Brass Bands not so inclusive in the Royal Albert Hall Proms

Discussion in 'Introduce Yourself' started by Wotan123, May 8, 2018.

  1. Wotan123

    Wotan123 New Member

    Dear Friends ,
    I have been involved with brass bands nearly all my life as a player and spectator . For the past few years I have been asking and writing to many people why oh why are we not seeing a top brass band invited on to the main stage at the proms season . I think if my memory serves me right the last time that happened was Black Dyke around 20 years ago and I think we saw the national Youth Brass Band around 2015 but no more as yet. Again this year I see the programme for the Albert Hall does not include a Brass Band nor I think any brass ensemble . This year includes many musical genres including Jazz, Orchestral , Singing , Dance etc and a host of others so again I ask where is "The Brass Band" . I feel the Brass Band for the proms committee still has a "working class label " attached and therefore this image sticks in their minds ; it's not that brass bands can't play a huge variety of music both original and arranged, it is the image they portray , usually the really old one of "cloth caps & hob nail boots" again linking to the working class . I feel much effort has gone into changing that image but it has not worked for the proms committee and feel we are very much losing out to a wider audience who I know would appreciate some great brass band music and in turn would encourage especially the young to try an instrument . I feel very strongly that the committee has a very aloof/snobbish and prejudiced attitude and I encourage you all to protest to the proms committee to ask why the Brass Band is not inclusive in their musical minds .
  2. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    If Wotan were to indicate how to contact the relevant people then that would be a help, I’d no idea that they were even influence-able. Brass Band Concerts aren’t really attended much by the general public and they won’t be until we engage brain and play what the general public (and the types that go to concerts in particular) want to hear, there might be a lack of suitable arrangements and there is a cost to buying new music too so that complicates matters. The Proms are popular with lots of people but those lots of people (you need a load of folk to fill a venue) are also prepared to pay good money for the experience, but it has to be one that they already know that they will enjoy. Like Classic FM already does - hence its success whilst no one listens to Radio 3 - we need to understand what the (bulk of!) punters like and then give it to them ‘in spades’. That’s going to require somewhat of a culture change on our part but real musicians understand that their next pay cheque - or meal - depends on him or her giving their customers what the (paying) customers want and only what they want.
    Last edited: May 8, 2018
  3. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    A brass band contribution has to jump hurdles to look like a good idea. Off the top of my head, here's the things that come to mind:

    1) As so often, we find ourselves falling between stools due to our music choices. Let's put ourselves in the shoes of the Proms music choosing committee... The core and majority of their season relates to the repertoire of the full symphony orchestra and variations on it - and fair enough; that's the basic concept of the thing, and it's been working marvellously well for more than a century. They should feel no obligation to change that. Where it departs from the full orchestra, it's often small ensembles also with an existing classical repertoire, e.g. string quartet. From outside the 'classical' mainstream, Jazz groups have been making headway at the festival in recent years, with their distinctive original writing that has flavoured much 'modern classical' (and not so modern) writing.
    How can brass band repertoire appeal? Firstly, I think we should be clear which parts of our repertoire stand zero chance of appealing - to the extent that a band booked for a concert suggesting filling a little time with them would create a very bad impression. People might imagine that orchestral transcriptions would go down well - but this would be a mistake - they have a whole season alongside of groups playing the original versions; playing even a gloriously rescored version of something classic would leave the audience puzzled - we would be leading on a weak suit, to pick a card-playing metaphor. Indeed, arrangements in general - best avoided, and only suggested to make some very specific musical point. So that's one stool - we would need to ignore many cherished pieces in favour of focussing on our original repertoire. What do we have that is original to us and characteristic? Marches are perhaps the strongest suit - but marches do not a whole concert make. Our original contesting repertoire is moderately extensive - but of seriously mixed quality, while our original concert repertoire we undeservedly treat as a poor relation inspiration-wise; much writing for concerts is blatant pastiche, and often not terribly good pastiche either. So, carefully chosen contesting works can form an input - but the restrictions of contest writing tend to shape test pieces too closely - they almost all fall into a duration range of 10-20 minutes, and they almost all contain musical decisions that would look very odd if one didn't know about the contesting purpose - a general audience tires of pyrotechnics at the expense of musical purity (or not) vastly more quickly than a banding audience. Note that this contesting piece paradigm spreads further than the contest stage - we play contesty music a lot, and so we prefer contesty elements to music that is not written to be judged on also. Note also that we have hardly ever made sure that the people writing our contest works are the best available - and so there's a lot of third-rate stuff - and even what we think of as first-rate stuff might not seem so to outside eyes.
    What else? SA works form a body not shaped by contesting forces (though one might argue second-hand shaping forces as musicians within admired those without). But how much of the serious SA repertoire do non-SA bands know? Going by what I've seen (and what little I know), not much.

