Is there a way back for brass bands?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by yoooff, Jun 2, 2015.

  1. yoooff

    yoooff Member

    As a brass player for about 50 years I have become increasingly concerned about the number of young brass players coming through from schools, with the knock on effect that this appears to be having on the average age of brass band members. It seems to me that this may be down in no small part to the reduced level of brass tuition available to children in schools. I fully appreciate that Heads of Music are required to offer some instrumental tuition, and that a student model cornet may cost 3 or 4 times the cost of a keyboard. It would follow that in these days of driving cost reductions, keyboard (or recorder?) tuition could be perceived as being the most 'cost effective' way of exposing children to playing a musical instrument.

    My question would be whether brass bands are in a position to do anything to provide children with an opportunity to try playing a brass instrument? Does anyone have any knowledge or experience of a brass band, for example, playing a short concert at a school and asking if anyone wants to try playing? There would need to be some structure in place for a learners group to make any meaningful gains from this.

    Stories abound of bands trying to secure players for contests to fill every chair. Are we past the point of no return or are there success stories out there which other bands can learn from?

    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015
  2. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

    How many bands run junior bands, separate from any music in school?

    Do the Salvation Army still have junior bands, that's where I, and many others, learnt to play a brass instrument?
  3. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

    Another thought, how many players are encouraging their own children to play?

    In the couple of bands I'm involved with there are:
    2 father & sons
    1 mother & daughter
    1 son who's mother plays with another band

    there may be some others but it's not looking good
  4. mattthebass

    mattthebass Member

    I suppose one factor working against brass band is the cost for schools to provide instruments, how many plastic recorders can you buy for the price of a Cornet?

    PS I'm a Father/Son combo (being the son).
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015
  5. GordonH

    GordonH Member

    Most bands I know of have training bands for kids and/or adult beginners. The issue is getting them to continue in a system where jumping from a youth band to a first or second section adult band is only possible for the most talented.

    Those who do continue may not make it beyond university. A salutory tale: I am one of only two people still playing from the year I started learning at school and the year below.
  6. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    Plus one in support of Gordon's comments above. The youth band I learnt to play in was independant of other bands but the Conductor expected its members to go on and join 1st Section Bands (now renamed Championship?). Being neither very able or knowing of other bands the teenage 2T gave up when he started working and only restarted decades later by chance. So, if you run a youth band please make sure your players know it's OK not to be the best and that there's bands for all abilities.

    I think time and finances stop both children and adults playing. Justing look at the number of times most bands rehearse and perform it's not hard to see that most parents and younger people will decide that's too much of a comitment. Relative to other goods brass instruments are expensive for what they are, easy to damage and can be both difficult and expensive to get repaired. Plastic instruments might change that before too long. Tuition costs are a factor for many parents, I could not have learnt if lessons (and instrument) hadn't been free at school and some children will not learn now for the same reasons.

    There will be many other factors and I think earlier threads along similar lines will have covered many of them. Still worth raising the topic though.

    With regard to playing in schools a friend of mine, with a small group of others, has done just that. He's gained a very able player for his band and sparked some interest amongst other children. Pick your schools and go for it.
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015
  7. David Evans

    David Evans Active Member

    Yes, it is worrying, we run a beginner's, a training and a senior band. Last year, to try and address the numbers we wrote handwritten letters, not generic emails, to 48 local schools, both state and private, -and this is a top University City, offering to go in at their convenience to play and demonstrate for 30 mins or a few hours. After four weeks we had absolutely NO replies, not even the courtesy of a "Thankyou but No'

    Now most of our enquiries are through the website and parents desperately trying to find some music for their children and themselves. Our numbers are quite good and we try and participate in community events like 'Open Doors', some of the band are journalists and that can help a lot in marketing. I think our numbers will continue to improve as general school music decreases and we must hope that advocates like Nicola Benedetti and Alison Balsom help the cause.

    The worst thing has been the total lack of insight or even courtesy by these headteachers which I find so disappointing. To turn down such an opportunity for their pupils is almost sacrilege.

  8. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    David, a band with a famously big youth scheme (you'll know who I mean) a few miles down the road made identical approaches to their local schools about 15 years ago, meeting with exactly the same short-sighted disinterest. But now they have strong relations with their local places of education - the key thing is to get peris involved in the band.
  9. David Evans

    David Evans Active Member

    What a good idea, Yes, we have had a few 'referrals' from teachers looking for places for their pupils to play with others and that is certainly another avenue to explore,
  10. P_S_Price

    P_S_Price Member

    Some of us still do - but we call it a training band.

    we at rochdale currently have 10 young people learning to play; but Bands in the SA are few and far between nowadays
  11. P_S_Price

    P_S_Price Member

    Not every School. Wardle here in Rochdale have 3 active brass bands; plus a training band; plus a Wind band that has a lot of brass
  12. David Evans

    David Evans Active Member

    I understand that South Wales has a very similar provision for their schools too, how wonderful if true.
  13. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

    That is such a shame.

    while I'm grateful fir the introduction to brass bands at the SA gave me it also installed a certain moral attitude as well.
  14. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    The situation for music in secondary school has deteriorated drastically over the last 25 years and will continue to do so thanks to the ar$eholes who are ruining state education for this government. Now that Gove's evil female clone has managed to consolidate his Ebacc in school curricula, classroom music will largely disappear from state education. Everything will be 'extra-curricular' and that means that any bands in schools will depend entirely on what the kids want to do. I expect loads of 1D wannabes because that is the lowest common denominator. (The only direction is actually down!)

