Too many bands, not enough players

marksmith

Active Member
I really don't have a problem with change, in fact I am very much a driver, rather than a passenger in such dealings, whatever the subject.
Similarly, I am a believer in maintaining a respect for tradition, as once lost, these things never return.
Banding is still my hobby, and I have been party to various changes over the years, in the main supporting their implimentation.
Talk of our audiences dying out, is a dubious claim, they are merely shrinking in proportion to the size of the hobby as a whole.
Maintaining a musical link to popular culture is important, concert programmes would be a disaster without such a consideration.
Audiences will always attend a concert given by a 'named' band, as well as a local band who play a 'popular' programme of music.
They don't respond positively to radical changes, and never return to listen to a totally non-conforming format.
If we throw out the baby with the bath water, we will not attract even our 'faithful relatives and friends' audience, let alone our paying punters.
We can never compete with other more popular forms of music making, so we need to be realistic about our aims and objectives.
Many contemporary compositions just don't seem to have the pulling power of some of the more 'accepted' programme fillers.
Even in my own seemingly limited experience of our hobby, I have seen many MDs fall on their own swords, due to their desire to over-estimate the need to change things in the bandroom, and on stage.
I am not for firmly sticking things in the mud, just for appreciating what has survived the trials of time and other 're-inventions' of our wheel.
I once again apologise for my sometimes forth-right expressions, and to those that I occasionally offend.
 
I think we under estimate the important role our brass bands plays in society. Our audience is much wider than one would think, and it is certainly not restricted to concerts. Whether the band leads the carnival procession, sits on a bandstand on a wet Sunday afternoon, marches on Armistise Sunday followed by church, plays at the local fete or belts out a few carols at Christmas, it is embedded in British culture. My first point would be that we need to ensure all bands, all local bands big and small, survive to ensure our traditions are maintained.
However, I welcome progress. So why are paying audiences dwindling? If a band is struggling with player numbers quality will suffer and inevitably the audiences musical ear will be offended. It follows, as mentioned in earlier posts, well known bands attract larger audiences. Although, I attended a terrific concert by Tredegar in Shrewsbury Abbey last year and the majority of the modest audience were there to support the Youth band (ie mums and dads etc).
Our brass bands are made up of players with differing requirements. Fanatics who wish to play every day and twice on Sunday, through to some who find the once a week rehearsal a chore. Contesters and non-contesters. Now each to their own, but that is how it is. So a proposal - allow players to sign with more than one band as long as the bands do not compete in the same section. For example, a player who wants could play back-row with a first section band and front-row with a third. He or she will gain because they get to play more, the first section keeps a good back-row and the third section (who may only contest once a year at the Area) gets a competent front-row. The current dep system could still remain in place. Smaller bands need better players to survive.
As for increasing concert audiences, well that is difficult. Brass Bands are comparable to choirs or for that matter morris dancing, it means more to the participants than the audience. So, we can play modern music, but perhaps we should join with other "minorities" and provide combined concerts to draw audiences from other walks of life. I know we do this already but perhaps some greater lateral thinking?

Just some thoughts.
 

DRW

New Member
So a proposal - allow players to sign with more than one band as long as the bands do not compete in the same section. For example, a player who wants could play back-row with a first section band and front-row with a third. He or she will gain because they get to play more, the first section keeps a good back-row and the third section (who may only contest once a year at the Area) gets a competent front-row. The current dep system could still remain in place. Smaller bands need better players to survive.
I agree with pretty much everything you've said there. Your proposal works well for contests, but what happens when a player who is a member of multiple bands get engagements that clash?
Also, why limit to only if the bands are in different sections? From my point of view, bands should contest with real members of the band. I.e. those that rehearse and perform with them regularly. If someone is a member of 2 bands of the same section, it would seem unfair if they cannot contest with one of them.

Funny that you mention Morris Dancing. While considering this thread yesterday and trying to draw parallels with other activities, I wondered if we were the musical world's Morris Dancers. :)
 
The players who might take advantage of this would be "real" members of each band because without financial incentive they would commit (rehearse and perform with) to each band as best they could. Remember, I am referring to dedicated players who want more brass banding than others. It seems logical that they should not compete with 2 different bands at the same contest in the same section. As for clashes, this could be a problem, but if we promote a climate where players are happy to help out without financial incentive we would all benefit. The suggestion is to fill chairs where possible in all bands. Unless I am mistaken are bands accepting (or being offered) less engagements than 10 years ago?
 
