Bringing brass bands to the masses

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Simon_Horn, Jul 12, 2007.

  1. Simon_Horn

    Simon_Horn Member

    A thought struck me as I was watching Louis Theroux on TV last night doing a programme about model airplane enthusiasts: why do we never see or hear much about the largely unappreciated world of the brass band movement? (well apart from the odd often tongue-in-cheek 10min spots on BBC radio)

    When I speak to people I meet about how much time and effort banders put into playing and conducting brass bands they sometimes find it difficult to believe people would go to such effort for what is effectively a hobby. Surely, this must be an example of a team event that is unparalleled in terms of time and life long dedication that is often given by its enthusiasts?

    So how do we go about getting some wider recognition and appreciation for what we do and love? Has, for instance, the body that is responsible for promoting brass bands in UK (or other countries) ever approached a TV production company with a proposal on doing some type of documentary? Have individual bands tried this before?

    I’m sure that the coverage of brass bands across areas of the UK (for instance) would mean that such a documentary would be as of much interest to, say, the average Joe that would be sitting in on a Wednesday night watching a similar documentary on model airplane flying.

    It would seem that with all the contests, events and concerts that happen throughout the year any production company would have an extensive choice of material to edit into an hour documentary.

    For instance, if a 6 week period was spent filming, say, a really top band, a mid-range and a 4th or junior section band then I’m sure this would allow enough time to show the various personalities that brass bands have as well as preparation for contests and concerts. Of course, we would like to hear from our own brass band personalities as well as the grass roots bander who spends his/her life teaching kids and organising local bands etc.

    Is it the members of the brass band movement themselves that are responsible for creating such a ‘closed’ hobby? Should we be doing more to promote what is effectively a big part of our lives? And is the movement at risk of falling into obscurity if we don’t start promoting it more effectively in our mass media culture? If so, how do we go about it?
  2. on_castors

    on_castors Member

    Some time back, there was a short series on either Channel 4 or 5 which highlighted the goings on at Silksworth Colliery Band in Sunderland, done in the usual fly-on-the-wall style. (It is a band which is no longer in existence, but at the time would have been 3rd or 4th Section I think).
    It covered issues like rehearsals, contesting, the family life of members that sort of thing.

    Can't remember it's title, and am not sure if it left a positive or negative imprint on viewers, as I knew the main subjects of the programme TOO well, so my outlook would not be the same as the average viewer!

    Perhaps someone with a better memory remembers more detail, and whether or not it did Banding a service or not.
  3. tpcornet12

    tpcornet12 Member

    I am actually VERY good friends with a freelance producer that mainly works for Channel 4 (I was out in London with him on Monday night). He produced "Wife Swap", "Boss Swap", "Make me a Million", "Trust me I'm a Healer" etc.... I've been thinking about suggesting something... perhaps you could give me an angle and I'll work on it??
    He's very well respected in the industry and if he's convinced then it would happen. So give me some ideas...

    Personally, although I'm a North West Area kind of guy, I would probably push him towards the B&R neck of the woods as I feel there are a few more stories to tell.
  4. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    And which body might that be? I know of no UK body with such a responsibility or mandate. There is of course the British Federation of Brass Bands, but it does not represent bands at large, only its members, who comprise only a relatively small proportion of all bands in the UK, the vast majority of them English, the Scots and Welsh bands having chosen their own nationalistic path. Indeed, the BFBB really ought to rename itself the EFBB - it does after all promote the English Championships - but that's another argument.

    Movement or hobby? Make up your mind! But in answer to your question, yes, it is the members themselves who have been historically responsible for the cultural isolation of brass bands, largely due to a chronic lack of leadership, coupled with the insane idea that amongst musicians, competitive sport (in the form of contests) is more important than artistic integrity.

    I'll help you with the conundrum above - it isn't a movement. It's a hobby, as you implied. That's why we are in the position we're in, and why you are reduced to writing despairing posts like this one!

    Hope this helps in your quest for knowledge.
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2007
  5. Simon_Horn

    Simon_Horn Member

    Well, this sounds like a challenge to TMP readers if I ever heard one.... come on guys - lets suggest some ideas and then we can create a brief from the best of them and see what this guy thinks about making it a reality. Here are some starters that I think would accurately show what it's all about for me...

