Rise and Fall of Brass Bands

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Charmed, Apr 9, 2012.

  1. Charmed

    Charmed Active Member

    Having been around banding for more years than I care to admit to, it amazes me at the naivety that still exists in brass bands.

    Most want success, whatever level that may be at. Some only feel successful if they're part of the top section ethos. This is where many bands fall down. If you're a lower section band that has annually achieved, gets promoted through the sections, how do you maintain the standard once there? There is the obvious natural turnover, where higher standard players can slot in, but there's also the 'darker' side, where the loyal, committed to the band, players are soon 'discouraged' and decisions made which ultimately can destroy bands as I've seen happen, many times.

    On the flip side there are bands who have been successful at the high end of banding, for many years. Possibly because through decent sponsorship they can 'buy-in' the standard of player required to maintain the standard of the band. So, what happens if, unfortunately, the band loses the sponsorship, and due to climate are not able to secure sponsorship, or at least, not a substantial one? The 'buy-ins' are bought elsewhere, the band starts struggling, dropping back down the sections. Players get disillusioned and move on to a more successful band. Many have folded, but some, to their credit, have kept going. How? Many bands have a core group that will 'fight to their death' to keep the band alive. Eventually, if lucky, they are able to attract loyal, dedicated players, who slot in well and help to rebuild the band. Success starts happening, the band starts rising again. Players who previously wouldn't join the band when in the lower sections, are suddenly interested. And yes, the cycle starts again. the loyal, dedicated members, who have given their all to help get the band back up the sections, are suddenly of no longer use and discarded for the players who may have more ability, but unfortunately, don't always have the loyalty to stick with bands who may, in time, find themselves struggling once again. And, unless you are a band that is fortunate enough to have a sponsorship deal that let's you buy in top class players, you will struggle in the top flight of banding! And when you're looking around again for the loyal, dedicated, players that were the ones that got you back where you wanted to be, where will they be? Probably following their own cycle of helping another band achieve success before once again, being discarded ;)

    Don't you just love politics in banding :tup
  2. markh

    markh Member

    I'd like to comment on this thread. Not all bands behave as you describe. Despite being well placed in the top half of our own championship section area for 4 consecutve years, we do not feel the need to squeeze players out. While we do have some real quality, we certainly have players who we would consider "sub-optimal" but have not sacked a player for reasons of ability in nearly 20 years.

    In fact, we have had been in the position, which is always frustrating, of having to turn quality players wanting to join away because there is no vacancy. We are not sponsored and rehearse only once per week. We maintain and improve our standard through a quality MD and the right attitude rather than the high-profile recruitment.
  3. hobgoblin

    hobgoblin Member

    It's easy to romanticise about bands that rise from 4th section to the very top in a short time. This happens to a couple of bands every 10 years or so and is often followed by said bands imploding on reaching their goal. The reason for this is that poor/average players with a good attitude can be trained by a crafty md to win in sections 4,3,2&1 by getting basically in tune playing tight and razzing a a bit louder than the other bands in their section. Once they get to the top section that gets found out and they need real quality to challenge the top bands - cue the arrival of money/top draw players/md, or rapid implosion with band blaming corruption / incompetence in the very same adjudication system that served them so well in the lower sections. Often a core group of players will follow the md around recreating this boom to bust cycle in a few bands. I will agree with the OP that once the money arrives what goes up quickly can go down just as fast when the cash runs out, unless the band has a long history of being at the top and continues to attract quality players/md's on the basis of reputation. As for players being discarded, I'm afraid sometimes the winners in the lower sections must move on before they become championship losers if the band is to progress. Harsh - but you wouldn't expect a football team promoted from the 3rd div to the premiership to have the same team unless they were skint or devoid of further ambition.
  4. BBthebaritone

