Kenneth Crookston, CEO of Brass Bands England, has given a robust defence of the work the organisation has been undertaking in keeping the UK movement informed of the latest developments surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic.
It comes after the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced that gatherings of non-professional brass, wind and singing groups, including brass bands have been prohibited until further notice.
He told 4BR: "There have been considerable opinions aired on the matter, both by representative bodies covering various genres of the performing arts and individuals on social media.
However, Brass Band England (BBE) has made it very clear since the outbreak of Covid-19 that the health and wellbeing of members of the brass band community is our top priority and will always remain the case.
We were therefore really disappointed that the DCMS announcement signalled an apparent reverse in the progress that had been made over previous weeks in allowing brass groups to gather in small numbers outdoors with suitable precautions and social distancing in place.
Such gatherings appear to present a lower risk than many other activities currently permitted, and while there is still sufficient doubt over the nature and robustness of some research being circulated to ensure we maintain a cautious overall approach, there is growing evidence that the playing of brass instruments is not in itself any more hazardous than normal social gatherings."
He added: "However, the potential dangers involved with brass players operating in close proximity to each other while often breathing vigorously, remain high barriers to any safe return to 'normal' banding activity in the short-term."
Kenny Crookston confirmed that the advice issued to BBE member bands throughout the pandemic has been formulated in partnership with Public Health England (PHE) and, more recently, DCMS.
From this he said, BBE has provided information on the various types of activity in which bands can partake during normal operation. He pointed out that this has included the different types of banding premises, ventilation, physical setup of groups, the nature and operation of the instruments.
He added that it also takes into account the physical effort and breath control required, age and demographic profiles, and non-playing activities like committee meetings and other social gatherings.
"We've also presented a number of studies carried out worldwide. Although not all of these have yet been peer reviewed, there have been some notable additions to the knowledge base which have assisted the decision-making process within both PHE and DCMS.
To be clear, the specific advice given throughout the pandemic has been backed by medical and scientific professionals, and not simply BBE's judgement on a matter well outside the remit of any arts-based organisation."
He continued: "This advice has been offered freely and timely manner for everyone in brass banding who has chosen to take heed of it. Regardless of any other perception, it has been, and will continue to be, aimed entirely at keeping as many people as possible, as safe as possible."
Reflecting Government guidance
Whilst recognising that BBE is a support organisation and not a regulatory body, Kenny Crookston told 4BR that he felt that it was worth recognising that the vast majority of this guidance had, he felt, reflected the Government's general guidelines at the time of issue.
He said: "Although we have been fortunate to have obtained some 'brass band specific' elements from PHE at various times, these have all been driven entirely by our core aim throughout to keep the members of the brass band community as safe as possible."
He did note however that BBE was aware of growing frustrations within the banding community.
"With the current situation that's entirely understandable and is shared by all trustees and staff at BBE.
It has resulted in some calls for a return to 'business as usual', including requests for BBE to lobby the Government for a process to put bands on an 'equal footing' with professional performers or other elements of the business sector."
However, he urged patience.
"Before any such appeals are made, it's worth considering that much of the easing of lockdown is driven by political and economic issues rather than scientific or medical advances,"he said.
"Although very important to all of us, brass banding is not a profession for the overwhelming majority of those who take part in it.
At a time of crisis an activity that cannot be described as 'vital' on a national level, yet still has the capacity to deepen the predicament through cross-infection, is clearly low priority in a wider sense.
Current evidence is of another rise in the death rate, with more people reported as dying of Covid-19-related issues in the past 24 hours (12 July) than in any single sports stadium disaster in our history, adding to the 60,000-plus excess deaths in the UK already attributed to the pandemic in 2020.
Sadly, these figures have included some cherished members of our banding community, while many more have been affected by serious illness, bereavement or the economic impact of the worst recession in our history."
To be clear, the specific advice given throughout the pandemic has been backed by medical and scientific professionals, and not simply BBE's judgement on a matter well outside the remit of any arts-based organisationKenny Crookston
As for the future, Kenny Crookston felt that the work BBE is providing essential advice to help formulate a safe return to banding.
He continued: "Rather than call for any immediate return to something approaching normality, BBE is committed to helping to find practical and safe solutions for our member organisations
It is done in the hope that when they are able to get together in the future it is with the lowest possible level of risk to both their members and the general public, and with as many still alive and well as possible.
We are already working with scientists connected to the DCMS and will contribute in a practical manner to their research in the coming weeks, helping them to identify and understand the specific dangers relating to playing in a brass band."
He stated that this included being involved in laboratory-based trials aimed at identifying the specific levels of aerosols and droplets produced during different aspects of banding activity, including playing, breathing and even singing.
He said: "It is our profound hope that our work in this respect will help enable a more robust and timely decision-making process within Government agencies, resulting in the fastest possible SAFE return to banding for everyone."
He concluded: "BBE would like to thank the many members of the brass band community who have contacted us in recent months, either in appreciation for the tireless work of the BBE staff members who have been directly involved in sourcing Covid-19 advice for everyone's benefit or to clarify details to keep their own bands' activities as safe as possible.
These are difficult times for us all, but the overwhelmingly positive nature of the comments we have received have provided everyone at BBE with plenty of optimism as we continue to work together with our member and partner organisations for a brighter future for brass banding in the years ahead."