Lofthouse 2000: Brassed On Week & Music Café

Overview

An account by Andrew Whitaker, Musical Director of Lofthouse 2000

Lofthouse Brass Band was formed in 1999 from a group of players and parents who were formerly involved in Stanley Newmarket Colliery Band. At the first rehearsal 10 players were present but the band had no infrastructure or properties. Numerous fund raising efforts brought in the necessary funds to start buying the necessary equipment to undertake concerts eg. music stands and music. Numbers steadily increased to a level of approximately 50 and the organisation today can boast 3 bands at various levels within the organisation.

The band has a high profile on the internet with a professionally designed website and a social media strategy. They have undertaken numerous European tours, performed for Royalty, recorded a CD and in 1999 represented Yorkshire at the National Finals in Harrogate.

For 15 years the band has worked in the community, introducing people to brass music. Playing in a band brings people and communities together and improves social interaction. Members work together as a team to perform in concerts and by continually recruiting we ensure that an important part of the coal mining industry is not lost for future generations. Music education cuts limit the opportunities available to make music. Amateur organisations are under pressure introduce young people to music; we want to rise to the challenge to ensure that brass music survives in our community.

The Brassed On workshops and Music Cafe, stemming from an event template proposed originally by Rachel Veitch-Straw of Brass Bands England,  enthused and excited the children into having a go, children who would not normally be given the chance because of the lack of opportunity in the local schools due to the expense of specialist teaching and instrument costs. Our organisation can bridge this gap offering instruments and teaching free of charge and as one of the last remaining brass bands in the area this will also help to keep a long standing tradition alive.

Music helps to develop children’s intelligence, concentration and social skills, skills which will help them to develop into adults. With the band being the only link back to the mine we feel it is important to be at the heart of the community offering activities that will help in a small way to combat the anti-social activities associated with an under privileged area.

Playing an instrument will give a sense of pride and achievement, social skills in working with others and commitment in practice and performance required by a musical group as well as performing to the community. By getting the young people out playing they will also be known in the community as members of the band.

Brassed On Planning

Planning of the workshops/Music Cafe started at the beginning of 2014 and was a result of 2 successful grant applications. Sports Relief gave £800.00 to hold the Brassed On Week and Brass Bands England, via the Norman Jones Trust Fund ( all BBE members are eligible to apply), gave £950.00 towards a Music Café. The Brassed On was to be a two day event with James Stretton from Orichalcum – World of Brass presenting to 3 schools in the local area. It had also been decided to leave a number of promotional items as gifts so that when the week was offer the children still had a reference point.

A date in September was scheduled and a critical path document  produced, but at the end of August we had not completed all of the necessary steps, so to give slightly more time put the date into November. As we had booked Orichalcum for the full week we decided to attempt to fill all 5 days with workshops in schools. Initial contact with the schools was made by email.This proved difficult initially with only 3 local schools out of our initial target list taking up the offer of the workshops so the target area was increased to include schools from Wakefield and Normanton, this produced the desired results bringing the total up to 10 schools over a 5 day period. A schedule was produced for the schools allocating a day and time, to reduce the travelling we tried to allocate 2 schools close to each other on each day.

Approximately a week before the event each school was contacted to determine numbers at each session. This was important as we had estimated a total of 500 over the course of the week but were shocked to find a number of schools were having us present to the full school so this gave us a total of approximately 1000 children over the week. As the grant covered merchandise for the workshops based on the original number we had to purchase each at our own expense to cover the shortfall.

Brassed On Week

The plan for the actual day was that Jim Stretton would present for approx 45 mins with time for a band representative to talk about the band for 15 mins. There would be one hour before for setting up and 45 mins at the end for clearing away. We found it was essential to have at least 2 volunteers with Jim for each session to assist in the set up and clearing also someone young with enthusiasm to present for the band, it could take 45 mins to excite the children about brass but only 15 seconds to kill it so it was essential the band representative was chosen correctly.

Here are some quotes from the schools involved –

“Last Friday year 3 had a very noisy treat in the form of a visit from James Stretton and Andy Whitaker from Lofthouse Brass. James provided the girls with a highly entertaining, interactive and informative whistle stop tour through all things brass, introducing them to instruments both familiar and highly unusual. The girls left the session quite literally ‘buzzing’ as they discovered that that was the way to produce a sound!”

“You are very good at making us laugh. I learned that if you put your lips together and make a noise like a busy bee you can play a trumpet”

“It was amazing how the biggest instruments made the lowest notes and the smallest the highest notes.”

“I liked that thing where you got your lips and it kind of makes a buzzing noise. When Mrs Keenan did it sounded like a bee that was dead but buzzing still.”

Conclusion

Whilst the Brassed On week was a great success and produced a number of new recruits the actual result were 1000 children with 15 recruits on the final Saturday. Some in the organisation felt this was disappointing but as someone involved in marketing I was happy with the result as I know that if a 5% result is the target in marketing a result of 1% is normal.

