Editorial ~ 2003: November & December


This month we give our views on Bully Boy MD's, the lack of audiences at our major contets, and the delights of Prestatyn and Dundee.

Bully Boy Tactics

Barbara Stanwyck once wrote, "Egotism is usually just a case of mistaken nonentity". Given that the brass band world (as in any walk of life) has its fair share of people who believe themselves to be so much better than anyone else, it shouldn't come as a surprise that in the past week 4BR has been inundated with e mails, phone calls and messages concerning the alleged egotistical tendencies of many a Musical Director.

It seems that unlike the work place environment, the band room can still be the fiefdom of the Musical Dictator (or should that be, the Musical Director) the place where the civilities of life in unfortunately too many cases, do not exist. Stories of verbal abuse, lack of interpersonal skills, cheap sexual, racial and disability innuendo abound, and this week alone we have been informed of alleged instances of appalling behaviour meted out on players who did not meet so called standards of musical talent.

Some people who have been brought up in the ubiquitous "University of Hard Knocks" will say "So What?" Life is hard enough as it is without liberal do-gooders poking their Guardian inspired noses into the confines of what goes on behind the closed doors of the band room. Years ago conducting martinets ruled the roost, yet bands played great music, beer was cheap and contest halls full to the brim. Men were men and took the rollickings as part and parcel of the honour and privilege of playing in a top class band. No time for liberal sympathies and touchy feely half soaked ideas when you had a contest to win was there?

Times have changed however, and if there are still people out there who think it right that they can verbally abuse fellow adults on the simple premise that they are a conductor of a brass band and the other person is just a player, then they are totally wrong. As any psychiatrist will tell you, the faults in character invariably lie with the person dishing out the abuse not with the person on the receiving end. If someone tried that approach to a subordinate in the workplace then they would find themselves in deep trouble under employment law. Try it in the pub to someone and a budding MD may find themselves in need of hospital care. So what makes them think they can do it in a band rehearsal then?

It all boils down to egotism a little is perhaps a good thing in a conductor, whilst a lot can be down right destructive, and as Barbara Stanwyck observed, it is usually the nonentities in life who are the main culprits. There is no place for bullying in society be it in school, work or in your hobby; so if you do happen to be on receiving end of some form of nasty invective abuse from an MD, make sure you report that person to the appropriate authorities including the Police in the worst cases where racial, sexual and disability abuse is used. We need to rid ourselves of these people however good they may think they are at winning prizes at brass band contests.

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Where have all the audiences gone?

Now that the 2003 British Open and National Championships of Great Britain are consigned to the archives of history, now is an apt time to question the one fact that was apparent at both contests. Where have all the audiences gone?

Years ago we are told, both the Open and Nationals were sold out months in advance, and even though we are told that this is still the case with the British Open at least, why then isn't Symphony Hall in Birmingham, or the Royal Albert Hall in London ever full when a band is playing or even when the results are being announced? This year for instance at both contests, the halls were never more than two thirds full for the most well known and well fancied bands for the titles, whilst for some of the "lesser" bands there were very nearly more people on the stage playing than were listening in the audience.

People will have their theories too many bands, poor choice of set works and the lack of catering facilities close to the auditorium being a very plausible trio, but the main fact is that the listening tastes of the public (and this now includes brass band audiences) have changed. The appetite to sit in a hall with a flask of tea and a few sandwiches, score in hand for eight hours or more listening to 20 performances are now long gone.

Paying customers now want more for their money than just quantity it is now a question of quality first and foremost. Knowledgeable audiences know that in a field of 20 bands, just over half at best will give top rate performances of difficult set works, whilst perhaps only four or five of these will be something approaching memorable. Therefore, they now make the decision to opt for the bands they believe will be in that 10 or so who will give them value for money. The rest are "Cup of Tea" bands.

If they miss a show that makes it into the prize list then so what - history tells them that as long as they opt for the usual suspects then they will a fairly odds on favourites to hear at last four out of the top six prize winning bands in the day. Look at the prize lists at the Open and Nationals this year and given a choice before hand, which of those performances do you think would have been the ones most would have missed?

The organisers now have to address the problem before we get to a situation where the vagrancy's of the draw may mean hours at a time when a whole host of bands play to an empty hall and don't tell us the judges don't know the difference as well.

Less bands, better set works, proper catering facilities on site will all help, but there are also the bigger issues such as pre draws, open adjudication, better prize money and multi media coverage of the performances. Without change the audiences will dwindle even further and the evidence of 2003 has already suggested that brass band public are already voting with their feet.

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Dundee and Prestatyn Delights

Where as two of the major brass band championships may be looking at a future that will need to encompass change, both the recent Lower Section National Finals and the Pontins Championships have shown that there is still a very healthy appetite for well run, well organised brass band contests.

Dundee was a delight, and much of it success must go to the organisational skills of the BFBB who's band of volunteer workers made what at first appeared a rather strange choice of venue into perhaps the best Finals for many a year. There were some inspired choices of set works, the hall was a great performing venue and the bands needs were put first. It all added up to a memorable experience, so well done the BFBB we can only hope their experience and now how is not lost for 2004 onwards.

The same can also be aid of Pontins the weather may invariable be awful, the main stage has as much life as a Dodo, and the beer may taste like engine oil, but after 30 years it is a slickly run weekend, the prize money and expenses put just about every other contest to shame, and once more the bands queued up to play great test pieces. Somehow, both of these contests are in rude health, whilst a couple of our premier events are in need of an enthusiasm injection. A weekend in sunny Prestatyn for the people in charge may be just the answer?

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