Major Headaches: Part
The British Open Brass Band Championships
It may come as no surprise to you all out there, but given that
just about every other bleeding programme on the TV for the past
few weeks has been about the last fifty years of Good Queen
Bess and how during the last half century she has remained
as unchanged as an incontinent pensioner in a nursing home, 4BR
has decided to have a look at our very own institutions of state
the major brass band championships and see whether or not
time and the heavy shadow of progress has finally caught up with
them and made them redundant.
Are the Nationals and Open in need of change, overhaul and modernisation?
Are the Masters and Europeans undemocratic and unrepresentative
of the modern brass band scene? Will David King ever win at the
Albert Hall? Has the Queen or any member of the Royal family ever
attended a brass band contest and if not why do we still
play the National anthem at the start of every contest? You know
the important questions of our time.
Weve therefore had a look at each of the four Majors
and picked out what we believe are their plus points, their minus
points and most importantly, what we think may be a few ideas
to help them survive and flourish well into the 21st century. By
the time old Brenda will have been on the throne for 75 years (she
will get there you know), will the brass band contest be as healthy
and popular? See what you think.
First up then, the oldest of them all:
The British Open Brass Band Championships
Older by nearly fifty years than the House of Windsor itself, the
British Open remains the grand old lady of the brass band world
ancient, revered, untroubled by change
. and finally
starting to show its age?
It may seem like sacrilege that we even dare discuss if there are
any problems with the Old Lady, but we think there is
a need. In 150 years the Open has only had four homes, a set criteria
of judging, roughly the same number of competing bands and
an average age of the audience that has now crept past pension age.
It remains our flagship for the general public to look at in awe
and admiration but does the general public really think its
relevant in the 21st Century?
The plus points:
150 years of tradition
Superb concert hall and facilities
Commissions of new works
High standards of performance
Not bad eh? You cant beat tradition just ask the Americans,
who think history is something that happened before the invention
of the television set; the Symphony Hall is superb and offers great
facilities for everyone; there is usually a new work to perform
each year; the standards of performance are high and overall it
is well run and organised.
The minus points:
Too many bands
A conservative approach to change
Variable standards of quality
Lack of media coverage
Lack of openness
It speaks for itself really too many bands bring a legion
of problems including variable levels of performance, whilst
there seems to be an inherent conservative approach to the question
of change. There is next to no media coverage in the national press
and many believe the organisers should try and involve the bands
themselves in the development of the contest the mystery
of the dropping of the original test piece for the contest being
a case in point.
So how should the British Open change things to make itself an even
For us its about the structure of the contest, rather than just
its content that we think is in need of reform. So these are our
Reduction in the number of competing bands
Implementation of long-term policies on choices of composers
to write for the contest
Review of the adjudication process and selection
Appointment of Press Officer
Implementation of consultation process with the bands
Thats it for us for the time being at least. There
is little doubt that there are too many bands playing at the Open.
This leads to all sorts of problems, not at least the variable standards
of performances, but also the problems of time. Who remembers the
marathon that was the Open of Dove Descending? This
of course leads to problems of choice of set works and the limitations
that must be imposed on the composers due to the time constraints.
The reduction of bands would lead to we think, an overall improvement
in the standards of performances and the standard and nature of
the compositions available to be played.
This leads to our second suggestion. There is a desperate need for
new, exciting composers to be invited to write for the medium. The
argument that it is too expensive or that the likes of James McMillan
couldnt write anything for brass bands until 2009 is spurious.
A long term approach to the need for new compositions is needed.
The over reliance on a small band of brass composers has been shown
to be short sighted Philip Wilbys rich seam of work
was exhausted some time ago over exploited in too short a
space of time.
There is a need to review the whole process of the adjudication
system used and the selection process. There is an argument for
new ears, new systems and dare one say it getting
the judges to explain themselves to the audience. Why not a five
man panel; why not open adjudication; why not separate judges
Why not at least discuss it.
The appointment of a full time professional Press Officer may seem
a small request, but if the contest is to remain relevant to the
general public, there is a desperate need for press coverage. The
organisers may be doing something, but to be truthful it has useless
over the years. There is a need to provide the press with information,
pictures, articles, and facilities on the day etc. In return they
will be surprised what they will get back.
And finally consultation and communication with the bands
themselves. Why not talk to the bands about the things that worry
them. Why not try and explain what the organisers are thinking about?
We hear stories and rumours a plenty why was the original
choice of the set work last year dropped for instance? What about
the 150 celebration concert was there any consultation about
this it was originally going to be another contest wasnt
it? So why was that dropped?
Be open about things and youll get positive responses from
people keep things secret and you just breed discontent.
We need to know who and how the decisions are made its
not a lot to ask.
So thats it for us. What do you think? Let us know on the
comments page whether or not you agree or disagree with us, and
whether or not you have any better ideas. The more the merrier.