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Take 5
Opinion points from the Regional Championships

Five things open to discussion from the recent series of competitive events around the country.

Five talking points that arose from the recent regional championship events round the country.


Self denial

Year after year one number clearly indicates the competitive state of health of the movement in the UK.   

476 bands at the regional championships tells us that we are dying.  

Yet it doesn’t matter how many times we are informed (see links), like a lifelong smoker seeing a specialist about their increasing shortage of breath, we cough, splutter and wheeze with excuses that the inevitable doesn’t apply to us. 

Last year 471 bands competed at the Regional Championships, so a self-denial defence is based on the tiniest crumb of comfort.

The reality though is very different.

In 1992, when the First Section was established, there were 577 competing bands, and at the turn of the Millennium, 573 were still taking part.  However, by 2008 it was hovering around the 500 mark and decade or so later its now around 475. 

Now there are as many top section bands as those in the Fourth Section. The prognosis is heading in one direction only – yet we blind ourselves to the starkest of facts.  

If we don’t get the message that things have to fundamentally change, the best we can hope for is getting future sponsorship for the regionals from local funeral directors. 

Think of a number:
https://www.4barsrest.com/articles/2023/2000.asp

The State of the Nation:
https://www.4barsrest.com/articles/2008/art841.asp


Eric Ball

That in its way leads us to ‘High Peak’.

It is a work all about attainment. Yet, the reality this year was that it was also about shining an uncomfortable light on the majority of First Section bands that were simply ill-equipped to meet its challenges.

There was nothing retrograde about its choice by the Kapitol Music Panel. In fact, it was an informed endorsement of the reality of First Section banding across the UK. 

In that respect, what was heard (and confirmed to 4BR on several occasions by adjudicators) was a symptom of a far greater problem that now afflicts the Regional Championships.  

Competent First Section bands should have been able to perform it and perform it well. 

That there were so few should alarm everyone greatly.

The blame does not entirely rest on the bands or conductors, and certainly not the Music Panel – but on a structure and a First Section that it now supports, that has for far too long been unfit for purpose.  

Until that is comprehensively overhauled, the works of Eric Ball and others who have long provided us with our ‘core repertoire’ will continue to highlight that fact time and time again.


Copy the Youth Championships

Which brings us to the Fourth Section.

Just a week after the last of the Regional Championships, the National Youth Championships took place in Cheltenham.

Here the ethos was understandably different, yet the desire to embrace a sense of transparency and inclusion has rejuvenated the event in recent years.

It should be copied as a matter of urgency. 

There were just three bands competing in the Fourth Section in Wales this year. Yorkshire and the North of England also had more bands in their top sections than they did in the Fourth. The West of England, usually a beacon of strength, had just 11 bands – the same as the Championship Section.  

Why anyone can still believe we need to apply rules at Fourth Section level that exclude rather than include participants, impose restrictions on what can be played and insist on an antiquated system of appreciation and judgment, has also long passed the point of being ludicrous.


Try volunteering

One of the manifest problems that has risen through the lack of long-term strategic planning has been accompanying rise in self-interest entitlement.
  
Why bother about the future of the regional championships and their relevant standards of competitiveness when there is more concern displayed about the lack of bar facilities? 

Regional Championship Committees are run by volunteers increasingly subject to ignorant vitriol if their selfless commitment doesn’t somehow meet the entitlement demands of those who have little or no idea of just what is involved in running the events in the first place.

At two Regional Championship events this year the venue management issued warnings that a lack of respectful behaviour would, not could, lead to the immediate cancellation of  the event.

Yet as soon as it was reported, the self interest entitlement excuses and arguments were aired.  

If you really want to help change things, try volunteering and offer to join the Regional Committees rather than taking to the internet keyboards and venting ignorant spleens at not being able to spend all day in the bar.

And if you want to see an example of volunteering working well, get in touch with the Scottish Brass Bands Association and see how they get people of all ages involved.


National Finals 

There is a still a great deal of pride involved in gaining an invitation to compete at the National Finals at London and Cheltenham.

However, the current process is surely in need of a comprehensive overhaul.  

Two out of three bands in Wales qualified for the Fourth Section National Final, yet only one more came from 17 competitors at London & Southern Counties.  

The current system for the Championship Section means that Wales will also have four representative bands at the Royal Albert Hall – out of the eight that took part in the Welsh Regional Championship event.

Excellence should always be rewarded, yet the current system only partially reflects that.
 
One that can accurately reflect quality rather than quantity would surely be more appropriate, yet that can only achieved if a more fundamental restructuring of the sections is undertaken first. 

Then we could perhaps see the top six bands from the previous year plus the eight regional champions (or appropriate highest placed band) being invited to the Royal Albert Hall, with new numerical qualification levels for Sections 1-4.

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