• David Johnston

Pandemic Banding

Band keeps busy despite pandemic

A major part of the pleasure of music-making is getting together with like-minded musicians to practice and socialize. Sharing one’s music with an audience in concert performances is also a very rewarding experience and brings pleasure to performer and listener alike. Since early 2020 and the appearance of Covid-19, amateur bands, orchestras and choirs have found the necessary restrictions to curb the spread of infection and the danger to health, and indeed life, have placed considerable difficulties in the way of musical organisations undertaking their regular activities.

These obstacles have included the closure of rehearsal and concert venues making practice and performance impractical in many instances; restrictions on groups of people getting together, again limiting playing opportunities; specific guidance limiting singing and playing wind instruments (due to earlier fears that these activities might carry a higher risk of spreading virus particles) and financial pressures as sources of income dry up, usually concert revenues. Also, without regular rehearsal opportunities, skill levels start to decline.

Technology to the rescue

Online Quiz…

The business community is already familiar with the use of video conferencing technology allowing for virtual face-to-face meetings between participants who may be in different locations, even different countries. Some musical organisations have been able to run virtual rehearsals using conferencing applications, and although MK Brass has not used it for this purpose, the band has been running some very successful Quiz Nightswhich have helped band members to keep in touch with each other during lockdown periods – Duncan Bruce and Dave Lewis discovering previously unknown talents as quizmasters in the process.

Online Competition…

Brass bands thrive on competitions, and one of the longest running and popular competitive events in the country is the Whit Friday Marches. This event is actually a number of separate competitions held on Whit Friday in the communities around Manchester where bands perform marches through the streets. Impossible in 2020 in a pandemic environment to run these competitions in the normal way, but bands were able to take part by submitting videos of marches which they had performed under the prevailing health restrictions. MK Brass submitted a virtual performance of “Mephistopheles”, created by members playing their separate parts recorded on a smart ‘phone at home, and then using computer software to knit all the performances together and display the players in a video. Band members Martin Wakeley and Dave Lewis provided the technical know-how.

Limited Rehearsals…

Since the initial virus lockdown earlier in the year official guidelines have, from time to time, allowed groups of people of 6 or less to meet, providing Covid-safe precautions are observed. In the periods where this has been possible, and by arrangement with our rehearsal ‘landlord’, Loughton Manor First School, the band has been able to run socially distanced Small-Group Rehearsals, of 6 or less participants. This has given members the chance to meet up and play music together, and this has been a great boon for the band’s players. At the time of writing official guidance prevents this kind of get-together, but the band is hopeful that at least small-group playing may be possible again in December.

Streaming Competition…

One important initiative for Brass Bands this year has been promoted by the Cory Band, from Wales. Bands from all over the globe were invited to submit a video programme of music for a ‘streamed live’ Online competition. The bands had to create their performance under the precautionary conditions which applied in their region or country, and many entered from across the world – including Singapore, Japan, USA, Germany and Norway, and the UK home nations. MK Brass submitted a programme based on dance themes, featuring light-hearted dance routines, drama and music from France, Argentina and Spain, and Milton Keynes’ Concrete Cows! The entry was rewarded with a pleasing 7th place in the 1st Section. (Big thanks are due to MD Jonathan Mott and Katy Corrigan for organising the music and dance/drama respectively; Mike Crofts and Martin Wakeley for audio recording and production; and Georgina Cockerill for video editing and art work.) It’s been gratifying to hear that Cory are planning on running the event again, particularly as it looks as if the UK National Championships are cancelled for next year for the second year running.

On the Horizon…

In the next couple of months the band is hoping to produce an online Christmas Concert for friends and families, and if conditions permit to bring some Christmas Spirit to the communities of Milton Keynes with some street carols in the run up to the holiday period.

Let’s all look forward to a safe return to normal banding sometime in the New Year!


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