Gregson speech strikes major chord at BBE Conference

Edward Gregson's keynote speech at the Brass Band England Conference certainly got people thinking, debating and opinionating...

  Edward Gregson was introduced as the keynote speaker by BBE CEO Kenny Crookston

Edward Gregson used the opportunity as the keynote speaker at the first Brass Band England Conference in Sale to highlight his belief in the need for significant change within the UK brass band movement.

In a wide-ranging speech prefaced by his comment warning those in attendance as well as listening on the live-stream broadcast that it would be 'controversial', the 74 year certainly did that and more — tackling a series of issues that he felt were in need of urgent reform if brass banding was to regain "respect"in the wider musical world.


In a passionate speech that had a very specific elemental focus on what could be perceived as ingrained attitudes and outdated shibboleths, Prof Gregson touched on the need for a change of attitude and approach, balanced by a respect for constructive debate and cooperation.

He argued that at present the "musical establishment"- referring to elements such as BBC Radio 3, "do not take brass bands seriously", although his point was balanced by a witty observation (referring to the recent Sky Arts television series) on how brass bands and organisers often allow themselves to be stereotyped when the opportunity arises to be featured in the national media.


He also made sharply observed references to the movement's "obsession with the minutiae"of contesting — from adjudication to broadcasting, test-piece composition, contest ownership and national body organisation.

Wry smiles were mixed with murmurs of approval as he touched upon arguments over closed adjudication and trust, to conductor's rescoring works and the 'win at all costs' attitude that now prevails the contesting mentality at the top level — fuelled in some cases by the increase in brass band media coverage.

Lingua Franca

Prof Gregson also spoke of the current trend to a new 'lingua franca' of test-piece language — one that at its worst could be seen as "Hollywood film score techno"and the need to "increase the quality of the gene pool"from which both composers and adjudicators are sought.

He gave the examples of past works, described as "outstanding music"from the likes of Paul Patterson, Thomas Wilson, Judith Bingham, Robert Simpson and John Pickard, as well as judges such as David Willcocks and others who have adjudicated at the National Finals in the past.

"We need brave and visionary thinking — more 'outside' composers and adjudicators"he said, "The stronger the gene-pool of talent, the stronger the species".

The result of this current lack of "artistic planning"he added, not only had an effect on contests but also concerts — both of which he felt were in need of "significant change".

He wondered if the current structure of having up to 20 bands playing one test-piece at a major event was an era that "was perhaps coming to an end", and that in his opinion "the box may have to disappear"as he saw no real reason for it in this present day and age.

He finished his speech referring to the need for change to be relevant and modern, by quoting the famous Arthur O' Shaughnessy poetic 'Ode'; "We are the music makers — And we are the dreamers of dreams"4BR


And whilst his admiration for the Norwegian model of national organisation was marked, he balanced it with the recognition that it can only succeed if it was undertaken with "democratic accountability."

He finished his speech referring to the need for change to be relevant and modern, by quoting the famous Arthur O' Shaughnessy poetic 'Ode'; "We are the music makers — And we are the dreamers of dreams".

There were certainly plenty of brass band players, conductors and administrators left to do that after his address.

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