How do you make a brass band modern?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by madandcrazytromboneguy, Apr 3, 2007.

  1. Something which came to mind recently was that brass banding still seems to have a bit of a stereotypical view from people who don't know anything about brass banding, basically that its really old music played by really old people.

    Us band people know that this is not the case at all, the music we play is now usually of a very mixed style and the age range of players is gettin wider every year

    The question is, how do we get this across to people who don't know about it, how do we give bands a more modern image?

    Should we have an alternative to the traditional blazers?

    Should there be more use of the multicoloured stands/instruments?

    Should music from what you would class as "modern era" be used?

    I don't know the answers, hence why I'm making this thread, tell me what you think, and tell me what ideas you think might work!
  2. TheMusicMan

    TheMusicMan tMP Founder Staff Member

    Have a read of this article here Clive. It deals with many of the issues you mention in your post, and raises many more. Same intent though...

  3. David Mann

    David Mann Member

    My first response is why would we want to? If it's modernisation for modernisation's sake, it is only window dressing. The important part of the thread is "how to get across to people".
    I'm going to concentrate on concert work here:

    I'm not a great fan of "bus conductor" band uniforms, I would prefer just smart casual - shirts / polo shirts.
    Multicoloured instruments / stands - I don't know - this strikes me as trying to make something "cool" that isn't. I'm thinking about the string quartet "Bond" - when I want to listen to string quartet music (which is sublime) it makes little difference to my enjoyment whether it is played on space age violins by 4 girls or by 4 old blokes wearing DJs.
    I would like to see multimedia used more. If you've seen the Eric Ball celebration DVD (and if you haven't, you should) you will get an idea of what we saw on giant screens at the live event. I'd also like multimedia to be used for titling and imaging.
    Now "modern era" music - if music is written specifically for band in a modern idiom it can work fantastically well and I could quote no end of examples, mostly test pieces and serious brass band works. I'm sure we have all suffered from the other extreme and have had to play an awful arrangement of a pop or rock standard with 4 tubas trying to emulate bass guitar and the rhythm guitar notes shared between the back row and horns. There are good arrangements, and they can be well played if both the arranger and conductor know what they are dealing with. Original, modern, good and accessible is more difficult, I feel, but there are many good works such as "Windows of the world".
    Back to the original question of how to get across to people:

    We should have an idea of what people want to hear. If you want to fill the Albert Hall for an orchestral concert, you put on Nessum Dorma, 1812 etc. Is that selling out? I don't know. We did a Last night of the Proms concert last year. I was sceptical, don't particularly enjoy all the music, but the audience loved it, and as treasurer I loved the fact that we sold all the tickets and had to put in extra chairs. The players also enjoyed the experience and the applause. We are now building a "fan base" and that enables us to put some education in with the entertainment. In our next concert we will feature all the sections of the band, have a multimedia presentation of the band movement, all while playing some good music and having a cup of tea at half time. For me, success will be measured in audience appreciation and player retention/band growth. We think we are doing the right things for our band and community.
  4. jpbray

    jpbray Member

    Simple answer you don’t.

    Going out of your way to make bands look hip and trendy to appeal to a mass market is going to make us look like a circus act and ridiculous

    The banding fraternity knows through the efforts of what is being put into youth music that there is plenty of hope for the future.

    What needs to happen is to grab as much exposure as possible. There is ample opportunity through the summer to get out into the parks and put on show the youngsters in the band,

    In addition it might be an idea to try to get the top bands into high profile televised events, where there is a mass television market; if it is not already happening.

    And also maybe get our heads out of the contest sand; and strike a balance between the contest and the concert; both as important as one another.

    For my two pennyworth it is not a case of trying look modern by doing things and finishing up looking silly, but rather trying to grab as much exposure as said earlier, and show casing all thing positive, like the youth in your band, playing well, looking professional and well turned out. Old good music played well, is still good music, new good music played poorly in trying to impress is still poor music and a turn off.

    Our conductor canvasses the opinion of the youngsters in our band to ask them what they like. This way we a mixture of what they consider to be fun to play and the more “heavier” stuff for us boring old farts.

