Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by brassneck, Jan 29, 2008.

  1. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    With comments made about innovation being expected a little more from competing bands in the programme section of the recent Butlins' contest, this has got me wondering what do they exactly mean by it. Without innovation, products and processes can become stale, dated and forgotten unless it a classic design that withstands other changes in society and is constantly required.

    What concerns me is what we, as a musical community, define as innovative musical development. Successful models in the past have relied on visiting previous established forms and styles using contemporary/modern techniques to present as 'new'. Other attempts usually fail as the majority of bandspeople see them as being abstract, novel or gimmicks that have only short-term value.

    I recently bought the Elgar/Patrick Howarth book "What A Performance!", and since it was published in 1988, I don't see much change from the observations and criticisms made then and what I hear and read now. Bands play what is seen as popular for a while and after a period of time, the music is dropped as being considered as 'old hat'. This applies to fantastic arrangements of orchestral classics to new compositions in both concert and contesting platforms. It seems that over time, only a small percentage of works are performed again & again (... works established as a genre classic).

    My problem is that I am struggling to find something that can be innovative and enduring for the future of brass band music. The well known composers of our generation have succeeded in finding elements that have progressed it and settled comfortably in their niche markets but I feel that these elements link to something in the past, whether it be baroque concertante styles or programme music used in films. Simply put, it relates to what most people can grasp and understand, i.e., based on something we already know.

    We all have different tastes in what we like to listen to and we have a service to provide to the general public. One obsevation in the Howarth book was that as a genre, we are now are our own audience catering mainly for ourselves.

    So what can be considered innovative in your opinion? Are you happy with what we've got? I'm a little stuck on this one ... there is music I would like to see developed but I'm afraid I might be one of a minority and have to realistically think I might waste my time trying to write it. Performances would be rare if they ever would happen, and these reasons haven't changed since 1979 when I turned down studying composition at established universities with a reputation in that field. :confused:
  2. Shell

    Shell Member

    In any field, most 'new' things are based on the tried and tested and then developed little by little from there. Fashion is a great example, lets take a top from a few years ago, cut off one of the arms and call it a completely new idea.
    On the other hand, look what has happened to art...if we were to take the same 'anything goes as long as there is a concept' approach goodness knows what would happen!
    For changes to be longterm I think they have to be very gradual and over a long period of time. As to what those changes would be, I'm afraid I have absolutely no idea :confused:

    As for bandstands... we all know what the general public want to hear,
    so I think we just need to focus on putting on a good performance and maybe interacting with the audience a little better?
  3. hicks

    hicks Member

    What innovation has happened in the orchestral world? People still want to hear the classic symphonies.
    I'm not sure what innovation is possible in the brass band world, but people will always enjoy good live music, and generally love to hear recognisable, familiar material.
  4. BigHorn

    BigHorn Active Member

    which rules out 95% of our catalogue to anybody under 40.:-?
  5. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Your comments are much appreciated but still raises the question of what is to be developed for UK bands. Outside the UK we are still seeing various styles/methods of music making being experimented with that is atypical of the UK experience whether it be bottle blowing or singing through instruments. Another problem could be what the general public has been fed by and controlled by the media industry. Although there are more avenues for listening to the diversity of music creation, Joe Bloggs tends to buy and listen to what is publicised through commercialised channels and I feel that programmes such as X-Factor narrows choice even further. Even there, the probablitiy of innovation is getting less likely as the moguls control their artists' contracts directing content and publicity.
  6. Cantonian

    Cantonian Active Member

    Within the time constraints of a closed adjudication entertainments contest what is meant by innovation? I would prefer to play (and listen to) showy entertaining numbers or well played slower numbers than see dancing girls or people playing bottles ar generally acting the fool. If the pieces are new then this is good but if the programme is balanced by a traditional oldie then that is also entertaining.

    At Parc and Dare we have been innovative over the past few years but dare (pardon the pun) I say not always appealing to all of the listeners. Innovation does not necessarily equate to entertainment.

    We have played a Symphony written for combined Wind and Brass bands. We have played a Harp Concerto with Brass band accompaniment. We have played a concerto for six stringed electric violin and band and pieces such as Echoes with the aid of electronics amongst other innovative pieces.

