Brass Bands in cheese identity crisis !

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by its_jon, May 5, 2009.

  1. its_jon

    its_jon Member

    Why do people go to a Brass Band concerts in todays world ?

    Possible answers are

    1) because you are related to a player
    2) because you have always enjoyed brass bands since the 1940's
    3) You are a millitary person and hope they will play a march
    4) You enjoy Brass Band music

    The only really positive answer out of the above for the survival of Brass Bands is No.4 - that the audience enjoys brass band music (regardless of age).

    But what is 'Brass Band' music today ?
    What makes Brass Band music different or special today ?

    If I were to turn up at a brass band concert having never been to one before (age 25-45) what would I be presented with ?
    There ARE exceptions but mainly Cheesy guff and lightweight covers of lightweight pop tunes from two year ago.

    Make a stand ! ...... Don't buy the Cheese !

    Brass bands are becoming a humorous novelty because bands keep buying the 'jolly guff' we are told everyone likes.... Junior bands possibly need motivation so I can see a reason.... but not for main bands surely !
    The Brass Band movement has always excelled at promoting musical tuition for our youth.... As bands today play more lightweight novelty items than anything else - the Brass Band movement has a whole is already perceived as a kids activity ! its possibly too late to fix this situation now unfortunately.

    Just because most bands are Ammeter does not mean you have to be Amateurish and buy/perform bubblegum guff all the time. Ammeter simply means there's no money in it. Composers and Conductors are the only people picking up a pay packet.

    Instead of standing proud and shouting 'see what I can play'
    We should maybe think about standing up and shouting 'why are we playing this ?'

    We should be playing Brass Band music, not everyone else's.

    The heart of the matter is of course that we actually lack true Brass Band composers. When those that specialize in arranging turn their hand to something original it often exposes a serious lack of creative ability. (hence even more cheese)

    'Brass Band Aid' was a Great idea !

    I suggest we start a new campaign (that'll be a belly-laugh eh !)

    I'll leave you to the acronyms but something like
    (lets stop playing this tripe) but a bit more catchy.
    Last edited: May 5, 2009
  2. Leyfy

    Leyfy Active Member

    Philip Wilby?
    Philip Sparke?
    Gilbert Vinter?
    Eric Ball?
    Paul Lovatt-Cooper?

    To name but a few ;)
  3. its_jon

    its_jon Member

    Your missing the point.....whilst proving mine.

    Composers like this are GREAT !

    Philip Wilby?
    Philip Sparke?
    Gilbert Vinter?
    Eric Ball?
    Paul Lovatt-Cooper?

    My point is that we have too few of them and bands insist on playing tripe instead.

    Really ... im on your side :)
    Last edited: May 5, 2009
  4. BariPower

    BariPower Member

    I like a bit of cheese - its what got me into it all in the first place and then gave me the opportunity to experience so much more.
    Theres a lot of cheese in the orchestral and choral world too.
    If bands just played hard core pieces I wouldnt enjoy it - I like a mix but everyone is different.
    However I do agree with promoting new composers, they need to be encouraged to write for the movement.
    Heard some original stuff at the europeans, not just in the A section but some good original music in the B section which is accessible to most of us.
    Hope to hear some again.
  5. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    The only reason any form of performing art survives is that it's repertoire is what the audience want to hear. If nobody wants to listen, what are you playing for?

    You could clearly get away with Spectrum at a brass band concert - however if your are trying to broaden the appeal of your ensemble, they will receive it better if you precede it with Ruby Tuesday and follow it with Floral dance.

    Likewise, you may be able to get away with a Harrison Bertwistle (sp?) or Stockhausen piece on an orchestral programme - but you're far more likely to get away with it if you wrap it in Mozart and Tchaikovsky.

    Variety is the spice of life.

    By all means, try and educate your audience - but do it by persuasion, not preaching. Because if you roll out that sort of programme, they won't turn up again.
  6. its_jon

    its_jon Member

    A Variety act ?

    This again proves my point. And to add to this the days of variety shows are long gone....

    Just because the orchestral world feels the need to put sugar on the medicine to stop people falling asleep does not mean we have to do it as well.
    As one of the youngest musical genera's in the world the Brass Band movement has certainly lost its way in recent decades.

    We are now 'Variety' ...... Somewhere to send your kids one or two night a week.

