Contests: are they our "raison d'etre"...?

Discussion in 'The Adjudicators' Comments' started by TheMusicMan, May 26, 2006.

  1. TheMusicMan

    TheMusicMan tMP Founder Staff Member

    I have been reading with great interest several classic threads on tMP over the past few weeks that in one way or another have, at some point, discussed something clsoe to many of our hearts - contests and competing... but with vastly differing opinions on the subject I must add. Some say that contests are what we need as a movement in order to continually improve our musical abilities, others however suggest that this could be our downfall and is perhaps why as a movement we are not taken as seriously as some of us feel we should be.

    So, in an attempt to prompt an interesting discussion specifically on this subject, I ask the question... "Contests: are they our 'raison d'etre'...?" What's your opinion, and why...?
  2. Steve

    Steve Active Member

    raison d'etre - reason for being :)

    I knew French would be useful one day
  3. ekimmort

    ekimmort Member

    In my humble opinion No. I get a far greater buzz from entertaining at a concert playing music that we have selected than the slog of the contest.
    Last edited: May 26, 2006

    TIMBONE Active Member

    It is uncanny that this question should arise today. In an article published in British Bandsman this week, entitled, "The Brass Band and musical culture", it states, "Due to the brass band movement having it's own methods and rules, many of which have not moved with the times, it has remained isolated".
    It is a difficult one. Does the contest arena give an impetus? Without it, would the brass band concept lose it's spark? Surely, the general public like to see competition, Pop Idol, Fame Academy, X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, etc etc. How do we get Joe Public and the media to take more interest in us. Is it that we retain the competition element, but take a long, hard look at how to make it more appealing in today'a society?
  5. Charmed

    Charmed Active Member

    I for one love contesting. If, for whatever reason, the band I play with decided to become a non-contesting band, then I would leave and go find a band that did contest. However, I do know that a few, including my husband, are not great fans of contests. They do it because it is part of the banding culture.

    Re getting Joe Public to these contests - 'X-Factor', 'Pop Idol', 'Strictly Come Dancing'. what do these have that Brass Bands don't? Backing from the media. T.V as we all know, can influence the vast majority of people. If weeks or even months before a major contest it was advertised on the T.V, in newspapers, in an exciting, mysterious, way, then the public awareness and possible interest would increase. Brass Bands get very little, if any at all, coverage of our movement, and if we want to increase the awareness of this great movement, then we need to attract the interest of the media. How? I've no idea! To the public, I would imagaine that brass bands are seen as little village bands that play in the park on a summer's weekend, and march down the road on Remembrance Day. Even myself, being part of this movement, I could not tell you when the major contests are, whose entering, where they are taking place. However, being involved in brass bands, I know where to find this information if I needed to. The point? If the majority of the public are not aware of the movement and the major contests, they wouldn't know to look for information.

    I don't know whether the reason our movement is not widely known is because it has been kept isolated from the public, or just that there is, for whatever reason, no interest from anyone outside of it.

    Pause for thought I think..................
  6. The posts in the many threads that John is referring to in his introduction to this discussion in many ways highlight the problem we have as a movement.

    The difference between the various media interest (TV shows) competitions referred to above and brass band contesting (as highlighted in the aforementioned threads) is that the people taking part in those shows are seeking to both entertain an audience and achieve the standards required to meet the approval of the judges. Both elements having an influence on the results.

    If you read through the many recent threads relating to topics linked to contesting there are unfortunately many individuals who believe that the technical aspects of the performance greatly outweigh any musical considerations. We as individuals spend far to much time attacking our movement, rather than stepping forward and actively seeking to promote it in whatever way we can. The word "cheating" is frequently mis-used and often abused in forums such as these, and it cannot be healthy for individuals, albeit inevitable in the circumstances, to simply sit listening to bands looking for the errors rather than the sparkle in the performance.

    In simple terms as a movement we need contesting, but like many things we need to keep moving forward and expanding our ideas. We also need to keep a balance in what we do. We need to also focus on the many non-contesting activities that we as a movement undertake and promote these as avidly as we promote ourselves as well as the general public!

    Looking forward ot reading the further discussion in this thread.
  7. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Contest wins have traditionally boosted a band's chances of getting attention from the media, more gigs (as it is qualitative) and also potential sponsors to fund more campaigns and give publicity to both parties. I would disagree that we have created a monster in the sense that we are to blaim for becoming insular by using contests (test-piece or concert programme) and concentrating on that element. Bands are only as good as it's standard of membership and organisational skills and would create competition for these places regardless if there were contests or not.

    The Victorian culture and it's demise of social activities created in that era has been mentioned before and there is an element of truth in that ... there is less need for the State authorities to rely on group activities to monitor movement of individuals and changes in social activities have become more focused on individual needs. Look at the hiring of bands for public gatherings such as galas or festivals ... has this been maintained? Is it better to hire a mobile disco to entertain crowds? Speaking of gala days, these are in decline with public funds being withdrawn and left to local enthusiasts to drum support.

