Progress...for the good of the band?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by orange juice, Sep 6, 2004.

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  1. orange juice

    orange juice New Member

    If you wander up the leafy path towards your local band room on a summers evening, wafting along on the cool breeze may be the heart-warming sound of the brass band. The journey this band has taken to get to this standard is likely to be varied, but in some cases, questions the very essence of British brass banding… and the future, is definitely not orange.

    With the future of many local brass bands at stake, due to a general decline in young brass players over the last 20 years, it takes a lot of dedication from all those who love being part of this bastion of typical British ness – with its camaraderie, team work, tradition and hard fought, yet friendly competition – to keep their bands going. Certain bands have taken almost drastic measures to do this... but at what price?

    To use one of our local bands as an example - three years ago it was a thriving, promising band, competing in the first section, but due to a few twists of fate (including the relocation of a very much liked conductor) there began a steady demise of players. Although the number of players registered with the band was healthy, the attendance in rehearsals never reflected it, and thinking it was a lack of direction, a new conductor was sought. Despite the appointment of a very well qualified and able (not to mention expensive) ex-military musical director, matters did not improve and moral hit rock bottom. Desperate for the band not to collapse, the loyal members continued to attend, rejecting offers to play elsewhere, and a new plan of attack was devised…

    On a frosty night early in January, the situation radically changed. On entering the band room, members were met by a shining array of instruments held by military owners… almost a full band! The pleasure of playing in even that first of rehearsals was immense! The steadfast few, complimented by these very able men and women, made an enviable sound, and with expert guidance from the conductor, rose to the challenge of competing in the Area finals, where they performed impressively. After an extremely good result, the band was looking forward to progressing and competing at the National finals too. But… and herein lies the sad tale… whilst the original members expected to be a part of this phenomenon, due to a thirst for excellence, they gradually began getting squeezed out of the band. Initially it started with players being moved on to less challenging positions, sometimes well below their capability, in order to retain the interest of the new-comers, until one-by-one they were bullied into leaving altogether, some jumping ship before they were pushed, others hanging on in almost disbelief… surely they wouldn’t be denied the chance to compete with their local band in a position that reflected their ability or even to compete at all?

    The original members, who had taken in the newcomers with open arms, expecting that this would be the making of the band, would, I strongly expect, never have agreed to it, if they had known how it would result.

    What amounts to an infiltration and subsequent siege of a local band, has been made substantially worse by the addition of a further atrocity!

    The band in question has a sister band, running from the same accounts, premises, sharing instrument and music resources, who does not compete. This band, although admittedly of a less polished standard, regularly performs concerts, and to all intents and purposes, is the breadwinner of the family. Due to the ‘A’ bands inflated opinion of itself, quite a few obligatory engagements (council funded park concerts, remembrance services etc) have been passed on to the ‘B’ band, which in effect means that they are shirking their responsibilities too! What’s more, they are demanding the better instruments, which are needed by the working band, simply because they are the superior players!

    This whole scenario begs the question… at what price does the continuance and furtherance of a band come? Is the professionalism and accuracy of a band more important than the enjoyment of its members? Should ‘hiring and firing’ be the way forward in order to obtain the finest band? Or should the emphasis be on nurturing and improving the existing players to achieve their best? I personally believe that the essence of competing in the brass band world is to encourage bands to continually improve what they’ve already got, which makes any successes not just more enjoyable, but thoroughly well deserved. If the ‘A’ band in question does as well in the Nationals as everyone expects, and hopes, I’m afraid it will be a very hollow victory, and I would urge other bands in similar situations to seriously consider… what’s more important, accolades or people?
  2. hellraiser

    hellraiser Member

    Orange juice: an excellent first post.

    Well it's all about those in power at the band setting the objectives. The direction of the band really does have a lot to do with the ambition and dedication of the band's committee. They raise the money, they choose the conductor, they find the players & they set the agenda for the band. If they're lazy the band will suffer.

    We've seen and heard many examples of the situation you're describing. I am always in favour of improving the standard of the music. However one has to appreciate that this could mean the sacrifice of some long serving members who might not have what it takes to play at a higher level. Personally I think if you are going to pursue a ruthless, impatient, standard seeking agenda then it's always best to set up a reserve band if possible so that long serving individuals can keep on turning up and have a blow twice a week if that's all they want to do with their hobby. That is, if they still want to stay at the organisation after being moved from the main band.

    It has been shown that one can build a band up from a 3rd/4th section village/community band into an organisation that can boast a Youth band, reserve band and a Championship section band. However this takes an enormous amount of work, particularly from the committee and also the members. Plenty of bands have reached the Championship section and failed to sustain that standard of play, some have even imploded which is a sad thing to happen. Personally I think having a youth band is essential if you want your main band to compete and remain in the higher sections. With a good youth policy you can grow your own players and promote them to the main band when the time is right.

    I'll take issue with one point you make: why should the B band get the best concerts? Surely part of the motivation of improving as a player and wanting to play in better bands is that you get to do better gigs. If people in the B band are unhappy at the quality of gigs they get given then perhaps they should work on their playing so that they can get into the A band!