    There is no quick fix, there never has, and there never will be. Its just a question dedication slogging away doing the right things.
  5. matthetimp

    matthetimp Member

    Do more concerts, park jobs town centre's etc. The more the public see you the more they realise what a band does and can do!!!!!!!!!! Also good for publicity as well, making your town aware they have a band, as I am sure that not even 30% of your towns people know they have a band.
  6. David Mann

    David Mann Member

    :clap: Hooray!
  7. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    Although I would certainly go along with the idea of taking on plenty of local jobs, it is vital that such engagements are then treated with as much care as any other concert or contest would be. Too many bands do a lot of damage in the eyes of the public by poor deportment, bad programme planning and overall slack presentation when they are in such situations.

    Whether we are playing to a handful in the park or to a packed concert hall, our concentration and effort should be exactly the same - you never know who may be watching and listening, and what the potential outcome may be.
  8. Morghoven

    Morghoven Member

    The original question of the thread was "how do you make a brass band modern?".

    Simple answer - you don't.

    There is no fundamental problem with brass banding as a whole. A mixture of contests, serious concerts and lighter events like bandstands etc. is fine. Overall, the mix of repertoire is fine, though IMO we should spend less time pretending to be a pop band. Ok so we may as a group have an interesting dress sense but is it really worse than a church choir? Or Morris dancers?! Remember that an easily identifiable image can be made to work for us (that's what advertising people get paid thousands of pounds for).

    We don't need to make brass banding modern. We just need to make the public, and I think more importantly the rest of the musical world, see that we are not an anachronistic irrelevance. How we do that, I'm not quite sure...!
  9. jpbray

    jpbray Member

    I agree whole-heartedly. The park job needs to be treated as what it is and that is an outdoor concert, but if we just hibernate in the band room. It is a question of “what band, never heard of them”.

    Hence the importance of the contest to help improve technical ability, and from what is hoped to be a true adjudication, give pointers on what a band in particular needs to work on.

    This hopefully this should go a long way in helping bands to provide a solid concert performance.
  10. barrytone

    barrytone Member

    Totally agree, although some modernisation has occured in terms of the uniforms we wear and the music we play, can't really see how coloured music stands and other gimicks would aid the cause of bringing the brass band into the 21st century. We are what we are, maybe some people aren't aware of what we have to offer in terms of entertainment and we need to raise the profile of the movement; not sure that doing more public concerts in parks and shopping centres is the best way of doing this but it certainly contributes towards the overall aim.

    Top bands don't get obsessed with contests, they perform far more in concerts than they do in competitions. It could be argued that because they are top bands and have names that are well known, they will draw in the crowds wherever they play. I still believe that concerts help raise the profile of the bands involved and the movement as a whole, they entertain the audience and as musicians they help improve our playing standards and stamina while hopefully raising money, everyone wins.

    When we resort to gimicks to draw attention to ourselves, the movement loses credibility with other musicians and people who genuinely appreciate our music. I don't see the need to court mass appeal, we are what we are and many people enjoy it that way.
  11. tubafran

    tubafran Active Member

    But if a band is concentrating it's efforts on contests does this really improve the bands concert performance? How many bands put all the effort into contests, get the players turning out for most rehearsals and yet when it comes to a contest 3 weeks later it's get whatever's in the pad out and give it a quick dust off and there you are a "concert performance".

    I've been to concerts where bands have played the same concert format, with the same old stuff and whilst their playing ability was not in question you come out feeling that you've been short changed - march, overture, hymn, solo, something from a film (cos that's a bit modern) and perhaps a little swing/pop number to show that we can be cool too.

    Music choice is always going to be a problem but it is probably the biggest thing a band can do to improve/modenise it's image.

    At Killamarsh we try to a least give a theme to our concerts so we have some reason for our music choice - we even try to add elements to our playing to enhance the audience response. Our last concert was themed on a "1930s Mediterranean Cruise" and we chose music to fit in with this - so we had music based on travel (Coronation Scot, Adagio From Spartacus (Onedin Line)), dance music - Lil Darlin, Satin Doll, Tico Tico, Minnie The Moocher, and location - As Time Goes By, Granada, Salamanca, Millers Dance. We used a fair bit of latitude on what music could be classed as 1930s (actually covered 1920 to 1950s) - but the programme came over as fresh and vibrant. An example of using old music but giving it a modern style.

