In this project, Drum and Brass director Julie Hoggarth worked with brass bands and players to promote the offer of brass bands in Eden in Cumbria
In the “Brass in Eden” project, Drum and Brass promotes the amazing opportunities offered by brass bands to people of all ages.
Brass Bands have instruments to lend, run training groups and are the essence of community music. They play all types of music from pop to classical and are open to all ages.
Drum and Brass is working with four local bands in Eden: Appleby Town Band, Kirkby Stephen Silver Band, Melody Makers – Tebay and Penrith Town Band as well as music organisations including Bjamba Horns and bands elsewhere in Cumbria to share the brass band offer with all members of our diverse community.
The project aim is to support bands to:
Recruit new members from a wider demographic
Develop joint resources for bands and players
Produce joint events to reach new audiences
With a grant from the Eden District Council’s Arts and Culture Development Fund the project includes delivering taster sessions in local schools and busking across the region.
The funding will also support 3 terms of after-school brass band club – with the first one having already started at Tebay Primary School – and the development of a digital resource-sharing hub on our website.
Drum and Brass is a strong advocate for the work that brass bands do and sees them as a powerful force in inclusive community music:
However they are often more than this, offering social contact and community for players over many years.
Young players who join bands often complain that the image doesn’t fit the reality. In this project we will work together to change that.
Pressures on our mental health have increased greatly of late. Music-making is a valuable aid to well-being and bands are growing more aware of their role as community service. This comes with growing awareness of the need for e.g. accessible premises, local parking and adjustments for those with sensory impairments. Drum and Brass is developing a resource hub to signpost bands to support for these areas because there is an issue here.
Many brass bands operate on a wholly voluntary basis. Traditionally this has worked and funds have come in from performances, sponsors and the community. These days however, fewer young people are learning music as a matter of course and band players are becoming rarer.
Bands are having to look more broadly to recruit. Typical initiatives include going into schools and offering lessons or school bands as pathways to brass bands. Kirkby Stephen Silver Band has valuable partnerships with Kirkby Stephen Primary School for instance. But a broader approach may be necessary because, to put it bluntly, music lessons are expensive and families are struggling right now.
This is why the Melody Makers band in Tebay is a teaching band. Its members learn in the band room. This affordable approach (£3.75/week compared to e.g. £15 for a 121 lesson) is slower than lessons. It takes young people a bit longer to learn some things in a group. They won’t be able to play a scratchy version of 3 blind mice for you for a long while. Your (debatable) loss, however, is their gain, because they learn to hear music, respond musically and make musical choices (this term, on request, I’ll prepare a Jurassic-Park-inspired arrangement). They will create music collaboratively and have the huge pride of performing with their musical family at our next musical event in May.
Rewarding peer mentoring (which happens in bands as standard), community involvement, composing, events management and other achievements (not-necessarily musical) with badges highlights the range of skills you can learn and use in a band. For our young people this is material for their CVs and badges encourage our newest players. What better way to survive those times when your instrument sounds like a squeaky gate and you don’t know where that repeat goes back to?
Bandrooms are changing too. Older players may need enlarged music, good lighting, good seats. Younger players are more likely to come with diagnoses of ASD and where once, deferential obedience to the conductor was expected and accepted, now the focus must be on the needs of individual players. Not to mention the legal side: safeguarding, child performance licenses and risk assessments.
This is a hard row to hoe for music facilitators. With little training they are now expected to manage bands as small enterprises/educational establishments with compliance requirements and personnel support systems alongside the already time-consuming business of music coaching and performance preparation.
Small wonder bands shy away from investing their free time in young people. Young people cost!
And it says a lot for the strength of the brass tradition that there are still bands. And new ones too. Three new brass groups between Tebay and Kirkby Stephen with collectively 30 members shows there is real interest in musical playing across all age groups.
In Eden we are in a good place therefore. We have training bands, adult beginner bands and seasoned contesting bands. We are planning joint events and we are thinking ahead. How can we use digital technology for instance?
Should we be using tablets instead of sheet music? Personally I hate that idea, it feels like a loss of some of the magic allure of music. But it saves paper, people can adjust the size and brightness of the text to suit themselves, it saves maintaining shelves and shelves of music scores and the weeks – yes, weeks – spent sorting music out between concerts.
And here is the tension between tradition, often by its nature EXclusive (think of those tiny, smudgy march cards) and progress – bland and characterless but far, far more adaptable, functional and INclusive.
Less controversial is using social media to communicate – WhatsApp for band chats and Facebook for events marketing. Most of us are there now and it works. In the massive county of Cumbria it can transform how we work together as well. Drum and Brass’s directory is one way that this project seeks to create a space for bands and music groups to share ideas. Signposting new potential plays to their local bands, and acting as a resources hub for the bands themselves, the directory also aims to support the marketing effort – one of the major challenges for bands.
We are also developing a shared marketing flyer that signposts people to the different offers of the bands across Eden so that potential new recruits can find what suits them. This outward expression of connectedness is valuable in raising awareness across the region, and equally reflects the reality of many players – who are in two or more of the local bands, and get something different from each one.
This has been a quick introduction to the Brass in Eden project then To know whether we have succeeded we’re asking the following questions:
Have we encouraged active participation in the arts by a diverse cross-section of the community including young people, older people and underrepresented groups within Eden? We’ll measure this by asking bands about any changes in their membership over the project
Is there an “area network” which is recruiting and building new audiences/players for brass bands in Eden? We’ll evaluate this by talking to the groups who have been part of this project
Has the project helped to promote Eden District as a place of creativity and innovation by building sustainability and innovation into local brass bands’ operational models? To evaluate this, we’ll look at the changes that project participants make as a result of this project and the conversations we have
Come back in a year’s time to see how the project has faired!
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