A first step for a national body
Why not Brass Bands UK if it is to be a national body?
A good first step (or two) would be open adjudication, pre-draws and the insistence that no band be allowed to enter the National contests without proof that they have some youth training policy in hand.
Simply taking the best players from bands that have nurtured them without putting anything back, must result in the movement disappearing in ever diminishing circles.
"Those with some sort of memory still intact will recall that ... (Grimethorpe) have welcomed female players ... for many years", writes Ian Phillips.
My memory is still fairly good, I think. Like Mr Phillips, I remembered Gracie Cole in the 1940s, and Sheona White in the 2010s, and at this point my memory started playing up. While I could associate (for example) Lynda Nicholson with Dyke, and Carole Crompton with Desford, and Kirsten Thomas with Fodens from years gone by, I couldn't think of any other female names associated with Grimey.
In search of help, I rummaged through my record and CD collection of 20 Grimey recordings spanning 39 years and was able to find only one female amongst the photographs and personnel lists - Helen Fox, who played on the Grimethorpe CD 16 years ago.
I like Bram Tovey. I also like Grimethorpe Colliery Band.
Mr Philips is right - how they run their band is their prerogative. I don't really mind if they want to remain an all male ensemble, but just wish they would be honest about it - refusing to engage on the issue just makes them look shifty.
They should take a lesson from Boobs and Brass, who on their website openly proclaim themselves as an all-female brass band. I've yet to hear anyone complain about their membership policy.
Those in glass houses....
I feel I must reply to Mr Bramwell Tovey’s recent letter regarding the equal opportunities (perceived or otherwise) at Grimethorpe Colliery Band.
Mr Tovey is currently the Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is Canada.
A quick perusal of the orchestra’s personnel list reveals that there are no female brass players currently employed in his orchestra.
Perhaps those who reside in glass houses might refrain from throwing stones?
A personal view on entertainment
Given that the Leyland Band took the Brass in Concert title in 2011, and that I am currently the co-ordinator of the Leyland Band Patrons’ Club, I could hardly be accused of expressing ‘sour grapes’ views in commenting on your article about standards in brass band entertainment based on the contest.
However, these are my personal views.
Nothing I write should be considered as any detraction from the performance of Leyland in 2011, nor, especially, the showmanship of Richard Evans.
I have attended the last three Brass in Concert competitions, and have sat through all but a few of the performances. To further support my lack of bias, I recognised Grimethorpe’s superior musicality in their 2010 set. In the context of the criteria they were worthy winners.
Like you however, I find the overall pattern of results bodes ill for the future.
In 2009 Leyland played an innovative programme with music by some of the most exciting, young composers. The response from the adjudicators...Zilch.
In 2010 they returned with a mix of innovation and the traditional. The response from the adjudicators…fifth, thanks to first prize for the march, played in traditional Whit Friday style, individual awards and a new piece by the MD, but which was, nonetheless written and presented in a standard format.
In 2011 the programme was the shortest offered on the day, and was traditional with the exception of the finale. Response from the adjudicators…..first place!
I was happy for them, but the reservations for me came with the content, standard and criteria in general of the contest as a whole.
Having attended the RNCM Festival for the past few years, and being aware of the works of composers such as Peter Meechan, Simon Dobson and Lucy Pankhurst to name but a few, I feel that the future of brass banding can be bright and positive.
We have a whole raft of composers who are versed in the traditional but committed to the innovatory.
Brass in Concert may address itself to its current, elderly audience, but surely we must be looking more towards the innovations of the RNCM Festival and others for the future, than to Gateshead, and the tired old auditorium of the Albert Hall.
Whether or not the current administrators and adjudicators are willing to adapt, or capable of adapting may be irrelevant. It seems that this era of ‘entertainment’ is thankfully coming to an end, marginalised for all but the die-hard few.
Brass banding as we know it may fade, but it has strands within it which suggest it may mutate rather than become extinct.
We have seen glimpses of it at Brass in Concert (the Scandinavians and Americans), and I feel there is more than just a light at the end of the tunnel, if others follow, especially if we encourage the brilliance of youth.
The NYBBGB and its ladies...
As Administrator of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain, I feel that I should reply to Mr Gomersall’s letter to 4BR which states: “...Mr Tovey, perhaps he could elucidate in his role as Artistic Director of NYBB of GB as to how many females there are currently on the tuition staff of that organisation.”
Of the current pool of National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain music tutors, we have four ladies in the team who are engaged on a rotational basis.
We also have four ladies in the National Children’s Brass Band of Great Britain tutorial music team. Again this team is also rotated.
I would like to further point out that last Summer the Guest Soloists for both the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain and National Children’s Brass Band of Great Britain were lady brass soloists.
