Open letter to Welsh brass band colleagues (No.2)

Dear colleague,

I hope that you and your families are safe and well and are surviving these strange times. Please forgive the long post so you might want to get a coffee and settle down to read!

Owing to the pandemic, brass banding has, like many other activities taken a huge hit due to lock-down and the restrictions on playing brass/wind instruments indoors. It is now coming up to 5 months (March 22) since I tried to arrange a gathering of interested parties to meet in Cardiff, to discuss the formation of a unified Welsh brass band organisation. Sadly lock-down was implemented just before we were able to meet therefore we initiated Plan B and met online through a Zoom Meeting. This was admittedly with limited success owing to technical issues and was met with some scepticism and even derision from certain quarters.

Music For You

A unified Welsh brass band organisation. Can we turn a dream into reality?

 

My reason for writing is that since then, absolutely nothing has happened in moving this proposal forward and I don’t think I’m over-egging the pudding by saying that the movement is in a significantly more precarious position, than we were 5 months ago, with the prospects of “normal” banding as we know it a distant dream as things stand. There is also the concern whether players (particularly the younger ones), conductors  and officers will return to the fold, having now discovered other activities and interests to occupy their time and attention. Concert/Contest venues may not even be in existence for us to perform anywhere decent in the future and with further public spending cuts highly likely, to cover the huge costs of the pandemic; music in education will be non-existent. We are also approaching the Autumn months, meaning our potential activities will be curtailed even further, further affecting revenue and membership retention/recruitment.

I have been “encouraged” by a few colleagues (some who were a part of that initial meeting in March, as well as some new faces) to once again ask the question whether now is the time for action and get the ball finally rolling, before it gets too late to salvage what is already a serious situation for brass banding in Wales. The meeting on March 22 was the warning call that an “iceberg” was on the horizon and action was required. Covid-19 happened and I believe we have now truly hit that “iceberg” and if we don’t act now, then with no representative body the “ship” WILL eventually sink, with almost all hands on board.

The response following the last meeting was to wait until restrictions and lock-down etc. had ended and then to have a face-to-face meeting to discuss the matter. Great, who’s going to suggest an appropriate central venue in Wales and then jump in the car for a potential minimum 2-3+ hour drive, plus the drive back, plus to agree a convenient date to wipe off their schedule, so that we can discuss things? It was a minor miracle that I got 20+ people to agree to meet initially in Cardiff. Yes Cardiff, not central I grant you and I got it in the neck for that too, but the geographical spread of respondents able to attend meant that it was the BEST place for those to attend.

So, is there anything really wrong, now that people are so much more tech-aware and receptive to Zoom or Teams, that we can’t meet once again, being older and wiser with it all and get things moving finally?

OR DO WE INDEED LOOK AT PREFERRED PLAN A?

PLAN A

Are you truly happy to invest in the future of Welsh banding? To invest your time, money and energy by jumping in the car and driving to Newtown or somewhere similar in order that we can discuss these matters face to face? I believe the Welsh Regional Council met this week (observing social distancing of course); therefore it seems people are prepared to get out and about in the name of Welsh banding! Either way, the choice is yours.

The “encouragers” who have prodded me to write to you have also added that as nobody else has initiated any progress do we need to wait for the approval or blessing of others? Frankly, no we don’t and as long as we can gather a decent sized cross-section of the banding world in Wales to get things started in a democratically and constituted manner, then why not? The detractors will continue to detract, the whingers will whinge and the cynics and critics will be ever cynical and critical. In fact the cynics probably won’t bother turning up because “what’s the point, nobody else will?”!!!! We are no longer a brass band movement as the hand-brake is well and truly up. We need action and fast!

This is a massive undertaking; however change can only be implemented by drawing a line in the sand and making that first step, followed by one more step, followed …… I hope you see where I’m going with this? But, yes it is really as simple as that!

We may well be looking at the long term goals, where a Welsh Brass Band Organisation is able to; organise the 2025 Welsh Youth Brass Band Festival, to provide online resources for member bands covering a geographical area from Ynys Môn to Chepstow to Pembroke Dock, to secure funding streams from Arts Council Wales on behalf of member bands or to send a Welsh Representative to the next European Brass Band Association AGM however, if we have no central organisation with proper governance, these will be just “dreams”.

If there is a majority agreement from you to have another go and make a fist of things, great, then let’s crack on with it. If not, that’s fine too, as I’m not claiming to have all the answers or any magic spell to make things right, however to sit back and suck our thumbs whilst watching the ship go down, in my view is a dereliction of duty to the pastime that we so love. By the way, did anyone ring the coastguard to say we’re sinking? Perhaps we should have a vote as to who rings? No, let’s wait until we can meet face-to-face!

This is not intended to be a “join me or I’ll have a hissy fit, throw my toys out of the pram” letter, but it is to encourage you to do SOMETHING. If I’m not your cup of tea to do something, fine, just find someone who is and who will take that first step in making some progress and I will be happy to pitch in and help them if asked.

Canva - White tablet and cup of coffee (1)

So let’s do something and get things started!

 

So after all that sabre-rattling, I will close by inviting you to take action and join me and other willing participants for a meaningful and productive discussion:

When: Saturday 12th of September 2020

Time: 11.00am – 4.00pm

Where: Plas Dolerw

Milford Road,

Newtown,

Powys,

SY16 2EH

Or Online where we hope to live-stream the meeting for those who can’t travel.

