A Community Concert Band Movement

Shelley Moore
In the summing up and congratulatory talk after the prizegiving for the NZCBA Festival, there was palpable and genuine excitement. Some relief was understandable, bearing in mind that our full day of concert band extravagance had begun with an almighty fizz just as proceedings were about to begin, when the power was cut region-wide as the first band of the Festival was due to start. Worse news – the estimated time to fix looked frightening. However, engineering brilliance solved the problem: there were lights, musicians and action.

The day was salvaged; it was particularly gratifying to see everyone working together so seamlessly in the face of adversity. All performed well and were well-received by the generous audience.

Later on, after all had wound up, some of the participants had the opportunity to speak with Rich Roberts, a visiting adjudicator from the USA. During his prizegiving speech he had mentioned the importance (in his mind at least) of the audience having some part to play as participants; he especially reiterated that the audience here in New Zealand was a very static affair.

“But,” we said, “this is serious business, this concert band business, and the audience must sit still and look entirely serious!”

According to the vibrant Mr Roberts, there is much an audience can allow itself in terms of self-expression and actually moving with the music. In New Zealand, he was struck by the fact we Kiwi audiences sit as still as possible and ‘receive’ the entertainment (live music) as a passive exercise; apart from polite clapping there isn’t much in the way of two-way communication or any shareable sign anyone is enjoying the live spectacle. Perhaps a wayward nod or two, or the odd listener who didn’t read the rule book about being seen but not heard, and no moving!

We politely assume that being still and quiet is congruent with being respectful and paying careful attention to what is taking place on stage. Naturally no one would wish to be distracting, but some display that you are human and enjoying the art form being shared is in order. This is not only acceptable, but desirable according to Roberts. We need to encourage our audiences to feel engaged and move more, be more responsive to the music, ensure that it’s being made with this in mind. We need to grant the audience a licence to MOVE.

It is something to take forward as the NZ Concert Band movement continues to go from strength to strength. It struck a chord with some of us who have come from non-traditional classical musical backgrounds – when enjoying a concert band in full flow, it is allowable and actually a good idea, for audiences to show their enjoyment somewhat more.

He was pleased by the community feel and sense of camaraderie amongst the concert band movement here in New Zealand. He said this is a marked difference: in the United States there is no one aspect of the collective community being involved and invested in it. This is what lends our concert band community its particular flavour – the human aspect, the socialising aspect, actually bettering ourselves through instrument practice / discipline; and then being together as a collective. The sense is that we belong to a bigger entity, with a valid cultural place in our society, rather than Band simply being a place to go and blow some collective hot air.

We explained that the community aspect is crucial – in fact we at West City Concert Band would be nothing without it, and the same goes for other bands. We like to recruit particularly those who have left their music behind; we show them that there is a place to come and re-find the music, and the chance to participate and better ourselves, on an individual basis and collectively.

(Personally I think of it as facilitating the rising of middle-aged phoenixes, as so many of us emerge from the woodwork after years as busy parents, working in standard jobs by day. It is wonderful to find each other, whether it’s spotting a band at a Santa parade, visiting a website for more information, or a random meeting in a cafe (as it was for this correspondent). Once rediscovered, we earn the right to gather once a week, juggling myriad demands on our time, and strive to get a programme of entertaining, challenging and appropriate material for whatever the next concert / festival demands. We bring the organisational and governmental skills that are required behind the scenes.)

A band is more than music. Rich Roberts felt there was much we could share and illuminate, in a reciprocal swapping of ideas and values. There’s a big world of banding out there; aiming for some international exchange possibilities will be something to consider going forward.

He was impressed and somewhat surprised with our burgeoning movement down in the South Pacific. The musical standard and choice of material formed some of the nuts and bolts of the conversation; in a nutshell it all bodes very well for the future. How interesting to have seen some of it through the eyes of one who is steeped in American concert band tradition, and it is gratifying going forward to have such valuable feedback.