    Some people enjoy being part of a band who's aim is to play at a high standard even if that means being put under pressure. Others don't care about standards and just want something to do twice a week. I'd say that having an 'A' and 'B' band demonstrates that the organisation caters for both sets of people.

    Of course the emphasis should be on improving what you've got. However when what you've got does not improve and fit the bill, and someone else comes knocking on the door with ability and willingness to learn, then a decision has to be made. I'd say the outcome of that decision is essentially linked to the ambition of the band which comes from committee mainly.

    It's like being part of any organisation: if the powers that be decide to go in a certain direction then you either get with the programme or you jump ship/get pushed.

    If you don't like the way things are going in your band, it seems to me you have three choices. You can either get yourself involved by perhaps getting on the committee so that you can start influencing the direction of the band. Or you can whinge a lot and influence nothing, probably even get accused of being a sh*t-stirrer. Or you can simply leave and join an organisatio that you are more akin with.

    Nos da.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2004
  3. Yoofman

    Yoofman Member

    Great post Orange Juice.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2004
  4. hellraiser

    hellraiser Member

    Correct. Some people will whinge about their band for years and years but that's a total waste of time as you need to get involved to have any influence over the direction of the organisation. If you do get involved and find after a reasonable amount of time that you're not being listened to or taken seriously then that's fine as you know where you stand and you've tried your best. Then you can find another organisation to be part of that's more akin with your desires.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2004
  5. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    I think, orange juice, without naming names, it might be possible to guess which band you're talking about!

    If what you say is true (don't wish to appear awkward but a controversial post I suppose, depends on the sole observations of the person wot wrote it! I'm not necessarily saying you're wrong. I know or suspect no differently! ;-)), then it most certainly is sad and it's why, although I BELIEVE (it's for others to judge) I have the ability to survive certainly in an L&SC top section band (albeit firmly stuck on the back row!), I've spent most of my time in the lower sections. I sometimes worry that if as a conductor or player, I'm with a band that rises through the ranks, it starts to get too ruthless in its pursuit of 'glory'.

    This, in a way, harks back to the 'how do you tell someone it's time to retire' debate also on these boards. It can be argued that you don't want 'duffers' holding you back but the story you relate sounds fr more severe, OJ. (By the way, as others have said, an excellent first post - regardless of whether all points are agreed on by everybody).

    Still, not having played at top section level (apart from one recent gig on sop with Friary Guildford, who on my visit there, can certainly be judged as a friendly and sociable band... and good with it!), perhaps this isn't the first case of a band 'bullying' its way to the top level? I say 'bullying' carefully. Are you at liberty to disclose what form this bullying took?
  6. hellraiser

    hellraiser Member

    That's where the beauty of setting up a reserve band comes into play. Instead of throwing people out of the organisation you're demoting them from the main band to the reserves band, so they can still be involved in the organisation if they wish.
  7. davethehorn

    davethehorn New Member

    Great post Orange Juice!

    A story that is likely to be repeated over and over again, however should the band not continue to improve and bring in fresh blood, are you not likely to lose the best players to other local bands. Those bands that continuously circle like vultures waiting to snatch up the rich pickings? How many times have we trained young players to go and play for a higher section band? The reason given is 'I wish to play at a higher standard'.

    Like most players I know my own lack of real talent will eventually hold me back, but I for one would be happy to pass over the end chair to a better player if it meant the band was to move forward.

    Hopefully competition for places encourages the weaker players to practice harder and resolve to fight for their seat. If however they are not good enough they can always play at concerts and sit out contests.

    Having just picked my band out of the non-contesting wilderness (and almost certain extinction) to a place at this weekends National Finals, I have to accept that the moment we stop moving forward and being successful, the vultures will once again swoop and the inevitable will happen.

    In banding one thing is certain, if you don't keep working hard and training young players extinction will soon beckon!
  8. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    This post makes me both sad and mad.

    Sad, because it is yet another example of the ruthless way some bands and committees treat the loyal players who have kept a band going through good times and bad. Sad, because it seems, from your post, that the process has been rushed through with unseemly haste so that the original members cannot claim any kudos for any success in the Nationals towards which they have worked so hard.

    Mad, because it is typical of what happens when ambition overcomes common sense. A few rhetorical questions:
    • How many of these superstars deign to get their hands dirty helping out the 'B' band?
    • How many of them help with training/tutoring new players?
    • How many money-earning gigs does this 'A' band do?
    • How much of this money goes to the general welfare of both bands?
    • How long will it take these superstars to move on when another opportunity arises?
    It makes my blood boil when things like this happen.

    I assume that some of the loyal players managed to play in the areas?

    Maybe other bands in their section need to think about how things like this affect them. By doing this, your chance at winning a place in your section is affected. In my book, this kind of thing counts as cheating.

    :mad: :mad: :mad: :mad:
  9. hellraiser

    hellraiser Member

    Mike, your post surprises me. That organisation bothered to have a B band so they're not that bad, they could still play in that band which over time might develop to be the same standard as what their old band used to be.

    Also, why do people find it so hard to accept the fact that great bands are made up of great players?