Yes, I bit the bullet in an effort to appease everyone and it’s provisionally booked!

The venue can safely accommodate a maximum of 12 people observing social-distancing. “But that’s limiting how many can attend!” I hear the whingers and nay-sayers immediately cry! I’ll counter that with “So what if I book the Royal Albert Hall and only 8 people turn up ….?”

I’d be delighted if we were over-subscribed, but on current track-records, people won’t be queuing round the block!

So if you’re ready, willing and able to commit, please respond ASAP to andrew@andrewjonesmusic.com or call 07973 869621 or easier still, fill in the contact form below.

The clock is ticking! Tick-tock, tick-tock ……..

Yours optimistically.

Andrew Jones

 

Coronavirus – The harsh reality of life now as a freelancer

The last few months will have been the most difficult many of us will have encountered in our lifetime. Up until late last year, most people weren’t even aware of Coronavirus or Covid-19, but by the time of writing this blog (August 2020) it will have affected most people across the world in so many different ways, causing untold heartbreak and suffering that will have a long-lasting legacy that, for some, will never be overcome.

My first “encounter” with C-19 was in March whilst sprawled on a sun lounger enjoying a much needed holiday  in Thailand. I started reading news reports of flights being instructed to turn around mid-air and return to their point of departure, as countries starting going into immediate lock down. This was quickly followed by a succession of e-mails and messages stating that a number of future music events were either being postponed or cancelled due to the uncertainty of what was happening.

Coronavirus

Fast forward to August and the landscape is so unlike anything anyone could have predicted, it borders on the surreal! No gigs, no rehearsals, no weddings, no concerts, no playing brass instruments indoors! No income!!!

Before I continue, I must be grateful. Grateful that I am alive, that I have not contracted C-19 and thankfully neither has any of my family nor my friends, therefore I have not suffered, as many thousands of people have truly suffered. I have not had to risk my life on a daily basis and don uncomfortable protective clothing (PPE) for hours on end in order to try and treat patients suffering from this terrible pandemic, nor have I been stranded in a foreign country (although it was touch and go getting home from Thailand!) or totally isolated from loved ones – my Mum might disagree with that latter statement, but we got there in the end.

Now to my reason for writing. This pandemic has caused another form of hardship and suffering. Regardless of whether you “do politics” or not, the harsh reality is that there has been a huge schism created between the “haves” and the “have nots”.

In an effort to maintain lock down and at the same time protecting jobs and the future economy, Chancellor of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced that UK companies would be able to furlough employees, who would receive 80% of their income whilst staying at home, in order to reduce the potential spread of the virus. This seemed like a sensible idea initially, however once the criteria were scrutinised, it became apparent that this was deeply flawed, especially when it came to people who were freelancers, self-employed, company directors and those working on freelance PAYE (Pay as you earn) contracts.

Coronavirus disease outbreak (COVID-19)

Despite numerous funds and support schemes being made available, many of these above mentioned people were ineligible for ANY kind of support and sadly, I was also one of them! The Self Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS), the Culture  Resilience Fund, the Urgent Response Fund, the Stabilisation Fund for Individuals, local Council Grants, Universal Credit, Job Seekers Allowance etc. etc. etc.

So many people in fact, they number in excess of 3 million workers and are now known collectively as ExcludedUK. People, many who had spent years investing both financially and in blood, sweat and tears to establish successful businesses, or who had recently gone to “the other side” and left secure employed positions to follow their dream and run their own business. No income, no support, no hope!

This little piggy couldn’t afford to go to market,
This little piggy stayed at home (due to lockdown),
Other little piggies had roast beef,
This little piggy had none.
And this little piggy went…
“Why are wee wee different to all the other piggies” all the way through this pandemic…?

Despite vociferous protests and pleading, the Chancellor was, and remains deaf to our pleas for help, despite the fact that all of us have worked and paid our taxes over the years and will be expected (rightly so) to contribute to the State taxation system in the future. So why should 3 million people be left to hang out to dry?

Over the last few months, members of ExcludedUK have not only had to endure financial hardships, whilst their family and friends around them enjoy Government support, but also the sort of bigoted and misinformed opinions that have really shown how little understanding there is of our plight and how the economy works, particularly for the self-employed. Comments such as “well you’ve enjoyed being paid cash in hand over the years, so stop whining!” or “you pay less tax than employed workers so what’s your problem?” really does cut to the quick and the inference that we are anything less than honest or transparent about our working practises, is quite frankly insulting.

To put the record straight, as a self-employed musician, I declare ALL my income for ALL the work that I do and pay my taxes as expected on time and in full, as do the vast majority of my law-abiding colleagues . Running a business means that I am the operations manager, the transport department, the marketing department, the accounts department, the customer service department and in charge of professional development and training. We DO NOT enjoy the perks and benefits of sick pay and holiday pay,  we often don’t get paid on time (sometimes not at all) and we are often seen as a vehicle for extreme bartering on our rates and fees.

The retort is usually “Why are you self-employed then, get out if you can’t stand the heat?” Simply, I wouldn’t change it for the world and enjoy every minute of it “living the dream” and doing what I love, despite the above problems.