    I was the only member of staff in school who was interested in banding. There is nobody there now to keep it going. I kept it going for as long as I could - despite, it must be said, resistance from banding parents (apparently they thought I was trying to poach their children - bluddy ridiculous idea - no saucepans big enough!)
  15. owain_s

    owain_s Member

    Stop focussing on school tuition, or school support of any kind, at all. It's great where it exists (and Wardle is a superb exception to the trend), but even if the damage of recent decades is reversed it will be a long slow recovery.

    Learn from history instead. Look back to the early 20th century, when there were far more bands and players, sustained entirely by them continually passing on their skills to the next generation. Don't expect raw potential to walk through the bandroom door already capable of playing a back-row part - cultivate it yourselves.
  16. whitewitch

    whitewitch Member

    Luckily, here in Saddleworth, we don't have a huge problem. But this is due to a combination of various factors people have already mentioned and other factors.

    Various youth bands - Dobcross Youth, Delph training band, Elland training band etc etc.
    A band in nearly every village - when children are ready, they can choose from 4th section upwards. Not a big jump.
    Support in schools - Schools do have brass bands in this area. My son's school Blue Coat Oldham, played at the Royal Albert Hall last November. That is something kids want to belong to.
    Also, a lot/most music teachers are bandsmen.
    Good Peer examples - It is not unusual that kids are in championship bands at 12/13 here. This encourages other kids to think they can do this too. It is also not seen as an 'uncool' thing.
    Everyone does it - neighbours, friends, relations play. It's just what you do, isn't it?

    That being said, the really good pupils do have private lessons or attend the Junior Royal Northern College of Music. A lot are members of NCBB/NYBBGB

    Yes, kids who live in this area (North West/Yorkshire) are very lucky. But this works. I don't know which aspects could or couldn't apply to your areas. I just know this system still works here.
  17. Pauli Walnuts

    Pauli Walnuts Moderator Staff Member

    Mike, instrumental teaching has been extra curricula for years - when I was at secondary school in the early 70's, instrumental lessons were available - but for orchestral instruments only and it had to be paid for. IMHO to continually blame successive governments is just a smoke screen. The reality is that fundamentally that hasn't changed. What HAS changed is that many enlightened school music services now have county brass bands and teach brass band instruments. That was never the case in my youth. Whether a county music service exists and is funded by the taxpayer or whether schools use private services doesn't alter the fact that instrumental tuition remains available at a cost as it has always done.

    I have to agree with Owain here - we shouldn't be focussing on school tuition though. Where county music services do have a county brass band, on the surface, that may seem like a great idea. But it adds to the other big change over the last 25 yrs that is affecting recruiting: kids have a lot more options today that we never had. The distractions of new technology have given kids other things to do with their spare time and we are competing against a very different social environment. What little time they have, if focussed on what is happening at school for their banding, often leaves them with even less time to become involved in their local bands.

    Another huge change in the last 25 years is the advent of higher education for brass band players - my options back in the 70's were pretty much limited to considering trumpet at the london based colleges or a career as an army musician. (which was the route I chose). Now we have a plethora of institutions where they cam go. And that causes issues for the bands that initially developed them as for many, this will be a move away from the band that that started them off. (A particular problem where I originate from as all the best youngsters head North and often never return).

    So, IMHO, it is as it has always been - it's in our hands to cultivate the next generation of players through the introduction of our own youth/training bands. I also applaud associations like scaba who have restarted their own association youth band. (I started that back in the 90's but it never got the momentum it needed then - it has now thanks to people like @accidental).

    Living in Germany now, it's even more difficult with the lack of brass band tradition here. However, the band I am playing with now has a thriving Academy band as well as a junior band, both of which will help to ensure the future of the main band.
  18. Andrew Norman

    Andrew Norman Active Member

    My own band, Cowes Concert Band, on the Isle of Wight is flourishing for the first time in many years. We do not have a youth band as there are already two established youth bands on the Island. We welcome young players but they have to be prepared to play as part of an adult band - several former young players have gone on to study music at college but they will not return to I.W. as there is no work for them.

    We seem to have built up the band by attracting older players - many of whom gave up playing for many years due to work/family commitments. We have now brought the average age of the band down to about 50 (previously 70+).

    We do not contest (the other two bands do and I am happy for my players to contest with them if they wish).
    We rehearse and play the majority of our concerts on Mondays, this way the band stays very committed and attendance levels are high. This also leaves players free to play in other bands/styles on other nights - Big Band/Orchestra/Wind Band/Jazz Band.

    We play a mixture of music to entertain our audiences and ourselves and most importantly we change most of that music every year so that we are not playing the same things year in year out.

    Our profile will not suit all bands or all players but it works well for us.
  19. Pauli Walnuts

    Pauli Walnuts Moderator Staff Member

    An interesting point on the older players - when I was in the Hastings Youth band many many years ago, we had an "adult learners" band which comprised mainly of the parents of the youth band members - it worked well and did feed one or two into the senior band.
  20. Thom

    Thom Member

    A couple of things.

    Bands could attempt to play appropriately exciting sets to primary school audiences (in schools or concert venues).

    Do bands look to children like the sort of organisations they would want to spend lots of time in? Does your band?

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