Are brass bands guilty of wanting something for nothing?

I’m not sure whether I’m going to regret “sticking my head above the parapet” here or not, but here goes.

Once again, the British brass band movement is mobilised into social media action, with the announcement of the 2018 Regional test-pieces.

For months, there has been speculation, rumours and whispers regarding the choices of the works that all bands will have to tackle at their respective Area Contests, for the right to represent their Region in the National Finals in Cheltenham and the Royal Albert Hall next year. The waiting is finally over and the decisions of the “wise men” on the Music Panel representing Kapitol Promotions have been announced.

Now let battle commence!

There will now follow some fairly intense moaning, along the lines of “that piece is rubbish”, “that’s way too hard”, “this piece doesn’t have a trombone solo” etc. If we listened to some of the so-called “experts” on Facebook, we’d be having the Derek Bourgeois “Concerto Grosso” for 2nd Section and Philip Wilby’s “Paganini Variations” in the 3rd! You can’t please everyone that’s for sure, but what irks me more than anything – now it’s time for my whinge! – are the complaints about the cost of purchasing the chosen pieces of music.

Paganini Variations by Philip Wilby

In a brass band, there are usually 28 players if all positions are covered and often more. Given that some of the test-pieces chosen are new works and that all bands will need to purchase their respective piece, we are looking at an average cost of say £75.00 – maybe more, maybe less. This works out at less than £3.00 per player (or less than a pint of beer or glass of wine, depending on where you drink), for a piece of music that will probably go out on the stands either this month or at the latest next month, and potentially get used, on and off, week in week out for the next 4-5 months.

Many will respond, and rightly so, that there are numerous printing mistakes found in a lot of these pieces, however this can’t be applied to all new publications and the banding community are quick to forget about the indiscriminate amount of photocopying that goes on during the rest of the year, robbing the publishers and composers/arrangers of any income they are rightly entitled to receive!

Whilst I freely admit that brass bands are genuinely struggling, both with membership and financial issues, the “something for nothing” culture is killing the movement. Players will moan about venues, entry fees, admission prices, adjudicators and anything else that you can think of, but compared to other hobbies and pastimes, we invest very little, other than time and effort. Most players enjoy the benefits of a free instrument (worth usually in excess of £2,000), a uniform, tuition, rehearsal facilities and much, much more. Compare this to something like golf – would you have a free set of clubs, a round of golf and coaching all for nothing? Unlikely and their membership/subscription rates and green fees are eye-watering in comparison!

Granted many band players pay monthly contributions and do fund-raising activities throughout the year, but that has always been the case and that will be a necessary part of their organisation’s survival, but we (as a movement) are on a very slippery slope if we think that £3.00-4.00 per person is an excessive amount to invest in our primary hobby.

To clarify and give the blog some perspective, I have been involved in brass banding since the age of 7 and have done my share at all levels, paying weekly contributions, missing out on paid work to go to rehearsals and contests, done my hours tidying up the bandroom, cleaning toilets and sorting out the library as well as playing Christmas Carols on a freezing cold December night. No, I don’t want a medal or a pat on the back, but just that you realise I’ve been there and done it and not preaching from an ivory tower, about something I have no experience of.

Do you agree or am I missing the point? Send me your thoughts in the comments section below.

Nationals Trophy Pic

The National Championship Trophy, which will be the spoils for the victor at the Royal Albert Hall in October.

 

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The Monday Morning Mention – Part 2

For those of you who read my Monday Morning Mention post a few weeks ago , praising the efforts of the Welsh brass bands who became National Champions, I’m going to risk sounding repetitive now, I’m going to risk sounding repetitive now – sorry! – and reiterate my sentiments, but with one slight, but significant amendment.

Whilst the focus of discussion at the photo-copier this morning, will undoubtedly be on the Welsh rugby team’s inability to see off 13-man Australia in the Rugby World Cup and the wonderful achievement of the national football team in making its first major championships in over 50 years, I will champion the cause of our wonderful brass once again and highlight the fact that Wales also starts the week with not three, but FOUR National Champions now.

Congratulations to the Cory Band who, under the baton of their conductor Philip Harper, have once again won the National title at the Royal Albert Hall, performing Thomas Doss’s fiendishly difficult work “Spiriti”.

Cory_Smallish

Having been privileged to have performed on the Contest platform as a guest player with the Band earlier this year, I have had an insight into the effort that it takes to perform at the highest level and believe me, it borders on being scary! During that intense period of rehearsals, my Wife said to me “This brass band lark is a bit obsessive, isn’t it?” Perhaps there was more than an ounce of truth in that statement, but it goes to show how much effort and commitment went in to trying to win that competition!

It would be remiss also not to acknowledge the achievements of another Welsh outfit and my former Band – Tredegar Town Band – who came 5th at the same competition. A great day for Welsh brass bands indeed.

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(Tredegar Town Band at the Royal Albert Hall, London in the 1990’s.)

So, yet another big shout out this Monday morning for the unsung heroes of Usk, Ebbw Valley, Goodwick and now Cory, who are now National Brass Champions of Great Britain, in Sections 4, 2 ,1 and Championship Sections respectively.

Rugby? What rugby match?

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(The Cory Band performing at the 2015 European Brass Band Championships in Freiburg, Germany.)