I like the idea of membership of more than one band, and practically in our house it works really well. Eb Ben wants to contest, so is signed with Catterick Brass, who currently only rehearse in the run up to contests. We both play with Bedale, which is about the laugh that banding is. When my job changed so I can't do Bedale rehearsals during term time we started going to Reeth, who are also more musically challenging for Ben. Each band is aware of the commitment that Ben will offer them, and the priority he uses to choose when engagements clash. He also sometimes helps out other bands in the area (and sometimes I'm allowed to tag along) It really does work- and lots of people in our area do it, because different bands offer different things (contests, social, musical etc), and nobody gets upset when people go to more than one! However not many Bands in this but of the world contest in the areas (only Cockerton and Catterick as far as I'm aware) so there isn't the pressure to belong to just one band. It's lovely, and means (generally) everyone gets on well, and there is a lot of overlap between bands, and with people helping each other out.
 

Sonorous

New Member
I've always thought the idea of multiple membership is potentially a good one. There are definitely players who may well play 3rd cornet at the highest level, but also wish to improve their solo skills and take up a principal seat in a lower section band. I agree that this may cause problems with what is deemed to be fair, and how the registration rules can be loosened enough to allow natural flexibility, but kept tight enough to prohibit 'cheating'.

This is where our mindset of contesting being the crux of banding can be a problem. In my mind, contesting should always reflect the bands main role, that of performing music. So it surely should reflect what would happen normally in concerts (where borrowed players, and players with ties to several bands, are often the norm).

This again though raises it's own issues.. could allowing one person to take up several roles stop bands having to push people forward into roles to develop themselves - ie a Repiano stepping up to play principle rather than simply taking on a local expert. I don't know how it would affect it, but it's got to be worth considering.

I still don't think that we should automatically assume that there isn't room for some sort of professional incentive within Brass Bands. My main concern as stated earlier is that we restrict the very best in our field with the same regulations as the rest of us. There are many brass players out there who do promote brass to the wider world, but they tend to be orchestral or jazz based, due to the lack of restrictions and the professional incentive allowed. As I said earlier, Mnozil Brass are a great inspiration currently, but they are orchestral players.. there's no reason why some of the greats within the brass band arena couldn't be also out there doing something different to gain a similar respect, and give similar incentive. They don't because of our movements inability to embrace things that don't fit the contesting brass band's format, and the horror at the thought of encouraging professional players and outfits.
 

Sonorous

New Member
Funny that you mention Morris Dancing. While considering this thread yesterday and trying to draw parallels with other activities, I wondered if we were the musical world's Morris Dancers. :)
I really hope not!! And actually this analogy highlights what can happen when something is inflexible, and never changes. Morris Dancing is a nice tradition from our past, but it doesn't have any place in the modern world other than as a novelty item of heritage. And I don't mean that in any disrespect to Morris Dancers, I'm sure they'd agree that the passtime is specifically just about keeping alive an old tradition (even though some of the troops are really excellent).

If Orchestras had the same attitude to change that we have, they would simply exist of small rennaisance ensembles playing Monteverdi only. These would probably still have an audience (and in fact there are groups out there who fill this role), but only in a historical sense much in the same sense as Morris Dancers.
 
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MoominDave

Well-Known Member
Orchestras are rather in that hole already, with endless programmes of Beethoven and Brahms seemingly what the public want to hear from them...

Poor Morris dancers! Bet they wouldn't be happy to be dismissed by a bunch of brass banders the way we often do dismiss them.
 
Andre Rieu seems to have found a popular following with his orchestra. Interesting that he has used a young trumpeter playing a popular brass band piece "buglers holiday" and 400 brass players from Limburger to diversify his concerts. Mind you his musicians are brilliant.
 

Sonorous

New Member
Orchestras are rather in that hole already, with endless programmes of Beethoven and Brahms seemingly what the public want to hear from them...

Poor Morris dancers! Bet they wouldn't be happy to be dismissed by a bunch of brass banders the way we often do dismiss them.
Actually you're right in a sense, many amateur orchestras are a little stuck with their repertiore and performing to less and less audiences. The Symphony has stopped being an active form for modern composers too. Mind you there are still changes going on with Orchestras that are bringing in new audiences, particularly with them starting to embrace film music as acceptably important sources of 'classical' music. Including them in the proms etc. And rightly so. (Yes I know brass bands play film music, but the point is that they are written for orchestras not brass bands - in my opinion there's no reason why a brass band couldn't play very serious and acceptable 'classical' music which is written specifically for it - it once was the case, but no longer)

And this is the thing, we can continue playing the same thing to the same audience, but it will continually diminish, we need to keep that genre fresh with new ideas otherwise we will be the Morris Dancers of music.

