Editorial ~ 2003: July, August, Spetember & October

31-Jul-2003

This month we give our views on the Masters adjudication problem, where do all the students go and yet another episode of Welsh woe.


Masters Mix and Match

There has been one heck of a lot of debate in the last month or so following the result of the 2003 All England Masters Championships in Cambridge. The Leyland band under Garry Cutt were the winners although they didn't actually get a first place and although most reasonable people wouldn't decry the bands victory, they do question the system that made them the winners on this occasion.

The organisers Phillip Biggs and Richard Franklin have bravely tried to develop the Masters into the most innovative brass band contest around and for the most part they have succeeded. The method of adjudication though has yet to be fully resolved as it is the effect not the cause that needs to be addressed.

Blaming an individual judge for a bands overall result misses the point entirely. It is how that judges placing effects the overall result that must be scrutinised, and for us at 4BR it would give the organisers the ideal opportunity to make a small but very telling change to the way in which the final placings are calculated.

Going back to the old system of three men in the same box is a retrospective approach and one that should finally be consigned to the dustbin of time, whilst the call for an increase in the overall number of adjudicators from three to five or even six or seven brings with it problems of accommodation, cost and practicality. Our usual call for "Open" adjudication is not the issue here (even though we would like it to be implemented), so we are left with the need for another approach.

The answer may lie in Formula One motor racing and the way in which the placings the drivers gain at the end of a Grand Prix are translated into a differential points table. The winner gets 10 points, the person coming second gets 8 points, third place 6 points, fourth five points and so on. The difference between the drivers coming 7th and 8th is usually just 1 point unlike the Masters where the difference between coming 1st and 2nd or even 20th and 21st is just 1 point. Over a number of races, the most consistently successful drivers (usually the Germans) enhance their positions at the head of the placings table as the possibility of a poor result does not write off the advantage gained from their good results in earlier races.

For the Masters therefore the same principle could well be applied without having to change the format of three separate judges (which the bands seem to like). All that would have to be changed is that the placings given by the three individual judges would be amended into a Grand Prix points score by the organisers, whilst the differential between the placings would be worked out by a competent statistician before the event to reflect the number of bands taking part and to ensure that the difference between coming 1st and 2nd or even 20th and 21st is fair and equitable and gives greater reward for the bands who in the opinion of each of the adjudicators should occupy the top places. These would then be added together to give the final overall placing.

It may seem odd that we look at this method as a means of making things a bit fairer, but it has certainly worked in Formula 1 and has ensured that the best drivers don't suffer too unduly because they couldn't overtake on the narrow streets of Monte Carlo. It may mean a bit of extra maths for the organisers, but it would also mean that the chance of a "rogue" result might be diminished even further. The integrity of the judges opinions is maintained, but their effects will more accurately reflect who really is the best band on the day. You never know - it may just work.

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Where do all the students go?

These are very hard times for students, so congratulations to everyone who leaves higher education nowadays with a Degree not only because it has invariably been hard work, but because getting a one is now a pretty expensive business. 14,000 of debt is now the average cost of getting a couple of letters after your name, whilst the days of newly qualified students entering the workforce in well paid positions because they hold a 2:1 from a University are long gone.

There is also the thorny question of what our newly qualified students then consider to do for a living and for those who have gained their qualifications through one of the Brass Band courses at our Universities and Colleges, the question of whether or not their future profession of choice will actually have got anything to do with music or brass bands in particular is an important consideration.

There are only so many professional places in orchestras to be filled each year, only so many peripatetic places in local authorities that come up for grabs and only so many music teachers that are needed by schools. And there are only a handful of brass bands who can afford to pay a living wage for a MD, and even fewer who can pay players a realistic retainer however good they are. So where do all our fine students from the likes of Salford, Manchester, Huddersfield, the Academies and Colleges end up?

According to recent findings the Universities themselves don't really know, and it is why the Government Minister for Education, Charles Clarke allegedly made a pointed remark recently that he saw no reason why the Government should continue to provide funding for educational establishments who provide "ornamental courses" that give students qualifications that will be of little use to them in the real world of work.

It would be great to think that every newly mortar boarded brass band student goes on to get the job of their dreams, but the reality is very different. The educationalists will argue that isn't the point of getting a Degree, but in these times financial stringency in higher education, there is a growing tendency to justify the success of courses by the crude method of measuring how many students go on to a career in their chosen study field.

Nearly all our top bands have transient music students in their ranks fine players taking the opportunity to play with the best brass bands in the country during their time in college, but how many then go on to become professional players, music teachers, peripatetics or conductors of lower section bands? All of them? Half? A quarter? According to the Government it seems, the Universities haven't a clue and that is why they are beginning to question why in an age when there is a huge shortage of scientists, engineers, maths and physics teachers they seem to be churning out a never ending supply of students in sectors where the number of job vacancies is limited to say the least. How many brass band alumni of 2003 will be working in call centres, travel agents or Benefit Agency offices in three months time?

Providing courses for students is one thing providing courses that are relevant and appropriate is another, and if we are to stop the likes of Mr Clarke and his apparatchiks in Westminster casting their beady funding eyes in the direction of the brass band courses, the Universities and Colleges must provide the evidence that they are not only popular, but provide the vast majority of students the opportunity to make successful careers for themselves as well.

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And finally... Welsh Woe (again)

Someone once made the cruel observation about the Welsh, that if more than one of them were locked in a burning room the first thing they would do is form a committee. And the Welsh really do love their committees. Per head of population Wales has more committemen, Quango representatives, association delegates, councillors and Assembly members than even the old Soviet Union could manage, whilst they also lead the world in their ability to make a pigs ear of anything they find themselves in charge of.

Take the mess about rugby, education and now the Champion Band of Wales title. Put a shotgun and a committee man together in Wales they say, and there won't be enough feet left to kick themselves up the bum with.

The decision to stop awarding the Champion Band of Wales titles to the bands in the five sections that came top of the annual three contest race was on the face of it a sensible proposal. Due to the financial costs involved, bands from the North were unable to attend the contests, whilst the Area contest in Swansea provided the European Championship with the Welsh representative each year. Awarding the titles therefore to the bands that won at the Regional Championships seemed a good idea to put to the bands.

The problem was that the good old committee decided not to put it to the bands or their representatives or in fact not to even tell the bands about their decision at all. And so the bands and players, supporters and conductors knew nothing, even after they had performed in the first of the 2003 contests in Ebbw Vale.

It was that as they say in Wales, got the bands goat up and once more showed that when it came to shoddy, amateurish, bungling ineptitude, the brass band committee members of the three Associations who decided it was something they could do without telling anyone were in the Gold medal class.

Someone also once said that you get the type of representation in life you deserve. So take this as a warning always read the small print of any committee meeting and then always ask a few questions just in case you end up like Welsh banding facing a very uncertain future.

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