No quick antidote...
Whilst we all have to accept the inevitable cuts around us, the reshaping of traditional structures and the movement away from convenient realities, we also have to embrace inclusion rather than support exclusion.
Banding has been like an addict throughout its existence: Reliance on sponsors or benefactors, dependence on a type of work, society or cultural demographic (which shifted in the 20th century) and eventually the education system.
It has not needed to have the addiction fed because it has been given some boosters every now and then from somewhere.
Firstly contesting breeds exclusion not inclusion. Bands are a vehicle that has the ability to transcend this.
The biggest contributing factor to this sense of elitism is giving the bands deemed unworthy no chance of aspiring to playing in the Albert Hall. Economic thoughts aside, lower section bands would be crazy not to want to play in the Albert Hall, given the opportunity.
Lower championship section bands give youth a chance on a more regular basis than maybe the bigger bands, making it hard for them is not going to inspire youth and the next generation.
More contests based in one location inspire inclusion and development.
Making the elite head of banding more elite and further away from the grass roots is entirely the wrong message to send out.
The associations or quasi hubs between communities and bands have shown in some areas that bands have not been functioning well for some time.
Thus - addressing your second editorial point.
Bands at the top in the last decade have begun to recognise the need to engage with a) youth education in schools and b) ‘feeder’ lower section bands. This is not meant to be condescending to them, but that's what sections and contesting create, otherwise you would not have the normal ‘characters’ at the top of the food chain. It's about time bands worked together and there are signs of this appearing.
I think it's time to realise that contesting has encouraged bands to look at the next hit of banding medicine, which is the contest, before the health of the whole body. Conversely the idealism and paradigm of hitting the artistic cultural wares of orchestral spheres by the search for technical perfection in contesting is a little delusional.
Can anybody say that pieces today are that much harder than ‘Masquarade’, ‘Fireworks’, ‘Contest Music’, ‘Life Divine’ or the music found at Cyfarthfa? The enjoyment of contesting is the social aspect x the musical aspect. That means more people participating than less.
Things have not worked well for bands in this country because of the division and exclusion caused by contesting, player poaching and engaging in siege mentalities commonly known as, "I'm alright Jack".
Have there been instances of youth bands poaching players from each other? More than likely.
Is that right - ethical even?
Bands need to set aside differences that are now historical mythologies, culturally irrelevant to the 21st century band community. Possibly it should be a case of love thy neighbour than covet thy neighbour.
The absence of contesting regulation and rules as the concrete pillar or noose, depending on your perspective and philosophy, would possibly provide the opportunity for cultural variation and development. If not banding will be the tortoise that didn't evolve a longer neck to reach the changing vegetation, a danger that has been suitably ignored by the many and a frustration for the few.
Banding is not about serving the elite but serving all of those who supplement what was once erroneously described as a movement. It's about time bands, banders, followers, entrepreneurs; institutions lived up to the definition of a movement.
I am not being a hypocrite, I have been there and enjoyed the friction but time has changed and we have a duty to preserve what our ancestors created but equally allow innovative ideas to be explored with open minds.
There is no quick antidote to this addiction but certainly you don't want the proverbial fix to be more instant and concentrated and definitely not only suitable for the elite few.
Test piece bugbear
I read your comments with interest and do not disagree that there may well be a need to "reassess" the grading of some bands.
However, to say, "bands struggle to meet the musical demands of test pieces that in theory they should be well equipped to perform" I think is unfair. I would look more at the test pieces being selected, which a particular hobby horse of mine.
Over the last few years we have seen works originally composed for Nationals Finals now being used as Regional qualifying pieces, alongside this we have seen works which only a few years ago were used for the Championship Section now being used for lower sections.
I cannot understand the logic of this. Bands have not improved that much over recent years for someone to think that ‘Resurgam’ is a good test for Second Section!!
Surely the aim of any test piece is to be ‘inclusive’ for all bands in that section and not beyond the reach of the bands at the lower end of the section. To a good adjudicator the top bands will always stand out - no matter how ‘easy’ the test work appears.
A few years ago many people condemned the selection of the ‘Academic Festival Overture’ for the National Finals because it was ‘too easy’ and all the bands would be able to play it. I attended that day and all the bands could play the notes, but not all of them converted this into good music and the top six bands still stood out.
Undertaking a reassessment of where bands are is easier said than done.
At the moment we have a very straightforward promotion and relegation system which is devoid of subjective judgement. Once a band is promoted it would usually take three years of poor results to see them demoted, so this could be three years of ‘poor performances" - remember the band in question is not really able to turn down promotion.
Also we must be aware wary of the bands who would be much happier winning in a lower section than surviving in a higher section.
As with most things the issue is easy to identify but complex to resolve.
I for one would leave things as they are with automatic promotion and relegation, but concentrate on selecting the right piece to ensure a day at a contest is enjoyable for the listener, rather than a exercise in hearing bands struggle with a piece that is just beyond them - and most of the bands in their section.
No youth fad with Lions
Regarding the article what happened to all those youth bands that started with lottery funding?
