Editorial ~ 2004: June


Our views this month on the Golden Rule to successful banding, Opening up the Open and Sickness.

The Golden Rule to successful banding

It is rumoured to be said in the pubs and clubs of the North of the Watford Gap that if Yorkshire is the heart of the brass band movement then Lancashire is the undoubted brain.

If that allegory is true, then currently the heart of the White Rose County is beating with the vigour of an Olympic athlete whilst the brain of the Red Rose County is suffering from the brass band equivalent of Alzheimer's Disease; it seems that some of the top bands in the North West Area have possibly forgotten the essential purpose of their existence. 

It may be easy to equate the state of the movement on a macro basis by contesting success alone, but that is not always an accurate barometer to health - there is more to the general well being of the banding scene in any given Area than the trials and tribulations of a few top section bands alone. However, when the three bands you are talking about are possible three of the most famous and successful in the entire movement, then perhaps it is time to worry a little.

Thankfully (and hopefully), it is certainly not a case of terminal decline in the case of the trio of Fairey FP (Music), Fodens Richardson or Leyland for that matter, but it should be a danger signal to any band in the country that if these three traditionally well run, well managed and well respected bands can find themselves in a period of uncomfortable difficulty. All three have been successful because not only have they been packed with talented players and conducted by top quality Musical Directors over the years, but because their day to day administration has been undertaken by thoughtful and dedicated men and women who have known what they needed to do, and have had the will power and expertise to carry it out.

Players are invariably ignorant of what it takes to run a successful band, whilst administrators are usually ignorant to what it takes to make a contest winning performance. The strange thing is, when the two work in blissful ignorance of each other, then success both financially and musically usually follows. 

This perhaps therefore explains the current difficulties of the famous trio and explains a Golden Rule that all bands should follow:
Keep the administration of a brass band to people who understand it and who are prepared to do it with all it's thankless tasks of paperwork, hotel bookings, player and MD expenses and keep the music making to the players and the conductors. Never the twain should meet, because when they do, it invariably means disaster.  Fodens, Fairey and Leyland will overcome their current problems and return the stronger we are sure, but it shows that even the best can sometimes get those ingredients temporarily mixed and messed up. It should be a warning to us all.

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Opening up the Open

The decision of the organisers of this year's British Open to allow bands the choice of three test pieces to play at the contest is something that has certainly got the tongues wagging up and down the country.

For far to many years the British Open was a stifled conservatively run contest (the full results for instance were never revealed and a bands participation was at times more to do with their name rather than how successful they were). However, in the past few years, Martin Mortimer and has advisers have done a fine job in making the whole contest more transparent and forward thinking for both the performers and the audience alike.

Some of the things they have tried have been successful - some not so; but there is now a vibrant feeling to the event that for many years was missing. This has also been translated into the invigorated Grand Shield weekend so this decision should be applauded not only for its bravery but also for its foresight.

It has of course been tried before in 1941 and 1942, but whereas 60 years ago it was a done out of expediency, this time it has been done out of a matter of choice.

It may or may not work - there are grumbles possibly about the choice of the pieces themselves as some may believe that the four UK bands who performed Kenneth Downie's St Magnus at the European Championships may have a unfair advantage, whilst some may see the "Own Choice" element something that may complicate the adjudicating process or even short change the audience who will not know what piece each band will be performing.

These for us are minor gripes though, for in the bigger scheme of things it is a something new (well 60 years plus new), something challenging and something a little bit different. And that is what this movement of ours has been crying out for, for far too long. 

Bands will head for Birmingham knowing that they have chosen a piece that they can play very well indeed, whilst the audience will head for Birmingham with something more to think about than "What bands shall we miss for a cup of tea?" Mr Mortimer should be congratulated for his efforts and bravery, for this decision has made the British Open the focal point of the contesting year once more.

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It comes to us all, but the recent All England Masters Championship highlighted more than ever the question of sickness - and we are not talking about the seafaring nature of the test piece either. 

On the day, we noted that approximately a third of the competing bands had "borrowed" players due to ill health, which was of course perfectly within the rules of the contest. However, without wishing to sound at all cynical, it also got you thinking whether or not all those who should "refrain from work" due to "your disorder causing absence from work" as it states on the back of Form Med 3, where actually ill enough not to play or not.

The question arises is whether by submitting a sick note, a player is unfit to actually play a musical instrument, or just temporarily unfit to undertake his own occupation that may have nothing at all to do with performing in a brass band?  

It is of course a question of trust. The organisers at all contests must trust the bands to provide genuine reasons for a players enforced absence that precludes them playing at the contest, whilst the bands must have trust amongst themselves so that there can be no accusations of "phantom illnesses" as an excuse to draft in a player for a rival band to either replace a weak soloist or just fill an empty chair.

Perhaps it is time therefore for bands to produce a letter from the players GP stating to the organisers that the person is not only unfit for work as per the rules governing a general medical certificate, but that their incapacity also means that they are unable to play the musical instrument of their choice.  Perhaps that will then stop the feeling that one or two "illnesses" are not what they may seem.

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