Editorial ~ 2010: November


This month we give our opinions on making borrowing pay, the endangered soprano species and praise those we lose but should not forget.

Making borrowing pay

Not for the first time, and not for the last, the question of registration has raised its head after a major competition.

And not for the first or the last time either, there seems to be a growing acceptance that there is a need to radically overhaul the current system and bring it into the 21st century.

It’s the brass band movement’s equivalent of political voting reform.

The current system, however well run from the various Registry bodies, not longer meets its primary objectives in a coherent manner: It neither protects nor enhances the banding movement’s ability to become self supporting, transparent or representative.

With over 17,000 registered players in England and roughly 2,500 more in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, an out dated system born to stop bands illegally ‘borrowing’ players needs to be replaced by a national membership scheme, which makes legal borrowing pay.

A simple individual yearly fee - say £12 per adult per annum with appropriate concessions for families, pensioners and youngsters, could raise well over £200,000 that could be invested back into the movement at grass roots level on a pro-rata basis.

Players would still retain a ‘registration’ to a band of their choice, but if they wanted to play for another band at a contest then a small ‘1 day transfer’ payment would be made.

The infrastructure to administer an updated system is already in place – with properly funded registries being able to work together on a compatible system that works for the benefit of the whole of UK banding.

Critics may believe that it would lead to mercenary bands appearing all over the country – but small amendments to transfers rules would ensure that less scrupulous bands would be unable to exploit them.

With the exception of the National Championships, ‘borrowing’ has become endemic.

Under a national membership scheme we have the opportunity to make it pay for the benefit of the brass band movement as a whole.

Time indeed to at least give it more detailed thought.

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An endangered species

What has become of the traditional brass band soprano cornet player?

Like the indigenous British red squirrel, it has become an alien presence in its own homeland – overrun by an invasion force of hard blowing, shrill sounding, brash new comers to its contesting habitat.

Being able to spot a lyrical, sweetly toned, dynamically intelligent soprano cornet player has become an increasing rarity at Championship level contesting.

When was the last time you sat back and listened to a true artist plying his trade on the most difficult instrument of them all – sitting on top of a band like shiny cherry on a cake, a shimmering icon of fragility born of inherent musicality and a hint of madness?

Now we have a legion of self confident, cold blooded razzers – players bred to obliterate all that they see written on a part before them.

Soprano playing is in danger of becoming the preserve of the deaf, dumb and minim blind.

Unfortunately, they have been helped on their way to current dominance by composers with little understanding of the true qualities of the instrument itself, weak willed conductors who allow self indulgence to ruin ensemble balance and even judges who do not adequately punish brainless playing.

No wonder they now rule the roost.

So savour the last remaining exponents before they join the G trombone and ophicleide lost in the mists of time. 

An endangered species may well be facing extinction.

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In praise of the lost but not forgotten

It’s a sad fact of life, but the immediate post war generation of players, conductors, composers and administrators is starting to die out.

The latest loss to the movement came with the news that Maurice Murphy, perhaps the arguably the finest cornet player in banding history, and who went on to become one of the greatest orchestral trumpet players of the 20th century, had died.

Music lovers everywhere will mourn his loss, but time waits for no man or woman.

Others have gone too, even in the past year or two: Geoffrey Whitham, David James, Keith Wardle, Stephen Shimwell, Ray Bowes, Peter Wilson, Norman Ashcroft, Stephen Thornton.

The list is never ending, their contribution to the brass band movement not forgotten.

Perhaps every now and again we should take a moment or two to remember them all – the great, the good, the stars and the humble workers.

We may not see their like again.

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