    "They played some impressive stuff ..... and they also played the Floral dance and a medley of TV Theme tunes"
  7. its_jon

    its_jon Member

    to add

    I don't want to keep the normal Brass Band Audience.... I want a new audience. Lets face it our audience wont be around for long anyway so why keep playing the guff.
    Time to try more challenging programs ... not necessarily for the players but for the audience. !
    If I sent away a group of 60 year olds having been to a concert into our local community grumbling that the town band played a whole night of modern music and no guff....great ! ..... Might get some 40 year olds though the door then !
  8. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Or alternatively, you might more likely get no-one through the door....

    PS - please do not confuse "A variety act" with "A variety of music." A varied programme is essential for any musical ensemble. Too much of one thing is the surest way to alienate any audience.

    At least there are several varieties of cheese....
    Last edited: May 5, 2009
  9. its_jon

    its_jon Member

    We already alienate a huge audience by playing guff.... I maintain that more people don't want to listen to a typical brass band concert than those who do....

    If we have to supply cheese then we should at least aim for the Port and Stilton !
    Too many cheese slices on our stands.... Processed formula's that are churned out in a very 'ABC lets play' way.
  10. StellaJohnson

    StellaJohnson Active Member

    You play the music depending on the audience you expect at the concert. It works for us and yes there is some cheese.

    A few years ago I went to see Grimethorpe at the Buxton Oprea House and the concert was full of serious band contest style music which I even found heavy going. Some people were even heckling in the audience.

    So whats the answer, play a wide variety of music to suit eveyone and put in some pieces that an average person wouldn't hear before.
  11. TubaGeek

    TubaGeek Member

    What? I'm fairly sure people LIKE "Cheesy Guff". The general public would rather listen to that than test-pieces I think...
  12. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Right, let's analyse your 'argument' for one second shall we?

    What is 'Guff?' How do you define 'Guff?' From what you're saying it seems to be anything that is not original brass band music. So, Carnaval Romain, The Corsair, and any other overture, or any other classical transcription is out. Elgar? Purcell? Holst? Nope, all arrangements, so all gone. Now we have to get rid of any marches by Alford, Sousa, etc, because they were all originally military band marches. And while we're at it, all that big band and swing we've been learning to play in the last few years has to go too, along with all the pop tunes which always go down so well on the bandstand in summer. And we can't play hymns either because they're all originally choral music. No, no, only original brass music here.

    How far do you take this? Pagannini Varitions? Violinist's idea, get rid. Tallis Variations? Nope, Choral composer originally. Out with it. Spectrum? Vinter was a bassoonist, what does he know. Not playing that...

    Precisely what do we have left now?

    Arrangements of other works have been the mainstay of brass band music for upwards of 100 years - and if we are to survive the next 100 years, they have to stay. Fact.

    Sorry, what? More people would come and listen to us if we stopped doing precisely that which makes us a brass band? People listen to bands for the same reason they listen to choirs, buy compilation albums, put their ipods on 'shuffle mode' or even switch on the radio. Because you never quite know what's coming next! Isn't that what makes a concert really good? The fact you might have a 19th century march, followed by a 20th century tone poem, followed by a 21st century original work, and a 21st century pop arrangment?

    How can including something for everyone possibly be a bad thing?

    Despite pointing out that Port isn't a cheese - examples? I take it this is a sideswipe at the likes of Frank Bernaerts, Johnny Ocean, Jan van Kraeydonck (sp?) etc. Speaking as someone who writes and arranges music myself, these chaps all produce work of a certain level - which is not aimed at people who listen to John Cage and Phillip Glass. It is aimed at both players of limited ability, and audiences looking for familiar work from an unfamiliar ensemble.

    They are INCLUSIVE writers. They bring people into the movement, both audience members and players. For many years Edrich Siebert did exactly the same thing. To be honest, I don't much care for some of their work, but I stop well short of the level of musical snobbery which states they should have no place in our repertoire. Brass banding needs it's Bearnaerts/Siebert arrangers.

    You can't very well start a beginner band out on test pieces can you?

    Your argument, such as it is, is typical of a particular brand of narrow minded snobbery which I simply cannot stand. it's out of a similar vein to those self-certified big-band experts who protest that brass bands don't sound like big bands - missing entirely that that is the whole point! Who precisely are you to tell all the brass bands whose members post on here what they should and shouldn't play?