    Links with community (brassed off style)
    Implications on family life/relationships
    Preparation for a major contest
    A week in the life of a major band (dyke etc) during a busy contest/concert run
    Conflicts and politics that happen as a natural part of team work

    Any more....?
  6. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    How about ... how banding can take over peoples' lives? Things like losing income (e.g, overtime, shifts, baby-sitting), giving up holidays for contesting, rehearsing sometimes that seems forever on a single test-piece ... it can go on!
  7. Simon_Horn

    Simon_Horn Member

    ?? bad day at the office James!? .....

    Firstly, I do not fully understand the mandate of BFBB - hence my post so that learned people like you could clarify for me! But let me ask you this before you get your knickers in another twist ….did it not dawn on you that perhaps I was asking this question first for the very reason that perhaps I thought one should exist, or if it does exist, should be better publicised so that at least members within the movement knew of its existence and remit?

    Please do tell me the conundrum between describing ‘brass band movement’ alongside the term ‘hobby’? I don’t understand why you feel necessary to make the distinction that someone cannot have a hobby as a brass musician as part of a wider brass band movement…sorry, what am I missing here?!

    Your comment about competitive sport being ‘insane’ is one I could take issue on but that is perhaps another thread. Why don’t you start one and we can debate this :)

    ...oh, and why when I’m taking the effort to take the initiative you suggest is so lacking are you calling my efforts ‘despairing posts’? Please explain your negative attitude. Thanks very much for the 'knowledge' you have so far imparted onto us all.
  8. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    You overestimate my intellect (thank you, the tenner is in the post!). The purpose of the BFBB is summed up in its mission statement, which can be found one mouse click away from this website. It is:

    "The BFBB aims to maintain, improve, represent and promote the practice and performance of brass band music in the UK. The BFBB is constantly working on behalf of member bands to meet these objectives."

    And therein lies its mandate. Note the reference to 'member bands' - not bands at large, and certainly not any brass band 'movement'.

    There is much more information about the body at its website,

    Yes, it did occur to me. However, the existence of the Federation is generally well known, at least to the population of this forum where the subject of the BFBB arises quite frequently. The problem is that the majority of bandsmen show absolutely no commitment to it. By which I mean, they are not members of it. If they were, they would all be part of a strong organisation which would have a mandate to act on bandsmens' behalf, and would also have the necessary funds to get things done - like promote bands on the telly, for example. But rather than doing something positive like become a member, most bandsmen prefer merely to bemoan their lack of influence over such things. Ironic really, when the solution to the problem is so obvious.

    Hobbies are personal recreational pleasures. Sometimes large numbers of people happen to have the same personal pleasures and join together to do them. Playing in a brass band is one such pleasure. Playing netball is another. Assembling at an airport with a group of other aviation anoraks to note down aircraft registration marks is another. Have you ever heard of a netball movement, or a plane-spotters movement? No, neither have I.

    Movements are more than just a collection of people engaged in the same activity. They have an extra dimension - they have a defined focus and seek to achieve something for the greater good of society. Sadly, the activity we call brass banding has no such focus. It ought to be the promotion of music, or the musical education of young people, or both, but it isn't. Contests rule the minds of most bandsmen, and I do not believe sporting endeavour represents a movement (cf netball above). The one exception is the Olympic Games, but that festival of sport was, right from the start, never intended to be merely a sporting contest ("the goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play").

    Substitute the word 'music' for 'sport' in the above quote from the Olympic Games' mission statement, and it wouldn't be a bad one for brass bands!

    Have I done any better?
  9. BigHorn

    BigHorn Active Member

    Its been done more than once. A few years back there was a program called 'The Real Brassed Off'. A 6 week series of half hour programs following Midlands Championship band Desford Colliery. Broadcast on Sunday afternoons if I remember rightly.

    Also the year before last there was a film unit following Hade Edge band around the Whits which I think was part of some larger project.
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2007
  10. Sop_Or_Bass?