PS it's not just Brass Bands that bash Morris Dancers, they're tough skinned, they've GOT to be!! haha I'm sure they'll be fine :)
 

Sonorous

New Member
Andre Rieu seems to have found a popular following with his orchestra. Interesting that he has used a young trumpeter playing a popular brass band piece "buglers holiday" and 400 brass players from Limburger to diversify his concerts. Mind you his musicians are brilliant.
And so are many of ours :)
 

GJG

Well-Known Member
Andre Rieu seems to have found a popular following with his orchestra. Interesting that he has used a young trumpeter playing a popular brass band piece "buglers holiday" and 400 brass players from Limburger to diversify his concerts. Mind you his musicians are brilliant.
... not an original brass band piece, unfortunately, only an arrangement of a light orchestral piece.
 

Bayerd

Active Member
Funny that you mention Morris Dancing. While considering this thread yesterday and trying to draw parallels with other activities, I wondered if we were the musical world's Morris Dancers. :)
Perish the thought. Morris dancers love drinking beer for a start.

Oh wait...
 

nethers

Active Member
While it is of course worthy of discussion, it says a lot that part of this thread has come around again to changing contest rules to improve our position...
 

Thirteen Ball

Active Member
Expect the continental bands and the Scots to lead the way on that, Marc. They have the necessary organisation and structure to consult, propose and drive change.

Conversely, we in England do not - and unfortunately several people high up in what fragmented organisations we do have, seem to have a vested interest in keeping things that way.

Nothing innovative ever seems to come out of English banding, except when a band takes it upon themselves to do it.
 

euphymike

Member
As an ex pro muso there is little loyalty to band leaders. No gigs bands so you move on. Amateur musicians have a bit more loyalty and stay with bands because it's their band. As a youngest I played for Rowntrees works band an if you left to play for York railway institute you became an outcast never to darken the band room again. So I think combining bands is not always the way forward. Too much emotion involved me thinks?
 

DRW

New Member
As an ex pro muso there is little loyalty to band leaders. No gigs bands so you move on. Amateur musicians have a bit more loyalty and stay with bands because it's their band. As a youngest I played for Rowntrees works band an if you left to play for York railway institute you became an outcast never to darken the band room again. So I think combining bands is not always the way forward. Too much emotion involved me thinks?
You raise some good, new points euphymike. I hear that in large, professional ensembles, there is little social interaction between players (note 'players' not 'members'); it's a case of turn up for rehearsals and concerts, take your money and run. I would expect that professional brass bands would also fall into this type of culture rather than the tradition of being based on community spirit.

Is there anything we can learn from the popularity of the current fashion of 'community choirs'? After all, brass bands are essentially nothing more than community choirs with instruments are they not? I have noticed some bands' websites and publicity seems to have jumped on this bandwagon simply by including the work 'community' prominently within headline text. It would be interesting to hear if this has had any effect.

Many of us know that lots of bands are built around 2 or 3 core families and their close friends. This is often the root of successful longevity. However, I wonder if it can also be part of what unwittingly restricts growth; giving the impression that membership is restricted to cliques. Being rebranded as a community band may be one way of opening doors to more new players. Of course this rebranding needs to be more about the actions that the band takes than the name or any words on paper / screens, e.g. have-a-go workshops, open rehearsals, training bands, no sideways looks at people we don't like the look of etc.

Also remember that success breeds success. Always present a positive and proud image of your band at whatever level or size. At every performance, sincerely invite new prospective members to make enquiries or visit a rehearsal, be upbeat, encourage your members to look like they enjoy playing...
 

Bayerd

Active Member
While it is of course worthy of discussion, it says a lot that part of this thread has come around again to changing contest rules to improve our position...
I noticed that too.

I can understand why. Bands lower down the scale don't have the clout to illicit change and encourage others to follow. Those at the top of the tree are generally run by the self serving crowd who have worked out how to win a contest and have convinced their employers that contest success is the be all and end all, rather than trying to find ways of becoming popular with the masses...

If the figure I read was correct about the amount of pay a certain high profile MD was receiving, it's no wonder bands are in decline. There's no way the job's worth that kind of money, even at the top level. What happened to value?
 

Cath Ata

New Member
Isn't it just a form of natural selection? Some more challenged ensembles will have to fold for the better ones to continue.
 
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