    Later in the year we are planning to give our Christmas concerts the theme of Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol and use a narrator and performers to fill in between our playing with extracts from the book (pinched that idea off the Black Dyke Christmas CD).

    So we think a lot about what we are going to do for all our concerts - at some stage I hope to incorporate visual displays too.
  12. Agree with a few of the posts, bands need to get out and perform in public much more in town centers/big gigs such as proms concerts and we need some of the 'good' bands to do this as well so people are made aware of what a band can do and sound like!

    Alot of people around my area are only use to some old 'village' and 'town' bands at garden fete's etc that are way out of tune when they play and sound un-balanced - this puts people off and ruins the banding worlds reputation, its in both the bands and the m.d's hands!

    Get some of the championship/1st/2nd section bands out in the public without charging the council/organiser over the top prices!

    We don't need to change the format of a band at all
  13. Chunky

    Chunky Active Member

    So to summarise Matt, 3rd & 4th section bands are cheap and play out of tune. 2nd Section upwards play in tune but over charge :wink:

    From my experience fete / carnival organisors see brass bands as a 'cheap' alternative. They seem to buck at even paying £5 per person per hour. They are not usually aware as to the standard of the band either, they are just looking for cheap entertainment.

    How to modernise a band, well thats really in the hands of individual bands as to the way they want to go. Multimedia is definitely the way to go to give audiences an attack on their senses. It also helps dispell the old cloth cap image.

    However, finding a venue and funds to do all this prohibits more bands from going down this route.
  14. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    The emphasis is mine - if you're going to do it, IMO you've got to do it properly and that can be expensive.
  15. Never said all, took a few 4th sections bands as an example and I know many very decent 4th and 3rd section bands, was just trying to put through that organisers should get higher class bands out there to let people know how good a band can be!
  16. WoodenFlugel

    WoodenFlugel Moderator Staff Member

    Great post which pretty much says everything I was thinking.

    As for the contest v concert debate, while I don't think they are exclusive, I do think they are slightly divorced of each other. How many times have we heard good bands produce stunning contest performances to a half full hall of aficionados, and then just a few weeks later a programme of luke-warm under-rehearsed tat, to a full concert hall? Sure, a contest will [should] raise your general standard of playing, but that standard then has to be maintained for concert work. FWIW I think we should be playing challenging and varied music at concerts as well as contests, and making sure the whole concert is played to a standard close to, or as good as, you would expect to achieve in a contest. Played well, good arrangements and original band concert items are just as entertaining to your average Joe audience, but give the general public some insight into the skill and musicianship bands possess.

    Secondary to that, come things like multi-media displays. These are OK, but I can think of several occasions in the past where bands have concentrated on the visuals, and forgot about what their primary reason to be performing was - to play good music well. if you're doing powerpoint shows you must be able to play the notes. A visual should be an enhancement to the music not a cloak to cover up sloppy playing.

    The last thing we need to be doing is resorting to gimmicks like blue cornets. If we concentrate on playing good music well and making sure we give our audience some respect, rather than treating them as a means to pay for the next contest coach, gradually, very gradually the word will spread that we are not some sort of musical side show.
  17. BigHorn

    BigHorn Active Member

    I don't think the movement as a whole needs to change. What is needed is some exciting ambassadors of the genre to go out and grab the public's attention by pushing the boundaries. Once the public attention is there their tastes will turn to the more traditional as their interest grows.
    The British Folk scene is a case in point. Folk music was in terminal decline until the 60's/70's when groups like Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span etc started mixing it with rock and made it hip. Today there is a thriving interst with folk groups and festivals all around the country. Traditional music is being rediscovered and new talented young artists are emerging all the time. If you look at the BBC radio play it again section there are a considerable number of traditional music programs being broadcast throughout the British Isles - compare this to what brass has got - the one weekly Listen to the Band program.
    The lesson is that to preserve the traditional you first have to adapt and go out and be involved in the present. The rigid adherence to traditional brass band instrumentation seems to be the biggest problem. A few arrangements with electric guitars and synthesizers wouldn't go amiss.
  18. Make bands aware of being in tune/balancing and sounding much better to get the publics attention!

  19. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    Surely only if there's artistic merit in doing them....doing them for the sake of it is pointless?
  20. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    In order for that to work, you've got to be playing for them, with them listening and not just wandering past muching on ice creams.

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