    BBthebaritone New Member

    The comparison with a football team promoted from 3rd Division to the Premiership doesn't really work as all of the players in the 3rd Division are 'bought in' just as much as in the top teams. The players are there to earn money and it is the supporters and owners of the clubs who are concerned about long-term success. Bands in the lower sections (and some in the championship section) are owned and run by their members. Sometimes members will sit out from contests and continue to support the band when it reaches higher sections, only playing at other jobs (sometimes the 'bread and butter jobs' that the new players are too grand to do) which keep the band afloat financially. Such bands are lucky as many members may go elsewhere where they can play at all the band's jobs.
  5. hobgoblin

    hobgoblin Member

    I take your point about my football analogy being weak. I was meaning to draw comparisons with the need to change weaker for stronger players to continue to progress, rather than specifically the financial side. In an ideal world of course all bands would start of a full beginners band of local kids which would gradually progress into the senior band and up to the top section culminating in winning the open,nationals and european - I wont be holding my breath waiting for this. In the meantime many bands lucky enough to have a bit of money will continue to wrestle with the choice between being "nice" or being good.
  6. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    No matter what happens, when a band changes sections in any direction, there is always a 'crossroads' moment when the band has to decide where they go from here. I've been through it more than once from both sides.

    The long and the short of it is this. There are often players who are marvellous for the atmosphere and working of a band, are there every week and could never dream of playing for another band - but when the level of ability round the stand increases and the difficulty of the repertoire follows suit, find themselves being left behind. And whichever way you slice it, it causes difficulties.

    Every band will have one, a 'Mr X' so to speak (Though of course it may equally be a 'Mrs X'). The Stalwart player who's been there since the year dot and considers the chair they're in (often a principal chair from the band's days in lower sections) to be 'their' chair. Everyone likes them, and moving them off it would be simply unthinkable considering what they do every week for the band, because it would break their heart to get bumped down a chair.

    But then a contest comes round, and the band's doing well.... except for that bit that no matter how hard Mr X practices he/she just can't play right.... and the elephant in the room is that everyone knows it's going to cost the band dearly on the day. The second player can play it but no-one dares suggest moving the part, because Mr X will not take that well. Would he/she even stay if that happened? If they go, then you've got an emapty chair to fill, plus someone's got to take on the library and booking the jobs and.....

    We've all been there and there is no right or wrong answer. A band is a collection of people and some are not there for what they bring to the stage, they're there for what they bring to the practice room - but then there's got to be some ability there or other players will start to resent the fact that "I'll have to play that because Mr X can't do it" or "We'd have qualified this year if Mr X hadn't splashed his solo all over the stage." And yet, atmosphere is so important to a band's success, and players like Mr X can be the glue that holds a band together.

    Even if a player who gets left behind is willing to move down, there's only so far you can do that, and what happens when they reach bottom-third cornet and are still out of their depth? But conversely, you lose so much more than a player by letting them go.

    As I said, there is no right and wrong answer, and contributions made to the band outside the playing sphere are frequently undervalued considerably. But there is always a time when a band has to decide whether it is a serious contesting band looking to progress through the sections, or a social club who occasionally put on concerts for the local community and enter contests without really caring where they finish.

    I've been one of the ones left behind in my time. I've also been one of the ones who resented the extra manuscript when contest time came around. Neither is an easy place to be. Whichever choice the band makes to deal with the situation, not everyone is going to want to continue on the same path, so not everyone around the stand is going to be there for the next chapter.
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2012
  7. DRW

    DRW New Member

    An excellent evaluation Thirteen Ball.

    As someone who is totally loyal to my band I would happily move to a different (I emphasise different because 3rd cornet is no less important than principal) part to make way for a more able player to increase the chances of our success. I would also step aside completely for the same reason. Why someone would cling on to their seat to effectively constrain the band's success makes no sense to me.

    The only part of your text that I can't really associate with is that stalwarts are usually the real team-players who actually would flex for the benefit of the band. Those that cling on to their seat tend to be those that take and expect lots from the band and don't often give much back.

    The only situation that would upset me is if forced to totally sever my ties with my band. I would consider my flexibility a key part of the band's success and would want to celebrate with them. Whether that be as 3rd cornet player, roadie or tea-maker, I really wouldn't mind and would equally be happy to step back in when the situation changes.
  8. P_S_Price

    P_S_Price Member

    Me too - Im well aware of my limitations, and more than happy to slide when somebody better comes along. It aint nice to be putting lots of fluffed notes in. It not only affects the bands sound, but I feel embarassed too.

