Why contest?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by nicholasbarrett, Feb 18, 2008.

  1. Good Afternoon All,

    Now before I ask this question please understand that I don't come from a brass banding background.

    Why do Brass Bands do contests and what does the contesting side of Brass Banding achieve? Also, do you feel there is a long term future in contesting?

    My questions are not intended as a slur on contesting, but just to gain an understanding as to why bands go through this process.

    Thanks all,

  2. dyl

    dyl Active Member

  3. andyp

    andyp Active Member

    A question I frequently ask myself when stood freezing at stupid o'clock of a Sunday morning in some god-forsaken town where nothing is open for the remainder of the day!

    In short:


    "Competition improves the breed" - or the band. Players in general get more motivated to practise for a competition than for a concert, whether from a desire not to let the team down or whatever.


    Takes up a lot of rehearsal time, perhaps to the detriment of concert programmes.

    Conductors (or committees) desperate for short-term contest success may "buy in" players, in extreme cases destroying the original band and putting themselves in financial trouble. Meteoric rise may be followed by equally quick fall!

    Despite the best attempts to standardise judging, it is still only an opinion, and will remain so as long as humans think differently to each other. Tricky one to explain to younger people (and some older ones too!).

    IMO if you want to improve it is a neccessary evil, but don't take the results to heart. Given that most bands do (much) less than half a dozen contests a year, I think too much is read into them. If football was like that Liverpool would be a Championship team by now!
  4. hicks

    hicks Member

    Well I suppose it's human nature to be competitive in anything we do. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but personally I could live without contesting. For me music is about enjoyment, playing to the best of my ability, and sharing with others. I get all of this from playing concerts, and it's a much more relaxed atmosphere. I don't particularly enjoy the pressure of contesting.
  5. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Well if it wasn't for contesting, brass banding would just be a combination of playing music for enjoyment and drinking beer! And that would never do....


    ...sounds alright to me. ;)
  6. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

    Why do brass bands contest? because that is what makes us different from almost every other musical group.

    I love contests, new (hopefully) music to play, that bit of friendly rivalry with the band down the road, meeting old friends at the contest, winning (occassionally) and losing (a lot).

    I don't think I would play in a brass band that did'nt contest - I might as well play in a big band, wind band or orchestra.
  7. iancwilx

    iancwilx Active Member

    Believe it or not, we like it, it's fun - really !
    - Wilkie
  8. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

    and where is most of the beer drinking done?

    National Finals, Areas, Pontins, Butlins - at the contests :D
  9. brassintheed

    brassintheed Member

    I think we contest just 'because it's there'. it's become an inherent fact that if your a brass band, then contesting is what you do.

    The thrill of the contest is great fun, but I'm to be persuaded of the benefits to the movement.

    it does bring:
    Technical improvement
    A reason for those not particularly musically minded to be part of a band (ie they enjoy being part of the sporting aspect)

    The minus points are:
    Lack of Musical freedom
    Inhibits Musical development away from the traditional or 'safe'
    Takes the priority away from the performing and audience side of music ie concerts
    Restrictions on players playing for who they wish to.
    Massive commitment at certain times of the year that many players just don't wish to, or are unable to, give.
    Not an attractive option for professional players
    Changes an art form into a sport
    Helps to keep the public perception that Brass Bands aren't a serious musical media - more of an amateur 'game'
  10. hicks

    hicks Member

    I think the sound of a brass band is in itself unique in the musical world.
    Besides, brass bands don't have a monopoly on competition - it goes on in many other types of musical groups.
  11. MattB

    MattB Member

    I must be honest I'm coming round to this way of thinking too. Sure it's great for socials and meeting up with old mates etc, but doesn't Whit Friday do that too, but in a totally different way? I think half the problem is getting younger people to see the attraction of a contest way of thinking- masses of rehearsal at home, sitting out of a lot of rehearsals in band, extra sectionals. The list goes on, and it's no wonder thet take one look at it and go, "Hang on, in the youth band we contested but it was FUN, where's all that gone then?"

    As 'adult' bands, why don't we embrace more the youth attitude of contesting but combine it with harder music therefore maintaining a good standard? I bet not one of the 'top' bands would say they worked any harder for their regional as they did for BiC at Gateshead. Then ask which they ENJOYED more. Surely the majority would say BiC. The competition is still there, as is the technicality, but each band was different, each band was an attraction. How often can you say that about 20 performances of an area test piece?

    Mind you, as long as people still hang on to the ridiculous concept that to be seen as a good (credible) band you need to be a Black Dyke or Brighouse then this discussion is sort of fruitless. Go down and see your local band in concert and see how familiar it looks. Same old pieces you've heard before, only played less well than one of the 'big boys'. it's about time the movement took a long look at itself and decided whether we want people to pick up an instrument because it looks fun, or whether we are going to keep on the same old roundabout.