    I can't see the problem with this myself, it's common sense to give the better equipment to the better players.

    As much as I can sympathise with a few members of the old band feeling hard done by, surely the organisation itself is far better with an A, B and youth band?

    ... which is a valid reason, isn't it?

    yer right! you sure about that one?
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2004
  10. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    IMHO that is one hell of a cold response.

    Apart from anything else, why should the B band be earning money to keep the A band supplied with the best instruments? Especially as the A band don't appear to be doing anything to help develop the B band? I'm fairly sure - though of course I don't know - that that is the case. If the B band are earning the money, they should be accruing the benefits of their earnings.

    It is obvious from the original post that the band was not set up in this way and I feel it is morally wrong for the B band and the players who were effectively disenfranchised from the A band to be so shamefully treated.

    I must say I'm actually appalled at this and quite upset - not that I haven't seen it before. But it makes me shiver every time I hear a similar story.

    From what I gather of OJ's story, it is the way that this has been done - and the speed. They won in the areas - March - and were discarded by September? Not because they couldn't play or weren't capable, but because someone deliberately went out and looked for ways to get rid?

    We're not talking about the odd individual here either, but the whole band. That's not just getting rid of someone who can't keep up with the rest, it's invasion followed by genocide!
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2004
  11. WhatSharp?

    WhatSharp? Active Member

    Sounds to me like someones ego has decided to make a band (if you see what I mean). I know which band this is about and it really saddens me since it has a good name and a good reputation.
    (apologies to those who don't know what the hell I'm going on about)

    What is concerning is that this particular "group" or rather their predecessors have done similar things to other bands in the past with very sad consequences.

    they way I read it you have two choices, stick with the B band and hope this lot get bored and go away (which they usually do) then pick up the pieces or go somewhere else. Whatever you choose I wish you luck.
  12. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    I think a note of caution should be sounded here. I am well aware of 'some' of the circumstances surrounding events - I deliberately stress the use of the word 'some', and I think this is the important point; There are usually at least two sides to any story in this sort of thing, and, so far, only one side has been told.

    I don't know for certain who "OJ" is, although I have a reasonable idea. Whilst I don't at all want to upset them, and I am sure that he/she probably feels they have justifiable reasons for being upset, (and in principle I have every sympathy for their point of view) I don't think the rest of us should necessarily be jumping in, (in full "aggrieved/outraged/incensed" mode, as it were) without at least giving someone else a chance to put an alternative perspective?

    Just a thought.


  13. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    You are, of course, perfectly correct Gareth. However, noone has - yet.

    I must apologise if I have upset anyone, but this kind of thing sets off the "light the blue touchpaper" syndrome with me. Funny, it's one of the very few things that does.
  14. hellraiser

    hellraiser Member

    Mike I didn't mean to come across as cold but if you want a band to progress up the sections then sooner or later some people will be left behind. No way can you just coach the hell out of 3rd/4th section bands and get to the top section with the same players.
  15. Phil Green

    Phil Green Supporting Member

    Get Real

    Mike, blue touch paper or not - come one. This is a band we're talking about. There are times and places for words like genocide - a discussion about a brass band isn't one of them.

    Let's get a sense of perspective!

  16. Spanky Rear

    Spanky Rear Member


    Just proves how important it is to be 'on the committee' and have some chance of influencing events.Otherwise you have to acceot what is decided 'on your behalf'.It may be better,or more effective,to complain before decisions are made rather than complaining afterwards.After all the original members must have ceded power for this to be foisted on them.
  17. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    Well, I hate to say this, Hellraiser, but we have!

    With a very few exceptions, we have the same group of players we had when I first joined the band. They may not all be in the same positions or on the same instruments but it is basically the same band. We have gone from 4th to 1st section with absolutely minimal personnel changes.

    Admittedly there are one or two players who struggle, but their colleagues and friends in the band are helping them through. Eventually those particular people will either drop away or improve. Nobody will be pushed out.

    Perhaps the term genocide was a little strong, but the analogy is good enough. Would you prefer the term extermination? And when these fellows get bored and the band disintegrates what would you call it then?
  18. Despot

    Despot Member

    I agree with all of this. Don't know the band, but how many times has this scenario or similar been played out before in the band world, including my own band! We survived a rogue MD & his wandering band of minsterals who moved from band to band! He destroyed one band, crippled a second, but thankfully we survived and are a better band now than we ever were.

    One quick solution is whatever the "B" raises the "B" band keeps, but they will eventually go, they always do...
  19. jpbray

    jpbray Member

    A band has to look to progress to stand still, but a what price, and it is inevitable that players will come and go. Organic growth from within the band is probably the best, having a solid foundation to get the most out of the players you have, by helping them to improve and realise their full potential.
  20. BoBo

    BoBo Member

    Bands are made up of individuals and there are no simple or right or wrong answers. It is remarkable if any band can maintain stability, if it can then is in the overwhelming number of cases due to the leadership of one person who commands respect.

    I suspect, though I wasn't there (honest!), that banding life was simpler when we couldn't jump into cars and play in any band we chose within a 100mile radius. You played in the village band or nothing.
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