getting together in the banding world to formulate a collective post-Covid recovery plan for the movement other than a communal ‘sit tight, keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best’.

We need much more than the usual political blah, blah, blah, especially as six months has gone by without anyone getting together in the banding world to formulate a collective post-Covid recovery plan for the movement other than a communal ‘sit tight, keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best’.
 


Brass banding needs much more than more blah, blah, blah...

It’s a fantasy of a return to normality the equivalent of waiting for Bobby Ewing to step out of  the Southfork Ranch shower in ‘Dallas’ to tell us that what we’ve just experienced was all a dream.

Not even the most gullible enthusiast is going to fall for that. And if that is the case then the European Championship may not be the last cancelled event of 2021.

It’s a fantasy of a return to normality the equivalent of waiting for Bobby Ewing to step out of  the Southfork Ranch shower in ‘Dallas’ to tell us that what we’ve just experienced was all a dream.

Three factors

Three factors now influence the prospects of a successful long term return for brass band rehearsals, concerts and contests.  

The first is behavioural; the second, financial; the third, quality.


Our banding behaviour has changed for good...

Aware

Like not smoking indoors, or putting on a seat belt when you get into your car, we’ve become aware of our and others health needs by modifying behaviour to observe the new ‘norms’ of social distancing, wearing facemasks and using hand gels.

We must look to attract people to come and both perform in, and more importantly, listen to brass bands in a concert or at a contest in future in a very different way.

That is unlikely to change any time soon.

We must look to attract people to both perform in, and more importantly, listen to brass bands in a concert or at a contest in future in a very different way.

Making bandrooms and concert halls Covid-safe and welcoming for people of all ages and health needs will be pointless if the next generation of young players or our returning audience (which has in contrast has grown older), does not feel socially comfortable playing in or listening in an enclosed environment with others with the prospect of having to be asked to leave every hour so that the venue can be ventilated and hygienically cleaned.

Self sufficient

This comes at a cost – so how do we make the new ‘norm’ pay for itself?  

We are now aware just how precarious many jobs are as the nature of employment changes - from retail to relaxation, home working to production lines.

Despite some grant based ‘ring fenced’ assistance, bands will need to become ever more self sufficient.  And whilst fundraising schemes will help, other community based organisations both big and small have cottoned onto that already.

And before too long there is inevitably going to be a need to pay back all that government borrowing: Things are going to be tight – desperately so for many people. 

Despite some grant based ‘ring fenced’ assistance, bands will need to become ever more self sufficient.  And whilst fundraising schemes will help, other community based organisations both big and small have cottoned onto that already.  


We need to attract young and old to rehearsals and concert halls...

Adding up the sums

Getting players to pay for their hobby is a hard ask at the best of times – but unless a band can show that your money is going to be well spent, will people be prepared to pay to play when they will have more important considerations and expectations on their minds? 

Which brings us to contesting.   

Given that venues will more than ever need to turn a profit on any hosted event, and that they themselves will have to introduce increased health and safety measures, how are their sums going to add up? 

If we are to survive, let alone prosper in the future, then serious consideration must be given to whether we really value the quality of what we do as a hobby.

They will inevitably pass on the increased costs to the contest promoter, who will in turn pass it onto the bands and subsequently the players.

If we are not able to sell enough seats to the public to listen to us perform, what financial sense does it make to spend our own hard earned money for such little return: A cup, a few hundred quid and nobody except ourselves knowing that you may have won a contest against rivals?

Value quality

If we are to survive, let alone prosper in the future, then serious consideration must be given to whether we really value the quality of what we do as a hobby.

How are we going to sell our product outside the boundaries imposed by our traditional reliance on contesting?

How do we reconnect with local audiences, concert promoters, radio and television? How do we use social media constructively rather stereotypically?

There is no hope for us if we think long term success will be built on pre-Covid norms.


Placing value on our quality not quantity...

Smaller, more flexible

The age of relying on quantity rather quality to balance the books at contests will have passed, even if we do return to the stages at Symphony Hall and the Royal Albert Hall in late 2021 or Palanga in 2022. 

Smaller, more flexible events in modern venues with equally flexible infrastructure will be the key – from community concerts to major championships. All this and we have to connect to a new audience that will also expect greater quality for its money – be it online or sat in an iconic concert hall.

The promise of a Covid-19 vaccine will not inoculate the brass band movement from being viewed as outdated, inflexible and irrelevant if we don’t.

New realities of musical entertainment will need to be embraced whilst outdated concepts (however beloved by traditionalists) that add nothing in making those vital external connections to audiences ever more conscious of how and why it wants to spend its money in being entertained, will have to be ditched - be it on a concert, test-piece or entertainment contest platform.

Inoculation

They will also come at a cost - an uncomfortable and potentially unaffordable one for some bands and some events, but come they will with the need to be understood with an outward looking vision. 

The promise of a Covid-19 vaccine will not inoculate the brass band movement from being viewed as outdated, inflexible and irrelevant if we don’t.

And relying on upbeat rhetoric is no good either if those who can initiate flexible change can’t be bothered to even speak to each other about the future.

Iwan Fox  

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