  12. emziesonic

    emziesonic Member

    As I'm still at a young age and contesting, I would have to say the things that would make a person like me want to contest would be-
    The thought of becoming a better player
    The atmostphere before you go on
    A day out!
    The buzz while playing (if your playing well);)
    Oh and of course the hope of winning and sometimes

    But obviously there are the the down sides of rehearsals etc...

    but you gotta' love it!
  13. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

    as well as playing in a local brass band I sometimes play with a local orchestra - both fully amateur - the difference in musical standards is truly astounding, I put this down, in part, to contesting, being forced to play challeninf music on a regular basis rather than 'playing something that sound nice'.

    Interstingly the management of the orchestra want to tackle 'something different' as a one day special - none of their brass players are interested, can I help find trumpets, trombones and maybe a tuba?


    oxfordshire, april or may (not sure and I am not at home so cant find out), i think it is something stravinsky (ish) if anyone is interested pm me for details
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2008
  14. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    :clap: :clap: :clap: Post of the year so far!
  15. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

    making young people recognize that 'practice makes perfect' - my son has come alive to playing since realising that something he thought was impossible was in fact very possible if he practiced.

    I am certain that the 'top' bands and hopefully all of us set the same standards for every performance, contest or concert, listening to a great performance should inspire us all !

    your local band (if by that you imply non-contesting, mainly older players) are (hopefully) a place where we all can see that our competitive hobby may become a fullfilling passtime (no condescention, just a change of emphasis)
  16. DublinBass

    DublinBass Supporting Member

    Having been in the U.S. (not exactly contesting central)...to the UK and back..I have quite different feelings about contesting.

    Contesting forces people to prepare their best (more than a concert). Many would rather work their behinds off on a very difficult test-piece (pushing themselves that way) rather than trying to perfect an easier piece that would really require fine musicianship to perfect.

    Also, in the UK there are so many contest a last place is ho-hum..on to the next contest...we'll get over it. Our band only goes to contest every other year here so a win or a second-to-last- place sticks muich longer.

    Personally I like contesting. I'd love to do an entertainment contest someday. However, with so many bands in the UK you can't have the area's as an entertainment contest.

    I love a good testpiece, but just wonder why they don't make testpieces 5-minutes for 4th section, 7-min for 3rd...etc...13-min for championship so that some of those contest don't have to take for ever and bands can spend more time preparing to entertain audiences. I think the mix between heavy and light pieces is fantastic.
  17. towse1972

    towse1972 Active Member

    I'm with you Steve. Contesting is what it's all about for me.
    I get offers of shows etc. but they usually crop up at very unfortnate times. (areas, masters etc.) I couldn't possibly miss out on contests even though the money would be lovely! Needless to say, I'm driving a bobbins car, very skint, have an overley large beer belly (for a girl) and not too many friends outside banding..... But hey! Who needs 'em!
  18. towse1972

    towse1972 Active Member

    1. Really? I'm glad you have spent so much time taking part in the UK contesting scene that you feel able to publish your well informed decision!! A last place is never ho-hum (I bloomin' hope not!) AND,

    2. 4th section bands (in the UK) are more than capable of playing standard length test pieces (12 - 15 minutes). Our youth bands play pieces over 8 minutes. To reduce testpiece lengths according to league tables is condescending! It implies that the audience time is more valuable according to the elevation/height of the bands league/section.
    These bands that you would have "entertain" are every inch as valuable as any European winner and deserve to be heard after weeks and weeks of rehearsal in their own time!!!!!! (even if their ability isn't up to your standard):mad:

    3. Contesting isnt necessarily about entertaining!
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2008
  19. DublinBass

    DublinBass Supporting Member

    Perhaps I'm naive here, but I don't see why 12-15 minutes has to be a standard test piece length. I believe Arnold's Fantasy for Brass Band was once a test-piece and was only about 8-minutes. Circius is another short, but good one. I was under the impression that one of the main reasons the length of test pieces has been increasing is to separate the top section bands (separating bands is a main criteria for contesting, no?).

    I feel like you are diminishing the value of the audience. Is art really art if nobody sees it? Is music really music if nobody hears it? I agree, everybody should be heard...however, I don't feel the best way for bands to be heard is by alienating the audience by "just getting through" a long test piece, when focusing on truly making music for a shorter piece could be done.

    I don't know if you've every listen to all the bands in a section before (or even ten bands for that matter), but I would rather here a shorter piece played well by 25 bands then spend twice the the time listening to 5 good performances 15 okay ones and 5 not-so-good just because test pieces are "supposed" to be 12 minutes.

    If an 8-minute test piece can separate bands, why not use it. I think having a more difficult, short piecer (for any section) that is capable of separating the bands is better than listening to some longer pieces just to fill a 'timing quota.' (That being said I have often enjoyed some really good performances of longer works in all sections).

    As a side note, the North American Championships have the following criteria for total time (set piece + own choices):
    Championships 27-34 minutes
    All other adult sections 23-30 minutes
    Youth 17-21 minutes.
  20. Roger Thorne

    Roger Thorne Active Member

    One verse of a hymn tune would be enough to seperate most bands, but it wouldn't make for a very enjoyable day out - We'd all be home by lunchtime!


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