All I (and my 3 million other Excluded colleagues) ask for, is parity and justice. Not too much to ask for surely – is it?

The new “normal” – Girl with mask to protect her from Coronavirus

So next time you see a family member or friend mention the Excluded in a social media post or hear it in conversation, don’t just walk on by as “it doesn’t affect me”. Please spare a few minutes to hear what that person’s struggles are, they are very real and they are possibly at breaking point. The stories that have circulated on the ExcludedUK chat groups are truly heart-breaking and if you can lend a sympathetic ear, it may have far more impact than you could ever imagine and help that person get through one day more!

My wish is that we ALL come through this safely, with our families and current jobs intact and AS EQUALS.

This blog is written as my personal story and is not intended to represent ExcludedUK or any other member of the group. There are 3 million other stories to be told!

For more details about Andrew Jones , please visit the Music for You web-site

 

What’s the thing on the back of your uniform for? Quirks and traditions of the British Army.

The various Regiments of the British Army have, since their inception, been steeped with customs and traditions, many of which are still observed and implemented to this day. 

Often these “quirks” are unique to certain Regiments or even particular individuals within the Regiment. Take for instance the rule regarding the wearing of beards. The Pioneer Sergeant is one of the few positions within the British Army allowed to have a beard when on parade. Pioneer Sergeants have existed since the 1700s and the tradition began when every British infantry company had one ‘pioneer’ who would march in front of the regiment and that ruling still applies to this day.

Sgt Walters 1st Battalion Royal Welsh Regiment (Rory Lewis Military Portrait Photographer London (2006)

Portrait By Rory Lewis (Soldiery British Army Portraits Book Available from Amazon).https://amzn.to/2VOTxvW

Variations which can also be found within Regiments are the rank titles used, or drill protocols, such as when to salute and how to address senior ranks. Nothing highlights this better than the following short film clip! I defy you not to at least smirk when watching this!

Another tradition for some Regiments is that at Mess Dinners those dining are not required to stand for the “Loyal Toast” as it is taken as read that their loyalty is never in question, therefore there is no requirement to demonstrate it.

For my own Regiment, The Royal Welsh, we too have many of these traditions. One particular quirk relating to our uniform relates to the five silk ribbons found attached to the collar on the back of the Ceremonial uniform called “The Flash” and is unique to the Regiment.
Harking back to the late 1700’s, the soldiers would have their hair tied into a pig-tail and then greased and powdered as opposed to washing it. This however would have marked their tunics, therefore their hair was tied up in a “queue bag” or “flash” so as to protect their uniform.

The “Flash”

The Flash itself consisted of five overlapping black silk ribbons (seven inches long for soldiers and nine inches long for officers) on the back of the uniform jacket at neck level. In 1808, this practice was discontinued when the Army decided that hair for all soldiers be cut close to the neck.

The Officers of the Royal Welch Fusiliers however decided to retain the ribbons on their uniforms and continued wearing the Flash. In 1834 however, whilst inspecting the 23rd Foot, a less-than-impressed General  complained about the “superfluous” decoration on the collar of the coat and the matter was referred to none other than the King himself. The General’s main objection being that the Flash presented a potential target to the enemy. King William IV however took a difference stance to the General and was keen to approve its use, stating that no Welshman would turn his back on the enemy, therefore such a problem would never exist! Therefore the Flash was approved as “a peculiarity whereby to mark the dress of that distinguished Regiment”.

The Flash as seen on the uniforms of the Regimental Band and Corps of Drums of The Royal Welsh

This was worn up until 1900, only by Officers, Warrant Officers and Colour Sergeants, but then was extended to all ranks of the Royal Welch Fusiliers when in full dress, and then in 1924 was further approved for wear on Ceremonial Parades and when walking out.

Queen’s Birthday Party – Rome 2019

Many of you by now will be shouting out loudly at my lack of care and proof-reading in spelling Welch as I did, therefore cue the next explanation.

The use of Welsh and Welch has over the centuries been used side by side, either accidentally or deliberately and as a result, regiments maintained tradition and identity and dug their heels in by sticking resolutely to their preferred spelling. Following the Great War, two senior ranking Officers made an official application to the Army Board for official sanctioning of the spelling of “Welch”. This was granted by the War Office in 1920.  

Since then and as various Regiments have amalgamated, the more conventional spelling “Welsh” has been adopted and the current Regiment (that has been in existence since 2006) is known as “The Royal Welsh”.

These are just a handful of the many traditions that make the British Army so unique and special and I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading about them, as much as I have researching them.

Thanks for reading the blog. For further information regarding the Regimental Band and Corps of Drums of The Royal Welsh please click on the link.

 

Memorial Day

The last Monday in May is a federal holiday in the United States of America, known as Memorial Day.

On this day, (as we do in the United Kingdom on Armistice Day) the American nation unites to honour those military personnel who served in the Armed Forces and paid the ultimate sacrifice whilst serving their country.

Buglers and trumpet players across the United States will proudly perform their musical tributes to The Fallen by sounding “Taps” at cemeteries and War Memorials. This is the American equivalent of The “Last Post” and has been used by the United States Army since 1862. As with the Last Post, Taps is traditionally played on a Bugle (therefore does not require any valves) and consists of only 4 different pitched notes (compared to the 5 used in Last Post).

