Follow-up to British Bandsman Letter

I had hoped that my letter which appeared in the 25 June edition of the British Bandsman in 2016 would spark off further discussion and debate about the decline of music education in state schools. But, as far as I am aware, there was no reaction at all in the columns of the BB, although I should say that my subscription lasted only for a couple of months.

I can only speculate about the possible reasons for the apparent lack of interest in this issue. Perhaps the most likely one is that the readership of the BB may tend to be drawn from bands which are successful in maintaining their beginners’ and training bands - for them there is no obvious problem about failing provision for instrumental teaching in schools, as family and band contacts are sufficiently strong to ensure the continuing success of their band activities.

There is, I think, a danger in such a culture of apparent self-sufficiency. It would/will be interesting to discover the diverse ways that members of Gloucester Brass discovered an interest in music that led them into the band. Clearly the family brass-banding tradition is central to this for many players. But there are many other band members, past and present, who have come by other routes and who bring other experiences of music-making. Tony, for example, started his brass instrument playing somewhere in East Africa, I believe, on a German French horn acquired by his father who worked in the Colonial Education Service. John Varley came to trombone playing via trad jazz. Simon is an all-rounder, enjoying orchestral playing and jazz as well as brass bands. Malcolm comes to us after a career as a military musician (the trombone not being his first instrument!). Sheila, Sue and I greatly benefited years ago from tuition and group playing with Beauchamp Music Group, a community music centre which was run by the inspiring music educator Caroline Lumsden and her husband Alan in Churcham. A number of members of Gloucester Brass have also played with music groups run by the County Music Service. Hopefully further details will emerge on the band website as band members submit details of their musical journey to Gloucester Brass.

What has made a deep impression on my thinking over the years is the interdependence of all these different strands of music-making that bring us together. Brass bands are not islands which can continue to thrive in glorious independence. Exactly the same applies to classical ensembles, orchestras and swing bands. What we all share is a love of music and music-making, and we should all acknowledge that “good music” can’t be classified neatly into different genres and divisions from “serious” to “trivial”. Where does “Yesterday” belong, or the music from “Chicago” , “Finlandia”, “Snow White” etc etc?

Perhaps the most interesting discoveries which might emerge from band members’ musical CV notes will be their first steps on the journey. They may not compare with Alison Balsom’s moment of self-discovery when a teacher handed her a trumpet to “have a go on “ in a bog standard state primary school, but, for each of us, there may be a personal memory which stirs up emotion and gratitude.

David Slinger 31/1/17

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