    There are less contests now and there is a recent trend switching to entertainment style formats rather than march, hymn-tune and test-piece. Ask yourself this, has this change really brought more of the general public to such events? No control over selection of pieces is used and bands tend to play what is perceived as popular in the adjudicator's 'eye', producing repeat performances of certain works.

    My overall opinion about this situation is that, regardless of what we do, brass banding has been left to wither gracefully like many other organised group activities rooted in Victorian culture (... remember, there was a mass movement of people to factories in towns and cities as agricultural practice became more mechanised and less labour intensive. That had to be policed somehow and organised team activities is a good way of knowing who was where at a certain time). Musical taste has changed during the 20th Century and rapid development in communications and information technology has effectively re-focused media attention and sales to the individual who doesn't need to attend concerts to seek entertainment.
    Not Guilty of the charge, m'lord!
  8. Jamie

    Jamie Member

    Since I don't play, I can't give a player's perspective, but I love contests. Not playing means that one concert, however well the band plays or how good the programme is, is much the same as another. That's not to say that I don't find some concerts particularly good, or I don't leave afterwards thinking, 'wow, that was amazing' and so on, but I get so much more from contests.

    For a start there's the competetive element, and the pressure to perform which you don't get in the same way an a concert, and its something I feel too, despite being consigned to a seat in the audience once it actually comes down to it. There's also the travel, and call me sad, but I love a road trip! Then there's the bar afterwards, not just because I'm an alcoholic student, but because of the social element, and not only with your own band but in meeting others. For me, and probably many others, its where you put faces to tMP names... and practically the only time I see Ginge is when we both travel from our respective parts of the country to see contests! You might have a very active post-concert social life, but does it compare to what you get at a contest?

    Plus, when you're playing a series of concerts for the season, at Christmas or during the summer, for example, do you not get sick of the same selection of pieces?

    Just my thoughts... like I say, I don't have a player's perspective, and I wouldn't say I was Joe Public exactly... somewhere in the middle ground...!!
  9. Charmed

    Charmed Active Member

    Like I mentioned earlier, I do love contesting.

    I don't know what band(s) you're associated with Jamie, but I would think a lot of bands actually get 'sick' of playing test pieces. Rehearsal after rehearsal, extra rehearsal after extra rehearsal etc etc...... And how many players after walking off the contest stage say, and I'll quote this,

    "thank god we don't have to see this piece of music again! When are we burning it?"

    At least for concerts you get to play more than one piece of music during rehearsals and the performance!
  10. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member

    Sadly, I feel that for many bands contests are the reason the continue - winning is what matters and it doesn't really matter how the win is achieved.
    I know the arguments in favour of contests and have yet to see any that couldn't be applied to putting on a great concert.
    The idea that a contest encourages bands to push themselves is, to me, fairly ludicrous. All it means is that the band spends many weeks forgetting about everything except learning how to play one piece. If this is your idea of improving performance skills, I shall respectfully disagree.
    If an MD wants to improve the bands ability, they can put more challenging music into a concert programme - why bother with the stress and expense of a contest? Yes, expense - not just the fee for entering the contest, but the travel, hire of a rehearsal venue, paying extra players (how many bands have managed to enter a contest without using ANY extra players?) as well as the time aspect - how many extra rehearsals did your band have?
    If a band wants to learn some new music, there is nothing stopping them learn new pieces - they might choose to try what are considered test pieces, they might go for something longer. The thinking of contest pieces seems to be to test each section of the band, regardless of musical value. If you are given free choice over the pieces you might choose to show off a band you may find that there are great pieces of music that show off the areas of your band that deserve to be shown off.
    You may gather from that little moment that I don't think much of test pieces - well, on the whole, I don't. When choosing my top ten (looking forward to the results of that one) I had a few problems because some are very good at being examinations for band, but have left me completely dry on the musicality front. The prospect of spending weeks learning a piece that has been written purely to prove that a top section band can double tongue, play scales and generally show off, leaves me cold.

    Contests are a nice chance to catch up with friends from other bands, but even that seems to be frowned upon in some circles (fraternising with the enemy).

    For me (personal opinion) a good concert performance is a vastly more satisfying experience than a contest win. With a contest win you have proved that you can play the way one man wants (possibly more, if the contest is radical enough to have more than one adjudicator). With a great concert, you can satisy hundreds if not thousands of people.
    Both may take one whole day to participate in, but the contest will be over in 15 minutes, the concert can keep the buzz of performing going for a couple of hours.