    Not all have been popular with the players in the band and not all have been popular with a proportion of the audience. However innovative we would not consider playing these (or extracts) in an entertainment contest.
  7. mclaugh

    mclaugh Member

    "Pushing the boundaries" in this direction seems to me to be a potentially fruitful avenue to explore. No, not all these sorts of collaborations will end up "working" musically or aesthetically; in fact, I expect that most won't, but we'll never know what does and what doesn't unless we're willing to try. But those that do—such as Cory Band hooking up with Cantorian on This Land of Ours—not have the potential of introducing a whole new audience to Brass Banding, as Black Dyke Mills' fronting for Doug Yeo on Doug's CD Proclamation did here in the US, but also of enticing successful and accomplished composers and arrangers in other fields to explore the brass band idiom.
  8. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    Hmmm. Innovation. The thing is, what is the end we seek with this? I can't agree that there should be innovation for its own sake, because that way we simply end up with more and more extreme music until we reach the Brain Fernyhough idea of writing pieces that are physically unplayable and asking players to get "as close as possible"! So, what "innovation" are we looking for? Do we want to attract huge audiences back to brass band concerts and contests? Or do we want to create stuff that appeals to "the converted", is interesting/challenging to play and listen to but doesn't neccesarily appeal to a "non-banding" audience?

    If the former, I don't think it can be done. As you observed, Tom, the general public will listen to/buy what is populised through commercial mass-media channels and the days of brass bands being available through those channels are long since dead and buried. I noticed that Bram Gay's article in the Howarths' book points out that he/Granada had a battle every year to get Band of the Year on the air, and basically had to blackmail other ITV regions into buying it; so even in its heyday, it wasn't that popular with the general public. The "Fletcher definition" has applied to brass bands for almost all the time I've been playing (26 years now!) and continues to apply. So I'm inclined to think that the main focus of our music making should be to attract and retain more players and supporters to bands themselves; if along the way we happen to make a brass band concert more attractive to a wider audience then great, that's a bonus, but to start with that as an aim would be, imho, foolish.

    If we are aiming for the latter, I think a great start would be to play less arrangements. We have some hugely talented arrangers doing great work, but there are still times when I despair of some of the dross that's available, and seemingly lapped up by bands. I tire of going to concerts or buying CDs that comprise mostly arrangements and very little original music. Another step in the right direction would be to stop patronising and making assumptions about the audience we have - I don't know how many times I've read comments along the lines of "we know what our audience wants" when actually, I don't think most bands have the slightest clue what their audiences like or enjoy. How many of us do audience surveys? I don't think we should stop playing arrangements, just try and include more original music in the general repertoire. How many bands have made a CD recently with no original music on it? When I played on Middleton's most recent CD, out of 14 tracks we had 2 that were, arguably, original brass band music - Songs of the Quay and a piece of mine. It's a great CD, well played and directed, and superbly produced by the team at KMJ, but I can't escape the sneaking feeling that we missed an opportunity.

    I don't think that to "innovate", we actually have to play brand new stuff all the time. Much as I like new music, I don't really want to hear dodecaphonic harmony or multiphonics in every piece. I'd just like a reasonable variety of stuff, a decent amount of which is actually written for brass band. It doesn't all have to be Music of the Spheres and Revelation, I'm just as happy to hear Ravenswood played well, or a lower section test-piece; these often have the benefit of being reasonably simple structurally and harmonically, so they won't "challenge" a concert audience too much.

    In terms of "new" music, I actually think that the brass band is quite good at seeing through the "emperor's new clothes". It takes us a while to accept new things, and I often find that intensely frustrating, but the flip-side is that nothing is assumed to be good simply because of its novelty; unlike some of the drivel that came from the Darmstadt school in the 50s! In a brass band, a new piece of music has to earn its acceptance slowly and painfully through being interesting or challenging to play or listen to, and a lot of players I've met have what Elgar Howarth characterises as a kind of innate "good musical taste" that allows them to almost unerringly sort the wheat from the chaff without needing to justify it with a load of waffle (like I do;) ). There are things we could try; I actually think that the minimalist parts of Extreme Makeover work very well, and open a lot of creative doors for Reich/Glass/Adams style experimentation, and the Wingates/Nyman collaboration is a fascinating new route for brass band music (and I'm not even the greatest fan of Nyman).

