Committment these days!

Guestpost from John Barber – Courtesy of Brass Band World Magazine

“Just when you thought you could have six months break from rehearsals, the Prison Governor joins your band…Your taxi awaits!”

Whilst the musical rewards can undoubtedly be plentiful, playing in a brass band also takes time, effort, costs money, allows you the opportunity to dress in outsized uniforms, be occasionally disappointed by contest results and, if you’re unfortunate enough, get stuck regularly in an unnecessarily extended concert with a male voice choir.

To submit to all of these challenges takes commitment, ‘a willingness to give your time and energy to something that you believe in, or a promise or firm decision to do something’.

With the challenges of modern life, work commitments, family pressures and the airing of mid-week premiership matches on BT sport there has been a small but gradual acceptance that sometimes extenuating circumstances dictate that it simply isn’t possible to be there 100% of the time.

‘Back in the Day’

Things haven’t always been this way though; excuses of a family crisis or an impending redundancy would often fall on deaf ears ‘back in the day’.

One such tale relates to the late Derek Jackson, possibly one of the greatest and certainly most celebrated Bb bass players the brass band movement has produced. In addition to his incredible sound and depth of range, Derek was known for his straight talking, his bluntness and certainly towards the end of his career, oversized music parts printed on A3 paper.

It was during a Foden’s rehearsal that he relayed to me one such tale that dated back 20 years to a CD recording he had done with the Black Dyke band. Seemingly the band had taken a break after a successful morning of recording and, after lunch when the band returned, Derek was nowhere to be seen.

This was unusual as Derek was a stalwart, the epitome of commitment and simply didn’t miss performances let alone go AWOL. A short while later he returned to the recording, sat down and completed the session with no one really wanting to challenge him on the reasons for his presumed lax timekeeping, deciding that this was not the moment to be on the end of his renowned bluntness. Nonetheless at the conclusion of the day he was asked as to what the circumstances were that led him to arrive back late for the afternoon session.

It transpired that he had been out for lunch with his wife and whilst there unfortunately she had suffered a heart attack.

When asked if she was ok, he said he wasn’t sure as he’d waited to see the ambulance arrive then made his way back to the recording.
“So is she ok?”
“How would I know?…I’ve been at band.”

It’s not always bandsmen who moderate their own actions; sometimes these decisions are taken out of their hands, expectations of commitment laid bare by conductors and colleagues at times that many would consider the most extreme of personal occasions-weddings.


Many years ago John Childs, then conductor of the Tredegar band (and grandfather of Brass Band World Editor David), was approached by his soprano player, Hayden Stredwick, regarding the rehearsal that was planned for the coming Saturday. Addressing the conductor, Hayden offered his apologies that, due to his wedding taking place on that day, he would be unable to make the planned rehearsal.

Expecting an understanding response with best wishes and platitudes it was with a degree of surprise that John asked him the question;

‘What time is the wedding?’


‘Oh! – that’s not a problem then, we can move the rehearsal back to 4.00pm, should give you plenty of time’, said John.

Right’, said Hayden.

When Saturday came around, such was the weight of expectation that at 4.00pm, Hayden was sitting in the rehearsal room, ‘sop’ out and ready to play.  His brand new bride was also there.  In her wedding dress.

   “Will this take long vicar? The contest starts in twenty five minutes!”

Modern committment standards

It would of course be churlish to suggest that in modern banding commitment standards in certain quarters have slipped in certain quarters, or that those examples cited above simply wouldn’t happen, however there have been occasions in recent years when the stringent demands of daily life, work and family have forced players to reluctantly accept that they simply cannot make a rehearsal. I myself have been forced to miss due to ill health, a work commitment and one time when I stubbed my toe.

Such are the challenges of modern life.

It might be true however that on occasion some folks may have stretched the patience and good will of their fellow bandsmen. Perhaps if they were made of a little more substance may have found a way to get to that rehearsal after all.

Without naming the individual I was informed of one such occasion when a prominent player in a band reluctantly phoned up the band manager to say,

I can’t make this evenings rehearsal- it just isn’t possible.’

I’m sorry to hear that – what’s wrong?’ said the band manager.

‘My rabbit isn’t well’, came the reply.


john-barberJohn Barber penned this article for the  ‘And another thing’ feature in the May 2016 edition of Brass Band Magazine.  

John is the Solo Trombone at Fodens Band and works as a teacher at a local school in Sandbach, Cheshire.

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