    If you can find 27 like-minded individuals to put a band together which plays only original brass works, and - as you alluded to in a previous post - actually aims to alienate the core audience of brass bands, then good luck to you. I don't expect you will take many bookings.

    Personally, I'd rather continue playing anything and everything and keep gradually broadening my horizons - as well as those of the audiences I play to.

    Rant over.
  13. catto09

    catto09 Member

    After reading this thread I spoke to a friend who I wouldn't consider as someone who is particularly in to Brass bands, and doesn't play a brass instrument - however she said;

    "I enjoy the brass band concerts currently the way they are, however to keep the audience captivated I would recommend having a well known piece played by the band"

    AKA "Cheese" - am i right?


    To expand, i like a bit of Cheese in a concert. You can't just have stuff that's been arranged for brass bands take up an entire concert. That's like having a sandwhich made of bread...It's boring and bland. You need some cheese in there, and maybe even some Ham.

    Frank Barnaerts, most well known brass band arranger for cheese. But it's easy listening music...
    Last edited: May 6, 2009
  14. Accidental

    Accidental Supporting Member

    You seem to be assuming that without new, young audiences all bands are going to die out.... but is that actually true?

    With the few obvious exceptions, bands are becoming more and more self funding these days, and less income from gigs is replaced by players paying for more themselves. Plenty of banders are in it for competing against each other, not entertaining strangers - and some people already do spend a lot of their own money to do that. The lack of your no. 4 audience might change the nature of bands and affect incomes, but I certainly don't think it means we're all going to die out.

    And to answer your other question, I agree with the 'give the audience what they want' school of thought. If a band is failing to do that and the players are fed up with doing the same old tat all the time, maye its an issue with the MD that needs fixing, not a problem with audiences!
  15. You CAN have the cheesy stuff in your concert as long as you chose high quality in arrangement and execution!

    We'll have a sponsorship concert (1500 people in a classic concerthall, mostly unfamiliar with brass bands) in fall. No question there will be lighter classics and familiar melodies (musical, jazz, film) on the programme. Only occasionally, we will switch to a original brass band item. But all of the items played will be of high quality from an musical point of view (we had a close look on that). Best example may be an item featuring our guest trombone player (10min): an high-quality arrangement of Nino Rota melodies (La Strada, The Godfather, and others). Everyone knows the tunes, but it's not something you get to hear every day.

    Such concert have two main advantages :

    1. The crowd will absolutely like it, thus there will be extremely pleasant acceptance (not the worst thing for you as a musican).

    2. It ultimately allows for participation at those crazy contests where, let's face it, with the exception of a few mad freaks nobody but the players themselves are interested in.
  16. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Thanks for that, Andi. I was trying to summon up the enthusiasm to point out some of the big flaws in Jon's points yesterday but not getting very far with the summoning. You've saved me a lot of the effort, ta...

    An interesting side point - the external audience for bands has primarily been the over-60s for a long time now. Something happens as people age - band music seemingly becomes more appealing. Every year a fresh batch start looking for things to do with their free bus pass!
  17. its_jon

    its_jon Member

    Without new blood bands will and are dying out.
    Not only new members so that we also have parents in the audience but also new audiences !

    MD's are at fault to a great extent for not taking the risk on unknown pieces.
    Original brass band music does not have to be testing ! ... it can be as easy on the players as it could be on the audiences ears.
    For example.... Why listen to a brass band play a pop tune when you can hear the original pop band play it on the radio ? ...... What makes a brass band concert special ? What would draw that new audience ?
    New, original, exclusive to brass band music ? ..... it would be a good start ?

    I don't favor transcriptions of orchestral or swing numbers..... They served their purposes in the early 1900's up to the 70's ..... Today, people don't listen to classical music (as they used to) or for that matter swing ! ..... so why should brass bands keep playing these numbers ....?
    conversely.... if we continue to play arrangements of cheesy easy learning tunes of the day our reputation first and foremost as a youth organization will truly be set in stone.

    Why are cheesy tunes favored to arrange ? ....... Because the cheese usually has primal harmony's and melody which is comparatively simple to arrange..

    I will say this for Goff Richards ..... among the pop arrangements which are still head and shoulders above anybody else's in most cases he is also known one or two excellent original brass band works.

