In response to the comments by Alan Edmond about the National Youth Brass Band of Scotland, had he checked with us beforehand, needless concern within all associated with NYBBS could have been prevented.
As Alan knows, I welcome comments and critiques, so I’m disappointed he didn’t contact me directly.
As always, regardless of their provenance his comments will be considered at our next NYBBS Board.
Contrary to the claims made, inclusion is at the heart of our plans for the future, and this extends to every strand of the NYBBS organisation, from the members of the Board to the youngest member of the National Children’s Band of Scotland.
We set out a Strategy for NYBBS a year ago, which was agreed by senior NYBBS staff, widely circulated and published on our website. Its aim was to develop NYBBS on from a one-week-a-year band.
We received nothing but positive comments and we have been working towards its implementation ever since. This year, for example, we organised an Easter Course for the first time in many years, which all participants valued.
For further information on the NYBBS Strategy, please see http://www.sbba.org.uk/nybbs minutes of NYBBS Board meetings are also on that site.
It has never been our intention to ‘sack’ any of the tutors, but it is important for us to recognise the potential contribution of the next generations of tutors, conductors and, indeed, Board members, and make appropriate opportunities available to them in future years.
Our stated policy is that the changes needed to implement the strategy will be gradual, and the forthcoming meeting (13 November) of the NYBBS Board will discuss detailed proposals for the part of that implementation that looks at staffing.
Only at that point will we be in a position to make any firm offers to conductors or tutors, but the ongoing situation will be much clearer once these proposals have been agreed by the Board.
Addressing a further point made by Alan Edmond that ‘as of 29th of October the NYBBS board have not re-engaged any of the NYBBS tutorial staff for next year’s course’.
In fact, as part of our summer course evaluation all members of staff were sent a feedback form on 16th September which included the question ‘Would you like to be considered as a tutor at a future NYBBS course?'
Once we receive all the returns we’ll be in a better position to finalise engagement.
Regarding auditions for the senior NYBBS, the reason for these auditions is that the NYBBS premier band will in future be a balanced band of 50+ players (approximately a double-sized standard brass band) as set out in the NYBBS Strategy, and we wish to give every young player who wishes to apply, a fair and equal opportunity to be a member of the band.
The procedure will provide the organisation with valuable information in advance of the summer course in terms of personnel and any likely strengths or areas of relative weakness, rather than these emerging during the actual week.
We expect the overall outcome to be a better experience for the students, which remains our top priority. One of our strategic aims is to widen the recruitment basis and give wider opportunities for players throughout Scotland, and our new procedure will go a long way towards addressing this.
Of course, we’re willing to make changes in the light of experience.
As it happens, by coincidence, Richard Evans and I had a long-arranged and productive meeting yesterday to discuss the future of NYBBS, and the progress and positive change that is vital for the future of the organisation, just as it is for every other aspect of banding in Scotland and beyond.
President - Scottish Brass Band Association
NYBBS reforms wide of the mark
It is with some disappointment that I read the news article on 4BR in which SBBA announced that all members of the National Youth Brass Band ‘premier ensemble’ would need to undergo a new audition process, including all current members of this band.
I am all for development and progression, and indeed all organisations can benefit from this, but what does SBBA and its NYBBS Board hope to achieve here?
The fact that auditions for new applicants will be available regionally throughout Scotland is fantastic news. However, to audition all the current incumbents again, really?
How can that be, as they state, “a positive step to nurture the National Youth Brass Band”?
Surely by definition this has to end in a negative for some of the current young players. It can’t be possible that they will all pass the audition and be in the top band; otherwise what is the point in auditioning them all?
What if you have been in the senior band for a few years with all your friends and then suddenly you are told that you are no longer good enough for the ‘premier’ band and you will be moved to the Reserve Band?
Would that young player want to come back to NYBBS? Indeed, such a public set-back could see that youngster lost to banding altogether.
I would imagine that if the NYBBS Board really needed to know the standard of current players they could ask NYBBS Musical Director of 21 years Mr Richard Evans. Or if an even more detailed assessment was required, why not call on a report from the section tutors?
