Comments ~ 2009: April


Facts and figures, flying fingers and even a bit of Bob Dylan. A normal postbag then...

Midlands Figures – A Response

In reply to John Slater’s comments on the number of players a band may register, I would like to make the following observations:

Simply totting up a few numbers hardly constitutes a survey.  

This simplistic arithmetic exercise is merely a snap-shot of registered individuals with specific bands at a single point in time.  

The simple numeric data he presents is just that; simply totals. They offer no insight.

A far more in depth analysis of the data is required in order to derive any meaningful notion and convert the simple numbers into useful information.  To reinforce my response, real world insight from simple totals in itself, without any reference to numerical relationships is worryingly naïve from such a senior banding person. Let alone the fact that statistics is not merely arithmetic, it is an attempt to understand the real world.  

The banding world is of such complexity, that the real skill is not a simple ability to count, but it is the ability and skill to gain an understanding of the intricate relationships of the data beneath the surface.  An attempt to derive real world conclusions from numbers (inferential statistical analysis) would entail the definition of the sub-set sample. It may include defining the surplus player instances over thirty-five and base an in depth survey on that sample.

Such a survey could take into account geographical location, instrumentation, participation frequency, travel ability, willingness to leave their band and join another, do they own an instrument, playing level etc..  

There are also questions of financial and logistical support for the new bands, MD’s, managers, Secretaries, and all the other support mechanisms that enable a band to function, it’s not just a matter of shuffling a few numbers on paper as Mr. Slater seems to imply.

Mr. Slater seems to have concluded that all of the willing and able surplus player are freely available to play and a suitable mix in ability did he not think that they all might in fact all be baritone players!!!

I notice on the registry website the results of a recent survey on this subject resulted in a 90% majority in favour of 40 players.  In fact, in the first instance the number forty was implemented on the recommendation of bands themselves.

Unfortunately, in the real world, the complex reasons for the reduction of bands at contests include such far more complicated realities including reduced new players, tuition costs of such, cost and logistics of attending contests, facilities provided, choice of test pieces, rule flexibility and culture. 

Need I go on?

Shuffling a few digits on pieces of paper is merely a fig leaf.  

Ken Weser 

The times they are a changing?

Time’s are’a-changin, but some things won’t. 

Let me expand, there are many bands now that are very much involved with the educational community, I have to say these are bands with open minds, plus there are some arts grants available to the bands for doing this, but this is not a foregone conclusion. 

Some music services & bands have managed to hit it off, look at my local with Redbridge Music Service & Redbridge Brass Band, Fairlop Brass Band & also Becontree, they very often bond concert-wise both when it comes to a brass feature and also for fund raising.

If kids in musical education can bond this way, both bands and service know they become aware of each other in an obvious way; as in, a place to go later or during if you have the time and proficiency (once technically proficient) or when one has left the music service nest, thus providing fresh blood for bands on a regular?

I’m sure this will work, but this relationship is in its infancy (i.e. in some cases just a few years old, in other cases much more).
Initiatives WOPS (again 2/3 years into it being) will also create many more players in the future, but I fear not as many as one might hope down to the amount of time given to an en masse Suzuki brass class, with no individual care one is facing more embouchure and breathing problems to put right = a greater fall-out rate after one-two years! Pessimistic? Moi?
Protectionists view. Many schools/services are very aware that there are bands/groups around that would poach their young talent, and it’s no use saying this is not true as I’ve seen it first hand a hundred times! The school that has a very successful band/orch gives a dim view of their in-house players going to a service group/ensemble, same for the services who look at outside groups like bands as poachers of their own grown and paid for talent!

Same for private schools where all happens inside the school, teachers/peri’s brought in, parents pay for, and talent is rolled out on every occasion.
Clashes! I’ve been in charge of many a band both in & out of education, if you have good players in either camp below the age of 16 it becomes “Diary Wars” school trips and concerts, weekend fetes, exams.

If your players are good they will be in demand from the school that they attend (this is No 1 allegiance normally), then music service, then your band comes in 3rd (normally).

