The Scottish Brass Band Association has recently devoted resources to developing a successful youth programme. Clair Tomalin describes how it has been achieved.

West Lothian Schools Band at the 2012 Scottish Youth Festival of Brass, Perth Concert Hall

Linda Cairns,

The Scottish Brass Band Association (SBBA) has been looking after the interests of brass bands in Scotland since its inauguration in 1895 and has 135 member bands (each with approximately 30 players) throughout Scotland. Historically, brass bands have been part of Scotland’s musical culture and yet in 2006 there were only six youth brass bands. We recognised that the involvement of youth today would provide the foundations for the continuation of brass bands in the future, and from this realism our youth development programme (YDP) was born. Identifying the imperative to create youth bands throughout Scotland, the programme’s mission was to create a wider base from which to build the new brass band future for the country.

The programme was discussed across a variety of forums to enable the creation of a unified implementation strategy which would address the key focal points: recruitment and retention of young people, utilisation of existing resources (and so improving the return on educational investment in schools), provision of new opportunities for young people (including access to the National Youth Brass Band of Scotland), protecting young people within these opportunities, and improving musical standards.

In just over five years we have seen an increase to 61 youth bands, with the target of 75 youth bands by 2016 seeming highly achievable. In 2011 we also became the parent body of the National Youth Brass Band of Scotland (NYBBS), comprising three national youth bands to cater for players of all abilities up to 22 years, ensuring that this vital ‘playing bridge’ was protected for the future, both financially and developmentally.

We recognised that the involvement of youth today will provide the foundations for the continuation of brass bands in the future

The association is led by an elected executive committee, and as a largely voluntary organisation it has restructured itself to meet the demands of the YDP, formally appointing personnel to service the high-load requirements of development, funding and public relations. There are five regional associations in place (and a sixth to be introduced shortly), with part-time regional development officers reporting to the development manager. The regional associations work in parallel with the main association, ensuring a consistent and unified approach, yet each is encouraged to pursue its own projects and initiatives to support the bands in its care (both youth and senior bands).

Such vision obviously demands financial support and through the cooperation of the Scottish government’s Youth Music Initiative the YDP has received funding totalling £241,400 from 2007 to 2012. Together with the association’s own contribution this has helped us create 55 youth bands, enabling an additional 1,700 brass and percussion players to regularly participate in ensembles for the first time. This equates to an average investment of only £5,000 per band, an impressively high rate of return considering the benefits a youth band can bring to its members and associated community.

To enable the YDP to realise its full potential, we have also pursued further financial support through the cooperation of sponsors. To date, three long-term commitments have been secured from brass band-related companies: Besson, Geneva and Band Supplies. In addition, a funding ethos has been adopted which focuses on gaining multiple, smaller commitments from a wider spectrum of contributors. This minimises the effects of inevitable fluctuations from the sponsorship revenue and enables easier replacement of any shortfalls by dividing the commitments into manageable ‘nuggets’ of support.

To meet the inevitable overheads of the association as a whole, SBBA also generates a certain amount of income from its central membership registration system. In addition, we present a series of annual national events, including our flagship youth event, the Scottish Youth Festival of Brass (which has seen a 500% growth in entries since its introduction in 2007). However, rather than a focus on the revenue streams, the key objective of these events is to provide a showcase environment in which bands, ensembles and instrumentalists can perform and compete at a national level.

While SBBA has already achieved an immense amount of success by supporting its YDP with a suitably balanced infrastructure, and pursuing a range of expandable funding options, we are acutely aware of the need to review, retarget and reassess the programme. Through this continuous critique, we have been able to: offer vital guidance for start-up bands; improve inclusivity in youth events; establish a cohesive rebranding; develop a series of intuitive workshops; address rules and regulations to better suit members; offer qualified advice on core topics such as child protection; and continually improve attainment of the visions set in the YDP and subsequent five-year business plan. Similarly, our new responsibility for NYBBS has already implemented a series of development strategies, ensuring that members are provided with tutorial and performance opportunities to enable each individual to realise their own personal potential. Most recently, this included the formation of a governing board, a guest conductor visit from maestro, Bramwell Tovey, the restructuring of residential courses and a collaborative performance at the 2013 Celtic Connections Festival.

Educationalists regularly highlight the proven educational, social, behavioural, self-esteem and team-work benefits that can be derived through participating in music ensembles. We believe that our programme to strengthen Scotland’s youth brass band arena offers a contribution to future-proofing the country’s musical culture, while offering vital community contributions to all involved.

Clair Tomalin is Press and Publicity Officer of the Scottish Brass Band Association and the National Youth Brass Band of Scotland.

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Photo of Clair Tomalin