Editorial ~ 2003: May & June


This month we give our views on the success of the European in Bergen, the welcome invitation of an American band to the Open and the need to tinker with the relegation issue at the Grand Shield contests.

Norway shows the way forward

As we have already said in our retrospective of the 26th European Championships, Bergen 2003 was a tremendous event, one that the organisers, be it from the EBBA or the Norwegian Music Federation but especially the people of Bergen can take a great pride in having hosted so brilliantly.

The professional way in which the whole Festival was run from April 27th until May 4th also highlighted how poorly many of our major brass band contests in the UK have been run for many years. Thankfully it seems the message has struck home and hopefully the bands and audiences will see and feel that from now on they will be getting better value for their money. Bergen showed us how things should be done.

The whole event had a sense of purpose and direction about it, whilst all the integral events from the Conductors Competition through to the final Gala Concert, from the European Youth Band to the choice of the set work from Torstein Aagaard - Nilsen were so well thought out and presented. Co-operation from the host city was such that "fringe" events such as the Labour Day march and the Symphonic Band Concert complimented the brass band events fully, so there was always something of interest for people to do and see. You sensed Bergen was proud to host the event.

The hardy souls of the Press were superbly catered for, whilst we didn't come across a single bandsman or woman who wasn't deeply impressed by the fact that each of them received a "goodie" bag to take home with them that included a camera, photo album, CD case (both with the event logo) as well as being met and greeted by a designated representative at the airport who ensured their every whim was catered for during the weekend. Facilities were excellent (although secure changing rooms for the bands would have been a plus), the prize money on offer was a credit to both sponsors (well done Besson and the rest of the Brits) and the organisers, but most importantly, the public came and supported the whole Festival over the whole eight days. The Scottish representatives for Glasgow took notes, asked questions and made sure that they reported back with the details of all the good things that went on as well - so we can be confident of a great event next year as well.

EBBA stuck its neck out with another fine choice of test piece and were rewarded with an appreciative audience who listened to it on its merits alone, whilst all the bands did themselves and their countries proud with the standard of their performances.

All in all, Bergen was a joy if only the beer was cheaper. Thank you Norway, you have shown us the way forward once more. Lets hope others now follow suit.

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A Real British Open

Following on from Bergen, the news that the British Open now in it's 151st year rather than its 26th, has invited the American Illinois Brass Band to compete at this year's event should be wholeheartedly welcomed by all brass band lovers.

The Open has in fact been an international event for near on 80 years, but only those with a very narrow interpretation of rule 4 (which stated that the contest was "open" to bands from the British Isles and the countries of the Commonwealth) could have any cause for xenophobic complaint. As the Commonwealth wasn't created until 1931, the Newcastle Steel victory in 1924 therefore debunks any argument that they may have on that score, and also quashes any notion anyone could have that the contest should not now invite bands from Europe to compete as well.

The organisers have taken progressive steps in the right direction over the past few years, what with the introduction of a structure that now includes promotion and relegation through the Grand Shield Festival contests, and even though there is still a need for a bit of tinkering with some aspects, the whole British Open organisation is firmly on the right road to not only survive, but flourish into the 21st Century.

This is why the invitation to our American friends is right and welcome, and why hopefully in the next few years that invitation should be extended to include bands from the continent. Getting the Champion bands from Norway or Belgium to qualify for the contest through the Grand Shield may have to be looked at (due to the clash with the European), but wouldn't it make for an even greater contest if the British Open in 2004 included at least one band from Europe.

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The Relegation Issue

What it must feel like to be a West Ham supporter eh? Come to think of it, what must it feel like to be one of the 18 bands that are facing relegation from either the Grand Shield, Senior Cup and Senior Trophy for that matter. Relegation hurts. No. Relegation hurts like bleeding hell.

The Grand Shield was by all accounts a fine weekend of banding. Great performances, fine test pieces and a real atmosphere that harked back to the great old days of the Belle Vue Spring Contest all those years ago. The venue may have changed but some things haven't and the issue of relegation is one of them.

Years ago, relegation from the Open was a secret matter decided after the event by the great and good. Named bands didn't go down however badly they had done, so the Open's organiser's efforts in making the promotion and relegation issue transparent and easily understood for all to see must be congratulated. What must also be congratulated is their desire to accept compromise and discussion from the bands themselves over the issue, and so even though the current system may not be perfect, the organisers are willing to see if someone can come up with a better idea.

At present it is the bottom six from each section over two years that face the drop, and for 4BR it seems a touch harsh on too many bands that perhaps one "middle of the road" performance may condemn bands to possible relegation. In a field of 18 to 20 bands it would be fairer that the bottom four face relegation and get replaced with the top four from the section below. That would mean less bands worrying that a "one off" bad show would be penalised possibly so harshly and would mean that over a two year period that the four bands who haven't really performed up to scratch face the trap door.

The organisers have said they are willing to look at the system again (the question of what will happen to Desford is still to be resolved as yet) but it is nice to know that our greatest contest is now openly looking to involve bands and take on their opinions and ideas.

If bands wish to make suggestions then they should contact Frank Hodges. He is a nice chap who welcomes constructive ideas and can be contacted direct. If only West Ham supporters could have had the same opportunity to save their skins.

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