Editorial ~ 2003: February


This month we give our views why we think there is a need for an explanation on who and how "Prague" was picked, the need for a Nationals organisation, and why trumpets are not quite the right thing.

Do We Need To Know?

There have many plus and minus points for both Anthony and myself since setting up 4BR the good stuff has far outweighed the bad it must be said, but one of the most interesting aspects of doing the website are the rumours and non attributable gossip that somehow reaches our doorstep in the middle of the night.

We have of course been rightly or wrongly accussed of possibly making a name for ourselves on the basis of some of these bon mots, but in the last few weeks or so a couple of topics have come to light to which we feel we may need to know the real truth about.

Just like the Government's "Need to know" policy over Iraq, rumours suggest that there is a possible debate required over how "Prague" got selected as the test piece for the Regional Championships. Many a letter has been published on our website decrying the piece, and we mentioned in our last editorial about our concern over the reasons why and how it was picked - but even though we know the piece was chosen (as with the other four test pieces) we don't know how the decision came to be made, and more importantly if there is an official record of who decided it was to be used.

It seems though that the "How" and "Who" may possibly need clarification from the people in charge.

Was it, as has been rumoured, chosen not by a full compliment of the Music Panel of the BFBB?

The unsubstantiated rumours suggest that the full panel of Paul Hindmarsh, Peter Parkes, James Scott, Lynda Nicholson, Duncan Beckley and Chris Houlding were not present when the decision was made, and possibly as few as two of the members may only have been present when the decision to choose "Prague" was made.

This may well be right or wrong, but the question remains. If the Panel was set up officially, then wouldn't its terms of reference be able to inform us if a decision could be made without the full meeting of the Panel members, and if so, what was the minimum number allowed to actually pass the decision? Or, are there no actual terms of reference, minutes etc that could be made available for inspection? As there is a Chairman, then surely he was elected, and if so, then surely there are formal minutes of the meetings?

We know it's not Iraq, and we aren't trying to be Hans Blix, but a formal response would surely put a few minds at rest.

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Nationals need a National Body.

One of the other good things about setting up 4BR is that it has enabled us to go all over the UK and Europe and to see how brass band contests are run and promoted. Our latest trip of course was to Bergen to see and hear the bands of Norway at their National Championships.

The first thing you have to say is that the Championships are impressively run, with a professional organisation looking after both the musical and financial interests of the movement. The Norwegian Brass Band Federation gets money from the Government of course, and how we wish that could be the same here in the UK, but the most important aspect of all, is that the movement is run for the benefit of those who participate the players and the supporters, and not as it is here for the National Championships, by a private company.

That is not to say private enterprise doesn't benefit the great mass of those who actually take part, but private enterprise is run for profit, and the first and foremost criteria of any company is to run it's business at a profit for it's shareholders and owners. That is a fact of life and is exactly the same for 4BR, just in case you thought we were running it as a charity.

So how come the Norwegians can set up an organisation, get Government help, employ 14 staff, encourage the participants to pay individual subscriptions, as well as bands and run a Nationals that is also profitable?

The reason seems to be in built in their national characteristic; the Norwegians are a studious, phlegmatic people who have a liberal attitude towards all things that help promote the Norwegian way of cultural life. They do not suffer fools gladly and are willing to pay good money if in return they get something good and beneficial to their community back in return. Be it their Health Service, public transport or schools, they don't seem to mind paying the money in taxes if they know the end product will be as good as it possibly can.

At present the British do not share that characteristic not everyone that is, and so when given the opportunity to create a National body that would be run to benefit the brass band movement is available, we shy away from the responsibility of funding it from our individual pockets. We want the Government to help, and why not, but paying for at least half of it ourselves? No way.

That is why our Nationals are to be run on a commercial basis by a private company, and why for their expertise and financial know how, they will reap the profit.

We had the chance with the BFBB and for however hard they worked, they lacked the financial backing from its very members to make the break and set up in a way that could and should have been the structure that secured the brass band movements future. Bands and bands people didn't have the character to back an organisation that could have been of so much benefit to the movement as a whole - and so we get a Nationals we deserve.

Well done Norway, you've shown us how it should be done yet again.

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A little bit more of the same please

Just if you might have thought we had come over all "Europhile" with our report and comments on the Norwegian Championships, there were one or two things about Bergen that we think the banding movement as a whole may need to address.

The question of using "special instruments" is one such thing. The use of an organ to supplement and enhance a performance isn't new or "special" (way back in 1958 a Celeste part was written for Vaughan William's "Variations for Brass Band" and "Dove Decending" has an optional organ part), but the use of trumpets as integral parts of a "brass band" performance is something else.

Eikanger's performance was amazing, but the question arose was this a brass band performance or a brass ensemble performance? Under the present rules in Norway, trumpets are allowed (sop players especially in lower section bands use Eb trumpets as younger players can use them more freely in their wind bands, which are very popular), so there was nothing wrong with the bands decision to perform a piece that needed 7 trumpets although on the day they only used five. It was however a bit like the argument rugby fans have over the relevant pros and cons of the league and union games. Both use the same ball, same pitch, pass and kick the ball the same way and have much the same rules, but there is no doubt that they are both totally and utterly different games.

What is now needed is some sort of "European Standard" for band contests, especially at the Elite or Championship level so that the use of trumpets can be curtailed in future. The use of "special instruments" such as the organ, CD player or synthesiser etc should be maintained if it is integral to a brass band composition, but at the highest level, only standard brass band instrumentation should be allowed.

This would enable Championship bands from all over Europe to "perform" on a level playing pitch against each other, and even though it would mean the end to the chance of hearing such a work played so brilliantly again on a contest stage, it would not preclude it being performed on the concert stage at all, where possibly it rightly belongs.

At present we understand the European Championships themselves do not have rules precluding the use of trumpets, so there is a possibility in future of the piece being used at the highest level. Would that be a fair brass band contest?

Eikanger showed us what could be achieved by a group of talented players allied to a superb conductor in Bergen, but they also showed us that to maintain it's unique appeal and characteristic on a contest stage, a brass band must remain a brass band and not a brass ensemble - however brilliant the result may be.

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