    I think the following approach would have merit: A single concert each year giving an overview of the relatively young genre of brass band music - for these purposes it is a real pity that during the 19th century, when the repertoire of classical orchestral masterpieces was being built, the brass band was preccupied with playing transcriptions of the same rather than building their own original quality repertoire.
    One way of doing it could be - start things off in the early 20th century: open up with a good old Rimmer march, a genre that is definitively ours. Then pick a couple of the best contest pieces of the 1920s - An Epic Symphony and A Moorside Suite would be strong contenders, for example. Then something light and characteristic of that era of banding to close the first half on an unexpected and jolly note. Second half head more recent - mix up Vinter, Gregson, Wilby. Resist very strongly the temptation to close with a well-done pop arrangement...

    2) We don't have professional ensembles. The Proms is a festival of professional music making. While our best brass bands reach professional levels of performance (indeed, often contain for an occasion professional members, who are either hired help or genuine band enthusiasts), booking amateur groups is an awkward interface for such a festival that requires extra admin effort and the fee is awkward - the festival won't want to pay the going rate for that many pros, and pros won't want to see the booked players undercutting their money for other dates.

    3) We have to be a box-office draw. Do any of our bands have the name-recognition and audience pulling power amongst the Proms audience that the other acts they book have? Do we have bands whose name matches the Vienna Phil as a guest artist?

    Wrote more than I meant to there... My basic point is that brass bands as a concept don't match the Proms concept wonderfully well, and no amount of attitudinal goodwill on the part of the organisers (I've no idea how much they like us or not) will change that. I think there's conceptual space as outlined above for some regular banding input - one concert a year would seem a good fit. But in wanting brass bands at the Proms, we see the same thing as when people want more brass bands on Classic FM - it's something of a mismatch of musical concepts. As so often, my feeling is that we would be best served by sorting ourselves out independently. Perhaps promoting our own festival of banding music - perhaps alongside it - apply for public money, book it up, do it well, attract an audience, and when it's well-established speak nicely to the BBC about the possibility of them lending their 'Proms' branding to it...
    Last edited: May 9, 2018
    4th Cornet likes this.
  4. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Just wanted to mention something here - the Proms are much more like Radio 3 than Classic FM. The Proms programmes a very varied set of works within their chosen paradigm, every year including some aggressively modernist stuff, where Classic FM plays it very safe in the name of never threatening the audience's ears. The fact that a whole season of audiences large enough to tolerably fill the RAH turns out for it all year after year is IMO a great tribute to the open ears of the British orchestral concert-going public.

    I think Radio 3 is more popular than you imagine... I know what comes on when I start my car engine... It's great that it continues to do its best to resist the commercial voices urging it to sell out and emulate Classic FM. Classic FM is doing its own thing, and Radio 3 its own thing. There's room and a large and appreciative audience for both, and the BBC licence fee frees Radio 3 not to be shackled by crass commercial imperatives. The chasing of audience numbers that the BBC has become more and more focussed on is I think a serious mistake of vision on their part. One which leads to sad decisions like the axeing of Listen to the Band after many decades on the airwaves - catch the last ever instalment tonight at 11.30 pm on Radio 2...
    Matthew likes this.
  5. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    As is oft’ the case Moomin and I differ in view, though as is virtually always the case (sometimes I slip) I very much respect his views. With regard the Classic FM v Radio Three my point is that Classic focus on what the audience wants to hear whereas the dear old BBC does not. I dislike adverts on Classic, when I hear them the volume gets ‘adjusted’. Turning to BBC Three typically introduces me to some little known high brow composer who’s works don’t light my fire, perhaps it can be very educational but that’s not what this listener was looking for.

    I’m really sad that ‘Listen to The Band’ is going, it probably costs peanuts to produce whilst the BBC pays large amounts for other things that I don’t value - so IMHO much is lost whilst the few pounds saved will only to be wasted elsewhere. However, in the bigger scale of things, if Brass Bands played what large numbers of people wanted to hear then Frank’s program would almost certainly have continued ......... they and he have only themselves to blame.

