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

 

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.

 

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?

IMG_1240

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