We are currently attending the Australian National Brass Band Competition, which is being held in Sydney.
Every year, bands converge into a location, to compete in various grades, in the hope to be victorious as Australian champions.
As always with these contests, there is a lot of waiting around, which allows for some socialising and catching up with other bands who we only see at Easter.
And this year, there has been a particular topic which has been hotly discussed in foyers, at rehearsals and the local pubs…and that is the “win at all costs” mentality which seems to have taken over the brass band world…in particular in the top grade.
It used to be all about playing the band that you have…using the regular players who are there week in and week out for rehearsals and gigs.
Now it seems to be more about how much money you have to bring in players from abroad.
I am not sure if this is all coming from the conductors, the band committees or the players themselves…but it all boils down to the same thing…the wanting to win no matter what!
All bands need to add a few players when attending competitions, whether due to regular players being unavailable or gaps in their line up…that goes without saying.
What has changed is the way these extra players are being sort…homegrown talent is being ignored for bringing in players from overseas.
And the bands who have little funds, can’t even hope to match these “stacked” bands, unless they are in the enviable position of already having a good line up.
Apparently, this is happening in brass band communities across the world…but do we want the same cut throat tactics here?
This is around my 26th Nationals, and I find it very sad to now see bands competing who look nothing like what they do at their regular gigs.
My husband is playing in an A Grade band that is competing with a few helpers, all of whom are known to the band, either as friends, or through a connection with another band.
Win, lose or draw, they can be proud of the fact that they have competed using a band which is essentially made up of regular members.
Who knows who will take out the top position when the results for A Grade are read out later tonight.
Will the Australian Champions be a band that is determined to win at all costs, or a band who has worked hard to get to the Nationals with their own band.
Around 11pm tonight, all will be revealed….
Great article Sarah. Totally agree.
I agree fully with you. In my case the push for this type of thing came exclusively from the conductor. Obviously things haven’t changed a lot at the top.
A sad reality indeed! I even spotted the principal cornet of a UK band in amongst one of the bands…totally fine if you had ties with the band in the past, etc, but it seems people are forgetting the core reason why we all gather together each year. To perform music together and to celebrate that union which music brings no matter where you are from. Sure, be competitive, but not at the expense of that.
I’d like to know how these bands are even allowed to get away with this ‘stacking’.
It’s my understanding that only 2 permit players are permitted. I saw at least one band late last night who had 2 overseas players plus one obvious Australian permit player.
How does this get past the band association? ??
DEBRA – unfortunately any person can be registered with the band. This is no longer a permit, but basically states that the musician is a ‘member’ of the band… If that makes sense?
How far up the rankings does an international player push your band up the rankings? Is the permit player being used as icing on an already good cake or are banks using said player to try and pass an average cake off as an exceptional one. I would assume the adjudicators are capable of picking up if they are hearing a band that works really well together and all the pieces fit and also be able to identify a band that isn’t really meshing but has one or two exceptional instrumentalists shining through. I agree that the bands should represent the core of the band and the permit player system supplements players that aren’t available but is it purely just for the win? I am sure some of the bands are trying to do anything they can to win but is this a realist assumption to all.
PETER – yes i agree, any person can be registered with a band, however contest rules say any player can only be registered with ONE band. These international players are registered with their own bands in their country.
Unfortunately this has been happening for quite a few years. The band association doesn’t seem to enforce rules or they look the other way. It’s a shame, because it’s turning the national competition into a joke.
Hi Sarah, great post, great issue. I was emailed your link this morning by a friend who knows how I feel about this issue, and have done now for some years. I agree, it is extremely sad for our movement that it has come to this ‘win at all costs’ attitude. I have seen it over the years gain momentum and do not like it. As a conductor of a band (B grade) I, and my band, have been disenchanted with what has been happening and as a result not been actively contesting as our time, effort and money is not worth putting up only to be smashed by stacked competing band(s). I also conduct a regional C/D Grade band and have noted that even down if the lowest of grades band stacking to win a contest occurs. I believe it is the conductor behind this however would place the blame on the committee as it is the committee who ultimately should ensure this doesn’t happen and that they place their band on a stage to compete within the ‘spirit of the rules’. I’d suggest too that both the state and national bodies are at fault as I agree with an earlier post, they do not ENFORCE their own rules, allowing some bands more freedoms than another. In all, this has been and will continue to be the downfall of our banding movement as contest by contest, bands will give up (like my band) and not compete. Don’t get me wrong, I love to compete from time to time but when the playing field is so unfair as it has become why bother! It is time that the rules here in Australia be re-visited and that we have a National set of rules covering regional, state and national contests. These rules MUST be actively enforced and allow for a platform of equality amongst competing bands. International players should not be used full stop. Thank you for bringing this issue to the electronic stage and the issue needs serious discussion, of course there’ll be the negative from those who rely on the unfair system but unless it is out in the open it will just continue to happen, worsen ………..eventually killing off any contest. It seems the old days, when I/we were players, the band we took on the contest stage was the same band we had playing carols by candlelight the Christmas before. For what it is worth, I heard online Preston/Darebin’s own choice and march and I was blown away. Moreso when I heard the result awarded to that performance. Blown away in disbelief ! As I had thought the band deserved a MUCH higher score than they did. Truly amazing performance and well done to all. Finally, take care and I hope your health is always on the improve. Kindest regards, Ron xx