Orchestras v Brass Bands v Football Supporters

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by CaharleyFarley, Nov 11, 2003.

  1. Just wondering here really why we debate some issues (ie the Black Dyke thread), and then cannot understand why the Brass Band movement isn't taken seriously (that other thread).

    Could it be that maybe the actual music that we play gets lost somewhere along the line......and the line I mean is the contesting scene.

    Are we too concerned about who is the best Band in the land - and forget the music?

    After all, the great orchestras don't compete in an actual contest do they?

    They don't have to, they don't care..............they just play the music.........
  2. oops forgot to mention.........

    I really do think that without all this competitive edge, the top bands could do far more for Brass Band music as a music "form". But so much emphasis is placed on the "league table".

    No wonder so many references are made to football.
  3. Straightmute

    Straightmute Active Member

    Disagree I'm afraid.

    1) We have lots of discussions about music on tMP.

    2) When preparing for a contest we go more deeply into the music than at nearly any other time.

    3) the London orchestras would love to compete but can't because the losers would go out of business.

    4) there are competitions for nearly every musical form: choirs, string quartets, opera singers, pianists, composers - for kids at local music festivals and at the highest level. Do people take Opera less seriously after they've seen the Cardiff singer of the year??? (No - it becomes more popular).

    5) most of our best repertoire was composed for contests, and generally speaking, is most often heard at contests.

    6) that's enough to be going on with!

  4. Morghoven

    Morghoven Member

    As with lots of other musical communities and groups, competition is a healthy motivation to constantly improve ourselves. As long as contesting doesn't become the only reason for playing in a brass band, then it's good for the movement as a whole, as well as for us as individual players and bands.

    ...and that's a shame. After all, the great opera arias aren't only performed at Cardiff or similar. You don't have to go to the Leeds Piano Competition to hear a piano concerto. Brass bands have 'test' pieces that musically match anything a symphony orchestra or anyone else has to offer - we should be putting them 'out there' for the general musical public.

  5. Straightmute

    Straightmute Active Member

    Agreed. I try to programme 'serious' repertoire in progrmmes whenever possible. I do feel that the top bands could take a greater lead here. It's so disappointing when prestige events like the recent RAH gala concert contain no original band music.

  6. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    Whilst it is true to say that you don't find orchestras queuing up to compete against each other in the way that bands do, nevertheless the competition between them is still quite intense. If you read the concert reviews, particularly of the London orchestras, you often sense that the critic has his own favourite, and is judging each performance against that standard.

    As Straightmute points out, they are up against each other for audiences and finance, which unfortunately tends to lead to some very unadventurous programming as they go for the mass audience - one reason why I rarely attend orchestral concerts myself, ironically. In contrast, the CBSO, first under Sir Simon Rattle and now with his successors, have proved that you can successfully build an audience for unusual and contemporary works, by ensuring a high standard of performance in a good concert hall.
  7. Cantonian

    Cantonian Active Member

    Even in the SA there is an element of competition albeit unofficial. I don't know if it is still held but Regent Hall have had concerts featuring three bands. One year was Canton, Staines and Regent Hall. There was a great deal of practice on our 'Test' piece.

    It is healthy to have competition and will improve standards particularly in what is a predominantly amateur genre.
  8. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I understand that there used to be regular three-band festivals with Hadleigh, Southend and Leigh-on-Sea that were dropped after a while, I think in part because it was getting too intense. We revived it as a one-off to mark the Millennium, but that was a far more relaxed affair, with each band choosing repertoire that they could play well, rather than anything too adventurous. I also recall a festival involving the SA youth bands in the London area some time ago that was also seen, albeit unofficially, as an opportunity to resolve the rivalry between them. :wink:
  9. EIBB_Ray

    EIBB_Ray Member

    It's an interesting notion - the conflict of preparing for contests versus playing to entertain. One caveat, we (americans) don't have near the number of contests or level of competitive quality, but I think 2 things are true:

    Whenever we prepare for a contest we improve as individual player and as a band, and

    Whenever we introduce test pieces to our audience, we help them grow.

    By this I mean I think it's healthy for our audiences to be exposed to more thand just fluff and for our band, we haven't been the most successful in competition, but going to competition and trying helps us grow and hence we are a better band for our local audiences to listen to.