The recent Easter Course saw 28 lady members of National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain.
In addition the Council of the NYBBGB, the governing body of the organisation, has six lady members.
Furthermore, last year a senior officer who happened to be a gentleman retired and was replaced by a lady.
In the last three months the NYBBGB Trustees have engaged the services of two ladies to carry out important and significant work for the NYBBGB.
One last fact: The National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain had a lady Chairperson for twenty years in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
I hope this will help Mr Gomersall appreciate the Equal Opportunities Policy operated by the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain.
Political correctness gone mad
Here we go again.
Another trip down the byways and highways of political correctness gone mad.
Grimethorpe has made it very clear that they will be providing equal opportunities to all young players with the formation of their Youth Band. Nothing more needs to be said or discussed – except congratulating them on the initiative.
How they run their senor band is their prerogative, but those with some sort of memory still intact will recall that Sheona White played with the band at the British Open a few years back and that they have welcomed female players to play with them for many years – in fact going as far back as the 1940 with the great Gracie Cole.
That was years before Black Dyke, Brighouse, Cory, Fairey, Foden’s etc, even thought of opening their equal opportunities doors.
I see nothing on the Grimethorpe website that precludes females from being any part of their organisation, so why this misinformed nonsense that keep coming out from people who know nothing about the band or its history?
Active involvement the key
I wish to throw another opinion into the melting pot of the recent discussions centring on the formation of a Grimethorpe Colliery Youth Band, which bizarrely has sparked what I feel is unjust criticism of Bramwell Tovey and the NYBBGB.
This very Easter course of the NYBBGB, Mr Tovey brought up the issue of women’s rights in the banding movement and within the band itself, encouraging the females of the band to take a more active and vocal role, and drawing upon influential female figures in his life and throughout history.
Many women have been instrumental in the very formation of the band, which is currently celebrating its 60th year of existence.
Contrary to Mr Gomersall’s slightly misinformed post, in his role as Artistic Director of the NYBBGB, Mr Tovey has always actively encouraged the female members.
Again, this Easter he brought up with the female members of the band the fact that a much lower proportion of females than males had entered the band’s annual solo competition and felt that, as beacons of the modern day banding movement, we should be more involved.
Many more of the women in the band entered as a direct result of Mr Tovey’s words, and I know many have since become much more vocal about condemning some of banding’s more antiquated and misogynistic corners.
I know for a fact that Mr Tovey will apply such views at every level of the NYBBGB organisation.
As for the implication of ‘sour grapes’, like it or not the role of women in the banding movement is still a bit of an issue, and having one of the world’s finest conductors and musicians speaking out about it is certainly not going to harm the cause.
Well done Mr Tovey
Having been actively involved with youth bands for a considerable number of years, I heartily agree with Bramwell Tovey’s concerns regarding the new Grimethorpe Colliery Youth Band.
It is, of course, commendable that Grimethorpe is taking the time and effort to encourage and nurture young brass players.
To inspire a love of brass playing in a new generation is tremendously rewarding and many people will discover a passion for music which will last a lifetime. Indeed, some of those young players will become leading musicians of the future.
How disappointing then, for both the band and the players, that none of the talented female musicians who may pass through the new Grimethorpe Colliery Youth Band can ever aspire to become a member of the band which helped to develop their skills.
A bonus for other top bands, who will welcome new talented players into their ranks regardless of gender.
Maybe the new youth band heralds Grimethorpe’s entry into 21st century thinking, which can only benefit the band itself and the wider brass band movement as a whole.
Paul Gomersall asks how many of the tuition staff at the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain are female.
A quick glance at the organisation's website reveals that five females have been invited to provide tuition to the youth and children’s bands in 2012, out of a total tuition staff of 20.
I hope this information has been helpful.
A welcome addition
Congratulations 4BR on writing a fantastic results wrap-up from the 2012 Yamaha Australian National Band Championships, at the Sebel Hotel in Albert Park, Melbourne.
This article’s excellence is due to Tim Kelly’s enthusiasm and skill in being able to deliver brass band news of interest to the banding community through both written and live broadcasting media.
Through these outlets, he has demonstrated his knowledge, love, and insight into the goings on at these events.
His style and perspective is typically Australian, being the loveable ‘rascal’ who ‘takes the proverbial’, without a hint of cynicism, all whilst demonstrating a love and respect for the banding movement of which he is a member.
That he does this without remuneration is remarkable, and we should enjoy his entertaining input into our community whilst he still has the time and passion to maintain what is an intensively difficult and time consuming product to produce.
Should there ever be a paid job for a regular radio or television show about brass bands, I would have no doubt in recommending Tim as the host.