World renowned performers like Les Neish, Lesley Poole, Mark Landon (and many more) have worked for many years with these youngsters and would know immediately of each player’s abilities.
Here-in lies part of the problem though.
In their clamour for change, it is my understanding the new NYBBS Board have not re-engaged Dick Evans or any of his NYBBS tutorial staff for next year’s course, as of 29th October!
Also, I understand these positions are currently being assessed with some tutors being informed that they will be advised if they will or will not be required in January next year, and that ‘they don’t have a job for life’!
Being professional musicians, some of these tutors may have already accepted offers of work elsewhere, and who can blame them?
This new elitist direction seems to be a million miles away from the Youth Development Programme that I instigated over 7 years ago with SBBA, the ethos of which has always encompassed inclusion as its core aim. This included the advent of the National Children’s Band.
Surely that is the way to become a better band and find the next Katrina Marzella, Sandy Smith or Angela Whelan?
It’s also disappointing to note that there has been a drop of around 30 players at this year’s course from the high-water mark of 167 players in 2011.
Maybe the NYBBS Board should spend more time attracting new players into the NYBBS family rather than telling talented youngsters already involved that they are no longer good enough for the ‘premier ensemble’.
Until now there has not been any drive towards elitism, or an ethos of making the “National Youth Brass Band to become Europe’s leading youth band”.
What would the likes of Bram Tovey and the NYBBGB say about that?
Actually, being the consummate professional that he is, someone like Bram would probably pay it no heed at all.
Not everything in brass banding needs to be competitively inspired!
I believe it is time for some of the so-called ‘enlightened thinkers’ on the NYBBS Board to take a step back and review the situation before more damage is done.
There is a well-known saying of don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. I think in this case the NYBBS Board may well be throwing out the baby, water and bath tub too!
It is my belief that first of all they should aspire to organise the best run National Youth Brass Band in Europe!
Former Development Officer Scottish Brass Band Association
Which planet is he on...
Can I congratulate Ian Perks on obtaining a ticket for one of Richard Branson's proposed flights into outer space.
Is this how he intends to visit the planet where ‘Contest Music’ is deemed suitable as a First Section test piece?
Fine First Section work
Having read the damning judgement of the First Section areas piece, I was intrigued to know what was so terrible about it?
Having listened to a recording it appears to be musical and, heaven forbid, listenable.
I cannot judge how technically difficult it is for first section, but there is no such thing as an ‘easy’ test piece – hymn tune anyone?!
I recall a well-known conductor telling us once that ‘if a piece of music appears boring, you are not making music‘.
I applaud this year’s regional choices.
What a great National Finals at the Royal Albert Hall this year.
At last we are starting to get music played that people want to listen to, and I think the bands want to play it too.
It made for a very enjoyable day.
Nearly unlucky 13
Just a note to say I believe Black Dyke also won off the number 13 draw in 1961 at the Royal Albert Hall – and it was nearly unlucky for us!
MD Major Willcocks was injured in a car accident 3 weeks prior to the contest whilst travelling with Maurice Murphy.
On the way down to London on the Friday our 2nd trombone travelling in his car collided with the boot of the bus, damaging 3 basses, Geoffrey Whitham’s euphonium and Grenville Richmond's trombone.
The euph and trombone were repaired by Boosey's at Edgware in the afternoon but we had to play 3 brand new basses off the production line the following day at the contest.
We did have a full band though as the trom player discharged himself from Retford hospital on Friday evening.
Not quite flavour of the month
I read your article ‘Five Things’ with interest and believe the last section about well run Regional events is a little way out.
All things are not rosy in the North East garden for instance as there are a number of cracks in the running of the Area event that cannot be papered over.
Nobody really believes Kapitol to be the flavour of the month up here, even though there is a desire to work together to try and sort things out at the forthcoming AGM later this month.
Rules for fools
With regard to Mark Wilkinson not being able to play with Foden’s at the recent National Championship in London, I’m reminded of the old saying “Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools”.
