The trouble with the youth of today... - Has progress been made?

6-Jan-2008

Alun F Wiliams, Head of Brass for Gwent Music Support Services wonders if any progress has been made in sorting out youth contesting since the last time he asked two years ago.


Having recently re-read an article I wrote entitled, “The trouble with the youth of today - Iwan Fox talks to Alun Williams on the development of youth band contests”, published in the British Bandsman, 9th July 2005, I am left wondering on how much progress really has been made during the last two years. 

My final paragraph stated then; “What I would like, though, is better communication and co-ordination regarding all the issues raised, an improvement of the current situation for youth bands and a raising of the profile at this important level”.

A case of bad timing

Following last year’s very poor entry for the well sponsored and publicised Pontin’s Youth Band Contest, the organisers have now decided to stage the event in 2008 on Sunday 8th June.

Two years ago when I was saying that the end of June was not a good time, the 8th June is now right in the middle of the school exams in England and Wales, and would be very difficult to put any youth band together, especially with students having exams on the day after.

The date set for the National Youth Brass Band Championships is Sunday 13th April at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. Last year, there was an excellent entry of 40 youth bands and the standard throughout the day was excellent.

Initiatives

This is the first Sunday back at the start of term and again will have difficulties for some bands. I do appreciate, that it is very difficult to get the right date with the venue availability, and there have been moves here on the communication front, with three forums held in Birmingham, Barnsley and Churchdown, Gloucestershire organised by the BFBB, to discuss the National Youth Championships and youth band development.

I welcome more initiatives of this nature and hope that these forums will be held more regularly. Unfortunately, the forum organised for the South West region was held on the same day as the National Championships at the Royal Albert Hall!

Format of National Youth Championships

In the brochure recently sent out by the BFBB for the Youth Championships next year, one of the aims and objectives is “to provide an incentive for more bands to challenge for Premier honours”.

There are many sections covered in the one day championships, which haven’t changed from my article in 2005, but County bands can enter the County Band Championship which is open to all music centre, borough or county bands whose membership is organised through an Education Authority or Music Service.

According to this rule all County Bands could enter this section and play ‘Music for a Festival’ by Philip Sparke plus some pieces to a total of twenty minutes. The incentive for bands to enter the Premier Section this year is to play Edward Gregson’s ‘Essay for Band’ plus a piece or pieces which demonstrate the higher musical achievements of the band to a total of twenty five minutes.

In the past, this has been another test piece. ‘Essay’ is a very difficult work and would be a good challenge without having to play more pieces. It will be interesting to see how many bands enter the Premier Section with this incentive! Previous test pieces have been ‘The Aeronauts’ (Richards), ‘Partita’ (Wilby), 'Occasion' (Gregson) and 'Lyonnesse' (Dobson) which was a difficult work for youth bands.

Media coverage

The National Festival of Music for Youth Brass Band Festival, held in July (after the exams) is still an excellent event for youth bands and bands have to be invited from their performances held at Regional Festivals in February/March.

On average, 65 bands perform at the regional Festivals and in 2007, 7 bands were invited to play at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham in the Schools Section, 9 in the Music Centre section and 6 in the Open Section.

The Abraham Darby Brass Band and the Wardle High School Senior Band have just performed at the highly prestigious Schools Proms Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in November, and having listened to both performances, congratulations go to everybody concerned for some superb playing from these two school bands. Unfortunately, where was the publicity and media coverage for both the July and November events.

Because it is a Festival and not a Contest, the brass band media don’t want to know. There was more coverage on the Pontin’s Youth Brass Band Championships weekend when only a handful of bands took part. This must change!

Providing incentives

Besides the British Open Youth Band title and the National Youth Band title, are there any other incentives for the year of success. It just gets forgotten. There should surely be an invite to perform in concert with the National Brass Band Champions or any one of the top Brass Bands in this country in a prestigious concert.

Just an idea! I always remember after winning the National Youth Band title with Greater Gwent in 1994, the incentive in 1995 was for the winners to perform live on Blue Peter. We came 2nd to West Lothian and I am still waiting to get my Blue Peter badge! What an incentive! 

It was great this year to see the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain sharing the stage with Grimethorpe and Black Dyke in the Gala Concert in the Symphony Hall, the day after the British Open. The Brass Band Movement needs more of these initiatives.

A Gwent blueprint?

More importantly, is the future development of our youth bands, both at a Local level and a County level and the involvement of these players into the ‘Senior Bands’ of the organisation. I think all bands should have a junior/youth band and become involved with their development, both socially and musically. In Gwent, the Gwent Youth Brass Band Network (GYBBN) has been in place since the early 1960’s and encourages young brass and percussion players to support their local bands.

In Gwent, the three Unitary Authorities of Blaenau Gwent, Monmouthshire and Newport, through the Gwent Music Support Service fund the tutors in their bands to tutor and train the young people to play in junior/youth bands and eventually into their senior bands. Bands in Torfaen are also funded by their Authority and are monitored by the Music Service.

Simple structure

The structure is a simple one based on communication between the Music Service and the local brass bands. It isn’t always simple and there are problems, but when problems do occur, the communication forum is there to find a way forward. 

There have been super links between the Music Service and the local Brass Bands during the last 47 years, and we are still trying to find ways of improving and developing, and there is still a long way to go.

I always find it pleasing to see so many former youth band players when I was playing with the youth band, still playing in many of the local brass bands and also throughout the UK.

Focus

With the focus on improvement and development, I will be visiting all 15 bands before 31st March to get an accurate picture of where we are and where we need to go. We can never keep still.

Some of the many successes of the ‘GYBBN’ is the annual Gwent Youth Brass Band Festival held in January where over twenty youth bands (including six adults) perform a twenty minute entertainment programme without a test piece, the Solo and Quartet Contest held in May and the success of the Greater Gwent Youth Brass Band which depends on the support from the local bands.

A very important factor of the ‘GYBBN’ is the number of young players who are encouraged to attend their local brass band by their school brass teacher, and can stay there long after their School/College/University education has finished. This is what we all must try and achieve in this brass band movement, and to make it fun, enjoyable and worthwhile.


This article first appeared in British Bandsman newspaper in edition 5486: 8th December 2007

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