If your player is a real spark, service-wise they will be in orchestra, brass band, and symphonic wind band, gigs at the local Am Dram (for a bag of sweets).

They then become a piece of instrumental meat, conductors vying at each other with batons drawn at dawn for their star player whose triple booked!
Teenagers/young ones are not the most open communicators, and very often they become alienated in bands. 1. They’re good players, band puts them on 3rd regardless, as that’s the way it’s done, so after three weeks sat next to Grandpa on 2nd and fed a feast off beat bottom G’s, they leave! 2.

They’re good players; band plonks them on solo cornet as they see them as an asset. Their experience so far is limited, they meet for the first time (as I did going from orchestra to band) a shed full of notes on brown papyrus, they feel a massive amount of pressure for the first time without prior knowledge of how the situ would be, they feel lost and over exposed. 3.

They join a band which is so busy they have no time for other things inc. school work & mates, while band pressures all to be there 24/7. 4. They join a band that enjoys the coffee break the most, and the pad hasn’t been changed since they played at Charles II execution!
But my parting ditty for all music services is: “Sell ye gamelans and start a brass band!” What was all that about?? About £35k I'd a thought! still, more revenue for the Dali Lama. Have you noticed if the Tibetans are starting any brass bands at £80/90k a pop? 

Phil Lawrence 

Thanks - One for the record

Whilst it is somewhat embarrassing to find that we have got something wrong, at least it means that someone has actually read what we have written!  

I am grateful to Ralph Pearce for pointing out that Norman Bearcroft's cornet feature "Over here and over there" (South London Fellowship Band review, 21st March 2009) is not a new item, as we had understood, but was in fact written for the New York Staff Band's UK tour in 2003, Ralph recalling it being performed at the Montclair NJ Corps.

We are happy to be able to put the record straight.

Peter Bale 

Fingers help?

My group Dobcross Juniors played at the National Youth Championships last week in the training band section and I was wondering if anyone could tell me who publishes the cornet trio 'Have fingers will travel' that another band played. 

I would love to give my kids a go on this. 

Melanie Garlick

4BR Reply:
Can anyone help? 

What a day!
What a day yesterday! My young band performed at the RNCM yesterday in the best organised, friendliest and effective competition I have ever experienced (over 42 years of sometimes cramped rooms, obtuse stewards, "jobs-worth" officials and poor venues). 

Please don't take the last sentence as a snipe at any one contest - because venues of all types create numerous difficulties, local circumstances can really spoil things.

I have certainly had great days at the Yorkshire Area with our committed team there, as, I am sure other people have had in their Area contest. Hardraw - save for the weather is a great day out.
I say effective, because with all the glitches that get in the way of a good - enjoyable performance out of the way, everyone benefits - the performer and the audience.
Judges - certainly in the Junior Section, who were entirely positive in their approach to their task, with really motivating feedback that I can't wait to give to the band members.
Sponsors - who seemed completely at home in the environment of the competition, believing in the brass band movement and I hope, satisfied that a lot of young people there might just think about buying their fair trade chocolate bar at the Co-op before school instead of leaving school at lunchtime!
The administration before and during the contest certainly, if mirrored by our banks and financial institutions would have prevented the current recession.
Thanks to all - we have another trophy to be proud of (thanks 4BR) and memories of a great day.
Gordon Eddison
City of Leeds Schools Brass Band 

Youthful explaination

When I was playing for Besses Boys Band in my youth it was easy as there were only 2 sections in the Nationals as I recall – one for those bands that drew players from wide area and those for individual schools.
It is brilliant that the competition these days allows so many more youngsters to compete in this prestigious event – a sure sign that progress is being made in certain quarters!
For all those young at heart bandsmen out there like me, would it be possible to explain what each of the 5 current sections are what they mean?
Andy Wyatt

Relationship focus

I think Mark Wilkinson has hit upon a real issue in focusing on the relationship between music tuition via Music Services and their local banding community. 

