1. Are you good enough?
This might be a daft question, but it is probably the most important one to ask before we go any further. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of brass bands all over the world and playing in those bands are thousands of excellent and not so excellent brass band musicians (and drummers, ha-ha!!).
But, there are only a very small number of really excellent brass bands, and only a small subset of those can be classed as truly world-class (I’m talking about the likes of Brighouse & Rastrick, Black Dyke etc). Therefore, you don’t need me to tell you that to get into one of the small number of world-class brass bands, you have to be a reasonably proficient brass musician!
If you think you are good enough, or better still if your music teacher or another band conductor tells you you’re good enough, then the next step is getting an audition.
2. Getting an audition!
When a band has a vacancy they will normally advertise it in the usual band press, a lot of people will apply, only a select few will be invited to audition, but there are other ways to get an audition you might not consider.
If you are fortunate enough to know someone who already plays for, or is associated with one of the best bands then you may be able to get an audition through that route (buying someone a pint at a contest always works well I find)! Reputation is another good way to get yourself an audition, and depending on who you are and how well you are known in brass banding circles, your audition may even be a gig you are playing on as a dep’.
Alternatively, there is the out an out blagging approach that I took!! A long time ago I used to work as a cashier in a Bank in Brighouse, and coincidentally the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band treasurer came in every week to pay in the concert fee’s and withdraw the band lads expenses.
After a few weeks of getting to know him I dropped into conversation one day that I played Cornet, and after getting his attention I joked that if Brighouse & Rastrick ever needed a cornet player I would be happy to help them out! Fortunately for me this didn’t back fire, he had a word with the principal cornet and the next week I had my audition. I was sat on the Repiano chair a week later (completely out of my depth I might add!!).
So, I guess the moral of this point is that if you think you’re good enough to play in one of the really world class Brass Bands, do whatever it takes to get an audition, because those sort of opportunities don’t come up every day of the week!
3. Showing the right level of commitment
Ok, so you’ve proved you’re a good enough player, you’ve passed the audition, now comes the hard work!! When I started with Brighouse the first few rehearsals were one hell of a culture shock for me. I had played in some fairly decent bands before Brighouse, but nothing could prepare me for the commitment that is needed/expected/demanded if you play in the purple and gold (or any other world class band for that matter).
Unlike the other bands I had played in, with Brighouse every rehearsal was treat as if it was the final one before a contest. Every player in the band could easily stand up and play a solo at a concert, and no-one messed about in rehearsals or turned up late, especially when the professional conductor was leading the rehearsals (some top bands have 2 conductors, one Resident conductor who takes the band to concerts and prepares the band in the early days for a contest, and a second Professional conductor who comes over just to take the band to the major contests, i.e. the likes of Alan Withington, Dave King etc).
So with all of these points in mind, you can understand why you not only need to be able to play well, but you also need dedication, commitment and a degree of professionalism about your music if you want to last the distance in one of the world class brass bands.
4. Exposure to professional musicians
When you play in a brass band in the lower sections, you might have the odd player who is a retired pro, and generally your conductor might be a professional musician. When you play in the really top bands though, I mean the ones who can truly call themselves world class, that is when you start meeting, playing with and sitting next to professional musicians on a regular basis. Not only does playing with this standard of musician make the band sound good, it also helps you as a player.
By listening to and emulating the great musicians, you make yourself great. Obviously greatness does not happen over night, and for some it doesn’t happen in a lifetime of emulating the greats, but the more you associate yourself with professional musicians, or amateurs who play to professional standard, the more you will start to think and act like one, and this will come across in your playing.
There is no better experience in a brass band than sitting on a large stage like the Royal Albert Hall, playing to a packed out audience, sat alongside some of the best brass musicians in the world. This is not something that happens very frequently so as I said earlier, if it comes your way grab onto it with both hands and make the most of the experience. Also, don’t be afraid to ask the pro’s for advice or even lessons. They have not reached that level of musical proficiency without knowing a thing or two!
There will be more on Brass Bands and other areas of Brass music in my future articles.