Editorial ~ 2005: March


This month we look at the Ibstock affair; Praising the men in the box and why can't we prodcue a nice sound anymore.

The Ibstock Affair

There is one thing for certain about the continuing problems that have surfaced through the Ibstock Brick Brass affair: It has not done the brass band movement any credit whatsoever.

Whatever the ways and where falls of the minutia concerning what exact interpretation the rules concerning promotion and relegation actually meant in the Midlands Region, it boils down to one unassailable point: The Ibstock band have been treated pretty poorly by all concerned and must wonder why on earth they even bother to come together twice a week to produce music to play on a contesting stage.

This matter should have been sorted out a long, long time ago – for it to carry on as it has right up to the date of the contest is something approaching a farce, from which very few people have emerged with any degree of credit.

It does of course matter that there are rules and regulations concerning the running of our contests at both local, regional and national level, but there must be a clarity of purpose and interpretation of those rules across the board so that when it does come to matters such as this, they can be sorted out with the minimum of fuss and to the general agreement and understanding of all concerned.

What the Ibstock affair has shown us is that due to the fragmented nature of the organising of brass band contests in the UK, this was a problem that sooner or later was going to occur. It also shows us that there is a desperate need to ensure that the making of, and administering of, the rules and regulations for the running of brass band contests should be undertaken by one central body with autonomous governance over its implementation.

Only then will a situation such as this be avoided, and the spectacle of the brass band movement looking amateur and outdated to the outside world is lost for good.

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In praise of the men in the box

In the past 4BR has been a somewhat trenchant critic of the methods employed in judging our leading brass band contests. We are not in favour of ‘closed adjudication' (even though many are) and we have been critical in the past about adjudicators who do not take the opportunity to qualify their decisions they have made by explaining their reasoning to the audience at the contest end.

It is therefore nice to report that the Association of Brass Band Adjudicators are now showing themselves to be an organisation with its sights and agenda firmly set in the 21st Century, whilst in Norway they are continuing to go even further (although not without the odd blip).

The first Regional Championship in Darlington saw a trio of experienced judges (Messrs Broadbent, Whitham and Morrison) go about their jobs in fine fashion and giving exemplary oral remarks to the audiences that were open, detailed and constructive. They were also done without resort to cliché or to bland generalisations, and we hope, set the tone for all their fellow members to follow over the coming weeks. Derek Broadbent's remarks in particular at the end of the Second Section were perhaps the best we have heard in a very, very long time.

Meanwhile in Norway, the organisers have looked even further forward with open adjudication in the Third and Fourth Sections with the bands themselves producing written introductions to inform (and entertain) the waiting audience.  It was a wonderful friendly and open idea that worked a treat, and plans are possibly being made to further it for other sections at the contest.

Not everything went to plan in Norway, adjudication wise, but this was a real step in the right direction, whilst in Darlington, our own judges showed themselves to be every bit as good at informing and entertaining the audiences who paid good money to come and listen to the bands. Long may it continue - and congratulations to ABBA for their efforts.

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Producing a nice sound

There is bound to be a great deal of debate over the coming month about the suitability of a number of the test pieces used at this years Regional Championships.

However, regardless to whether or not bands could actually play these pieces, comes the more important question of what has happened to a brass bands ability to play with a nice warm, rounded, well-balanced sound? Come to that – why can't many individual players now play with a well produced, warm, bright tone anymore?

Many years ago, the late John Childs used to teach youngsters with the primary purpose of them producing a nice sound first; playing the notes came a distinct second. He used to teach children the correct set up for their embouchures, the correct way to breath and the right way to produce a warm and open sound. The notes, he used to say - "would come later".

Those children were never pushed into doing Grade exams, or never chastised for not being able to play the right notes on the third cornet part of the march ‘Westward Ho!' The classes he took would be full of long note practice; hymn tunes and best sound mini contests. It produced players who were not the most technically proficient at 7 – 10 years of age, but players who could play with a nice sound, who understood the basics of what they were doing, and had the limitless potential to become better and better players, because all the basics were right from the start.

In this day and age when children and parents want immediate results, teachers are forced to get their pupils to pass pointless exams, and we have misplaced desire to be faster and louder than our rivals, is it no wonder that we have produced a generation of players who can't even play a middle C with the correct production, in tune and with a nice sound. 

Perhaps it is time to remember that playing a brass instrument is all about producing a lovely sound – that is what makes it so unique and enjoyable, and why trying to make players perform music that is perhaps just within their each technically, but way out of their reach musically, all rather pointless.

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