While the excellent Music Service in our area works hard to develop positive relationships with the brass bands in the community it serves, in the past I've had some very different experiences.

Formerly, as a school music teacher actively encouraging students to participate in brass bands where I knew they would be welcome and gain excellent experience, I was dismayed to find on occasion, some misguided peripatetic brass teachers actively discouraging or even "forbidding" students to join local bands.

One fine euphonium student, I recall, on winning a scholarship from a Local Authority Music Service was told that she could only take up the award if she left her current band and played exclusively with Music Service groups. Only very firm remonstrations from her parents reversed that astonishing stance.

Later still, I had my trombone-learning son return home from middle school with the message that he couldn't have lessons from the Music Service if he continued to play with the local band's learner group which I conducted - I was less than happy.

Where such attitudes prevailed (and let's hope that all such dinosaurs have passed into the extinction they deserve) it could have been no surprise that the thousands of brass players taught, often extremely well, didn't seem to find their way into the ranks of community bands.

Sadly, it used to be in my experience, not that bands failed to seek or invite youngsters, but that students were actively discouraged from banding by some of the people charged with teaching them. Thankfully such attitudes are changing for the better and rapidly too.

Dave Johnston
Milton Keynes 

Midlands figures
Following comments ever recent years regarding disappearing bands I undertook a survey after the 2009 Midland Regional contest at Bedworth.
The total number of players appearing on the registry printouts was 2904.
The highest was 46
The lowest was 26
17 bands has 40 or over registered
68 bands had 35 or over registered (the previous registry limit)
In total 2099 players performed over the weekend
This means that 805 registered players did not play
That figure equates to 29 bands of 27/28 players
It would be an interesting exercise if this were done nationally.
Perhaps it is time that the number of players a band can register was changed to a more realistic figure like the 35 it used to be.
John Slater 

Declining bands

Further to Marks comments regarding the number of players in band's declining.

If adult band's attached themselves to a local youth band and worked closely with the local community then they would increase the number of young players remaining in brass bands.

Sandbach is a very lucky town where they have Fodens, Roberts Bakery, Lions Youth Brass, and all three have a very health relationship, with concerts, workshops all carried out.

Lions Youth Brass currently has twelve of its current band playing for Roberts Bakery and eight ex Lions playing for Roberts.

The beauty of that is that they continue to play with the friends they have made in the youth band, but at a higher level, and playing at that higher level while still playing for Lions makes Lions better, so everyone wins.

Lions have workshops with Fodens on a regular basis and players from Fodens visit the Lions on a regular basis for other projects. Also, all three band’s have very good connections within the two senior schools in Sandbach.

These foundations have been built over a number of years and needs people to invest time in young people to maintain the interest and give them the environment to enjoy good music making.

Mark Wilkinson, Fodens, Colin Cranson, Roberts Bakery, John Barber, Fodens and Sandbach Boys School ,Paul Taylor, Sandbach High School and myself from Lions Youth have done this and the results are there for all to admire.
Something to think about?
Nigel Birch

ABBA response

In response to your articles on 4BR appearing in the Q&A. section and Editorial column, I offer the following comments on behalf of the Association of Brass Band Adjudicators. 

We have issued guide lines to our members re- pre-association with bands etc. prior to contests they may be judging, and what is expected of them in their professional manner and approach to their duties.

When any conflicts of interest have been brought to our attention, we have acted accordingly.

The recent issue in the West of England did not escape our attention. The adjudicator concerned on that occasion however, is not a member of ABBA. Our concerns were voiced to the West of England Contest Authorities, and the matter was left in their hands.

Whilst we would welcome that all adjudicators chosen are members of ABBA, we do understand that the world of adjudication is not a 'closed shop', hence, at times, some matters may be beyond our jurisdiction.

It has been, is now, and always will be the intention of the Associaton of Brass Band Adjudicators to promote, enhance and improve the relationship between bands and adjudicators, and occurrences such as the one in question, do nothing to assist.

