BATTLE OF THE TITANS - Bands gear up for a titanic battle at the Royal Albert Hall

Issue 6016

COMPOSERS' CORNER - Dr Liz Lane looks at the subject of  networking 

HERE IS THE NEWS - Looking back at the Daily Herald's Nationals sponsorship

SBBA Learning Festival strikes a chord

Wednesday 5 February, 2020

Scotland’s bands of the year have been honoured for their contesting successes during a busy day of activities at the Scottish Brass Band Association’s annual general meeting and learning festival.

Band representatives from across Scotland gathered in Falkirk recently for the event, which was held in the welcoming function facilities at Falkirk Football Club’s stadium.

Newtongrange Silver Band was crowned Championship Section Band of the Year while Kingdom Brass won the award in the First Section. Newmains and District scooped Band of the Year in the Second Section and Perthshire Brass was named Third Section Band of the Year. The Fourth Section award was given to Barrhead Burgh Band.

Prizes were also given to recipients of the President’s Award, announced by SBBA president, Carrie Boax. The first award was presented to Whitburn Band for consistently competing with the best in Britain, including a third place at the 2019 National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain at the Royal Albert Hall.

Unison Kinneil was recognised for surviving the devastation of its band hall fire in 2019, encouraged and supported by generous offers of help from bands and the local community and enjoying considerable contesting success including wins at the First Section of the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain and the Band Supplies Scottish Challenge. The third award went to Dalmellington Band for its innovative Brassma project in which, with funding from YMI in conjunction with SBBA, it worked with the local health centre to offer brass tuition to young asthma sufferers. 

The day also featured a series of workshops offering guidance on a range of topics, from musical to administrative matters. Nigel Boddice MBE, lecturer in instrument performance at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, led the session on the art of conducting for players, conductors and band training, working on the three main points of technique, musicianship and psychology.

Alister Cush, chairman of Irvine and Dreghorn Brass, explained how his band had used the Community Asset Transfer process to acquire new rehearsal premises through the development of a business plan and achieving charitable status. Renowned player, conductor and adjudicator Anne Crookston talked about the purpose of adjudicating at contests, what she listens for in a performance and what will make an impact with the adjudicator, and how she scores what she has heard.

Maths and learning support teacher and cub scout leader Carole Allan’s workshop focused on safeguarding – what it is, who it affects and what are the protocols. She also developed the theme to provide a context for SBBA. A teacher with the Midlothian Instrumental Music Service, Barbara-Jane Waddell led two learning sessions – one on playing techniques for auxiliary instruments in a band’s percussion section and the other on the effects of dyslexia on music and helping dyslexic musicians of all ages.

Many of the formalities were completed early in the day, which opened with SBBA’s AGM. Carrie Boax, SBBA president, reflected on the past year and paid tribute to her executive team and trustees. She spoke of her pride in securing £90,000 of funding from the Scottish Government’s Creative Scotland Youth Music Initiative (YMI) programme, for the benefit of young performers.

Looking forward, Carrie said: “The challenges we face are clear. We appreciate funding is limited for senior events and contests and cuts in core provision in education continue. However, the solutions are also clear – they are found in the band rooms around the country; they are found in ourselves. 

“I have been inspired by the stories of new bands starting, brass groups reforming and players returning. It is definitely not easy, but if you care about our movement – and seeing you all here today shows that you do – then please reach out to the resources and experienced, determined people out there and help to make our movement grow. The rewards will be worth it.”

Among items on the agenda were the unopposed re-elections of Ann Murray and Tom Allan to the positions of vice president and secretary respectively. A new 10-member executive committee was also voted in for 2020.

After presenting and having approved the annual accounts, Julie Nicoll proposed a change in SBBA’s financial year from August 1 –July 31 to April 1 March 31 in order to make managing events and organising and administering YMI activities more practical as they would take place within the traditional tax year.

Entertaining attendees during the lunch break was novice section Scottish youth champion Abbey Brass, led by its conductor, Stuart Black, the young ensemble undertaking a four-hour round trip to take part in the day, which also involved providing musical backing for the conducting workshops.

Rounding off the day – alas, when some attendees had already taken their leave – was a Q&A session which shone a spotlight on several pertinent issues. Among the questions raised was a request for a dedicated safe-space at SBBA-run contests for anyone in need of a quiet zone to aid their mental health or in case of something like a panic attack.

Other issues brought to the fore were challenges faced by many bands relating to player recruitment. John Boax, education officer, spoke of the importance of bands developing youth strands and generally working to ensure their organisations are attractive, welcoming environments where people feel they belong. The comments rounded off a thought-provoking and rewarding day of activities for the benefit of Scotland’s bands.

SBBA Executive: Carrie Boax, president; Ann Murray, vice president; Tom Allan, secretary/registrar; Julie Nicoll, treasurer. Committee: Danny Harrison, Dunfermline Town; Damian Martin, Bon-Accord Silver; Jim Wishart, Brass Central Strathearn; Lesley Crumlish, Brass Sounds Inverclyde; Siobhan Crumlish, Brass Sounds Inverclyde (NYBBS rep); Jim Milligan, Annan Town; Steve Gray, Dalkeith and Monktonhall; Grant Brown, MacTaggart Scott Loanhead; Elaine Roxburgh, Irvine and Dreghorn Youth; Murray White, Renfrew Burgh.

Image by Nigel Martin.

 

Editor’s view

There was much to commend at the 2020 SBBA Learning Festival, with workshops and sessions which were of genuine benefit.

By the time the Q&A started, numbers had started to dwindle as attendees made for home but the challenges expressed by those remaining found nods of agreement around the function room in the Falkirk Stadium – notably, around the issue of player recruitment.

For all SBBA’s commendable work to develop youth bands and inspire the next generation, there are still notable drop-off points when too many players are being lost to the movement. One of these is when players leave school, often handing back an instrument before relocating for work or further study. Other pinch-points come when changing life circumstances often require players to take a temporary backseat from banding. Weeks become months, which turn into years. 

Conversations are taking place around developing the university band scene in Scotland and following the example set by bands like Whitburn and Bathgate, which operate tiers for those who have passed the ‘youth’ stage but for whom two nights a week – and the rest – would simply be too involved.

One gaping hole in Scotland is the lack of a dedicated brass band course at higher/further education level. At present, Scotand-based players on brass band instruments face tweaking their focus towards a symphony orchestra or looking to more appropriate channels of study in England and Wales.

While questions inevitably arise over employment prospects following studies on a brass band course, embarking on a portfolio career encompassing performing, teaching, conducting, composing/arranging, instrument repair and more, is certainly  viable. It would do much to help enrich a banding movement which feels like it’s being squeezed more than ever when it comes to player availability. Training the trainers would also help push up standards of teaching and conducting in band halls around the country, which can only be a good thing.

In its 125th anniversary year, SBBA continues to seek to innovate and cater for its member bands. It is going about its business in a very different landscape, with the growth and increased clout of Brass Bands England providing a much-needed sense of co-ordination for bands further south. While there is a lot of good work taking place it feels like now, perhaps more than ever, there is a requirement for SBBA to work with others to ensure banding in Scotland remains a sustainable, successful artistic platform for the benefit of all ages and levels of experience in years to come.