2011: November

This month we give our opinion on a breath of fresh air, saving our radio brass and praise the Norwegians of SIDDIS Brass...

Breath of fresh air?

As expected Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s enjoyable ‘Breath of Souls’ created a bit of a stir at the Royal Albert Hall.

In purely commercial terms it was a hit with the punters, even if some critics were a little more sanguine about its musical merits.  

However, the suggestion that it somehow failed to be worthy of the occasion of the 100th National Finals rather missed the point.  

The work was the culmination of our own limited musical horizons – the result of which has seen us become so constrained that all we really demand of a test piece nowadays is that it provide a series of increasingly prosaic technical hurdles for performers to overcome.

As a result we get what we deserve: Works of increasingly prescriptive endeavour; pastiche writing of ephemeral musical substance.

When was the last time you sat back, challenged as a listener to understand the deeper emotional complexities of a composition, rather than tick the casualty box of technical hoop jumping?  

If we really want works ‘worthy’ of our deluded self-belief in our own musical importance, then we must be prepared to pay top dollar for them – but also be prepared to accept compositions that do not conform to our conservative stereotypical needs.

If recent history is anything to go by, you shouldn’t hold your breath.

Anything that doesn’t look like it conforms is usually treated with the same degree of tolerance you get if a group of gypsy travellers decides to pitch up on a ‘middle England’ village green.

Remember ‘Prague’, ‘The Maunsell Forts’ or ‘Songs for BL’?

In that respect, ‘Breath of Souls’ did the brass band movement a huge favour – it showed us just how musically narrow-minded we have become.

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Saving our radio brass

The news that the BBC aims to ‘Delivering Quality First’ whilst cutting local radio and Radio 2 output by anything up to 20% should send a shiver down the spines of those who think the corporation’s miniscule commitment to brass band music is safe.

The BBC Director-General Mark Thompson drones on about the need to make £670m of savings, whilst Lord Patten of Barnes, Chairman of the BBC Trust states: “Yet like every other part of the public sector the BBC must live within our collective means.”

However, just this week it was revealed that football pundit Alan Hansen is paid around £40,000 per programme to trot out meaningless platitudes about over paid football divas on ‘Match of the Day’, whilst up to £2,000 a week is shelled out on ‘expenses’ to presenters who can’t be bothered to move closer to the BBC’s glittering new home in Salford.

Brass band programming is hanging by a thread – despite the excellent work of the likes of Terry Carter, producer of ‘Listen to the Band’ and the handful of local radio presenters such as Philip Hunt and David Hoyle.

According to Lord Patten, the Director-General has identified that, “…the news; children's programming; UK drama and comedy; knowledge programming; and the coverage of events of national importance, are at the heart of the BBC, where it most clearly distinguishes itself from other programme makers.”

Does that include the output of brass band music you may wonder – given that it evidently includes Mr Hansen talking tripe on such nationally important subjects as the obvious benefits of zonal marking at long thrown-ins from Rory Delap of Stoke City.

Have a guess.

We are sure you won’t see a reduction in the garish soft furnishings and nonsensical video promos on Match of the Day 2, but you can bet your bottom dollar you won’t be hearing an extra half an hour of bespoke brass band music making either.

Make sure then you support Frank Renton, David Hoyle and Philip Hunt amongst others and send in you opinions on the ‘Delivering Quality First’ proposals to the BBC by the end of consultation period of 21st December.

We can all do without even more football.


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In praise of SIDDIS Brass

You have to hand it to those crazy Norwegians.

Any brass band entertainment contest that can include a band performing John Cage’s ‘4’33”, whilst the organisers actively promote the argument for gender equality of adjudicators is to be celebrated.

It is not Political Correctness gone mad though – just more innovative Norwegian thinking and proactive decision making.

It also tells us how far we lag behind the Norwegian banding movement too.

The performance of the Cage work did have a satirical context in that the performers Montebello Brass are musical 'agent-provocateurs' when it comes to entertainment programming at the SIDDIS contest, but the decision to ask highly respected female musicians (including Katrina Marzella and Annie Crookston from the UK) to adjudicate at the contest was one based on merit alone.

Can you really imagine either situation arising soon at a contest in the UK?

Norway – we once again stand in admiration.

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May 16 • Crewe Brass are looking for KIT and TUNED PERC players to join our highly motivated 4th section band. We are a very welcoming and sociable band, with a positive outlook and a reasonably busy calendar of engagements. Other enquiries are welcome.

Alan Duguid

BA (Hons), PGDipMus, PGCE
Conductor, Composer, Adjudicator (ABBA)


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