Derek M. Broadbent
Association of Brass Band Adjudicators 

Pageantry snare?

Like Paul Hindmarsh in his article on Herbert Howells, I too have wondered about the snare drum part in the last bar of the first movement of Pageantry. 

That final "solo" semiquaver does sound as though the poor snare drum player has miscounted. I've listened to the composer's own arrangement for full orchestra and organ of King's Herald (which contains additional material) and notice that the percussion writing throughout is considerably different from the brass band version. 

But the last two bars still contain what may seem like conflicting, quirky or teasing entries in the brass and percussion parts that blur synchronicity. (LSO/Hickox 1995 Chandos recording. I've not seen the music.)
If percussion was ruled out at the Belle Vue contest in 1934 and again at the "National" contest in 1937, I imagine there would have been no controversy over the snare drum part. R. Smith & Co., who published/copyrighted the work in 1935, either knew it to be as the composer intended or felt no pressure to change it in a reprint. Indeed, was a percussion part even written in 1934?
Hindmarsh speculates that if Howells did not score the brass band version himself, someone like Frank Wright might have done so. 

But was Frank Wright on the scene back then? Is it not more likely someone such as Henry Geehl, an editor for R. Smith & Co, would have worked on Howell's music?
Brian Bowen 

A question of lanquidity?

Re: Languid cornet solo
It is one of the difficulties - and joys - of the English language that words frequently have several meanings and different nuances.  One of the definitions of "languid" is "dreamy", and in using the word to describe Ryan's playing of the solo at Stevenage it was that meaning that was uppermost in my mind.  

Far from being intended in any disparaging way, I felt he had caught the laid-back character of the music very effectively, and apologise if he felt the word chosen was ill-advised.
Peter Bale

Why the decline?

Following on from your recent article concerning the declining number of bands I thought I would give my opinions why we have this decline. 

Presently we have more children learning brass instruments than ever before but we are continuously being informed about the declining numbers of bands.

I have been teaching in schools for nearly 10 years and have never been approached by any local band asking if I have any pupils who would be interested in joining their band or a learner’s band connected to them.

When asking pupils why they do not play in bands outside school the answer has always been the same ' I haven't been asked'.

Also we appear to have more pupils than ever playing in 'Music Services bands' or 'Youth Bands etc' but unfortunately (for what ever reason) these pupils hardly ever tend to play with adult/contesting bands. I would like to ask every peri how many of their pupils play in an adult band; I think the answer would be hardly any!

Without these youngsters joining our local bands we are going to see the gradual decline continue as outlined in the 4barsrest report.
What can we do?
Local bands contact your schools, Peri's encourage your pupils to join bands outside of schools, Music Services conductors and Youth Band conductors encourage (or let) pupils join adult bands as well as your organisation.
The answer is to get youngsters connected with bands outside of schools and/or music services.
Mark Wilkinson 

Fox for PM!

Ladies & Gentlemen, in an age where political correctness is king, and taking part is more important than winning, it seems we are all heading for a beige life!

Until we read some real points of view from brass banding's answer to Jeremy Clarkson!
I'm not one for handing out compliments regularly, and furthermore, this is in no way an attempt to gain favourable reviews in the future! (In fact he has even been quite critical of my own band in the past!)
What a breath of fresh air to have somebody in the banding fraternity who tells it like it is! In order to improve standards (particularly in my own area, the North East) some harsh truths occasionally have to be told.

Standards are low by comparison to the past, and I find the right mixture of venom, sarcasm and wit is exactly what is required to wake up some of the bands who are content with 'just turning up'.
True, it's difficult to find the players these days, but for the sake of everyone out there, listen to the man!
Iwan, as the last bastion of firing the literary rocket - don't ever stop! - I'm sure you have your own critics, but I for one challenge them to 'step out into the car park'!
Please feel free to publish these comments, in the hope we can kick start a career in politics!
Keith Irving

Why do test pieces need to be so easy?
I’m a member of Downton Band and I’ve read many of the write-ups of the 4th section performances from around the different areas. 

