Brassed off: Can bands survive without playing?


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Media captionThe Brecon Town Concert Band had an audience of passers-by, and people came outside to enjoy it

Some brass bands may die out unless they can rehearse in person again, musicians have warned.

In recent months, bands across Wales have been creative, practising and putting on concerts online.

But there are concerns players may have already given up, and young players may not join unless rehearsals restart, creating a future talent gap.

The Welsh Government said bands were permitted to meet outdoors if they followed social distancing rules.

But it warned there were risks of transmitting coronavirus through “aerosol and droplets” when playing instruments close to others.

Seindorf Beaumaris Band secretary Gary Pritchard, said: “I think the biggest worry we have, not just as a band but as a banding community is people having spent months without playing a note, deciding that ‘you know what, it’s time to give up’.

“If we’re not able to rehearse, then we’re going to lose the younger generation and if we lose the younger generation well then there won’t be a band in 10 years’ time.”

Since 3 August groups of up to 30 have been able to socialise outdoors, and sports clubs have had guidance from ministers on how to resume meet ups with social distancing.

But bands and choirs have told BBC Wales they believed, despite the changes, they were not allowed to meet up, and had been waiting for official guidance from the Welsh Government.

There were fears that because of the way the virus is thought to spread through particles in the air, singers and musicians – such as those who play wind instruments – could be at risk.

At the time the Welsh Government had said while there was nothing illegal about people singing or playing instruments outdoors, it would not advise it, due to it being a high-risk activity.

But now that stance has changed, with the Welsh Government advising that if members maintain social distancing and carry out a risk assessment they can practise outdoors.

Guidance remains that bands should not meet inside to play, however.

‘People were coming out of their houses to listen’

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Brecon Town Concert Band

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Players stayed apart and practised in the car park when they met for the first time since lockdown began

When Brecon Town Concert Band met for their first rehearsal last week, far from having to practise behind closed doors, they had an audience.

Playing in the car park of Theatr Brycheiniog, where they would rehearse in normal times, people running and cycling down the canal stopped to watch and people came out of their homes.

The outdoor rehearsal, which only involved half of the band’s members due to lockdown rules, came as a surprise to many bands and choirs across Wales, who had thought they were not allowed to meet yet.

Musical director David Jones said the band had sought guidance and it had taken weeks to arrange, with the band appointing a coronavirus officer and carrying out a risk assessment for every player.

“We’re lucky in that we have our own trailer and chairs, so it was just a case of bringing down the trailer, putting a mask and gloves on and setting out all the chairs,” he said.

“Everybody knew where they were going to be sat beforehand.”

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Brecon Town Concert Band

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Unlike a normal rehearsal the members were not allowed to socialise afterwards

Clarinettist Kathryn Powell said: “It felt wonderful to be back out and doing what the band enjoys doing.

“It’s a small step. We were able to sit 2.4m away from each other and play in the open.

Baritone saxophonist Nigel Annett said it was nice to meet up again after being apart for so long, but that it was hard hearing the full ensemble when they were sat so far apart.

“They’re the nicest group of people you can meet, so it was really good to see everyone again,” he said.

“I cannot see us getting together as we used to anytime soon,” he added.

“There’ll be no concerts any time soon. I don’t think we’d have an audience any time soon, so I think this is the future for the coming months, maybe even the next year.”

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Media captionWales’ first all-female brass band led the anthem at the Six Nations in 2017

During lockdown the Cory Band, based in Treorchy, were one of many to have been creative in keeping practising and performing apart.

The band have been hosting online concerts and performances and are putting on an online championship contest.

Euphonium player Sion Jones said: “The videos that Cory have made, they’ve re-ignited some passion perhaps into brass bands.

“We’re not just playing marches or hymn tunes or boring stuff – they’ve realised we can do so much more than that.”

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The Cory Band

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The Cory Band have performed online concerts, including a performance with Welsh choirs of Cwm Rhondda

Under Welsh Government guidelines, wind instruments and singing are not advised in worship or at weddings due to a “possible additional risk of infection”, and there are currently no plans in place to allow people to rehearse indoors.

Some bands have said – while it is great to be able to get together outdoors – social distancing teamed with the Welsh weather could make it hard to attract new members.

Mr Pritchard said with sports clubs and swimming pools open it felt like brass bands had been “forgotten” by ministers.

“We may not have as many members as sports clubs, but I think we are a vital part of the cultural community,” he said.

“It’s vital for mental health and well-being, and it’s not just for now – it’s for the future too.

“And if you get rid of that bottom tier of youngsters learning, there’ll be no senior bands in the future, in 10 years time.”

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