Music For You

A Military Bugle

The origin of the Bugle call’s title – “Taps” – harks back to approximately the 17th century, and is linked to when British troops were stationed in The Netherlands. There the older Dutch custom called “taptoe”, from which comes the term Tattoo as in Military tattoo, was used to signal the end of the day. The taptoe’s origin was in actual fact for signalling the moment that beer taps had to be shut, hence that the drinking day had ended and the revellers were required to vacate the premises, similar to “Last Orders” in British pubs. It comes from the Dutch phrase “Doe den tap toe”, meaning “Close the tap”.

Click on this link to hear a recording of “Taps” which I made in 2019. 

 For more information about the Last Post and Taps, please contact Andrew on 07973 869621 or visit the web-site 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do the valves on a trumpet work?

Despite the trumpet having been around (in its various forms and guises) for a few thousand years, it may surprise many people that the development and addition of valves (the buttons to change notes) to the instrument didn’t occur that long ago, with the early versions dating from approximately 1825.

Adolphe Sax

Regardless though of who actually should be credited with the honour of inventing the valve as we know it today, one thing is certain and it is  that the addition of piston valves to brass instruments –in particular the cornet and trumpet – allowed the instrument to increase the extremely limited range of notes it could play.

Prior to the advent of valves, when performing the music of Purcell, Handel and Bach, certain adaptations were made to the Natural or Baroque Trumpet to enable modifications to keys and pitch, such as the addition of crooks – which were additional lengths of tubing to change the pitch or Harmonic Series (see below) available to the player – or the addition of holes (similar to a recorder) in order to improve intonation and make certain notes more “listener friendly”. There was still however a massive gap in the range of notes that the instrument could deliver. 

The next major development was supposedly from Viennese court trumpeter, Anton Weidinger who is reputed to have invented the keyed trumpet in 1770. This instrument was the catalyst for Joseph Haydn writing his much-loved Trumpet Concerto in Eb Major for Weidinger in 1796 and revolutionised what the Trumpet was capable of performing. The instrument however was to have a short lifespan, as due to its design flaws the tonal quality was deemed too unsatisfactory.

A Military Bugle

Playing the Bugle would be the equivalent of playing the modern-day trumpet with no valves pressed down (open valves), and a relatively experienced player would expect to be able to play a pattern of 5-7 notes (called the Harmonic Series) i.e. Bottom C, G, Upper C, E, G, Bb and High (Double C) as shown below. 

No valves pressed down (Open valves). Stomvi “Elite” D/Eb 3-valve Trumpet

The method of securing these notes is a separate blog in itself, but for now we’ll keep it simple and say that as the notes get higher, the player adjusts the air velocity by buzzing their lips faster.

The Harmonic Series (Open/no valves)

So back to the trumpet and the use of valves. When pressing the 2nd valve down, the air is diverted through a small length of tubing attached to the side of the valve, making the initial note sound half a step (semi-tone) lower. Therefore, this creates a new pattern of notes (or Harmonic Series) and instead of Bottom C, G, Upper C as above, the new series of notes is: Low B, F# (F sharp), Upper B, D#, F#, A, High B.
The slide attached to the 1st valve is the one closest to the player’s mouth and is twice the length of the 2nd valve slide, so when pressing down the 1st valve, the notes descend by 2 semi-tones (a whole tone). This creates the following Harmonic Series of Bb (B flat), F, Bb, D, F, Ab and High Bb.

Still with me so far? Good!
The 3rd valve slide is the equivalent in length to both the 1st and 2nd slides combined, so now you’ve a Harmonic Series 3 semi-tones lower and the ability to mix and match i.e. any note played on 1st and 2nd valves can also be played on 3rd only, facilitating “cheats” in difficult passages of music or when trills (a form of ornamentation, moving from one note to another rapidly) is easier to play on a “false” fingering.
You can then take the combinations further, with 2nd and 3rd valves; 1st and 3rd valves and finally 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
As a result, your Harmonic Series now looks like this:

The Harmonic Series using all valve combinations

For those of you who are one step ahead and thinking of the 4-valve Piccolo Trumpet from a previous blog that I wrote Why are there 4 valves on certain trumpets?, the 4th valve is used to add further notes to the range of the instrument and it can also be used instead of 1st and 3rd for better tuning and intonation, plus using it in combination with other valves, again facilitates an easier life for the player in certain tricky passages of music.

A 4-valve Piccolo Trumpet (Model is a Stomvi Elite) (Instrument Pictures courtesy of Paul Fears Photography

I hope that this has demystified “the valve” a little and given you a better understanding of how any valved brass instrument works. Thanks once again for reading the Music for You blog and would love some feedback from you in the Comments Section, including any future topics you would like to read about.
For further information about Andrew Jones, please visit my web-site.

A new challenge. My story could be your story!

As I write this latest Blog, we are in some form of lock-down, due to the Corona virus. Our daily routines and activities have certainly changed beyond all recognition and many people have used this enforced spare time, to invest in projects and activities that they’ve often thought about doing, but never really got round to, due to lack of time or inclination. Attics, gardens and garages everywhere have never been so tidy!!! It’s also been an opportunity for people to re-evaluate what is really important to them in their lives e.g. friends and family, good health, the ability and freedom to come and go as you please, job satisfaction and career choices, as well as hobbies and pastimes. Having something that is precious taken away from you only highlights how much we value it.