    In general I think competition is healty. I question, if it weren't for competition, with what the majority have said about the popularity of brass bands lately, if banding would exist in near its present form.
  10. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    I sort of fall in the middle here (come down off that fence NOW, Payn!). Certainly the work that goes into preparing for contests does, under the right direction, improve the band generally and therefore, makes contesting a worthwhile activity. However, I take contest day itself with a pinch of salt, though (win or lose!)

    I can also see where the original poster is coming from too, as with the 'league tables' and the like, there is a danger that it's becoming more and more like a sport and I have opined on 4barsrest that it might not belong before brass banding, like ice skating with its subjective judgement on 'technical merit and artistic impression' becomes an Olympic sport! (Mind you, the thought of a brass band skating round the rink whilst playing Blitz has a certain appeal....)

    My views on contests are tainted, to a degree, by the seriousness with which some I've met have taken it, and how the conductor is, with certain bands, held responsible for absolutely everything that happens on the day (it doesn't happen all the time but I have seen that attitude in action!) rather like a football manager.

    Still, in the end, so long as there's a healthy balance between contests and entertainment (which is, after all, what all forms of music are about, to one degree or another!) then I'll still participate in them.

    Typical Londoner's view.... :wink:
  11. James McFadyen

    James McFadyen New Member

    I agree with you, CaharleyFarley.

    With the exception of the RNCM, Goldsmiths and perhaps Salford Uni, Brass Bands aren't taken all that seriously by the academics.

    It is my view that Brass Band music is a working-class classical idiom. I don't mean this in a bad way at all, but even the most serious of Brass Band works, have that 'light music' edge to them (which I greatly like).

    I think that Brass Band contests have shaped what the Brass Band world is but I do agree, the essence of music and the real appreciation of the music is lost in a bewildering fight to be the better band.

    The thing is, without contests, I'm pretty sure I could say that Brass Banding would be very different and may even start to fall from our feet.

    To quote CaharleyFarley, "After all, the great orchestras don't compete in an actual contest do they? They don't have to, they don't care..............they just play the music........." is a very true statement, and one cannot ignore the musical sense this lends.

    Personally I love contesting, and as a composer (not speaking as a player here) It opens our music up to a wider audience, our music is recorded on CD and it automatically becomes a 'real piece of music' because it was used as a test piece.
  12. My main point was that contesting can become the "be-all, and end-all" of brass band music. Some bands exist purely to compete, and concerts are viewed as money raising opportunities to fund the contesting.Myself.... I would never play in such bands.

    Looking through the Black Dyke thread......BD are refered to as the Liverpool FC of banding. Also people have their favourite bands as football fans support their teams. Whenever I hear the top bands play - I really find that to pick a favourite is virtually impossible. Surely splitting the top bands at a contest, at the end of the day must come down to the quirks of the judges. The quality of the, say, top 10 bands is so good.

    I really am not knocking contesting, or football either for that matter, and certainly not this forum. Just that for me, the music comes first.......and much prefer to play a variety of music. To spend months and months rehersing a test piece, to get it exactly as written.......does sound a little dull.

    In fact my band will be contesting next year, and I am looking forward to it very much........but, not to the exclusion of all else.
  13. cornetgirl

    cornetgirl Active Member

    Agreed entirely! As an orchestral player I can see both sides.

    I enjoy orchestral playing for the simple reason that in most amateur orchestras the playing is the thing. The buzz of getting a piece up to concert standard - often a lot longer in duration of the average test piece so rather tiring for the strings!- makes it all worthwhile.

    At the same time I enjoy working on contest pieces with bands - as long as they're fairly nice and tuneful! There have been some classics written for the brass band movement - only time will tell if one day the works of Eric Ball et al will be regarded in the same light as Bach and Mozart.

    There is something to be said for contesting as a positive experience in that it gives us something to aim for. But surely we should be concentrating on entertaining the public just as much? After all - we do more contests than concerts, and not many of the total people who come to listen to us come to contests....

    Just my humble opinion....a fantastic concert is just as good - if not better - than a decent contest...

    Rach x
  14. "After all - we do more contests than concerts"

    That says it all..................I prefer to do concerts than contests.
  15. Straightmute

    Straightmute Active Member

    I guess that depends on your definition of concert. We undertake about 30 engagements per year, only 5 or 6 of which are contests.

