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Answering health questions
How the Covid-19 break has renewed Norwegian banding

The return of the Norwegian National Championships has seen the banding culture take a positive look at battling middle age lethargy.


Grab your seat...

The most significant measure of the collective confidence on show at the recent Norwegian National Championships came not with the quality of the performances at the Grieghallen in Bergen, but by the number of people who took the opportunity to listen to them.

Before Covid-19 struck there was a perceptible sense that middle-age fatigue had started to seep into an event that celebrated its 40th birthday in 2019.  

Although audience numbers remained high, the ebb and flow of eager enthusiasts sitting in the cavernous 1500 seat main auditorium, even for the Elite Division competitors, had started to mirror that of major contests in the UK.  

Whatever the Norwegian equivalent was for ‘a cup of tea band’, it was being sipped in ever increasing numbers.

Whatever the Norwegian equivalent was for ‘a cup of tea band’, it was being sipped in ever increasing numbers.

Leisurely stroll

Since the establishment of a Fifth Division in 2012 when 77 bands took part (up three from the previous year), competing numbers had not increased at all. 75 bands took to the stage in 2019 and 2020, the last year before the unforced break.  

Any urgent sprint to claim your seat for the Elite Division action (especially the own-choice) had started to be replaced by a more leisurely stroll. 


The question answered in 2023

Recapture

Norwegian banding had the feeling of beginning to rest on its laurels: Despite the achievements and innovations there was a need to recapture the vibrant energy that gave the contest such a sense of forward momentum. 

Perhaps they had become blasé about the attraction of a contest whose long established commitment to relaxed player registration rules, own-choice test-pieces and open adjudication (and there is little or no debate over its use here – even in the own-choice section of the Elite Division) in offering a mature appreciation of contesting needs.

Major jolt

The enforced Covid-19 break certainly provided an unforeseen major jolt (as it has been across the banding world), but in this case it seems to have also shaken any sense of middle-aged lethargy out of the system.  

The first signs came at the Siddis Entertainment Championships in Stavanger in November (where there was certainly some vibrancy to post contest partying), but it was in Bergen where it was confirmed with substance.

The enforced Covid-19 break certainly provided an unforeseen major jolt (as it has been across the banding world), but in this case it seems to have also shaken any sense of middle-aged lethargy out of the system.  

81 bands took to the stages in the Grieghallen (including several debutants), 26 in the bottom two Divisions of competition (up 1 from 2019). 

Significantly though was the sight of people staying in to listen to multiple bands in both contest halls - not just their own favourites and then disappearing back to the bar as was becoming a growing trend.  


A new generation of young players are coming through

Full complement

Bands were able to take to the stage fielding full complements of players (notably tubas and percussion). The atmosphere was one of friendship and fun (even if we didn’t quite get all the jokes made by the comperes), whilst the inherent competitiveness to try and claim a National title was not diluted in any way.  

Speaking to members of the press, Norwegian Music Federation (NMF) volunteers, conductors, players and supporters, there was a sense that Covid-19 had reminded them of just how important it was to support the banding movement as whole and to place the trivialities of contest minutiae in a dustbin of irrelevance.

Speaking to members of the press, Norwegian Music Federation (NMF) volunteers, conductors, players and supporters, there was a sense that Covid-19 had reminded them of just how important it was to support the banding movement as whole and to place the trivialities of contest minutiae in a dustbin of irrelevance.


Young soloists shone in many bands

Excellence

It is why their contesting structure is based on excellence and mature openness.

It is also why they can confidently look to build on a new post Covid-19 landscape that has brought many changes to the country – not least in people’s social and cultural habits and pastimes.

Strengthen

The NMF is acutely aware that the banding movement must continue to strengthen its community foundations as well as look outwards for it to prosper in the future.  The investment in youth initiatives has given things an injection of lifeblood - from new champion Eikanger down.  

The investment in youth initiatives has given things an injection of lifeblood - from new champion Eikanger down.  

The evidence was seen with the number of bands taking the opportunity to perform at the event with substantial numbers of new young players.


Youthful talent is leading bands in every section

Radoy youngsters

One such was Radoy Brass led by Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen in the ultra-competitive First Division. A third of his band was made up of young players who had never played at the event before. His delight at their efforts (and he admitted he was close to tears at the end) meant more to him than anything else.

He was not alone. 

In the Elite Division, Ila Brass performed an own-choice work (‘King of a New Dawn’) that celebrated their 50th anniversary – one that came during some of the darkest moments of Covid-19 in 2022, but which was inspired by a sense of future positivity.

It was rejuvenated reminder of just what has made the event such an occasionally bonkers joy over the years. 

Back to bonkers

In the First Division, Oslofjord Brass premiered ‘The Cosmographic Mystery’  written by their young principal cornet player, whilst the sense of adventure and ambition saw ‘Paganini Variation’  played by the winning band in the Third Division, ‘The Plantagenets’  performed in the Fourth and ‘Variations on a Ninth’  in the Fifth.

It was rejuvenated reminder of just what has made the event such an occasionally bonkers joy over the years. 


A new compositional voice with Oslofjord Brass...

Extra contest

In what may seem like a contradictory position to what is happening in the UK, Norwegian banding could well benefit from a third national contest that could take place in the gap between the Nationals (February) and Siddis (November).

There is also the potential to try and form closer links to the British Open Spring Festival in Blackpool in May each year. 

Given the standard of performances at Elite level this year, that may be met with the type of apprehension in bandrooms in the UK that greeted the last set of Vikings invaders in 793. 

That event is already open to bands wishing to enter, but a more formal ‘invitation’ to the runner-up in the Elite Division (the winner represents the nation at the Europeans) to go directly into the Grand Shield maybe worth exploring (as it is with other European nations).  

And before anyone asks – it has been done before way back in 1972 with the Dutch.

Viking invaders

Given the standard of performances at Elite level this year, that may be met with the type of apprehension in bandrooms in the UK that greeted the last set of Vikings invaders in 793. 

However, the Norwegians still have a great reverence for British contesting. If they can be persuaded that it offers both a cost effective and musically attractive opportunity for the future, a trickle could well become a long-term conduit that may benefit us all.

That is a rejuvenation we can all hope to enjoy.

Iwan Fox 

All images in this article are copyright: John Vint at: https://www.jvphoto.no/

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