2006 National Youth Brass Band Championships - Postcard from Manchester


The National Youth Championships can tell us a great deal about our present and futu. So are we in good health, or are there things that can be done to improve our well being?

The National Youth Brass Band Championships is the movements barometer reading for the future. It is also the thermometer reading to the present as well. Given that duality of function, should we therefore read too much into this years event to suggest we are running at a fit and healthy temperature or that the future outlook even at this level is not marked as fair as we would like to think.

The answer is yes and no. 

Any minute now its my turn...

To predict the future from a single snapshot event would possibly be foolish in the extreme, but it is still not hard to suggest that for all the young talent that was on display at the RNCM, the immediate present, let alone the long term future is fragile indeed.

The return of Leo Sayer to the pop charts has a lot to answer for...

This year's event summed the feeling up perfectly.  There was so much to admire about the efforts of many of the bands – from the ambitious choices of pieces they tackled to the obvious talent displayed in playing them. As always with those of us who are starting to feel their age, the haircuts and fashions of some of the young players became a bit baffling, but you had to admire their sense of style and of enjoyment in performing.

I can see the music, honestly I can... 

As for the Championships, it has been well reported that due to a number of unrelated factors the event this year had difficulties attracting the number of bands it would have liked, but it was still worrying that there were only two bands in the Premier Championship and also the Schools Championship. There were excellent turnouts at the Community and County levels but there were only four bands in the Junior Championships.  

Given that Philip Watson, the British Federation Development Officer was on hand to see all of this, it would be interesting to know what the BFBB will be doing to address the situation for 2007. These Championships certainly need developing further.

The BFBB may also need to look at a number of other aspects surrounding the contest too.

The more superficial ones are the easiest to fix. The programme for instance has no explanation to the eligibility criteria that is in place to inform members of the public about the set up for each section. What is the difference between a Junior and School Band, or a Community Band for that matter?

There is also the question of the awards too. What criteria is used to decide, or as the programme states ‘to indicate their level of playing within their own section." That is meaningless tosh and reminds you of the baloney that is the ever increasing exam pass rates in education. Nobody fails now, everyone just passes at a different level. Not one judge allied their remarks to the why they had awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze, and why did they have too, because next to nobody knew what it meant to do so? Was this year's standards better than last year's for instance?

Clarity is required here otherwise the whole concept loses credibility. 

Then there is the question of the adjudicators too. For a Youth Championships there wasn't a lot of Youth on show from the judges was there? Experience is one thing, but having just one judge we think the right side of 50 isn't a recipe for connecting with youngsters is it now? Couldn't the BFBB be a bit more youth orientated with its choices in future – there are plenty good young judges put there that can be used.

For all their excellent work, there is a very complacent attitude within the BFBB at times to being pro active rather than reactive to concepts and especially forward planning. What they do, such as the running of the contest here, they do very well indeed.  Each section ran smoothly and was well presented, although we did hear grumbles from more than a few bands that they were not allowed to present their own contributions in the way they would have liked.

As for the bands, they too must have a hard look at themselves and especially those who are in charge of their musical development.

Why is it that there were less than a handful of cornet players who could produce a nice sound in all sections of the contest. Technically they are great, but musically we are producing cold toned cornet clones. The teachers should take the blame, for opting for short term fixes to long term problems. Too many cornet players here were performing on instruments with too large a bore and on mouthpieces that were far too shallow. If you want to produce a player that can play high and perform with a warm sound then it takes time. Those teachers who recommend the quick fix should be drummed out of their profession as fast as their rubbish teaching ideas can carry them.

The same goes for euph and trombone players as well. Too many are being taught poorly for them to have any long term future as potential top class players. If you cannot make a euphonium sound nice then something is radically wrong. 

It is not all doom and gloom though. There are fine teachers out there doing brilliant jobs, but as long as we are governed think short term thinking then the National Youth Championships will wither and decay in the same way that is happening in many other areas of our movement. The temperature currently indicates that things are OK, but OK only. The barometer though isn't looking as good at all.


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