Whilst I appreciate that The Talisman was not the easiest piece to play, why do 4th section pieces have to be easy?
In previous years we’ve had easier pieces to play and the band have not risen to the occasion however this year we worked hard and achieved a great result, qualifying for Harrogate. 

We achieved a similar result in 2003 and after a reasonable performance we were promoted to the 3rd section in 2004.  We struggled in the 3rd section as the pieces were generally much more difficult and three years later we were relegated. 

If we’re going to be promoted again we need to be challenged so that this time we’re prepared and able to perform at the higher standard.
It was also interesting that despite claims that bands stayed away due to the piece, I notice that 4 bands in the South West who did not compete last year took part this year, with three of them came in the top six.
We’re really looking forward to our trip to Harrogate, what ever the piece and I hope that the music panel have the courage to continue picking music that challenges the 4th section.
Fred Faulkner
Downton Band 

Languid monkeys

Well thank you Peter Bale, not!

'Languid cornet solo'? Well, looking at his bio I find it hard toacredit anything he has to say, but to write that for so many bandmen/women (including some of my pupils) is out of order.

I'm not saying I played it to the my best of my ability, after all, new parking regulations in an adjoining car park meant that 30 minutes before going on stage I had to pay £125 to get my car unclamped, leaving me still pretty enraged during the performance, but please can your reviewers take a little more care in the choice of their words when being critical to individuals.

As primarily a wind player Peter has clearly had experience of classical/drama reviewers and their over-ego’d criticisms.

Many bandspersons read your articles and I fear that some of your reviewers have let this gone to their heads.

Contesting is supposed to be fun, but I for one wouldn't give a monkeys if I never did one again after last weekend. Maybe that shows in what I've just said.
Ryan Goodall
Littleport Band  

Scottish Ancestors

Just a wee note to correct Jim Ferguson's comment reference 'Scottish Ancestors'.

Aberdeen City Band is now Granite City Brass when they merged with the then UDI Brass in 1997 and not the Bon-Accord Silver Band.

Interestingly the Bon-Accord Silver Band was formed in 1962 by the late Stewart Watson MBE as a former pupils band of Aberdeen Schools, the very year that ‘Salute to Youth’ was used at the Scottish.

Gary Macdonald
Bon-Accord Silver Band 

Blackpool remembered

Dutton Forshaw sponsored this band in the 70s and early 80s until they moved Head Office to Yorkshire. In 1985 the band was sponsored by Marton Mere Caravan Park until 1990. Since then this band has been self-supporting, as Blackpool Brass.
Some of our members played in Warburtons Bakery and Hoggarths which I believe joined forces?  Will have to ask them at rehearsal tonight..

Cheers for an interesting article.
Lorraine Pritt 

The Talisman in concert

Thought you might like to know that Thurcroft Welfare band played ‘The Talisman’ in a concert in Beighton Church, Sheffield after the Regional Championships. 

Audience reaction was very positive and it was well received.

I must admit that I was very surprised at the reaction; you never can tell!

Ken Vernon 

Berlin Brass?

I'm a Swiss brass player. I recently moved to Berlin and didn't found anything relating to the brass band movement there.

It seems that Brass Band hasn't still appeared in this city. I want to create a new brass there, and ask for a little help.

I know that at the moment, very few players there will be interested in the project as most of the people play trumpets, trombones and tubas; no brass conical instruments...

But I'm quite sure that some brass people comes to Berlin for a little time - studying or working.

Perhaps they would like to find a brass to play there... In order to have the opportunity to let lot of people in the brass world know about this new ensemble, can people please contact me?

David Rodeschini
Eigerstr. 59
13089 Berlin 

Last word...

In regard to the Chairman of Leyland's slight jibe at my computer settings, if I was designing a new website, I'd make sure everyone could read it, no matter how old their settings. 

In regard to the photograph, it still has Nick Walkley on it and my brother in law, who left before the Open...
N. Garman

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