    I agree that the thrill of a good concert is as good as anything we can get from a contest, but my preference for the more serious side of the repertoire means that I get a greater sense of musical satisfaction from preparing and presenting contest performances.

    My aim for the band is to strike a balance.

  16. Lauradoll

    Lauradoll Active Member

  17. midwalesman

    midwalesman Member


    I've been reading this thread with great interest on possibly two reasons. The first reason being that I am a brass band musician and play at quite a few contests and have strong opinions on the subject. The second reason why I'm finding this so interesting is that I'm writing a part of my thesis at the moment on Contests, the preparation, the influence on the players, conductors, the importance of identity and the contest itself. I have read all of your comments and trying to remain objective as I have to I find myself being torn down the middle of this debate. I have a few comments to make :-

    (1) When people say that youth competitions are healthy I agree 100%, and more and more bands seemingly enter these various competitions. However, more and more bands enter the Music for Youth festival which gives distinctions and merits instead of 1,2 and 3 places.

    (2) Contests inevitably form strong identities, for either player and follower. These identities show that band musicians care about who the play for and who they represent. However, a strong identity can also cause more and more fragmentation in the movement where (especially in the upper echelons of banding) bands are percieved to have fierce rivalries and don't talk to each other. This I think is on its way out due to the effect of more and more players meeting through various academia and forming friendships outside the often venomous atmoshpere of banding.

    (3) I agree that most original music is written for contests and not for concerts. All of this has nothing to do with the contest but the perceptions of "what the audiences want" in concerts. I have recently been listening to more band concerts from the audience perspective and in these concerts bands have played contest pieces either for up-and-coming or previous contests. One of these bands was not a Championship or first section band, but a second section band and although the performance was not perfect I found it refreshing to hear. As for Championship section bands, I don't get to hear very many but I assume that many don't play test pieces and prefer playing "ear-candy" to their audiences and here I agree that top bands could do more for the promotion of test pieces in concerts.

    (4) Composition and commission. Top bands, although to blame to a certain degree are commissioning more original music. I have listened recently to a CD of Cory playing compositions by David Bedford and John Pickard and I think the music is excellent, Fodens have had a composition/arranging competition as have Lindley. Composers such as Phillip Sparke and Kevin Norbury have written great "test piece-esque" for some of the top bands, I particualrly like Hymn of the Highlands.

    (5) As for contests themselves. I have read books about possibly the nearest thing to band contests in other forms of music, in particualr a book by Averill Gage on Barbershop contesting in America. There are many parallels between the two genres, both have a heavy reliance on contesting although it has to be said that their competitons are own choise rather than set test piece. Calypso comeptitions in Trinidad are a mix of European influenced contests and Latin American, where banter between the steel bands not only happens after the contests but during the contest when they are on stage!

    This is getting tedious but here's one final point:-

    (6) With the variety of choice which is now available via different media would you as a member of the general public want to listen to a piece performed 20 times when you could sit at home and have the choice of switching the radio or TV on ? I think it's time that we had an European styled contest of "Own Choice" and set "Test piece", especially for the Nationals as they do in many countries around the world (which we either choose to ignore or think that our traditional contest is still the best!). Either that or find a way to get the audience more involved, i.e an audience favourite competition (..I hear the suspicious minds working here!) with a Ask the audience button or something like that. Orchestras are now informing their audiences about what the piece their playing is about, something that we have been doing for ages, but this shows that even the great big grey dinasour like that can change, SO CAN'T WE ?

    Thanks for your patience,

    (the views on here are representing my own opinions and not that of any band that I am associated)
  18. James McFadyen

    James McFadyen New Member

    Indeed, Laura! :wink:

    The more uni's and academies recognising Brass Band's, the better - I just wish ALL the schools of music would do the same! :lol:
  19. midwalesman, I salute you..........

    That last post gave you great credit and I have no doubts at all that your thesis will be brill.

    The "ups" and "downsides" of competing are here for us to debate.....

    Thank you for that post.......
  20. Okiedokie of Oz

    Okiedokie of Oz Active Member

    The only problem I have with universities and such taking brass banding more seriously is that conservatoriums and such are making space for euphonium and cornet to study, get a B.Mus or whatever. But what comes after that?? There is no professional Brass Band, unless you join the Defense force or the Salvo's or something like that!

    I want brass bands to be accepted more, but I don't want people who devote their life to them to be disadvantaged.

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