    At the more extreme end of the range, although works like Grimethorpe Aria or the slightly more accessible Prague will always have supporters, I can't imagine that this kind of more uncompromising style will ever be as popular as the more melodic, traditionally harmonised style of pieces. There will always be pieces that push the limits of what is listenable, or playable - Bertrand Moren's Beyond the Horizon probably being just about the hardest piece currently available - but pieces like this aren't actually that relevany to banding as a whole. The big challenge in band music for composers is to write intelligent, interesting pieces for 3rd and 4th section bands; I actually think it's easier to write for the top bands where you know they can play almost anything. When you have limitations of technique, stamina and dynamic range, as well as limited availability of percussion, but still have to make the piece musically coherent, interesting and hopefully enjoyable to play and listen to, then your composition skills are really tested. Pieces like Sparke's Triptych, Gregson's Occasion, Wilby's The Seasons are all classics of this sort of writing and I'd love to see more stuff of this standard available as part of the concert repertoire for lower section bands. In fact, the "innovation" that could potentially have the biggest impact is to work on improving the original concert repertoire for lower section bands.

    Sorry for the long waffly post :oops: , but I've been meaning to respond to this thread for a few days and I've had time to assemble a load of thoughts!
  9. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    There's the old saying "you can't teach old dogs new tricks" so why doesn't the banding movement start with the kids for new ideas in brass music? I, for one. was influenced by the music written for the likes of the NYBBS and splinter courses that were common in the '70s. Where else would I have been introduced to the likes of Bryan Kelly, Martin Dalby et al? Educating diverse styles and harmonies may be beneficial in the long run starting from roots.

    Andy, I agree that writing for the top end market of bands is a restricted pastime that denies access/performance (except listening) to the majority of banders. But, yet again, how many 'innovative' and serious ideas are going to be accepted by lower section bands? How are they going to be introduced and performed without objection? Who decides what is best and whether the choices made are, indeed, the correct ones? On the concert platform, we saw a period when music was introducing witty (sometimes cheesy) elements in their structure trying to add humour both for players and audience. Gimmicks have their place, of course, but how much of this do we have to present to an audience before they get tired and the image of banding get's stereotyped? There must be some compromise with original music to educate the public that composition is still flourishing ... it need not be just test-pieces! But what? Erm .... :dunno

    It may take a while to build a new audience and again, I would start in the schools and make kids realise how diverse banding is (if these other alternative/innovative styles of music are included in the portfolio).
  10. Bayerd

    Bayerd Active Member

    Well done Messers Read and Parkes for helping to create a debate that seems to have got many people expressing an opinion. I personally think that innovation can mean different things at different times and also depends on whose view you're following. At Butlins the adjudicators said they rewarded innovation. To me, I think they've just got fed up with what was becoming a stale format where bands felt that they needed to do novelty items, use of different instruments as a feature, cornet players trying to do big band trumpet, comedy interaction with either compare/ audience or both, etc,etc,etc.

    Surely the brass band can be entertaining by just playing good music well and treating the entertainment contest as a mini concert rather than trying to become something it's not eg. emulating a big band or providing a kind of comedic musical theatre?

    Hands up who prepares items for entertainments contests that never get played in your regular concerts?

    When the decision was made for us to play Extreme Makeover, the bottles were never really meant as a novelty element. It was more a case of here's an interesting piece of music, that's challenging and has some great sounds and a big exciting ending. We are also lucky to have the talent of Lucy Pankhurst who is not afraid to explore new styles and sounds for the band, coupled with a euph player in Gary who can actually carry off techniques such as multiphonics and beatboxing to great effect. Wicked is a piece that we have been performing at concerts now for a few months and apart from being enjoyable to play, it's good to see the audience reaction and some of the faces that they pull when faced with something completely new to them. Sadly there are times when we can't play this, for instance we submitted the piece as part of our latest programme for LTTB. It got rejected for not fitting in with what the regular audience would want.