    Post #3 seems to pretty much ‘hit the spot’. I think though that is very much worth pointing out that Brass Band Musicians are typically amateurs who, in reality, are generally second and third rate (or worse) compared to professionals. The contesting situation is also (IMHO) likely to misguide: just because you’re a Championship Band doesn’t automatically make you an expert bunch of musicians it is, instead, nearly an indication that you can play individual pieces very well (provided many hours of highly focussed practice and careful tuition take place).

    Entertainment contests, as opposed to test piece contests, are a better indication of what a band can usefully offer the paying public. However what Brass Banders find entertaining is not an accurate indicator of what the public like. As a group of people we could and should do better at seeking out what audiences actually enjoy and then give it to them.
    Last edited: May 8, 2018
  6. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    For the most part, yes... though at the same time:

    - Most amateur Brass Band Musicians are also "generally second and third rate (or worse)" compared to much more capable amateur Brass Band Musicians, too.
    - Not all professional musicians are all that great... Many are... and many simply make their living through their musicianship (and are therefore professional musicians) but you might be hard pushed to guess that they do if you simply sat next to them in a band rehearsal and didn't know it...

    Up to a point... and it depends on the particulars of the "Championship Band" in question - the variance in standard within the Championship section is (in most regions) far greater than that in any other section.

    I resent the suggestion that being a championship section band is only about the ability to pull together contest performances and says nothing about the musicianship of the members...
    As someone who's played regularly at every level, I can tell you that everything gets better as you go up the sections - the technical ability of individual players; the extent to which the players listen to what's going on around them and adapt (intonation, dynamic, phrasing, flow, etc etc etc); the extent to which people understand, follow and consistently implement instructions; and yes, individual musicality.
    Not only does it ALL get better as you go up the sections (and regardless of the occasional player who might be an exception to the rule, as a whole this is most certainly the case), but this is also the difference between your average amateur musical group and a corresponding professional group... whether that be your average local wind band or community orchestra relative to (say) your average military windband or major symphony orchestra.

    It may not always be entirely intuitive, but you'll often find championship section bands prepare LESS in the bandroom for contest performances than you might think...

    On top of this, I'd have to say that my experiences with "average" working pro players (defining a professional as someone who makes their living with their playing) is that most are solid players and decent musicians... and they're typically very easy to get along with and well organised... but not all of them are necessarily even championship section standard players, they're simply good enough at what they do to make a living doing it.
    What I'm trying to get at here is that professional players don't sit in some seperate realm above and beyond brass bands - some play in bands regularly out of enjoyment, some are drafted in for contests, some are too busy to be involved regularly but enjoy it when they have time... and some aren't interested in it at all.

    I couldn't agree more that we ought to do better at giving audiences what they want... obviously allowing for the fact that self-selection has given us a certain following that likes what we already do - and we can't entirely abandon this, it requires a mix of what a potential audience would like as well as what the existing audience likes.
    Having said that, I fail to see the link to entertainment contesting which seems to be every bit as centered around louder/faster/higher as testpiece contesting, if not moreso with an additional aspect of "entertainment" to up the ante on.

    I'd rather sit through a day of testpiece performances (at any level) than listen to bands of the same level go out of their way to be as OTT as a possible, such is the sad state of "Entertainment" contests these days where (it seems to me) gimmicky performances with lots of visuals tend to trump superior musical performances of better balanced programmes... perhaps this is me being a dyed in the wool bandsman, though, I'm not sure...
    Slider1 likes this.
  7. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    It seems to me that Tom has got the broad gist of what I was trying to say if not the fine detail - but any comment is open to interpretation.

    What’s a professional musician? Well we are talking about Albert Hall performances and so I had in mind someone who plays at or near symphony orchestra level rather than a busker - or anything in between - but they both earn their crust by playing so are they really both professional musicians? Are ‘book keepers’ and chartered accountants both professionals? I doubt that the chartered account would think so, they just have overlapping skill sets.

    Entertainment contests are only as good as the judging and I did allude to that. However the target, ie to entertain, is good. Far too many Bands simply don’t entertain large percentages of the general public and have allowed Brass Band music to become something that only a small percentage of people would seek out.