What a total shambles our movement is in.
Not in the spirit
The rule which prevented Foden’s from replacing Mark Wilkinson at the National Finals was certainly not within the spirit of banding, even if it was within the rules.
When a player is genuinely unable to take the stage for a medical reason the band should be allowed to replace that player and go on stage with a full complement of players.
This rule is not fair to any of the competing bands on Saturday and equally it’s not fair to the paying public.....it devalues the National Finals.
Titles do mean something
Martin Hodges wrote about orchestral conductors not using such grandiose titles.
Tongue firmly in cheek, a nicely understated ‘Maestro’ seems to suite many quite well I think!
As for the debate about professor, doctor et al, I recall a number of conductors from many years ago quoting their specific degree(s) following their names.
For me the use of a title or listing of credentials simply indicates the result of a lot of hard work and a much greater understanding of the subject than most of us will ever achieve.
As long as their accomplishments result in a greater musical experience than otherwise would be the case, I say "thank you for the commitment that resulted in that experience".
There are many euphonium players that decided to stay loyal to the first band they joined.
My dear late dad Alec Anderson was one of these people. He won many solo contests in his playing days, indeed beating lots of the renowned players of those days. He had the most beautiful tone.
I too was a solo euphonium player and I remained loyal to the Ibstock building products band, later Ibstock Brick Band.
I had quite a few invitations to go to top bands, but remained where I was. So I believe my dad and myself might have made this top ten list if we moved on to better bands.
Of course there will be others that would have done the same as my dear dad and myself.
I retired from banding in 1995.
Thanks for a great day
Please could we extend our thanks and appreciation to all those players, MD's and bands that sent us congratulatory messages, tweets and e-mails, following the Third Section Finals at Cheltenham.
Congratulations must go to all those who took part, and who clearly worked very hard on a great piece of music with Simon Dobson’s ‘Penlee’.
Our band had a great day (obviously!), and it was heart-warming to talk to fellow players who all seemed genuinely pleased for us.
Lost opportunities in Cheltenham
I was also fortunate to be competing at Cheltenham but I saw the weekend as a series of lost opportunities.
Like the previous comment on Cheltenham, I still see no reason why we cannot have a pre-draw.
In our case, in the First Section, we rehearsed off-site at 11.00am, were on site with all the other bands for the draw at 2.30pm and yet the last band was playing around 9.00pm on the Sunday night.
These are not the best circumstances for bands to perform to their best ability.
Do we not trust our adjudicators to be impartial or is it case that the exhibitors think that sales will improve if they have lots of bored bandsmen hanging around for hours on end?
If it is the latter then I would add that the exhibitors had virtually disappeared by 5.00pm on the Sunday.
The car parking at the Cheltenham racecourse was excellent and the organisation to get bands through the warm-up, registration and onto the stage worked really well.
But the catering on-site was, at best, basic and the entrance fee into the auditorium was certainly prohibitive.
And the air conditioning inside the auditorium was surprisingly noisy, although I admit we did have problems in the quiet parts of ‘Fanfares and Love Songs’!
So what were the lost opportunities?
Firstly, where was the exhibitors stand for Brass Band England?
If you were there guys then I apologise for missing you, but the overall impression I got was that the two organisations, Kapitol and BBE, are still not on speaking terms: So much then for the words of BBE Chairman, Mike Kilroy about supporting bands.
Secondly, why not expand the scope of the National Finals, from simply being a contest to a celebration of brass banding!
We competed in the French Open contest in Amboise, earlier this year, and the relatively small number of competing bands managed to entertain the whole town that weekend.
For each band, the competition started with a Whit Friday style march contest, followed by the formal contest, and ended with a 30 minute concert on the town band-stand.
So why could we not do something similar at the Finals, to attract and entertain a wider audience?
And for the bandsmen, why not hold small master-classes on-site for a small fee, perhaps to discuss the techniques of playing, conducting and interpreting brass band music with the great and the good from the brass band movement?