Lock-down has also given people time to think and assess what they want from life post Covid-19, when we can return to some semblance of normality and this period of reflection will perhaps ignite a desire for change and the pursuit of a new challenge?

I had one of these “Saul on the road to Damascus” moments some 14 years ago, at the grand age of 39, I decided that I needed something new, something different and something that would kick-start my enthusiasm for life in general. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t doing too badly for myself. I had a nice house, a job that I really loved doing and was managing to pay the bills each and every month. So what was the problem? The answer was, that I simply needed to be doing something that I’d never experienced before, that took me away from the “same old, same old” and perhaps out of my comfort zone, to where I couldn’t put my feet on the bottom of the pool and had to swim a little harder to stay afloat.

From a somewhat pessimistic and negative viewpoint, I felt I had ticked as many boxes as was possible in terms of my music-making experiences (particularly on a professional level) and that there were no more “Everests” remaining that I was capable of climbing and that I should be happy with what I’d already achieved. “So what changed?” I hear you ask.

Following a chance encounter with a friend I was encouraged to consider joining the Army Reserve as a Musician. I’d always been interested in all things Military ever since I was young, but the concept of playing in a Military Band – no change that to a Military brass band (as at the time it was the ONLY brass band in the British Army! – and getting paid for it fried my brain somewhat. Over the years, I’d been used to the concept of attending band twice a week (increasing in the run up to a major competition) and getting zilch for doing it, other than the huge amount of pleasure of performing at a high level and at some of the top venues around Europe.

The Principality Stadium, Cardiff

Having done my research and then attending a few rehearsals at the Barracks (to get a feel of what I was potentially letting myself in for) and asking hundreds of questions such as “what if…?”, “how many…?”, “will I have to do this….. will I have to do that?”, I was reassured that this was a good move and would be a decision that I wouldn’t regret.

Fast-forward 14 years and I now can say that this was one of the best decisions that I ever made. I discovered not only a new “Everest” to climb, but my “K2”, “Kilimanjaro” and many more peaks, with new ones still emerging even now. This new challenge brought a new dimension to not only my musical world, but to my personal and life experiences too and at the same time, I got paid for doing it and it brought me new career pathways too, as all these years later, not only am I a Sergeant and a musician, I am now the Recruiter for that Band – the Regimental Band of The Royal Welsh.

Corps of Army Music Short Term Training Team – Uganda 2015

Words cannot begin to describe the new horizons that I’ve encountered over these 14 years, but suffice to say that if you’re currently bored, feeling unfulfilled, craving something new or just plain curious to know “what if…..?” then go for it! Ask the question and see whether it is for you.

Whether it’s learning a new language, deciding to do a triathlon or joining a Regimental Band in the Army Reserve, then follow your dream and see where it takes you!

WW1 Commemorations, Thiepval Memorial – France 2016

For more information about the Regimental Band and Corps of Drums of The Royal Welsh, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/royalwelshband/

Last Post – Belgium 2019

Thanks for reading the Music for You blog.

Mind games. Musicians and mental health.

In my last blog “What’s the point?” I discussed the dilemmas and motivational issues I was negotiating with, regarding maintaining a regular and meaningful practise regime throughout this Covid-19 pandemic.

Over the last few days, I’ve seen other musicians posting on social media that they were putting the instrument back in the case and waiting for things to show signs of returning to normality, before they started thinking about getting “back on the horse” and doing some serious practise once again.

For me that isn’t an option, for a number of reasons. Firstly, my sanity – I need something worthwhile to do! Secondly, I actually enjoy playing, albeit that playing at home is not the same as being alongside other musicians in that team environment. Finally, I need to maintain my core skills and technique. I’m not one of those “natural” players who can let it go for a few weeks and then pick it up as if it was yesterday.

So imagine my frustration, nay panic. Yes, PANIC, when things aren’t going at all well. I’m not talking about clipping a top C a couple of times, or not being able to play that tricky passage in the Allen Vizzutti Etude in that God-awful key that involves the third valve more times in one bar than you’ve played all year! I’m not on about an “off day”, where the chops are a bit bruised and battered from an over-enthusiastic session the previous day on the D/Eb Trumpet and carelessly omitting a proper warm-down afterwards.

No, this is when day after day for the last week or so, I feel my “chops” aren’t responsive at all, the tone is thin and airy, the range is non-existent and pieces that you enjoy playing sound like a proverbial zoo on fire! Yes, I warmed up properly each day. Yes, I played lots of long notes quietly. Yes, I accept it can’t sound perfect every day, but no I can’t accept that it can be consistently this dreadful for so many days on the bounce.

This serious confidence “wobble” all coincides with the recent push within the brass band movement by Tabby Kerwin regarding mental health awareness and at the same time, a friend – a string player – mentioning on social media, that he was dealing with nerves whilst performing.

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The Three P’s – Tabby Kerwin

Ask any musician and they will tell you that the demands of any performance are 50% physical i.e. the core skills and mechanics of performing the music and 50% mental, namely dealing with the stress, nerves, anxiety which then however causes physical problems affecting the mechanics, such as breath control, tremors or shakes, sweating etc. Some will disagree on the percentages, but all will agree that the mind has a very strong bearing on the successful (or unsuccessful) outcome of any performance.