    No contest for me.
    Contesting is one of the main reasons why I choose not to participate in the banding world more often - I have had a number of invitations to join bands, but for as long as the contesting remains the raison d'etre for many bands, I will stay outside that world, unless anyone decides that I am worth paying.
  11. andywooler

    andywooler Supporting Member

    For me, contesting is purely a good way of focussing the band on improvement using a little bit of friendly local rivalry as one of the motivations for doing it.
    The outcome is improved playing for everything else we do - I spend much less time on concert preparation now than I had to 5 years ago with what is basically the same bunch of players. That, and the fact we don't have to get up early on contest days now, is the real benefit of getting promoted last year. I spoke with the MD of one of our rivals last night on this same subject and he echoed these views.
    This is also why I restrict our activity to our local association, Scaba - all contests are own choice which allows me to choose pieces which will stretch the band in areas where they need development and also ones which I believe they will benefit from spending concentrated time on.

    As to public perception, I truly believe that Brassed off was probably one of the worst things that could have happened in terms of PR for our movement - along with the Floral Dance getting in the top ten. Neither of these convey the true musical potential of brass bands to people who have had no previous exposure to them.

    As for the band I play in, rather than the one I conduct, they had a history of being predominantly a contesting band - down now to just 7 players at last week's rehearsal which I believe is rooted in a history of undelivered expectation resulting in player moves and thus a decline from which they are unable at this to to come out of.
    On the spin side, the band I conduct was formed out of 2 bands 20 years ago - both were decimated by the formation of a local "super band" who wanted contest success. They got it but at what price? The band folded eventually once success became rarer. In the meantime, 2 bands were left to pick up the pieces.
    The resulting band, Mid Sussex Brass, has recovered from those days as you can see from Scaba contest results and celebrates 20 years of existence with a concert next week in Burgess Hill. The band are not looking to win the 2nd section and get promoted again - that will get us back to early starts for the Folkestone contest!!

    That's my perspective, look forward to seeing others on this thread as it develops
  12. midwalesman

    midwalesman Member

    Since I often get chastised by people for my lenghthy essays on here, especially from conformists, I will do this reply in point form (some of which are based on Dave Russells ideas):-

    a) Contests were part of three performance types (for listeners). Contests being "chosen" events that meant people made an effort to go to one, concentrate on the pieces played, with a load of financial expense! This type of event (which shares certain characteristics with the concert event) means that bands play in an isolated, or how Cottrell describes symphony concerts "separate worlds", with their own processes that are idiosyncratic to the event i.e registration cards as passports for performers and tickets passports for audiences. In the olden times bands played in parks that didnt require these passport or isolated events and processes, it was truly open to the public.

    B) One of the functions of brass bands was to educate and entertain more than those immediately involved, or people in the same class. Really it did transcend social class systems. But if it has become an isolated event like a contest it does not really do that and so does not connect to a broader social community.

    c) Contests do improve technical ability, there is no doubt about that, but by participating in contests all you are doing is playing for yourselves. You are accumulating prestige, capital and status over other players, than making your whole community proud because they are not there to see it!

    d) Contests inevitably have standardised instrumentation, sadly another Victoriana concept. The lack of flexibility that exists in banding is down to contests. Gregson etc said it for years since the 70's. J Ord Hume and William Rimmer complained about this lack of flexibility around the beginning of the 20th century! They commented "the longer status quo is kept the more resistence there is to change of any kind!" 70 years later percussion were added to contests!

    e) Contests in the past meant more because companies played against local companies, villages played against their neighbours. Many top bands these days have a higher degree of "musical commuters" than at any other time because they want the best band they can, therefore taking the place of local players (if there are any!) This takes away the rivalry in the extent of it being communal (in a broader social context). Instead rivalry is now more about the "name of the band" community i.e Black Dyke versus Brighouse, the bands themselves being communities in themselves. + many top bands have a high degree of students/former students who may play for different bands but know each other well i.e go out every friday and have a drink or 10 (replacing what used to happen with players from the same band socialising regularly) (this of course is not the case in every band!)

    f) "Art" or contest pieces were seen as bringing pleasure to the performers in their performance but today its as much to do with a) who wins b) Who had a 'mare and c) like a post said earlier, thank God we won't play that again.

    g) Contest pieces were a regular feature of band concert programmes, thus disseminating music to a broader audience which were both being educated and entertained, a process that is seen today as being obsolete in many bands.

    One comment that made me think when reading Russell and hopefully may make you think too and its this

    Bandsmen were (and as I think still are) in control of what they want to achieve and in this regard WE are the reason behind our own downfall and the ethic of contesting being the raison d'etre of a whole movement.

    Contesting has improved standards but have inexorably distanced banding not simply from the musical mainstream (because choirs are closer to musical mainstream and they compete) but from a broader social base that has evolved where we have, in both taste and evolutionary ideas, stayed still!
    Last edited: May 28, 2006

    TIMBONE Active Member

    As I often do, I will stand on safe ground, and attempt to add to what I am finding to be an excellent discussion, with some extremely thought provoking replies.