    Sop_Or_Bass? Member

    Quite easy to find the netball one on the internet : or

    Couldn't find one on plane spotting though, but thanks for the challenge!

    Personally, I enjoy my hobby of playing brass with my family and friends. I enjoy working towards a common musical goal, especially when it is as a full and committed team.

    On the subject of bands to the masses. There seems to be a distinct lack of players for the number of bands (esp around where I live). There are quite a number of players who are happy to help out as necessary but do not want to commit, for various reasons. This is mostly down to work/family pressures in my view, as well as the fact that with so many bands with vacancies a player can effectively come and go as they please with a number of bands. In the meantime, those trying to rebuild or keep a band going then have the constant frustration of having to contact individuals about every job and contest that the band has!

    I suggest that if perhaps the purpose is to attract the masses into playing or listening to bands, other than to put them off, then maybe a more positive note would be needed. Maybe of bands on the up or at the top!
  11. tpcornet12

    tpcornet12 Member

    Although similar subjects may have been covered before there can always be a new take on things. I will be forwarding my mate the link to this thread for him to have a think about. If he spots an idea that he thinks will get interest then he can work on it. He normally does obscure subjects though so we'll have to see.
  12. Goldie Horn

    Goldie Horn Member

    Can I suggest someone as a case study for this?!?! :rolleyes:
  13. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    Although many people live and breathe brass bands, we have to understand that, in the general scheme of things, it is just as important in the eyes of Joe Public as Bog Snorkelling., Worm Charming, Tiddlywinks, etc.

    Don't get me wrong, I love banding, but many of us have an elevated opinion of how important our hobby is. Let's get things into perspective. There will be more people at the Star Wars convention than at a Brass Band contest. A Pea-Shotting Championship has just as much following.

    So many people seem to feel hard-done-by because Brass Bands are not on the telly every other day. Let's face it, nobody's interested.
  14. tubafran

    tubafran Active Member

    in addition to the previously referrenced TV programmes (which sadly only appeared on regional TV coverage) there was also one on a Grimethorpe trip to Italy (Arrivedeci Grimethorpe - Film of the tour of Northern Italy made by the Grimethorpe Colliery Brass Band from Yorkshire during summer 1979. Shows the band parading through the streets to the Montepulciano Music Festival and their concert in the Italian mining village of Abbadua San Salvatore, Umbria)

    Now a fly on the wall programme about a band tour - that would be something to see - would probably be after the water-shed though.
  15. Goldie Horn

    Goldie Horn Member

    But also if you look at what is on TV generally, there are very few programmes relating to music, orchestras, choirs etc. It's all reality TV and gardening and home decorating (yawn yawn).

    Actually by doing park jobs and fetes you are probably bringing brass bands to the masses. Although I know it's not very high profile it still means the band is heard and enjoyed (in most cases!) :wink:
  16. tinytimp

    tinytimp Member

    Being topical for a moment, the first weekend of August sees the band contest at the National Eisteddfod of Wales. S4C Digital (available to the vast majority of people through digital/Sky) broadcasts live from the competition every day so people can follow actual goings-on on stage, as well as the token interviews with players/conductors afterwards. If that doesn't give a detailed insight into the movement/hobby/c) none of the above I don't know what could.

    As people have said, yes it's a minority pastime so the potential for TV ratings is small. An orchestra I used to play for were the subject of a documentary last year, and aside from people in the area or real enthusiasts I don't really think it would have appealed. It did go out on BBC4 first though which was quite an achievement...

    I feel, if such an angle was taken by a production company, a docu-soap type format would be best, as in 'Paddington Green' years ago or 'The Tower' that's on BBC1 now. You would need a series where people can identify with certain 'characters' to maintain audience interest, rahter than being simply a factual documentary.
  17. midwalesman

    midwalesman Member

    The pros and cons of the argument are now beyond any possible change to a broader audience. Decisions made by bands in the 1930s and 40s, specifically on Americanization, have now shaped the way the "movement" has developed. Moving from socially significant events, generally held outdoors, to rituals that are perpetuated behind closed doors, similar to that which appears with orchestral concerts.