And thirdly, the Cheltenham venue looked good, but being out of town it was not suitable to attract this wider audience.
The town-centre venues, such as at Torquay and Harrogate, are far better, and there must be many potential sea-side locations available, with out-of-season costs that might make it financially viable to run the sectional contests in parallel so that we don't have contests finishing at 10.00pm.
I'm sure there are many more opportunities out there, once we start thinking beyond the very closed world of brass band competitions.
Because if we don't actively promote brass banding to a wider audience, it will continue to be marginalised in the music world, as signified by brass band music having far less air-time on BBC Radio 2 than, say, folk music and Frank Renton's programme being demoted to its un-godly 11.00pm slot in the schedules.
Alder Valley Brass
Fuming in the Fourth
I am still fuming with our result (Great Yarmouth – 16th place in Fourth Section) at the National Finals and feel that whilst it was a great achievement for every band to have made it to Cheltenham, then the occasion itself should be treated in such a way.
As with the Regionals, is it is the case that once the first six bands are placed then everyone else's performance really does not matter and the adjudicator can place a band wherever they choose?
Some respect is needed here and I am not convinced it is always given to those at the bottom of the banding pile.
How can two adjudicators sitting feet apart give two contrasting opinions on the same performance this year?
In our case, one saying the performance was thwarted by tuning, balance and intonation problems throughout and the other saying completely the opposite with intonation good throughout!!
By all accounts we were not the only band to receive differing opinions.
While I appreciate we are all different and listen for different things, something like tuning and intonation should be pretty obvious and if it makes one person cringe I'm sure the other one may have the same opinion surely.
Maybe it is something to do with the hall at Cheltenham playing strange sound tricks, so why can't the adjudicators have some time to listen back to performances through recordings to help with their overall judgement?
Also - why are the results rushed through so quickly?
Yes, bands like to know where they have come but personally I would also like to think that someone has taken the time to listen again to key areas and made an informed judgement about a performance especially after listening to so many.
Isn’t it about time we started to use some modern technology to help?
Come on 4BR, stick your head above the parapet, and let’s see some investigative journalism into the secret world of adjudicators and debate about issues affecting those of us in the lower leagues who often get overlooked with all the razzmatazz of the champions league and the big boys.
Let’s see more reports about things that matter to the average brass bander. Let’s have some real news in the news.
And finally and more importantly I would just like to say I am really cross with you, lumping us forever in the cyberworld with your comments on our performance.
"So too the quartet of Great Yarmouth Brass, Moulton ’77, Trimdon Concert and Gawthorpe Brass ’85, who each gave performances that were undermined by some basic structural problems – especially poor intonation."
I would like some more information as to where you think our basic structural problems were in comparison to some other bands performances that came notably higher!
Please check out some of their performances posted on you-tube!!
Nerves did get the better of some of us on the day, but we are certainly better than 16th.
It would be nice to see more lower section bands featured in your pages, as at the end of the day it is where the majority of us start out and most of us remain throughout our banding careers and it is the bread and butter of the banding world.
On the plus side it has fired up my band to start practising like fury for Butlins as we are now in Third Section and have a something to prove to you all!
Great Yarmouth Brass
Keeping the Parc open...
I just wanted to thank Rob Jones for his very kind words regarding the Parc & Dare Band's return to the contesting scene.
As many will know, the band has a rich and proud history (dating back to 1893), having enjoyed contest and concert successes, not just in Wales and the UK, but internationally too.
Sadly, like many other bands, there have been some bad times too, and when I was appointed Musical Director just over 2 years ago, there were 8 players in total around the stand and the seemingly insurmountable task of rebuilding a once great name in the world of banding.
My point is however, whilst very much appreciating Mr. Jones' acknowledgement of my input, there are people behind the scenes who have been instrumental (pun intended!) in ensuring not just the current success, but the very survival of the organisation.
All too often, we hear of the demise of a local band, sporting club or society, due to lack of membership, numbers attending, money and interest.