To keep things simple, I’ll generalise and call the affliction “nerves”. Whilst nerves (in moderate doses) are a perfectly natural condition prior to and during a performance, in excess these can ruin perfectly good musicians and can reduce the most competent performer to a gibbering wreck in a very short space of time, if not dealt with immediately and correctly. It only takes one “off” performance or a few unguarded comments from another person to sow the seed of doubt in an individual, before those gremlins start their evil voices of self-doubt in your head and you enter a downward spiral of catastrophic proportions.

So for me, when the gremlins do rear their ugly heads every now and again, I revert to Howard Snell’s fabulous book “The Trumpet”, which has a Chapter dedicated to “Anxiety Control”. He prefaces the section as follows “For many players, the control of anxiety seems virtually impossible. As they see it anxiety represents an impenetrable barrier to achieving full realisation of their talent. In most cases the use of straightforward routines will comfortably control anxiety.” He goes on to advocate a number of methods and techniques which can tackle nerves/anxiety head on and shows that with a controlled approach, you can overcome this and you will prevail. The quote below certainly caught my attention!

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The Trumpet – Howard Snell

“When anxiety is an habitual problem for a player, it is futile to say that more effort, discipline and hard work are needed. While these attitudes are essential to building quality playing, anxiety needs to be dissolved rather than confronted. Habitual anxiety points to imbalances within the player’s overall approach. Realism, mental balance, patience, persistence and awareness are the key attitudes.” Howard Snell

Mental health issues are far more at the forefront of peoples’ minds nowadays, including musicians. There are many ways to address any problems that we might have, including Alexander Technique, yoga, hypnosis, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and a whole raft of publications, however talking to other musicians sometimes is just as effective and helps highlight that it’s not just “me” struggling to overcome issues. My friend the string player drew a number of friends and colleagues into the conversation and it was surprising to see how many people were admitting to having their own personal battle with anxiety, in ts many guises.

For me, this period of chaos is a blip. A brief hiatus where things aren’t going well. At least I very much hope so! Thankfully, I don’t suffer from stage anxiety (touches wood!) and my current issues are home-based, however it wouldn’t take long for it to morph into a bigger problem. It’s happened before and perhaps a couple of days off and a few binge-sessions of CSI New York or The Yorkshire Vet will give me some rest and space to clear my head and bounce back, as if nothing was wrong? That usually works. As Mr.Snell says “Realism, mental balance, patience, persistence and awareness are the key attitudes.”

If you have an “issue”, remember #itsgoodtotalk – get things off your chest, you’ll be amazed how much support and resources are available out there to help you with this!

Here are just a few links that may be of some help to you:

Tabby Kerwin: Mode for Publishing

Charlotte Tomlinson Performance Coach 

Howard Snell The Trumpet

Excerpts from “The Trumpet” (It’s Practice and Performance, A Guide for Students) by Howard Snell (published Rakeway Music) kindly authorised by the Author.

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The Trumpet. My greatest pleasure …. and my greatest enemy!

Thanks for reading the Music for You blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and if so, please feel free to share. Stay safe and stay healthy!

What’s the point?

It’s sounding a bit of a cliche now, but these are truly unprecedented times. Not only for me, but for millions of people all over the world. The Covid-19 (Corona Virus) pandemic has affected us all in ways that we could never have imagined possible and has made us re-evaluate the things that are truly important in our lives.

A quick trawl through my social media channels has highlighted the very best and also the very worst traits of the human species. These have ranged from kindness, bravery and self-sacrifice to selfishness, arrogance and sheer idiocy. We have suddenly become virtual prisoners in our own homes – that is if we’ve been true to Government guidance about self-isolating and social distancing – with boredom and a lack of freedom to do what we want, when we want to and where we want to being the major focus of our lives. Unless you count stockpiling ridiculous amounts of toilet paper sufficient to deal with a worldwide dysentery a major worry!

Thankfully during this period of virtual lock-down, Mrs. Wife and I have been perfectly safe and secure here at “Trumpet Towers” – with sufficient (but not excessive!) quantities of pasta, tinned tomatoes and loo rolls to keep us away from the shops. She is an avid reader – a book a day is not uncommon – and I have my music to keep me going. Thank God for my music!!!

It’s funny how music always ends up being the “uniting force” or “glue” that brings communities together and puts a smile on peoples’ faces during times of adversity. Footage of residents in Italy (subject to lock-down) standing on their balconies and singing was broadcast all over the world and my friends at the Cory Band featured on national television, when their players recorded remote individual recordings of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”which were was then skilfully combined to make a complete band performance online, which vent viral (no pun intended!) overnight.

For musicians, whilst there is no replacement for performing together in public to an audience, or in a rehearsal, there is great comfort and satisfaction still to be derived from playing or singing at home on one’s own. Granted, it’s not the same, but it does fill the void and those endless monotonous days pass with less pain and angst, than those who don’t have a meaningful and fulfilling pastime to fall back on.