    Also on the Butlins performance, as a band we felt we'd played well, but from the stage the audience reaction had us thinking that they hadn't really enjoyed what we'd done and we wondered whether the adjudicators would also miss what we were trying to do. Who knows, on another day our current particular brand of innovation might not be liked and we score a big fat zero.
  11. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    Good questions. First, I'd say that in my experience bands in the lower sections are a lot more receptive to new stuff than you'd think. We just don't get the opportunity. A challenge for you: A short concert programme for a 3rd/4th section band comprising 30 minutes actual music including at least one solo, featuring original pieces written in the last 20 years - no arrangements. Trust me, it's almost impossible. The repertoire just isn't there. I'd kill to be able to kick off a concert with something like Where Eagles Sing or Wicked, but they're just not practical in a lower section band. There will always be objections, because music polarises opinion like no other artform, but in the end bands will decide what they like by voting with their pockets. The problem is, we simply don't have the opportunity. It's a chicken-and-egg thing; lower section bands can't buy/play new and interesting music unless composers write it, but they won't write it unless there's a visible market for it.

    IMO, bands are already essentially playing music for and to themselves. We've spent the last 25 years or so trying to "broaden the appeal" of brass bands to appeal to a largely mythical wider audience, who (apart from maybe at Christmas) simply aren't interested no matter how many hoops bands jump through. The inexorable disappearance of bands from TV and radio since 1983 proves this. Although this might sound dreadfully cynical and defeatist, I think it would actually be extremely positive if we recognised this and stopped continually trying to play music that's going to somehow bring in a huge audience of band virgins from the street. Which leads me on to:

    Entertaining to other banders, yes. Personally I thought Wingates Butlins programme was great; seemed to me that the slight hesitancy of some of the audience was due to unfamiliarity (with Wicked and Extreme Makeover) more than dislike. [BTW I think Andy Berryman's been a breath of fresh air and it seems to me that Wingates revitalisation as a contesting force is at least partly down to the way he seems to have made the year-round work of the band more interesting, challenging and engaging]. The point is, his programme found favour with an audience of banders and two dyed-in-the-wool band adjudicators.

    The general public expect bands to do precisely what you say - try to be somthing they're not, or a comedy "turn". That's why the Butlins judges made Wire Brass the most entertaining band for basically pretending to be a big band; because to Joe Public, that's what brass bands do, and they did that better than anyone else. I'm not criticising Wire, by the way - in a sense, that's what we've always done. In the the 19th century brass bands were the poor man's orchestra, playing selections from operas and light classical music that they wouldn't otherwise hear. But certainly since The Floral Dance and some of the crappier editions of Best of Brass, that idea of brass bands as a comedy turn, up there with Morris Dancing in the file marked "Quaint Traditions of Olde England That We Don't Much Care About", has been fixed in the minds of the wider public. Frankly, the silly uniforms don't help.

    For me, it would be innovative for bands to stop trying to play down to Joe Public and start concentrating on building a concert repertoire of interesting works - not all testpieces by any means (although I love it when bands include part or all of a testpiece in a concert), not all original compositions neccesarily, but less cheese and lollipops certainly.
  12. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    Indeed it is.

    I've mentioned on here before about thing like digital distribution / webcasts and the like being the way forwards. One of the reactions to that was that it wouldn't generate a new audience....but my feeling is that it's not necessarily a matter of attracting a new audience at this level, but more of one of maintenance. We just need to point people at the new way of doing things, and maybe we'll get some permeation of new ears along the way. As it stands at the minute, if all people do is listen to LTTB and the very occasional R3 contribution they'll eventually stop all together as Brass Bands shift even further away from the core listenership (not withstanding the BBC's charter catering for minority interests).

