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Revolutionary cooperation
Is it time for a vanguard of band representation?

Can bands cut themselves free of a self-made Gordian Knot of apathy and distrust and get someone to represent their thread of views with contest organisers?


Different banding strands have made for a Gordian Knott of apathy and self interest to be cut through

The late Richard Evans once called a meeting of leading bands to discuss the sense of apathy he felt was holding them back in helping to shape the future of the contesting movement. 

Not surprisingly he said, nobody turned up. 

It may have been one of his famed ‘tongue in cheek’ remarks, but as always it held more than a grain of truth. It's not surprising then as we fast approach the mid-point of the third decade of the 21st century his quip is a repeatable one-liner that still gains a wry laugh of relevance.

Over the next few years, the major championship events in the UK will undergo generational management change. Apathy then, from those who compete in them is the last thing anyone needs if they are to prosper.

Disgruntled

However, despite our social media being filled with disgruntled keyboard virtue signalling, implacable opinions and pointed rhetoric about how our contest structures should be run, judged, registered and above all, paid for, there still seems to be no real revolutionary spirit bubbling in the veins of the bands themselves to help enact progressive change.

Forget Comrade Lenin, over the last decade or more there hasn’t been a version of Citizen Smith and the Tooting Popular Front to spearhead a representative band-led vanguard with a manifesto of even mild radicalism.   

Forget Comrade Lenin, over the last decade or more there hasn’t been a version of Citizen Smith and the Tooting Popular Front to spearhead a representative band-led vanguard with a manifesto of even mild radicalism.   


Forget Lenin - the bands haven't been able to muster a Citizen Smith to lead the vanguard yet...

Post Covid

Covid-19, for all its tragedies and troubles did offer an opportunity for change. 

Surely, a Darwinian survival-mode outlook can no longer be the long-term ambition to inspire progress in the brass band contest movement in the UK? 

Understandably though it passed us by, with minds geared towards self-preservation rather than self-promotion. However, some 18 months after restrictions were lifted and bands have returned to the contest stage, an apathetic status quo remains rooted in place.  

Surely, a Darwinian survival-mode outlook can no longer be the long-term ambition to inspire progress in the brass band contest movement in the UK? 

New model

A new model of engagement and cooperation is though – although only if the leading bands themselves can finally rouse themselves to find a way to cut through the threads of their own Gordian Knot of amateurish self-interest, distrust and indifference.

Hard as that may seem, it is not an impossible task. 


A 'Top Band' such as Eikanger representS the wider contesting movement with its national body NMF

Norwegian example

Examples of how it can be done are to be found - notably in Norway, where an informal ‘Top Band’ forum of representatives from its Elite and First Division bands is regularly engaged in dialogue with the Norwegian Music Federation and its brass banding organisation.

For over 20 years it has proved to be an invaluable conduit – one that during Covid-19 was essential in sharing information and discussing issues affecting bands of all levels throughout the country.

Opinions are sought and respected to move towards consensus, even when (as was seen in successfully getting changes to test-pieces for the event in past years) they differ greatly.

After its NM National Championships, feedback is also sought with the forum on how the event was run and on the various topics that have arisen from it – including the music, judges, organisation etc.  

Opinions are sought and respected to move towards consensus, even when (as was seen in successfully getting changes to test-pieces for the event in past years) they differ greatly.

As Viggo Bjørge (above), a leading administrator linked to Eikanger Bjorsvik Band told 4BR: “We see it as the most appropriate way to make sure our collective viewpoints are heard and acted upon.

It’s not about just looking after the elite levels - it’s about using our voice on behalf of all bands. We work in cooperation to get the best for everyone. That’s our key.” 

Orchestral world

Meanwhile, in the professional musical world, the Association of British Orchestras represents its members in much the same way with concert promoters.

It also includes the majority of the major professional symphony orchestras and ensembles as well as semi-professional and amateur organisations.  

Their work keeps them informed with best practice, financial sustainability and resilience issues, influencing stakeholders and raising profile, as well as seeking professional development in management, musical opportunities and even the political sphere. 

People involved have told 4BR that it works as an open conduit for opinions and viewpoints - made on many occassions by leading orchestral representatives who have an ethos of helping all those in the orchestral world - not just the elite performers.  

Progressive cooperation

Although examples of progressive cooperation in the banding world have been seen with the likes of the British Open and Brass in Concert in recent times, critics still argue that asking leading bands to form some sort of representative vanguard simply brings an inherent danger of elitist self-interest.

critics still argue that asking leading bands to form some sort of representative vanguard simply brings an inherent danger of elitist self-interest.

Much like the Premier League in football, the top bands could simply reinforce a form of protectionism, with the rest forced to live off the scraps that are left.

Even more voices?

In addition, wouldn’t yet another group (given that bands are already members of national organisations such as BBE or SBBA as well as others for conductors and adjudicator etc) also keen to be heard, simply add to the cacophony of intertwined opinions and viewpoints all eager to have some input into things? 

It could simply result in an even bigger knot of interests to unravel.

Banding trust

The key then will be trust. And we are talking about the bands themselves here. 

If a vanguard of leading figures (be it conductors or administrators) are prepared to represent the interests of those of the wider movement with contest organisers and owners, it can surely only bring benefits for all. 

However, for the time being we will have to wait and see which comrades are prepared to make the first move in leading a banding vanguard for the benefit of the many and not the few.   

It could also bring a renewed focus through constructive dialogue about structures, finance, media rights and prize money alongside greater transparency over adjudication and music selection, let alone the wider issues surrounding inclusion and diversity, promotion and relevance to a wider artistic audience.

It sounds a persuasive argument – almost dare one say it, something of a revolutionary approach.  

However, for the time being we will have to wait and see which comrades are prepared to make the first move in leading a banding vanguard for the benefit of the many and not the few.   

Iwan Fox 

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