    If Brass Bands want to play in the Proms then they’re going to have to up their game somewhat and they need to both change both what they do (in terms of presentation and music) and alter the public’s perception of them.
    Last edited: May 8, 2018
  8. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    There are many of us in banding who get paid gigs elsewhere - I suspect Tom will be one also. I don't tend to seek them out these days - I enjoy it more if money isn't changing hands - but I regularly in my 20s sat in sections with freelance pros. Still do from time to time. I can certify that the average pro standard is attainable enough that I often prided myself on my standard comparing well to theirs. As Tom says, a vital part of the pro skillset is sending other players and fixers away with the impression that you're a thoroughly nice and reliable person who is a safe pair of musical hands; being a virtuoso isn't necessary for rank and file playing.

    There's a great variation within "pro" - my standard would sit on the lower tier of it. The higher tiers are full of immensely skilled players. My point in comparing the best amateur brass bands and the best pro orchestras was not so much to compare standards of playing as to compare cultures.
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  9. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    Sure, but I suppose you could argue that cherrypicking "professional" to mean the cream of the crop would be no different from saying that Brass Banding is only the Championship section and everything else/below doesn't count (which would be ridiculous).

    I wasn't even thinking of buskers, though if they're earning a living doing it then I suppose they're professionals, even if your average pit musician wouldn't like to be cast in the same breath (let alone your symphony principals, etc).

    True enough, the problem is that it's very difficult to think of a format for an entertainment contest that would really target entertaining a general public audience AND a banding audience without making a mockery of everything that contesting is to us... if you weight the marking towards how much the general public enjoys the programme (including any silly extras) then you reduce the importance of how well the music itself is actually played, to say nothing of difficulty, etc.... I think what I'm getting at here is that you'd have to be mighty careful to set it up in a way that didn't put bands off completely.
  10. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    Spot on, Dave.
  11. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    “True enough, the problem is that it's very difficult to think of a format for an entertainment contest that would really target entertaining a general public audience AND a banding audience without making a mockery of everything that contesting is to us... if you weight the marking towards how much the general public enjoys the programme (including any silly extras) then you reduce the importance of how well the music itself is actually played, to say nothing of difficulty, etc.... I think what I'm getting at here is that you'd have to be mighty careful to set it up in a way that didn't put bands off completely.”

    I think that the point here is that if we want to play to the general public then we have to put to one side what Brass Band players and followers like. In the bigger picture the difficulty of the music and how well it is played are but technical issues that the audience isn’t really interested in and to be honest they don’t need to be. They are there to just enjoy what we do and if they don’t then they walk on - tough but true. To be blunt if you want to be respected like a professional musician and fill places like the Albert Hall then you have to give the punters what they want and forget completely about what a clever player you are - your audience will tell you how clever they think you are and only their vote counts. However, to deliver the goods in the form required, you almost certainly certainly will need the skill set of the most able musicians. As for putting Bands off I’m very much of the mind that you can’t have it both ways, either we change what we do or we accept the rather negative consequences. Personally I’d rather modernise and play to a Hall packed with the general music loving public, but I suspect that many Banders just can’t bring themselves to change.
    Last edited: May 9, 2018
  12. 4th Cornet

    4th Cornet Active Member

    Whatever lobbying happens, I strongly commend that the angle / language of the OP doesn't find its way into any petition etc.
    Reading a communication that insists "very aloof/snobbish and prejudiced attitude" etc. is not going to be well-received and is likely to find its way to the bin pronto.
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  13. GER

    GER Active Member

    Whilst I cannot disagree with your comments on the need to change, I can't honestly believe you think this is the way forward. We are amateur musicians, if we put to one side what we like to play the movement would surely collapse from the amount of players leaving. You have posted previously that you don't like to contest, presumably because you don't like the concept and commitment, which obviously is your choice, but you cannot, in all honesty, give yourself that choice and then deprive other members of the movement the same freedom of choice.
    I agree brass bands still have a 'flat cap and ferrets' image, which desperately needs to change, but if I'm totally honest, wouldn't even know where to start as it's image has been both around for decades and ingrained in most peoples thoughts. I'm not being negative, just realistic, bands are starting to change in selection of venues played, but I would be massively suprised to see brass bands featuring in the proms in my lifetime
    Slider1 likes this.
  14. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    We can wear many caps, not just flat ones :) As the OP says, there have been brass bands at the Proms in the past, so it's precedented. We just have to understand where the overlap is between what we can offer and what they want.

