Preserving Heritage through Music
Structured music like any other art form has been one of the most interesting, enriching and entertaining human creations of all times. In this context, it is easy to understand why music is a valuable art form, both economically, socially and culturally. This line of thought also insinuates that the music industry is very competitive, which is true. Essentially, the music industry is characterized by a very toxic and gut-wrenching type of competitiveness.
I experienced this intoxicating phenomenon while leading a traditional British brass band. Being a local citizen, who played music for pure fun and entertainment, I never thought that I could be driven to a level of competitiveness that bordered on the insanity. However, several years ago, my fellow band members and I sought to become the top British brass band by winning the National Brass Band Championships. That is when the madness started.
My Passion to Join a Band
My brass band has both family and community roots in that it was founded by my friends and colleagues as a hobby or pastime activity. Founded in the late 19th century by my great grandfather in a small picturesque town in the beloved Yorkshire County, this brass band was what was traditionally called a colliery band. Bearing all the characteristics of a typical British brass band, colliery bands were created by coal mine or colliery workers for leisure engagement.
With time, these bands grew in popularity and by the time I was born, mid 20th century, these bands had achieved social prominence to become regional and even national symbols of success. I took over our local colliery band after my father passed on in a mining accident, when I was still in my early 20s. Unexpectedly, I had followed the old man into the mining business and now I took over his conductor’s reins following his death.
The National Brass Band Championships
The British band competitions are very much like the country’s football leagues in terms of organization and general participation rules. For instance, participating bands face-off throughout the year at local, regional and national levels and success if rewarded with promotions while failure results in relegation. Additionally, the brass band industry is just as competitive as the English football leagues. Competing bands are split into five contesting categories — in diminishing order: the Championship section (highest ranked), 1st section, 2nd section, 3rd section and 4th section (lowest ranked).
At the national level, brass bands compete in the National Brass Band Championship, which is also the most important and prestigious victory. It involves two competition phases. The Area contest is a yearly event that usually takes place in March — bands across all sections compete to qualify for the national Finals. There are eight regional competition Areas: Wales, North West, Yorkshire, North of England, West of England, London & Southern Counties, Midlands, and Scotland. The Area contest is followed by the Finals, where qualifying bands from various sections in the Area contests face-off on set works.
The Lovely and Nostalgic Competition
After my father passed on, my small town colliery band suffered a hiatus in terms of performance and motivation. The older members were not overly excited regarding my newly assumed leadership role. One by one, they started skipping practice sessions until I was forced to recruit new younger members, my age mates. Spurred by our raw youth energy and an insatiable thirst to win, we decided to perfect our music by practicing aggressively every day after work. The band improved and we started being perceived as threats at the regional level. We entered the Area contest at the lowest level, 4th section.
For three consecutive years, we enjoyed true success and were promoted till we reached the Championship section. Unluckily for us, we never once topped any section, we were always second or third; hence we never really basked in glory as we wished. Finally, we found ourselves at the Championships with the prospects of winning the Finals. We were facing other seasoned brass bands but as the newcomers, we were everyone’s’ favorite.
We practiced day and night, with only one dream in our minds, winning the National Brass Band Championships title. To cut the long story short, we came in second in our test works and didn’t win the Finals. Despite the setback, our band put our tiny hometown on the national spotlight. That was really something.