However, thanks to those few determined, stubborn, die-hard enthusiasts, the Parc & Dare Band has bucked the trend and demonstrated to others, that with the right people, a fighting spirit, a never-say-die attitude and desire to pull through, that things can be turned around and become re-energised once again.
My deepest thanks go to them!
I hope that this letter serves as some small crumbs of comfort and more importantly, inspiration to bands up and down the country, who are currently struggling and asking themselves, ‘what's the point?
Keep the faith, because when you turn the corner, success (not just on the contest stage) tastes all the more sweeter!
Contest Music for First Section?
Just having read Colin Macfarlane's letter regarding the test piece for the First Seciton area next year, I can see where he is coming from.
It’s only a suggestion but it would be good to see something on the lines of ‘Contest Music’ now been used for a First Section National Final piece – I dare not say a First Section area piece or a good number of bands would be soon moaning!
Other than that perhaps something like ‘Variations on a Ninth’ for the First Section?
Now I think everyone would fancy a crack at that one.
The Listen to the Band trajectory
With the move of Listen to the Band to yet another late night spot on Radio 2, your readers may like to know just how far the programme has fallen away from peak time listening over the years.
When BBC Radio 2 opened in 1967, the programme ‘Listen to the Band’ was introduced by John Dunn on Sundays at 1.30pm.
This has been the trajectory since:
John Dunn (1967-78)
1967: Sunday - 1.30pm
Charlie Chester (1978 to1992)
1978: Wednesday - 7.30pm
1982: Tuesday - 9.00pm
1983: Thursday – 9.00 to 9.30pm
1984: Wednesday - 8.15 to 9.00pm
1989: Wednesdays – 9.00 to 10.00pm
1992: Fridays – 9.00 to 10.00pm
Frank Renton (1995 to Date)
2007: Fridays - 9.30 to 10.00pm
2009: Fridays - 9.30 to 10.00pm
(Friday Night is Music Night Specials cancelled many programmes)
April 2010: Thursday - 10.30 to 11.00pm
April 2011: Wednesday - 9.30 to 10.00pm
October 2013: Thursday - 11.30 to 12.00pm
Cheltenham not a highlight
We’ve just attended the National Finals in Cheltenham, where we played in Section 4.
This our hobby and we play for enjoyment, friendship and fun.
First it is necessary to raise a lot of money, so 6 months is spent doing extra jobs and trying to get together the funds for the trip - £250 entry fee, £60 music, £1,200 coach, £4,000 hotel, £90 rehearsal room hire: £5,600 for the honour of representing your local area at the championships!
We spend between 3 and 6 hours travelling down the M1 on a Friday night on the coach to Cheltenham.
On Saturday morning we have a 10.00am rehearsal in the local Church Hall because we might draw number 1. Following the draw, we get to play at 7.00pm, so kick our heels till 4.00pm, have another short rehearsal and then off we go to the racecourse venue.
(A pre-draw would solve this and save money for bands).
After more waiting, a quick warm up and we’re on. We play our best, a few nerves but not a bad performance.
We come off the platform relieved and happy. It was OK, maybe not a winner, but considering the ages and abilities of the band we’re satisfied (principal cornet 16, soprano 15 and some old folks!)
Live commentary on 4Barsrest was reasonable and that’s quite encouraging.
We now go into the café/bar - the only one available. A small glass of wine in a plastic cup costs £4.50 and if we want to go into the hall to listen to some more bands the tickets purchased earlier cost £10 for bandsmen.
Nobody checks our tickets. Could we have got in for nothing?
The acoustics in the hall are not very good - strange considering a major part of the competition is about listening and sound. One band plays the trombone solo on a baritone. I wonder if the adjudicators realise? (open adjudication?)
At results time, vibrato seems to be an important element in the judging. We gain a disappointing position and take time to read the adjudicator’s comments.
Oh dear, were we really so awful?
They are very negative; our soloists didn’t use as much vibrato as the judges wanted and we also had “a strange sounding tambourine”
Now we’re home and can listen to the recording of our performance, it really doesn’t sound so bad. I wonder how the adjudicators come to their decision?