    The Proms is a major music festival that happens to be in our country's capital that celebrates 'classical orchestral' music and things derived from and related to it that are worth bringing to the attention of people who like music to challenge their thinking and/or inspire them. Do we have repertoire that fits that bill? Yes, but not huge amounts of it. Should we play up our stereotypical image while doing it? I would suggest not. It's basically all about the music.
    2nd tenor likes this.
  15. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    For the purposes of filling places like the RAH we do need to change the offering, but of course that does not preclude a band playing other things elsewhere. Players do change their tastes too so a change in what we play isn’t necessarily going to result in an exodus and there might also be folk looking towards joining bands if what we offer changes.

    It’s true that I don’t like contesting, but to me this thread is not about contesting but about how we interact with the public.

    In my lifetime I have seen the Iron Curtain come down and the reunification of Germany - few would have expected that forty year’s ago - with that in mind Brass Bands playing in the Proms seems perfectly possible.
    Last edited: May 9, 2018
  16. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    There we go, someone has cottoned onto the idea and expressed it quite well. If there was a ‘really like’ button I’d have pressed it.

    You never know but someone else might work out what good arrangements of suitable music (for Proms type events) are available and then, with much thought and care, put on such a Concert - to be allowed to perform at places like the RAH you need to repeatedly demonstrate capability to and competence in delivering what is expected. They might also not use all the players all the time but, like an Orchestra, have some sitting out for long periods ready to add their skills and volume when required. Have some four, five and ten piece arrangements too and have some soloists with piano accompaniment - all classical or rather not traditional brass band pieces though. Oh, and look the part by wearing ‘evening wear’ (black dress or dinner jacket) and not Brass Band uniforms.

    Edit. The soloists I mention above should come from within the band, and the pianist might be a multi skilled band member too.
    Last edited: May 9, 2018
  17. 4th Cornet

    4th Cornet Active Member

    Or maybe we should embrace / exaggerate it? It could be our best way of re-establishing a strong identity from which to grow and develop.

    I think we would benefit from generally being more proud of who we are and what we do. I see a number of bands performing in public places (bandstands, seafront concerts etc), with no (or poor / half-hearted) comperes, seemingly preferring to be background music rather than proud communicators of our music. These are the best opportunities of promoting ourselves, and with few exceptions we don't make the most of them - often churning out stale, 'safe' programmes. The choice of music is in my opinion the least important factor. Whatever we play, do it with conviction and enjoyment and audiences will engage.
    Slider1, GER and MoominDave like this.
  18. GER

    GER Active Member

    TBH I think we have already gone down that road, ably assisted by films like Brassed off and Full Monty. personally I don't have a problem with that, but whether that is the way for the future I am not so sure.

    My point was more to the point if we ignore what the members like to play we could find ourselves in further decline, I was using your dislike of contesting as an example, basically saying if you were forced to do contesting, you may well reconsider your future in the movement. You are right it doesn't neccesarily mean there would be an exodus, it may also attract new members, but it may also go horribly wrong, if it did, the results may be irreversible.
  19. Slider1

    Slider1 Active Member

    Many years ago, the Band I was playing with gave a Concert in the Towns Theater and to sell more Tickets we Hired a Professional Singer/Cabaret act. She was at the time still a well known singer although past her prime, and she forwarded the music for six songs we would do together. we rehearsed the songs, 3 in the first half and 3 in the second, and had a quick run through before the concert. She came on after two numbers in the second half, sang her final 3 songs and then brought out of nowhere her accompanist and that was it, we couldn't get them off. Most of the Band escaped off stage to the Bar to mingle with a large part of the Audience, so beware of the unknown:eek:
  20. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    I would not wish anyone to be unhappy with what they play in their band, play and enjoy contest pieces if that’s what lights your fire. Indeed I did say something similar in #15 above: “but of course that does not preclude a band playing other things elsewhere”. To me it’s about playing music that connects with and is appropriate to your audience, the audience in the RAH isn’t everyone’s audience but the thread is about playing there in The Proms.

    Slider’s tale of woe isn’t one that was on my radar as I had meant soloists from within the band. Goes to show the need to trail everything and only work with those you can rely on (to do as agreed).
    Last edited: May 9, 2018