His interviewing style is light and entertaining, yet he still asks curly questions which are of interest to our community.
His analysis of musical performances is top level and he is just as much at home discussing the musical merit of any given performance as he is discussing marching practice over the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
A welcome addition to the brass band community and long may it continue.
Serenade the answer?
In response to Jun Oura's letter, I reckon the piece he refers to is Derek Bourgeois' 'Serenade', which is in 11/8 (apart from the odd 13/8 and 9/8!) so would fit his description (3/4+5/8 = 11/8)?
If I remember rightly it was written as a joke for someone (his future wife?) to walk down the aisle to at a wedding - must have been interesting to see!
May I take the opportunity to thank Grimethorpe Colliery Band for contributing so much to our fantastic time in London recently.
We really appreciated the arranging, planning, advising, performing and time that they very generously gave to us.
It's refreshing that professional musicians relate so positively to our pupils, parents and staff. Our sincere thanks go to all of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band members who gave their skills and time for free.
Our school's links with them have inspired many in our community over the last six months, (as well as many children in Newham) regardless of age, social class, culture and gender!
We hope they keep up their brilliant work.
Birkwood Primary School
Tovey's grapes of wrath
I feel moved to respond to Bramwell Tovey's ‘thoughts’ on the formation of a youth band by Grimethorpe Colliery Band.
I would suggest he finds a new fruiterer as his current one seems to be supplying grapes which leave a lot to be desired in the area of sweetness.
To continue (apologies) at the level set by Mr Tovey, perhaps he could elucidate in his role as Artistic Director of NYBB of GB as to how many females there are currently on the tuition staff of that organisation.
I notice from your latest news item on 4BR that Grimethorpe band have risen above the tone of Mr Tovey's comments. Well done them.
All for one and one for all?
I note with interest that Grimethorpe Colliery Band is to form and promote a youth band.
The formation of a new youth band is always welcome news but in this case it raises one or two questions.
Will Grimethorpe actively encourage female membership of its youth band?
If so, then why is there a consistent failure to offer membership to female instrumentalists in the senior band?
Are the educational authorities who are quoted in your article (they include Salford University), and Besson Musical Instruments, who are mentioned as funding the project, all fully aware that they are to be collaborators with a band that has an exclusively male membership?
A Grimethorpe spokesperson (male) is quoted as saying: “We will give them all a first taste of what being part of the Grimethorpe Band is all about.”
That might not necessarily be a good thing.
Bewildered and confused in Bradford
I recently attended the Yorkshire Regional Championships in Bradford and at the end of the day I was left bewildered and confused as to how the decisions were reached in the Championship Section.
On a personal level it seemed that Grimethorpe should have been placed in one of the qualification places – a view supported it seems by the vast majority of listeners in the hall.
I add however that this just my opinion and we all have different opinions.
What can’t be ignored were the comments by the adjudicator who clearly inferred that any liberties taken on the day by the conductors would not be rewarded, only for the results to make a mockery of his supposed informed decision making.
Now, after the event it seems that the banding rumour mill is suggesting that one of the judges in his arrogance has written to Grimethorpe with an explanation that he had made some sort of mistake.
If true (and it is only a rumour however well informed it may be) the banding world should ask itself whether or not the contest have been brought into disrepute.
End the mockery
I totally agree with your sentiments in respect to borrowing of players. I have been given to understand that one Australian band recruited several overseas players to play in the recent Australian championship this weekend.
It makes a mockery of the whole competition and restrictions should be put in place immediately.
With your January Editorial on 'player borrowing 'and now that the regionals are over, what about 'conductor borrowing'?
Several professional conductors have been floating from region to region to take bands who can afford the service.
The advantages are obvious and experience is being gained from one region to another.
There may not be a solution but hopefully some serious comments may follow. I do not have a vested interest in this matter but I do support a local band.
It probably only applies to Championship bands but certainly not to all of them.
Not so good Mountain Views
As I have had to endure a number of weeks rehearsing ‘Mountain Views’ and having discussed it with many players and MD's, I was quite surprised to read a letter from Mr M Ford that appeared on your comments page.
I have no objection to the fact that, "musical taste and opinion is purely objective and emotive", but a well written piece of music?! Really?
Mr Ford must be one of only a handful of people up and down the country that has actually found any enjoyment from the time spent on it. I can speak for 25 plus players in my own band who are delighted we can now send it to the depths of the band cupboard!
I would be interested to know how many bands use it as an "own choice" test piece in the next 12 months.
The fact I'm not a fan of the piece however, is not my main issue with its choice for the Areas.
The issue to me is that it did not suitably test First Section bands with aspirations of playing in the top section, especially when they had to perform ‘The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’.