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Tools of the trade (Stomvi and Eclipse Trumpets)

So despite having my music – this saving grace, my refuge, my mental and spiritual sanctuary – this week having realised that I’d missed 2 consecutive days of blowing my trumpet, I had a moment of real full-on “what’s the bloody point?” The mind goes into over-drive. “I’ve got plenty of books waiting to be read, the attic needs clearing out and that box of archived memorabilia and “stuff” desperately could do with a sort out. Why bother practising? I don’t have any gigs in the book, there are no rehearsals I can attend, I don’t get paid to practise. Why should I bother?” So I didn’t and binge-watched “Murder 24/7” on Sky Crime or something similar.

The following day, having maxed out on my TV fix and now being thoroughly conversant  with Police custody procedures, forensic techniques and how much of a mug’s game crime actually is, I had a large reality check and got that Trumpet out for my daily parp.

Why? Because I realised that life without my music, in whatever form it takes – group, individual, home, abroad, practise, performance – is just a part of me. The period of no gigs and not being paid are (sadly) part of the territory, even when there is no pandemic to worry about. Indeed if musicians charged clients for the work “off camera” and “behind the scenes” in terms of preparation and maintaining standards we’d all be blinking millionaires. Imagine a builder excusing themselves from the family viewing of “Sound of Music” on Christmas Day to go and lay a few rows of bricks because they need to keep their hand in, as they’re building a wall on Boxing Day!

That said and done, it’s what we do, it’s who we are and it’s what makes us tick. Therefore by writing this blog, it’s been a cathartic experience. I’ve answered my own question really! The point is …… because we’re musicians and we love it!

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The Phil Dando Big Band Trumpet Section in action.

So the next time you ask a musician how much they charge for performing at a Wedding or to provide music for a Corporate Event, you’ll know that the fee doesn’t just cover the 3 hours the musician will be at the engagement, or the travel time and costs, or even to purchase the music, to arrange that special tune you requested or for buying that very shiny Trumpet. The cost reflects a lifetime devoted to the pursuit of excellence (I’m still chasing it incidentally!) and maintaining those extremely high standards, rightly expected by clients but demanded of the performers themselves.

I hope that all of you stay well and safe during these strange and difficult times and look forward to that first rehearsal or gig, whenever that may be.

Car Practice

Needs must! Martini practise session – “Any time, any place, anywhere”

An Open Letter to the brass band movement in Wales

The Blaina Band based near Brynmawr was formed in 1817 and it was claimed to be the first band in Britain to become ‘all brass’. In the intervening 203 years, the brass band movement in Wales has successfully produced some of the movement’s best and most successful players, conductors, ensembles, educators and teachers, composers and arrangers, administrators and commentators.

Welsh banding is firmly on the international contesting map

Ebbw Valley Brass – 2013 National Champions (Section 4)

Names such as; David, Nicholas and Robert Childs, the Cyfarthfa Band, the Cory Band led by Philip Harper, T.J. Powell, Bram Gay and Philip Morris, Iwan Fox and 4barsrest are just a handful of names recognised not only within the Principality, but across the world. These are luminaries who have successfully put Wales on the “musical map”, and through their work have ensured that the movement has grown and flourished.

In 2013 no less than 4 Welsh bands were crowned National Champions of Great Britain in all but the Third Section. This was a truly remarkable achievement for such a small nation; however these successes, along with significant contest successes by Tredegar and the No.1 World-ranked Cory Band before and since, have masked the underlying decline of fortunes for Welsh banding at grass-roots level.

Demise of brass banding in Wales

With the demise of music in education due to austerity and the reduction of funding for the Arts in general, and with music services having to introduce charging for instrumental tuition in schools, the number of young player either joining, or being retained in the movement has reached extremely worrying numbers. More than ever, bands are relying on a small group of (mainly unpaid) volunteers, who are struggling to keep some semblance of a production line going in terms of young players. Bands in all sections are struggling to fill seats, with the pool of players ever-diminishing.

The administration and governance of banding in Wales, has to date lain with the respective BB Associations in West Wales, South East Wales and North Wales, with additional tiers added for the Welsh Regional Contest and the National Eisteddfod. These however, (with isolated exceptions) have almost exclusively existed in order to organise and oversee competitive banding in the Principality, with no clear structure or pathway mapped out to develop and nurture new projects and initiatives to benefit the movement in general.

Lack of a single unified voice to benefit from Arts Council Funding

Thus far, funding for any new projects has always been as a result of the diligence and initiative of hard-working individuals who have secured money from a variety of sources, usually benefiting an individual band, or small cluster of bands. Arts Council Wales have not been receptive to approaches for such funding, as the contesting tag has always been inextricably linked with most of the ideas presented and more importantly, the movement does not have a single unified voice to make those representations in the first place.