    I only occupy my current seat in my band because we lost an extraordinarily talented Euph Player, and muggins (who was on 1st Baritone at the time was the only player available). but shoudl we get another Euph I wont need to be asked twice to go 2nd man down, back to baritone, or 2nd horn if need be. At least I will be able to play those parts.
  9. halsasaurus

    halsasaurus Member

    All are excellent posts and reflect everyones dedication to Banding. The circle of life! We all want our Bands to be the Best but the reality is that we can never achieve this dream whilst keeping all our pals. I believe that the true strength in running a Band is in its Management and back room staff. Players seem to come and go on a too regular basis for my liking but this can be managed as long as the management of the band stays strong.
  10. euphymike

    euphymike Member

    if your worried about being catty and stabbing in the back you should get invloved with Amateur Dramatics or the local amateur Operatic society.
    As an ex pro musician who has 'retired' back to banding no pro band or band leader would act in the way some of you describe bands do.
  11. DRW

    DRW New Member

    A good point euphymike. It's the same as any other profession really; my workplace doesn't see anywhere near the same heartache and unkindness as I see in some brass bands. I expect this is down to the fact that the management in the workplace are generally selected because of their skills and training. Often, influential people in brass bands don't have the first clue about people management.
  12. euphymike

    euphymike Member

    there will always be 'exceptional' players and on the pro side I played with a lot. However, most of them were always searching for something that a well paid, regular quality gig couldn't offer them. So they became mercenaires in the end and they only took a gig for a few weeks and then moved on. which p*****d the rest of the regular guys. Sometimes they did the gig for a week and then put a dep in! But that's musicians for you. Its all a wow listen to me ego thing with some players no matter what instrument and where you ply your trade.
  13. P_S_Price

    P_S_Price Member

    Or they might just have to bear in mind such trifles like unfair dismissal claims and the like! Nowt focuses the minds quite like it costing the company money!
  14. ophicliede

    ophicliede Member

    This thread throws up some interesting issues. I helped form a band some 5 years ago which was not going to fall into the trap of rehearsing for contests endlessly and letting it take over your life. Don't get me wrong I am passionate about brass banding and like to think that playing to a good standard and musically is a priority in performing. So it has surprised me at the rapid ascension of the band from 4th section to championship section next year. This has been achieved with the same group of people (mainly youngsters) during this period and not getting a band in for contests or using gamesmanship to win at any cost. I always say to the band that the improvement of the band from rehearsal to rehearsal is whats important and not just working that way for competitions. I understand what Charmed is implying and I see the win at any cost attitude going on with neighbouring bands in the area at the highest levels. Each year we loose 3 or 4 players to University and replace them with youngsters from the Youth Band. Some times it gets really difficult to keep finding the correct instrumental balance and it is a little bit daunting knowing that we will have a very difficult task ahead of us, but as long as we play to the best of our ability that is all I can ask. Hey if we can't always achieve the very best as long as we have risen to the challenge that's what counts. After all it's not like the colliery is closing.
  15. Jack Stout

    Jack Stout Member

    Charmed does make some interesting remarks and it is always good to consider these issues, they affect peoples lives after all!

    I would like to ask though, if this is not the first time that a player deemed 'not up to the part' has been asked to make way, then can we presume that Charmed complained at the time about the dismissal of those players...? If not, then it is very rich to suddenly have an issue with the direction of the band when it affects you and not care when it affects others.

    I'm not sure which section this band is in or what state it is in but I would wager a guess that these are decisions that are taken amongst a group of people who have the best interests of the band at heart, no matter if on occasions they get decisions wrong. Bitterness only ever leaves a nasty taste in the mouth of the one who holds the grudge.

    Sackings from bands happen in many different ways, always have done and always will. Best to move on and prove them wrong by your success elsewhere.

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