    This perpetuation has extracted bands from their social origins and contexts, that is when the bands and movement lost broad audiences. It is far too late to go back and change things, even if we had a H. G. Wells time machine or the Doctor's Tardis.

    Significantly, the whole situation that now exists (in the discussion on dwindling audiences at contests etc) has been the creation of the top or elite brass bands. The search for improvement through technical ability has in many respects blinded the elite into isolating themselves from the masses, creating a specialised audience.

    There is no antidote, local or lower section bands are the ones that are in effect carrying the movement to a broader audience by playing in parks and town festivals. The elite bands will reach a wider audience in different social and class circles, or borrowing a Bourdieu term, "field". This however is limited, ticket sales for the prom concert I believe are being a bit slow, maybe a representation of what I have proposed. Trying to imitate the orchestral model has its merits, especially musically, however the orchestra or opera are events that are specialist tastes.

    Two weeks ago the band played to an audience of 300 people in a contest, the next day to a packed sports hall with 500 people and yesterday in an outdoor concert on the south bank that had people wandering around and talking and almost certainly had more than 300 people. Facts are facts. Make yourself a specialist hobby and you get a very specialist audience...sadly, that is where we are today.
  18. BoBo

    BoBo Member

    One reason I play in a band is that it is a unique experience to make music, one up from listening to music which is in itself a sensational experience.

    There is much discussion in this forum about characters, events etc. all good material for docu-soaps etc. and of course all part of the fun of banding, but hang on a minute, doesn't music come into this somewhere...............and just how could you capture in 2D vision and mediocre sound reproduction that sensational and unique team experience of making it?

    Quite a challenge for C4 or whomever.

  19. midwalesman

    midwalesman Member

    Whilst I'm here I might as well finish my thoughts in one foul swoop:-

    It is worth considering that many people see classical music as a major export for this country (the UK), reaching a world wide audience on their tours. Yet, local people in Tokyo or wherever still have to pay for their passport (tickets) to get into the classical concert over there. However, there are thousands of "brass bands" around the world that are still integral to social activities in their local towns and villages, most of whom do not charge for their services since they see it as part of their civil responsibilities. These world bands learnt to play hymns like we have, a Tongan band playing Ida and Dot (arranged by Harry Mortimer) and the 1812, how bizarre you may think, but realistically they are part of their local community life. How many "top" bands in this country think about the local, for example a tour of the local area concert venues, very few, just like travel, music has become globalised, initially from local to National, but now from local to international.

    Many other considerations exist to hinder this broadening, too many to discuss on one single letter on here. All of these are inter-related and are equally as damaging. Diversification of performance styles, instrumentation, repertoire and other performance practice issues may help but ultimately the brass band does not have the necessary equipment to communicate to mainstream popular music audiences. Nevertheless, the standardisation of contesting and concert programmes has been a source of strength ("you know what you get") but now in the age of choice and variety (for example BBC 3 and 4, performance and arts channels) bands are very one dimensional (i.e. a contest of 16 bands playing the same piece, or standard instrumentation or even the tried and tested programmes are in comparison to a night at the Brecon Jazz, folk or other world music festivals like WOMAD extremely narrow and the preserve of times gone by).

    There is no band "movement", just bands peddling a wheel in a big cage that is governed by several bookies and organisers, feeding "us" whenever we put our paws on the external bars. Bands will never co-operate with each other, especially at the top, distrust, too much history (justified in many respects), means that if a band stood up to the challenge they inevitably have little support. Acid Brass, an intersting concept, is only the playground for Faireys and does not have a broader appeal to other bands. Adding different instruments to concerts is still something lacking, though whistling seems popular. One band cannot make a movement change its ways, irrelevetn of stature, movements change from a shift in a significant amount of bands and their conductors.

    Enough from me anyway.
  20. Simon_Horn

    Simon_Horn Member

    Do you really think this is true though? Can it be said that many towns in the UK have a regular Star Wars or Pea-Shooting Championships?? If you look at how many registered bands there are in just England then you get the idea of how widespread it actually is. The number of brass band contests that happen throughout the year must be more than the number of star-trek conventions etc you would have thought?

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