    On the musical timeline, the Brass Band is a only a blip.. To suggest it is impossible to come up with a successful concert containing 100% our own repotoir is very defeatist.

    When I go to a concert (non brass band) I spend money to witness something I can't get anywhere else.... I expect the band to play their own music.

    With the exception of the top bands (who's audience will mainly be made up of other peoples bands) I challenge anyone interested to do a survay at the door of your concerts.

    1) age group check box
    2) are you related to a band member
    3) name one brass band tune ..................

    The combination of Number 1) and 3) will in the main turn out either :-

    40/Floral Dance
    10/dont know

    No. 2) will return over 80% related

    Instead of holding a normal guffy concert you would be better off sending a donation form to all the names connected with a band and trying something new aiming to attract a completely fresh audience.

    I am quite passionate about what a brass band is capable of ....any brass band ! ......
    We need fresh composers who can deliver so we don't have to play the swingalongabrass tripe anymore. The we WILL reclaim a REAL audience.
  18. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Jon, you're polarising a bit here. A lot of things that bands play are 'cheesy' (and a definition of that term wouldn't go amiss here, by the way). Some of the cheesy items are terrible dross - what you characterise as "swingalongabrass tripe", and some, even amongst those pieces festering down towards the foetidly stinking gorgonzola end of the cheese spectrum, are rather good ('Frosty the Snowman' springs to mind...).

    You seem to be advocating throwing away the majority of our repertoire between the various targets you're aiming at. The baby/bathwater thing seems very apt here.
    A process of natural selection will weed out the **** - in 50 years time people will root around band libraries looking for lost gems, and treat anything that isn't good with the disdain that we now show for any of the **** of 50 years ago that happens to have survived.
  19. its_jon

    its_jon Member

    No.... not trowing away the majority of our repertoire.

    Throwing away everyone else's to make room for our own..... When we get the composers capable of the task...

    There is no shame in admitting that we have very limited brass band composing talent, after all, brass bands have only been around for about 150+ years and the format has had a LOT of competition since the 1960's

    It has been suggested that a fresh intake of 60 year olds will move in to replace people as our audience changes.
    We have to remember that we have a generation of people who grew up in the main with Jimmy Hendrix and Zed Zeppelin and predominantly guitar based and later electronic based acts of their day. When they hit 60 I don't think the pop arrangements or swing numbers of yesteryear or indeed classical transcriptions will cut the mustard. Led Zeppelin or Hendrix is notoriously far too complex in harmony and overtone for a brass band to emulate..... hey someone prove me wrong. :D

    splish splash
  20. David Mann

    David Mann Member


    Your premise seems to be that audiences (or new, young audiences) don't appear because of the cheesy music. This may or may not be true and has been competently debated above. There are other factors that might be at play;

    The overall perception of brass bands as a genre - the general public will expect (and mostly won't be wrong) to see 25-odd players, in quasi-military uniforms, make a typical brass band kind of sound. There will be some solos, slow pieces, longer pieces, arrangements etc. If a song arrangement is included there will be no lyrics. There might be an attempt at humour.
    Now many people (including me) can really enjoy this but I believe you have to have been brought up with it or otherwise become a "fan".
    Brass bands have survived where other musical genres (concertina bands? palm court orchestras? Hammond organ recitals? Skiffle?) have gone out of fashion to a greater extent.
    The task of bands is to educate and grow their audiences and I'm not sure that new music is the entire solution. How about:
    Making an effort to entertain and engage with the audience - mix old favourites with newer but accessible pieces.
    Promoting the concerts - one local band near me will leaflet the entire village for every concert - and they sell all the tickets.
    Making the most of the other aspects of the evening - food, drink, ambience.
    Consider doing something other than a complete evening of brass band music - I used to enjoy some of the Salvation Army evenings where you'd have great Brass Band music (no pop tunes!) but also a vocal item or two, piano solo maybe.

    Whatever you do, you have to carry the band with you. There's no point going too far in either the Avant-Garde or Fromagissimo direction if players end up dreading rehearsal.

    Final point. As a member of a big band we have tried various formats for our shows and believe we now know what will attract and retain a following. Even though some of the members might prefer to play technical pieces with incomprehensible solos, what people like and will pay to see is in-yer-face entertainment with singing, movement and recognisable tunes.

    Can brass bands be entertainers as well as artists? dunno.

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