Surely by the time a band is at First Section standard they are well prepared in terms of, "detailed intonation and stamina" as well as other fundamentals of brass band playing such as tuning, balance etc.
I would think most Second Section bands would have preferred to have played ‘Mountain Views’ rather than ‘Cross Patonce’?.
I don't think it's a "great choice by the Music Board" but only goes to add fuel to my theory that "the Board" do not know what to do with the First Section in terms of choosing suitable test pieces.
Name that tune?
I am a fan of Black Dyke Band living in Japan.
I want to know the name of a tune that I want to listen it again. However, I do not know its name.
It was played by Black Dyke Band in Japan in 1984. It is a medium tempo tune and its melody is very beautiful.
And its meter is the meter 5-8 and the meter 3-4 repeated by turns.
I am very glad if I can know the name of the tune and CD number. Or I want to know the list of the tunes in the concert of Black Dyke Band in Tokyo Japan in 1984.
I was saddened to read of Bram Thompson’s passing on 4barsrest.
Bram was indeed a fine horn player and a lovely man. Our paths crossed frequently when I was in Manchester CWS Band, and I also had the pleasure of playing alongside him a number of times.
He was a man to be admired and emulated.
RIP Bram, and thank you for the memories you gave me
I was very sad to hear the news of the death of Bram Thompson.
Bram was an excellent solo horn player with the Scottish Co-op Band for many years. I first met him in the '1950s' when I was a member of Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band, competing against him many times, particularly at the Edinburgh Festival Contest.
During the 1960s his work took him south and he moved to Newmarket, where he became the right hand man for Vaughan Morris the promoter and organiser of the National Finals at the Royal Albert Hall. Bram never forgot his banding roots in Scotland and they were always at the forefront of his mind.
The Scottish Co-op Band (now Co-operative Funeral Care Band) was his pride and joy; he was an avid supporter of the band and was a regular at the National Finals, British Open and Masters contests, listening to every band, until his illness prevented him.
Bram will be missed not only by his many friends but by many young Scottish players who may not know him personally but will see his name on trophies he has donated in the past to encourage brass playing in Scotland.
David Read MBE
On behalf of the family of Maxwell Thornton, I have been asked to thank everyone who so kindly attended his recent funeral service.
His daughter Rosemary Thornton was overwhelmed by the response which saw players and friends from all over the country make the effort to attend a wonderful commemoration of a fine man and equally fine musician.
It was an example of the respect and affection he was held in throughout a remarkable musical life.
Are we missing the point?
There have been several instances recently that have caused me to question how necessary contesting is to the progress of our movement, or perhaps I should rephrase that to ‘how contesting adversely affects many of those involved’.
Firstly, it is clear that amongst many bands, contests are placed higher in priority than any other activity they are involved in.
The banding calendar is full of contests, which means sometimes worthwhile concerts or recordings have to take a back seat. Concerts after all are the lifeblood of any musical group, whilst recordings form a special legacy of what the band was doing at any particular moment in time.
However, unless a band wins a contest (or in the top few to qualify for whatever contest it is they’re playing for), the result is usually forgotten within days.
From my experience of playing in the Championship Section, the ‘feel good factor’ would wear off within a very short period of time.
How often do players and conductors come home uttering ‘we was robbed’? How often do players of any band sit and listen to the other bands in a contest?
Very few it would seem, yet many players seem to be able to form conclusive evidence that they should have come higher, often through talking to a few biased observers who happened to hear a handful of other bands.
I have always found it far more satisfying playing in a two-hour concert where an audience thoroughly appreciates your efforts than a 15-minute performance that you have waited around half the day for.
For many it seems contests are just an excuse to spend most of the day in the bar, whilst at the same time getting one over their mates so they can spend the rest of the week bragging about it. Is this really what music is about?
As Philip Wilby, in his interview with Sir Colin Davis, said “we defeat each other all the time”, to which Davis replied “I don’t like competition in music because one of the nice things is nobody wins… The lovely thing about music is everyone’s trying to do their best. One’s best is one’s best and it doesn’t matter what the next bloke’s best is.”
Why can’t we appreciate and value our finest musicians? It seems a shame they are not given the respect they deserve as a result of competition, which ultimately boils down to jealousy.
I am not advocating dispensing of all contests – the Nationals, British Open and Europeans are wonderful institutions and serve to strengthen our movement, but many of the other contests seem unnecessary.
As far as I’m aware the top orchestras and jazz ensembles in the world don’t have a need to compete against each other, and maybe our bands would be taken more seriously in the wider music world if we concentrated more on the actual music making rather than getting one over each other and looking after number one all the time.
It wouldn’t take a massive change of focus, just a readjusting of priorities.