Editorial ~ 2005 July

4-Jul-2005

This month we give our opinion on the National Band Council of Australia elections, National Bands and the growing cross-pollination of UK and Downunder players.


National Band Council of Australia Elections

Another election has come and gone at the National Band Council of Australia (NBCA) with, predictably, no change in personnel and no decisive or insightful thought leadership emerging from the Annual Conference.
 
On 15th April 1912, on her maiden voyage to New York, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and met her doom in the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.  The terrible result was a huge loss of life and, even more tragically, many lives could have been saved if the life boats were filled to capacity.  The decks of the Titanic were, if all accounts are true, a place of pandemonium, confusion and fear.  Those less fortunate were left to die a horrible death.

On 26th June 2005, the NBCA met in Brisbane with an opportunity to set sail for the future; to chart a course not traveled, and to do so boldly and without fear.  Unfortunately, this ship too has capsized with a terrible loss.
 
By inviting Expressions of Interest for the positions of President and Vice President from candidates outside the State representation, the NBCA could have injected much needed energy, enthusiasm, passion and diversity (the list could go on forever) to a stagnant organisation that has, in recent years, delivered little to the forward thinking of our movement. 

The Press Release announcing the election results cited "the successful candidates have a long history of service to their state governing bodies and an excellent understanding of how the states and the NBCA are required to work together - both important components in serving the Australian band movement".  At a time when the Australian band movement is crying out for some clear direction and leadership, why would representatives select candidates whose primary strengths are maintaining the status quo?

The NBCA had an opportunity to truly make a statement on the future of banding in Australia; an opportunity to take us on the journey of our lives.  Granted, only two endorsed candidates were from outside the existing regime, however not selecting either of these highly-qualified and enthusiastic candidates has made a mockery of inviting Expressions of Interest. 

Who was the NBCA expecting to apply; if not vibrant, energetic and successful members of our movement, then who?  It seems that there was no intention to change the status quo, and that the invitation for Expressions of Interest was merely a smokescreen to keep thinking people thinking and non-thinking people in the dark.

In regard to the election process, the President and Vice President were elected by the State representatives in an exhaustive secret ballot.  This type of ballot applies when there are more candidates than available positions.  With three candidates for President and four for Vice President, this election process was used for these two positions.  For each position, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is immediately eliminated, and then all votes are recast until such time as one candidate has more votes than the remaining candidates combined.  Presumably, this is all according to the Constitution of the NBCA.

One has to ask why such a process is necessary to determine the outcome of what should be a straightforward selection.  Why exhaustive, and definitely why does it have to be secret?  Surely State representatives have been given clear direction on how to vote from their respective State Associations and it is merely a case of casting those votes accordingly.  Maybe the representatives were voting according to their own agendas.  We will never know.

So, our ship has been capsized by a large, immovable object, with a loss to our movement that equates to the death of adventure and excitement.  Our life boats aren't full, and the decks remain a place of confusion, disillusionment and fear.  The fortunate hold on, while those around them flounder without hope.

The question is; can we keep treading water for another two years?  If we don't change direction, we are going to end up where we are heading.

What do you think?
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National Bands

Last week, the National Band of New Zealand once again left its home shores to take on the best this time in Kerkrade in The Netherlands.  The nation of New Zealand is full of pride and admiration for this institution, which has been an icon and source of inspiration for brass band musicians for decades.

This flagship band will, of course, represent its home base with distinction, and herein lays the real meaning behind such a group.  As a truly representative band of players from throughout the country, the band draws on everyone in the New Zealand movement and establishes a benchmark for the rest of the New Zealand bands.  It is truly a motivation for players to achieve at a very high level, so that each and every player has the chance of aspiring to the high performance standard set by the National Band.

Likewise, the National Youth Band of New Zealand and the NZ National Secondary Schools Brass Band provide opportunities for young players to set high goals and achieve them.

In Australia, however, the whole notion of National Bands seems to be a source of contention, politics and disillusionment.  Australian Brass, the brainchild of Peter Younghusband, Greg Aitken and John Thomas, was established to set a new benchmark for the aspirations of Australian bandsmen and women.  While Australian Brass has been successful, it is an ensemble that was formed almost despite the national banding administration.

The failed attempt to send a band from Australia to Kerkrade is a truly disappointing time in Australian banding history.  This lack of leadership and insight has dashed a moment that could have placed Australians on the world stage.  Instead, Australia is without a national band, or any band representation, at the upcoming contest.  This is an indictment on the leadership of our movement.

The National Band of New Zealand prospers and sets the pace for the movement in New Zealand, and has done so for a long time.  Australia needs to look across the ditch to understand the deep pride and tradition that is the National Band of New Zealand.

Size does matter!  Although Australia is geographically huge and the tyranny of distance is a major impediment to the establishment of a National Band and National Youth Band, there is a void much larger in our movement as a result of not pushing forward with National programs.  When it comes to National bands in Australia, the things that divide us seem to be stronger than the things that bring us together.

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Cross-Pollination of UK and Downunder Players

With visiting players of the calibre of Brett Baker and Steve Miles, and conductors like Gary Cutt visiting our shores to perform with Downunder bands, is the movement in Australia and New Zealand experiencing an identity crisis?

There is no doubt that the standard of Downunder bands has increased exponentially in recent years, to the point where we can attract musicians of this level, but the reverse is also now true.  Our players are gaining respect in the old dart and deservedly so.  Our shining light is, of course, Professor David King, who sets the pace in the toughest band scene in the world. 

In the player ranks, John Lewis, Riki McDonnell, Brendon Wheeler, John Thomas, Thomas Humphrey, Rick Casagrande and many more, are now enjoying opportunities to perform with top UK bands.  Alexandra Bowman will be spending 2006 in Wales with a Championship section band.

This cross-pollination is improving the standard of Downunder bands, particularly in Australia.  Whilst the standard in New Zealand has historically been superior to that of Australia, the Aussies are steadily bridging the gap and reaping the rewards of inviting experienced and talented musicians from the UK.

Casual visitors are having an influence, but the real impact is because of the more permanent arrivals.  Australian and New Zealand bands are experiencing a period unlike any other time in our banding history.  English, Scottish and other nationality conductors and players are bringing their high standards here and this is paying real dividends.
 
Over twenty years ago, Ken MacDonald came to Australia.  He has probably been the most successful conductor at contest in that time.  Likewise, Tom Paulin, Nigel Weeks, Howard Taylor, Andrew Snell, Ed Kennedy, Simon Kerwin and even Stan Priestley, have all made major impressions on the Australian and New Zealand scenes. 

UK players, too, have almost dragged us up with them.  Musicians such as Paula Russell, Peter Younghusband, Alexandra Kerwin and others play at a level that seriously challenges the rest of the Downunder movement to lift our game.

So, are we having an identity crisis or are we truly becoming world class?

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