Letter to the British Bandsman

"The long term future of our brass and wind bands will, I believe, depend increasingly on what is or is not going on musically in our schools, particularly our primary schools.

Once ther existed a country-wide music service run by local education authoritiesproviding widly available tuition for small group and individual instrument learning in state-run schools. As many readers will know, this tried and tested system has been largely abandoned byin many coutries, having been replaced by a "hotchpotch" of music "hubs" and ad hoc peripatetic teaching (large numbers of peripatetic teachers employed by LEAs having been made redundant). The Government denies there is a problem, and, of course, there isn't one for the majority of their own musically interested children who attend independent schools, but state schoolsand music educators see things very differently.

I am a retired teacher ( not of music) and a member of a local brass band. I have observed the long drawn out decline of instrumental teaching in schools with growing concern, which is widely shared by people involved in community music. Our band has made regular visits over the years to primary schools in the area to share the fun of group music - making, and pupils have invariably responded with enthusiasm to hearing a brass band play and entertain. Of course, we did this partly for reasons of self-interest, in the hope that at least a trickle ofyoungsters might take up the invitation to join our band. Our experience, though, has been that, however positive the reception to our visits, this seldom translated into regular attendances at our band sessions.

So finally, we came to a simple conclusion: if they won't come to us, then we need to go to them. Following discussions with a local primary school, we set up on the school premises an after school brass club, which meetes once a week. This has been running for over a year and has been attended regularly by five or six pupils, playing trombones,cornets or baritone. There is only a nominal membership charge. Our hope is to establish an on-going school brass band/ensemble. Of course, we lay no claim to originality in this initiative; there must be scores of brass and wind bands making similar outreach contacts with schools up and down the country, but for us this was a new challenge nad we are keen to learn how we can improve or extend what we can offer.

We have been very encouraged by the positive way things have developed. Most important has been the enjoyment shown by the pupils and the positive support of the school. Although it is only a modest initiative, it is a practical and straightforward way of introducing youngsters to music-making and the prospect of joining a band.

Could it be that keeping music alive will depend increasingly on grass-roots initiatives like this one?

Fortunately, our partner school is commited to employing the services of one of the few staff of what remains of the county music service. She provides a hands-on introduction to instrument playing in a series of ten whole-class lessons for year-four pupils. Without this excellent input, it is doubtful if our club would have got off the ground. I wonder what extent such vital introductory lessons have been retained elsewhere in the country and, indeed, whether they will be retained in this county.

It would be most interesting to hear from reders with experience in this area of activity. We welcome suggestions on how we might progress."

David Slinger, (member of Gloucester Brass)

Click here to see Dave's follow-up article on this letter.