Lions Youth Brass stated in the late 80s with 12 players as the Crewe District Youth Band, and changed its name once they got support from local Lions Clubs. In the 90s, and more recently, we have gained lottery funding for new instruments.
Today the band has 114 players in three different bands; Lions Beginner, Lions Junior and Lions Youth. We have players who are the children of former players, and MDs and Tutors who are former players.
There have even been several marriages of people who met and grew up with band. We have players who have gone on to perform at the highest level in First and Championship bands.
We enter several competitions a year, and perform many concerts for charity and take the Youth Band away on tour each year,
So it can be done, and the investment is certainly not a fad.
Lions Youth Brass
PRS eyebrow raiser
I read your article ‘PRS will take action on illegal recordings’ with eyebrows slightly raised.
Whilst admiring the PRS's long service in protecting member’s rights, it, along with its membership, may perhaps want to have a rethink and in the process prefer to embrace the 21st Century.
In response to attempted ‘anti-copyright’ legislative acts originating in the US (e.g., SOPA, CISPA et simile) under lobbying from movie studio and music label corporate interests, credible critics pointed out that:
* Estimated illegal downloads made no dent on box office takings or sales of paid-for downloads. In fact, there has been an increase in legit earnings from downloads - witness a March 2013 report published by the European Commission Joint Research Centre claiming that music web piracy does not harm legitimate sales
* Of those who do enjoy an "illegally" recorded performance, many who enjoyed it will seek to buy an original studio recording (perhaps one where the Sop didn't mis-pitch and split that note in Harrison's Dream). Of the others, the vast majority would not have bought the recording anyway.
* Freely distributing a recording of a live performance provides arguably the best marketing exposure for any performer or composer - for would not the number of potential fans diminish massively if they never or rarely heard a piece in the first place?
It is certainly true that sales in CD format are declining generally. However, this is a reflection of an increasing trend for recordings to be purchased as downloads. Furthermore, what kind of income did brass band composers make before the advent of the internet?
Resistance to technological advances made possible by the internet is futile. Indeed, the web opens up all sorts of entrepreneurial possibilities for everyone, including performers and composers - even if a foray out of traditional comfort zones may be required.
Perhaps those in the banding movement - a somewhat anachronistic phenomenon that likes to dress in semi-militaristic uniforms with jackets that any lion-tamer would be proud of - who enjoy an occasional Youtube session of Dyke or Mnozil don't particularly want to be stuck in the past after all?
Maybe the PRS itself ought also to avoid anachronism and arguably self-serving complacency by instead using credible research to inform its members on how their interests can be best served using the marvels of the digital age.
Since competing at Butlins I've noticed the usual number of recordings from various bands contest performances on social media.
Whilst being illegal I do appreciate this has been going on for a number of years and people have turned a blind I and it seems fairly harmless.
This time though I noticed that the same person has recorded (in very poor quality) several performances from the Third Section and was sharing them far and wide, presumably without the other band’s permission (or composers).
The cynical side of me believes they are doing it to discredit the adjudicator’s decision. A sort of equivalent to cricket’s TV replay review.
I conduct Greenfield band so it doesn't affect us this time, but it does concern me that it'll become more prevalent.
Results will become open to anyone's interpretation and that can't help what can already be a contentious issue!
Christmas in short sleeves...
Christmas carolling in England can be very challenging and daunting given the extreme weather conditions.
Being a Salvation Army bandsman I did it for 4 years in Sunderland and enjoyed it immensely: Two pairs of socks, gloves, two singlets and a heavy regulation coat and a cap.
I always found that people were generous and gave freely. Then is the very presence of a band ensemble willing to play Christmas carols at different locations.
I raise the question of say, Christmas in July which should be more favourable weather wise in England and should be a better proposition.
In Australia it is much more weather acceptable as a short sleeve shirt, tie and cap.
Although Mossies are a problem at times and require a product called Aeroguard to spray yourself to keep them away.
Financially, the money collected is very good and all our money is used within the Salvation Army or Church to help with its work.
Is it enjoyable? Yes it is, and at times concessions have to be made to be present.
I have done carolling now for nigh 50 years and have enjoyed every moment.
Striking a nerve...
Your comments about having 90 Championship bands struck a nerve with me.
I believe that drastic measures need to be taken to reduce the numbers and, ultimately, enable the London Finals to be a true showcase of the very best talent available.
There are far too many ‘championship’ bands who - through quality or live in the wrong part of the UK - enter contests more in hope rather than expectation. These bands (often good) need more achievable goals, whilst those at the very top require a greater incentive!
Why not create an Elite level section with 40 bands across the UK. More radically, I would pair the regions - say Wales & West, Central & Southern, etc and allow the top 3 bands to qualify for the Finals.
The London Finals would have a maximum of 18 competing bands made up of 12 from the 4 Area finals; the top 3 from the previous year’s Finals and the top 3 UK based ranked bands.
Of course, there would be occasions when area winners and those pre-qualifying are the same, but why not introduce a ‘play-off’ contest. It works very well in many top level sports and generates lots of interest and excitement.