It was discussed as to whether this should be an annual event but after consideration it was decided to make it bi-annual then we would not be presenting to the same group of children each time.

Music Cafe Planning

At the very beginning of the planning of the Brassed On week it was felt that the Music Café should form part of the overall week so we decided that it should be the final event of a week-long recruitment drive and the children should be stirred towards the final event, the Music Café. A timetable was produced was outlined timings and music to be played. We found it absolutely essential that Jim Stretton was involved bringing along all his selection of instruments and making a short presentation to the children and their parents who had come along.

An arrangement of Drunken Sailor had been produced which allowed the new starters to play along with the main band playing 2 notes, this was well received and will be part of our Christmas concert.

Music Cafe Day

On the day approximately 15 children and parents turned up at various stages of the morning; as most of the morning was presentations and interaction this was not a problem. The band had been made aware that they needed to mix and make people welcome, this was probably more of a problem for the younger ones than older members.

Most of the music was part of the BrassFactor performance from 2 weeks earlier so was well prepared and featured some movement. The present beginner band played music to show the various stages, it also gave these players an opportunity to watch the senior band in action. After a short interval where people were able to talk to members and try instruments and take refreshments Jim Stretton made a presentation based on the Brassed On Week and had all 15 children and some others on plastic trombones playing two notes, this then combined with the senior band in a rendition of What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor.

At the end of the café all the participants were asked to fill out an evaluation form with their details so we could contact them about going forward with a new beginner group.

Music Cafe Conclusions

The event was a successful conclusion of the recruitment week but lessons were also learned from it. As I mentioned earlier it was extremely useful having Jim Stretton involved as point of reference from the Brassed On week and as someone who can only be described as a little dynamo of enthusiasm and energy!

Name badges for the band members would be useful so that the new starters and parents knew who they were talking to.

It is essential that instruments are checked prior to the event to ensure they work, no sticky valves, and they have mouthpieces. We have a selection of plastic mouthpieces but these could not be found on the actual day. We also found a bowl of water with TCP in was useful to ensure a certain amount of personal hygiene, dipping the mouthpiece in after and prior to the children using them.

From the combined events we have 15 new starters on cornets, flugel, horns and trombones and these made their first public performance in December 2014. I found it easier to split the group up into two smaller groups (9.00-9.30 & 12.30-1.00) at the first session, it was simply just clapping rhythm exercises, then forming an embouchure before trying to buzz on a mouthpiece. This gave me a good idea of which instrument each child would be suited to before handing out instruments, meanwhile the Chair and Treasurer were talkingto the parents about subs, taking contact details and then making a note of instrument serial numbers before the children were set on their way to make music.

The senior band also benefitted from the Music Café a cornet player and bass player who both had heard the radio advertisement and came along as a result and a young 3rd cornet player who came from one of the schools but who was too good for the beginner group. There were also parents who brought along children as beginners who played in the past so there may be an opportunity for them to re-start and that may be a project for 2015, a parent’s band!

Marketing of Music Café

To avoid too much expense with leaflets and posters it was decided this year to use vinyl banners in strategic places, radio advertising and social media. These proved successful to a lesser or greater extent with social media proving the most successful in engagement and the marketing continues on twitter/facebook even now 2 weeks after higher the event.

We did produce leaflets on a large scale to go along with the merchandising so that the children’s parents could see what Jim Stretton and the Music Café was all about and give them an open invitation to attend.

Financially

As a financial venture the Brassed On & Music Café were a failure bringing in a loss of approximately £500 to date. If it had not been because of the support of Sport Relief and Brass Bands England this figure would have been higher and we must acknowledge the support these organisations gave us.

The additional expense of the additional numbers from the schools was unexpected and this was not budgeted for and we must in future learn lessons and decide whether the financial implications worth the payoff, of bringing music to a larger number of children.

Conclusions

The funding for Sports Relief and Brass Bands England allowed Lofthouse Brass Band to present brass music to approximately 1000 children in 10 local schools over the period of 5 days. These children were educated, entertained and enthused about brass music in a presentation by Orichalcum Brass. They were shown over 20 members of the brass family and given an opportunity to participate in breathing and rhythm exercises prior to volunteers being given a chance to play trumpets and trombones. A member of the teaching staff participated in a duet with Jim Stretton before the class was completed with the children dancing to Rock Around The Clock played by the new trumpet players and a backing track.

The feedback was extremely positive from the head teachers with one requesting the organisation to start an after school music club. The Music Café, an event involving parents and families,  produced 15 new recruits plus other to the organisation but financial a loss was made – this should be offset by increased member subscriptions and participation in a great hobby. Should it be an annual event? I believe in some form it should be and I would welcome a National Brass Band Group taking this forward so that every band at a specific week in the year has a Brassed On Week making it a national brass band event.

For Lofthouse Band we are just trying to “make a small dent in the music universe!”

Andrew Whitaker and Lofthouse Band