    There is a strong historical and social link betwwen the brass band movement and the Trade Unions - may I emphasise, a historical link. Having said that, I see a strong compasrison between the difficulties in the brass band movement as a whole, (which is vibrant within itself, yet, in many ways, an isolated sterotype to the rest of the community), and the Trade Union movement, which, because it could not shake off old traditions, and adopt new practices, eventually became almost a caricature of it's former self.

    I have seen many strong and worthy opinions on this forum about contests, repertoire, rules, traditions etc. Is the brass band movement suffering essentially from the same thing which eventually made the TUC lose it's impetus, the closed shop. Is there a lack of democracy, and the ability for the younger, forward thinking members of the movement, to be listened to by a group of leaders who, for whatever reason, let the movement carry on in the same way it always has.
  14. HBB

    HBB Active Member

    I love contesting. It brings bands together, brings people with the band together as a band, improves the playing (unfortunately generally only temporarily), gives morale boosts with wins/placing, give opportunities for repertoire to get aired and played.

    The only bad thing with contesting is the 'downer' after coming close to last in every contest you've been too, however, I believe that then you should try to work harder?
  15. Speaking as someone who at 37 may not actually meet the "younger" measure; but in the context of those actually putting the effort in to running the various brass band entities that make up our movement (the BFBB, the Regions, the Associations, and many Bands) I probably do!

    The real problem is one of people getting involved. Many people find it easy to sit behind computer screens writing their grumbles about what is happening. Having taken the time to attend both my local Association meetings and the recent AGM of the BFBB, it is worrying at the lack of interest that bandspeople take in the movement. Sadly, there are few well known/high profile bandspeople showing any interest in taking the movement forward as a collective...those who may be able to capture media attention.

    But it is not as intimated by Timbone a lack of democracy (most of the aforementioned entities are democratically elected albeit from the small number of individuals who actually can be bothered to turn up), it is apathy. The same "experienced" individuals are running things year on year since few people are challenging them to pick up the baton....where will we be as a movement when not just our elderly audiences have expired, but also our administrators!
  16. Will the Sec

    Will the Sec Active Member

    OK, a pint and a packet of crisps per rehearsal, and as many pints you can get down your neck between playing and the result at our two contests a year.

    See you at Fulham next week! :biggrin:
  17. persins

    persins Member

    I'm not sure they are our raison d'etre but they are certainly the main focus for a great number of bands.
    Surely the reason for existing is still fuundamentally to make music and to entertain but the added focus that the contests bring to the band mean that they tend to take precedence in a number of occassions.
  18. TheMusicMan

    TheMusicMan tMP Founder Staff Member

    Yes, I would tend to agree with you there Simon, but as can be seen by the associated poll there are a high number of players who would nto remain with their existing band should they decide not to compete.

    It does seem to be the mainstay of many brass players. It is only a matter of opinion of course, but what I tend to read on tMP is only criticism of contests and peoples reasons for so doing. I don't see lists or arguments presenting the positives of contesting, of which I feel there are very many.

    It is a reasoned, balanced debate and I personally feel contesting certainly adds more positives than negatives.

    Let the debate continue...
  19. Charmed

    Charmed Active Member

    Veering from the main question but in response to the above ......

    I was asked to attend a local Association meeting as a representative of my band about 12 years ago! I went along not knowing what to expect at this meeting. When I arrived I was sat at the back of the room with about three other people, whilst the 'regulars' sat around a table, some with their backs to us. During this meeting, there was no 'inclusion' of those not 'sat at the table'.

    I came away from the meeting wondering why I had wasted my time attending. As a 'new' representatve I felt very excluded from this meeting. Now I know that I had every right to join in with what was being discussed, however, there didn't seem to be this opportunity given.

    Perhaps if the regulars of these associations were more welcoming to new representatives, then more people would feel inclined to attend!

    Or perhaps they were having an 'off' day :confused:
  20. JDH

    JDH Member

    Contests turn music making into a sport

    I feel the trouble with contests is that they have turned music making into a sport. It not being the music which really matters, but the results. However music is not a sport with a clear winner, but the decision is one man's subjective opinion.

    Yes, I think contesting has become many bands 'raison d'etre' as the players like the thrill of competing. It is down to personal character if you are competitive or not, and if therefore contests appeal or not, but I just wish bands put as much effort and careful consideration into concert performances.

    Orchestras can reach high standards in concert without contests - why? Because they put the music first. That is what really matters and not the egos of the players through winning a contest.

    I think while the brass band movement places such emphasis on contests and results, they will not be fully recognised as serious music makers.

    I personally enjoy playing with bands, but hate everthing about contests.