Anyway, we’re back to normal band practice now with all the same players; we will put on some good concerts to appreciative audiences and carry on enjoying our music making.
What a shame the National Finals will not stand out as one of the highlights in our year.
From Love Songs to St Magnus?
I recently went to hear the Johnstone Silver Band in their final rehearsal before travelling to Cheltenham for the National Finals and heard a fine band playing good music.
However, I couldn't help but think that all the bands playing ‘Fanfares and Love Songs’ at Cheltenham would meet the demands of the music.
Whilst I would expect that most First Section bands would master ‘Fanfares and Love Songs’, I'm not so certain that they will all master the demands of ‘St Magnus’ at the Areas in the Championship Section, where they will be playing next year.
I recall hearing some of Europe’s best bands struggle with it in Glasgow at the European Championships a few years ago.
Is the choice of both the pieces mentioned above an indication of the disparity between First and Championship Section - or should a more demanding piece have been selected for the First Section at Cheltenham?
If we are genuinely trying to raise the overall standards of musicianship at all levels should there not be a more graduated approach to selection of test pieces?
Failure to provide this is likely to mean that bands promoted one year are likely to be relegated the next.
Our band has just had a first look at next year’s First Section test piece, ‘Cry of the Mountain’ – and it nearly brought us all to tears!
It is, without doubt, the worst selected test piece ever for the bands at this level.
Words fail me as to how poor it is; how trite, badly structured and lacking in originality.
It will be hard for all the competing bands to be either encouraged or inspired to play this piece.
The welcome return of Parc & Dare
After the recent Welsh Mines Entertainment Contest in Porthcawl, how great it was to see one of bandings most famous names emerge to the contesting fold once again.
It’s so difficult these days to amass a full band of 25 plus players but Parc & Dare has done very well in doing just this.
I sincerely hope that this band goes from strength to strength and finally reach the Championship Section once more, which is where they really belong.
Congratulations must also go to their conductor Mr Andrew Jones in helping the band to gain momentum in assuring further success in the not too distant future.
The question I have for 4BR is regarding the coverage of the major contests.
There is always a runner and predictions and a description of the bands and all the main seats of the band are listed: Soprano, Principal Cornet, Solo Eb-flat etc - but never percussion!
Why is this? Is there a reason for this maybe?
On the 4BR all star ‘Band of the Year’, the percussion section is picked, so can the percussion section leaders be mentioned in the further coverage?
We will try – although the bands will have to decide on who their ‘principal player’ is and not give us a list of principal timps, tuned, unturned, kit, tambourine as well!
A Carnival to remember
I read with interest the British Open article ‘One to Remember’.
I cannot claim to go back to 1945, but have attended every ‘Open’ 1955 (except 1960 when I was busy on a marching job much to my chagrin).
I feel that the 1957 performance of ‘Carnival’ (Helen Perkin) by Black Dyke Mills under Major George Willcocks is one that must be added to the list.
In the programme for the 150th ‘Open in 2002, 18 brass band personalities gave their ‘Memories of the British Open’, and four of them specifically mention this performance.
I remember it as the only time the winning band played the test piece three times - twice as encores, to the biggest after the results crowd ever, almost a full hall. They stayed to hear the lap of honour or ‘swank piece’ as it was known in those days.
The playing in the slow movement was magical, never to be forgotten.
Geoffrey Whitham’s programme comment explains why they played it for the second time but the third time was by sheer audience demand.
I append Goff’s comments: “My most memorable visit to the Open was in 1957 – it was our winning performance on ‘Carnival’ by Helen Perkins, conducted by Major Willcocks.
We only had a few rehearsals with the ‘Major’ because the octet had been in Russia for a few weeks and there wasn’t enough time to rehearse anything but the test piece.
So, after winning, we played ‘Carnival’ again and we received so much applause that we had to do the slow movement for an encore.”
Ray & Shirley Stuttard