    Yep - this whole popularity thing is absolutely nothing new. During the 70s and early 80s my Dad was involved with similar groups trying to do similar things (relative to the era), and consorted regularly with Elgar Howarth, Ifor James, Mr Fletcher and the rest of PJBE. At that point, Besses and Grimethorpe were playing at the major (normally 'orchestral') music festivals - which is something that someone suggested in another thread as being something we should start doing :hammer

    You're quite right, Andy, we make up a large part of our own audience and we bring our own entourage with us....but it's still niice to think you could turn up at Southport Arts Centre and please a hall full of 'outsiders'.

    Hmm. I have to agree (somewhat wincingly) that people do tend to record quite similar programmes, usually within a similar timeframe but geographically separated. This is relatively unsurprising - I reckon that it happens due to things like deps playing something with a Band and taking the fact it's a good piece back to their own Band and before you know it, you've got an epidemic.

    The "We know what our audience wants" question can sometimes be answered by the fact that when get a return booking, the audience comes back ;) (I wonder how many of the "Floral Dance expectors" at Durham would go to another Brighouse concert?). However, assuming you're doing a full concert, you've got 90 - 100 minutes to entertain them. That doesn't mean that you can't throw stuff into the hat that they're not expecting hopefully without alienating them. Original concert pieces, bit of test pieces....we've all done it....but if you go overboard they'll look for someone else next time.

    My mum is (I suppose I should say was) a typical Brass Band Widow - left at home looking after the kids while my Dad was off galivanting attempting to "forward the Movement" ;) . Every now and again she used to go with him....and for some unknown reason he went to listen to a Black Dyke concert (this will have been pre-1987)....and she hated every minute of it as each half had two test pieces in it. And - to my recollection - it wasn't a 'serious' concert. 20 years later, she's still adamant that she won't go to another Black Dyke all they play is test pieces.

    With regard to the Middleton CD - thanks :D We really enjoyed working on it. However, I'm not convinced it was a missed opportunity. I really do think that you got the balance about right with it - although the inclusion of your piece does make it stand out for me. The downside is, though, if you'd have recorded an entire CD of original music that isn't featured on your programmes on a weekly basis the punters can be reticent to buy it. I've stood selling records and CDs for Bands I've played with and you always get asked "which one's got the stuff you played tonight on it"? I firmly believe, however, that every CD should have at least one unique selling point on it. The Sword and the Star was yours.

    Songs of the Quay, however, is another story.....

    I'm going to lump all that together as I'm losing the plot with quotes :D

    There's an inherent point in here that involves people getting to know the music. As I vaguely said up there ^^ somewhere, word of mouth is quite an interesting way of getting people playing supposedly 'new' things (so long as you don't all play them at once), but what's really needed is to get more people listening to them faster.

    Soundbites on websites is one way of achieving it (but only when it's a proper recording I'm afraid - Scorch files and rather rubbish GM brass sounds don't do it for me). The other is to utilise the prospect of digital distribution to achieve more widespread broadcast.

    For example, the question has been asked of WoB if they can see a future where the recordings are done but no physical media are produced - so no CDs, just downloads. This is somethng that The Music Man and I were discussing going back over 2 years ago. You can run normal recording sessions, pay a contribution to the site download licence and sell tracks individually or as an 'album'. The beauty of it is that you can record anything you want (subject to legality!) - if you don't sell it, you've not paid manufacturing fees nor would you have to pay a licence fee (although you'd hopefully counterbalance the recording fee with 'normal' repertoire) you could potentially record an hours worth of 'original' or 'serious' Brass Band music that's aimed at your level and expose it to a different primary audience - the listening Brass Band insiders - who might pick it up, play it on their programmes etc etc.....
  13. MartinT

    MartinT Member

    There's a rather simple thing that we don't seem to do, as a movement, when advertising concerts, and that is to tell people what we're going to play. Now, clearly a band concert is typically rather different from an orchestral concert in that it will consist of a greater number of shorter and often less significant pieces; but I don't see why, if Bloggsborough Silver is going to do pieces which are either significant (listenable testpieces, orchestral arrangements such as overtures, other major BB repertoire) or recognisable to the general public (popular music arrangements, film scores, lollipops etc) it shouldn't make some mention of these on the advertising material. After all, would you go to listen to the LSO without having some idea what they were going to play?

    Happy to be told I'm mistaken, and that there are parts of the country where this does actually happen!