 One representative body for Welsh banding

Surely the time has now come, before it is too late, to introduce a model similar to the Brass Band England organisation and have one representative body, speaking on behalf of the interests of ALL brass bands in Wales. This organisation would oversee ALL Youth and Senior Bands, ALL Competitive and non-competitive Bands and its primary function would be to nurture and encourage some “joined up thinking” across a wide range of stakeholders, including;

  • All Bands
  • Conductors
  • Arts Bodies and Administrators i.e. Arts Council Wales, the 3 Welsh Brass Band Associations, Tŷ Cerdd
  • Music Services and Hubs
  • Schools and Colleges (including Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama)
  • Peripatetic teachers
  • Educators
  • Composers & arrangers
  • Industry suppliers – i.e. instrument manufacturers, repairers, insurance providers, publishers
  • Arts and Concert venues
  • Influencers i.e. 4barsrest, Brass Band World, British Bandsman & others
  • Arts Festivals
  • Other Arts organisations e.g. Choirs, Folk Music, Theatre, Dance

These stakeholders could all contribute their knowledge and expertise and assist in the following areas:

  • Administration – help with running a Band on a day-to-day basis, access to template documentation, running a library, contracts for engagements
  • Governance – e.g. ensuring bands had a proper Constitution, Safeguarding & GDPR policies in place, advice on DBS checks, returns to the Charities Commission, Health & Safety and Risk Assessments
  • Funding advice – where to access funding, assistance with completing applications
  • Finances – accessing the best deals for; insurances (such as Public Liability or instruments), utilities, travel and accommodation
  • Artistic and Creative Development – Encouraging collaborative work amongst bands, new commissions, workshops
  • Education – developing new conductors and teachers, sharing good practise, collaborative projects

The new organisation would NOT be involved with;

  • The organising or promoting of any competitions

Many of these suggestions are not new ideas and this concept has been attempted once before, when Brass Band Forum Wales was launched in 2012. Sadly it did not achieve the traction and impact that was hoped for, however nearly 8 years down the line, the banding movement is in a much more precarious position and things needs to be revisited – and fast!

The need to promote Welsh banding interests

This is also not an attempt to reinvent the wheel and for sure, Brass Bands England fulfils many of the above issues, indeed there is no good reason why Welsh bands shouldn’t be encouraged to join BBE, and make use of many of the resources already available. BBE however doesn’t promote Welsh banding interests specifically. We need an organisation to be run by Welsh banding for Welsh banding.

Until the Welsh banding movement has one unified voice to represent the interests and promote the movement for ALL participants, I fear that the very existence and future of our wonderful movement is in grave jeopardy.

I have no mandate from any banding organisation to initiate or promote this venture, just a deep love and passion for a form of music-making which has given me so many opportunities and experiences over the last 40+ years and sincerely wish to see it flourish and bring the same joy to others for many years to come.

If you agree or have thoughts to add to this letter, please feel free to e-mail me at andrew@andrewjonesmusic.com or call 07973 869621 and together, see if we can formulate a plan of action for the good of Welsh banding.

Looking ahead to a new decade

Happy New Year

Let me start the new year (and decade) by wishing you all a happy and prosperous 2020 and hope that your dreams and aspirations become a reality.

For years on end, like many others at the start of January I had always had the very best of intentions to make the new year a better one than the previous. The list of desired improvements would include the mandatory list of; lose weight, earn more money, spend more time with family etc. etc., but as always, I would falter and my plans would be in ruins within a matter of weeks (if not days!).

“The goal of this human adventure is to see what all we can become with all we have been given” – Jim Rohn

My “eureka” moment however came to me some 8 years ago, when I was introduced to the concept of personal development. I started listening to recordings and read books by leaders in this field such as Jim Rohn, Darren Hardy Robert Kelsey and Brian Tracy. Since then, I can honestly say that I am a different person and have been striving (with reasonable success, even if I say so myself) to improve, both professionally and personally and set myself targets and goals for each new year.

Sure I still fail to do things that I said I’d do, forget to ring my Mum, work in my office way beyond a sensible hour and neglect to go the gym as often as I should, BUT, the positives that I have benefited from by investing some time, effort and a little money in developing my existing skills, learning new ones, changing bad habits for good and allowing myself to dream a little and set some goals for the future – these range from tidying out the cupboard under the stairs, to paying off my mortgage early – cannot be under-estimated. I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today, without this help!

If you are someone who feels they are underachieving, or could get more out of life, but need some structure and guidance, give it a go and see where it takes you. You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Music for You only exists, because I engaged in personal development and the ideas and inspiration for pushing the business ahead came from many sources, including the ones shown below. I must stress however, that the improvements and changes I have implemented are not just business related and cover my personal and lifestyle aspirations too, which have also benefited greatly as a result.

I would seriously advocate the following authors and publications:

Lee Duncan – Double Your Business pub. Pearson/FT Publishing

Darren Hardy – Living Your Best Year Ever. This is a journal which is my absolute must-have book each year now. I review my previous year’s achievements and then plan my goals and targets for the new year, with daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly reviews of my progress along the way. I can’t recommend it enough – it also comes with 3 CD’s so you can learn as you go in the car, gym or even in bed! – but don’t be put off by the price. If you can implement the methods in this book, you would pay double and not give it a second thought! And no, before you ask, I’m not on commission for this recommendation.

The Brilliant series of books – can be found in all good bookshops such as Waterstones and WH Smith

Robert Kelsey – Get Things Done pub. Capstone

I hope that these suggestions have inspired you to be more proactive in making things happen for you this year and for those of you that do bite the bullet, that it makes as positive and significant a difference in your lives, as it did mine.

As a parting thought, I’ll finish with the wise words of former US President, Thomas Jefferson:

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude”.

If you’d like some more advice on resources that I’ve found helpful, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line at andrew@andrewjonesmusic.com