Along with these changes I would impose stricter rules on player registration too - to reward the concept of long term sustainable banding.
I am sure that the regions would be against these ideas and be very territorial, but continuing with a ‘head in the sand’ attitude will, in time, deal a heavy blow to our movement and if we resist change we will only have ourselves to blame.
It is a National contest...
Angus Naples raises a good point, in that the possibility of an independent Scotland is doesn't seem to have been discussed as yet on 4BR or elsewhere.
Crucially, however, it is worth bearing in mind that the official title of the 'Nationals' refers to Great Britain, not to the United Kingdom.
Great Britain is usually taken to refer to the geographical entity (aka the British Isles) rather than a political/administrative one.
If we take it in this context, there seems no reason why the contest should not continue as it has - though this is probably a question for the people at Kapitol to decide, rather than at Westminster or Holyrood (though wouldn't it be worth asking, just to see their faces?)
Mr. Naples also refers to qualification for the European championships - another issue, but perhaps worth pointing out that under the current system, with the demise of the English National, English bands only get one bite at the cherry, whereas there are two chances for bands from Scotland and Wales (not that they seem to need it at present!).
Three way split...
In response to Angus Naples’ question on the future of Scottish banding after the possible break-up of the Union there are 3 possible approaches:
1. We could continue as is and, face up with courage, against the mysterious, dark international powers that are intent on taking away the sovereign decisions of Brass Band Associations and, regardless of whatever tactics they use to force changes for their own perfidious benefits, we could state that if all involved want the status quo to remain (for Brass Bands at least) then we will defend it with our lives.
2. We could take the geographic view that whatever political decision Scotland makes, unless they dig themselves free and row themselves halfway up the North Atlantic, they will still be part of Britain as that is the name of our lovely island. They’ll be leaving the United Kingdom.
3. If all other barriers were deemed insurmountable we could take the radical step of renaming it whatever took our fancy (“Graham The Brass Band Competition” maybe) and invite exactly the same bands that currently participate.
If none these work I would suggest, as the end of the world is quite obviously upon us, that we consider mass Hara-kiri using that sharp piece of broken music stand that lives at the bottom of every stand box in Britain (or Britain and Scotland, or the Uk without Scotland but with Scotland invited, or Graham etc etc ad infinitum).
The Devil is beind the cuts...
Regarding the ‘Time to finally make the cuts’ editorial, one does wonder if the editor is playing ‘devil's advocate’, but I appreciate the need to get people to ‘bite’.
What has "future prosperity" got to do with whether a championship band can play ‘St. Magnus’ or not?
I would be rather more concerned that it's possible that a band can win section 4/3/2/1 (and a few nationals on the way) in very quick succession then be relegated in their very first year in the championship.
It would be very difficult to tell them they weren't "a true championship band" (west of England recently)
Is the "mediocrity" the editor talks of the fault of the bands?
They can only play the test piece in front of them and do their best rather like the C Grade in South Australia recently.
‘Rhapsody in Brass’ was a very stern test for the Grade but the 5 bands just had to do their best.
If anyone had called their efforts "mediocre" they would have been very annoyed indeed! All 5 bands were "not equipped" to perform it but I didn't hear one complaint about the piece, but some were rather more concerned over the cancelled marching contest section because of bad weather!
The world's bands have got a lot more to worry about than the ability of some of UK bands' ability to play ‘St Magnus’ - let's try and get a life.
An actor's life for free...
It was interesting to read the recent article on the theatre company wanting to get a band to play in the latest production of ‘Brassed Off.’
I suspect that the National Theatre didn’t tell 4BR that they actually want the brass bands to appear for free.
They have already approached several professional players in Nottingham with the proposal already, but didn't want to pay even basic expenses.
Apparently we should be happy to do it for nothing - for the experience of treading the stage.
The actors of course are being paid, and with tickets at £30 plus no doubt the Royal Concert Hall is not being so charitable either.
The great John Berryman
I was lucky enough to work with John Berryman for five years at Kibworth and previously at GUS.
I am therefore delighted to see your recent tribute to him. He is a top musician and human being.
Pop star identity?
I think the Blackthorpe Colliery Band in your news item about "Oh you pretty thing" may well be Blackhall Colliery band who came from Newcastle/Durham area.
The future of the Union
Has any thought been given to the effect a breakup of the Union would have on Scottish bands competing at the British Championships?
It seems to me that in the event that Scotland should decide to leave the Union they would no longer be able to compete at the British Championships, as they would no longer be part of the United Kingdom.
A few of the Scottish Championship Section bands, if they can afford the trip, could play at the Europeans, but what of the rest?
What's left for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Section bands other than the Scottish Championship?
Perhaps I've missed it but I haven't seen anything in 4barsrest, or anywhere else, on this issue.
Has it been discussed by the Scottish and British Associations and if so what's the way forward or is it a case of wait and see?
I'd appreciate if someone could enlighten me.
Points and prizes
With reference to the recent debate about judges agreeing on the points given at contests.
As marks are awarded after each band plays why can't the sum total be displayed post performance?