2011: December

This month we give our opinion on what now for brass band entertainment, the need for helping hands and praise the death of the UKBBA...

Brass band entertainment?

What now for brass band entertainment?

If the programmes provided by the competitors at Brass in Concert were anything to go by, then there continues to be a worrying degree of innovative calcification enveloping the cream of the top UK bands.

40 years after the first Granada Band of the Year contest took place, have they really run out of ideas, or does the entertainment genre itself (in the UK at least) impose a prescriptive musical straight jacket that stifles inventiveness and risk taking?

Tweaks and amendments have been made to contest rules over the years – from open adjudication to bespoke entertainment prizes, but still it seems, the concept hasn’t moved on a great deal from those pioneering days of the 1970s.

As the entertainment contest genre has grown older, it has become increasingly less flexible and certainly less innovative in outlook – and the bands have responded in kind, as the crowded contesting calendar places ever increasing demands on the time of hard pressed players.

Perhaps the kernel of the problem lies with the audiences the bands continue to perform to - inherently middle aged and conservative in their musical tastes and outlook.

The bands know it, the MDs know it and even the players know it too: As a result, far too many contest programmes are inspired by a musical version of a Health & Safety manual.

Bands have become risk averse, because they believe inflexible contest rules and archaic points systems stifle creativity (Interestingly, the first Granada Band of the Year gave 100 points for technical excellence and 25 each for visual effect and variety and interest of the music performed).

Meanwhile, the adjudicators, many of whom have openly pleaded for invention and innovation are left with an increasingly difficult job of comparing a production line of programmatic blandness.

So will 2012 hold more of the same, or is there hope of a fresh approach from both competitors and organisers to a contesting genre that has started to lose its sense of creativity with the onset of its middle age spread.

What do you think?
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Helping Hands 

The Government may be raising the retirement age for workers in the UK, but surely the time has come for brass band contests to insist, rather than request, a helping hand or two from the younger generation.

Worryingly, there is a distinct lack of youthful input in the organisation and running of brass band contests. 

Polite requests for volunteers have been met by an abject denial of collective responsibility from competing bands, which has not just become damaging in the short term, but potentially terminal to the future of many contests around the country.

In contrast, in Norway, the help required to run major contests is made a mandatory part of the entry requirement. One or two non playing supporters help with lifting and carrying, opening doors, registration etc.

Courses are run, and the bands take their turn to provide the assistance required.

It works.

Not only does it engage more people in proactive involvement, it also promotes a greater sense of communal pride in events too.  

A new generation gradually takes over from the older one, and the contests become reinvigorated by fresh organisational blood.

It may not be a popular move in the UK to start insisting rather than hoping on a helping hand, but we can no longer rely on the same people doing the same essential work well into their old age – not now they will have regular jobs to hold down as well....

What do you think?
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In praise of UKBBA

Although the funeral notice has not been published in the obituary columns, for all practicable purposes the United Kingdom Brass Band Alliance is as dead as a Norwegian Blue parrot.

Deceased, no more, expired, bereft of life, shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible.

And whilst it may not have been able to live up to its well meaning ideals, aims and objectives, it did do the brass band movement some considerable good in its short, but troubled life.

Without UKBBA pushing for some sort of coherent nationwide banding organisation, the Welsh wouldn’t have been persuaded to finally put its domestic house in order and set up its own fledgling national body.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have also been given a timely reminder of their domestic responsibilities too, whilst the English have finally realised that their prosperity lies within the boundaries that stop at Hadrian’s Wall and Offa’s Dyke.

The future of brass banding in the UK now holds the promise of devolved co-operation between national bodies rather than a totally unworkable melange of unrepresentative, self interested parties.

For that the UKBBA should be remembered with fond respect, even if at times it was as well run as the pet shop in the famous Monty Python sketch.

May it rest in peace.

What do you think?
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Conductor and composer


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