Milking the Audience – Should it be stopped at Brass Band Contests?

At this years British Open I sat next to a gentleman who was less than happy about the amount of time many conductors took acknowledging the audience’s applause. 

milking the audience

“This ought to be stopped – the test piece is long enough without all this time wasting rhubarb!”

For me, it added to the occasion, but then again he was perfectly correct…what if the rules were tweaked?

“In what would have been first place with 198 points reduced to 176 points due to excessive crowd milking and now in 13th place is the band that played brilliantly, with the conductor that walked on and off six times, bowed on each return, shook hands with every every player after making them stand up in turn, kissed the announcer on the cheek and the hand of the stage door assistant, openly wept with fake appreciation and kept us here till after midnight, is the band that played number…’ 

Appointing a ‘Milk Judge’ with a stopwatch and compulsory point deduction for pasteurizing the audience would stamp this out immediately.

Perhaps a revolving stage.  As soon as the last note dies away the band quickly rotate out of sight before the milking has a chance to curdle.  Good idea but wouldn’t work as some conductors would have the band contra marching to keep the crowd alive.

Another way would be to have the conductor in a fixed position to take the applause.  The fixed position being a trap door which springs open after 30 seconds – perfect!

milking the audience vaudeville hookMy favourite would be a Vaudeville Hook – the red and white striped shepherds crook you often saw yanking Kermit the Frog and other Muppets off the stage by their neck. 

So do conductors think that turning milk into cheese influences the result? 

Let’s fly across the auditorium into the box.  By the time the test piece ends the judges have made their minds up surely?

“That performance was diabolical.  Split notes all over the shop. Trombone obviously had a ferret stuck up the bell. Percussion had only one dynamic – Oblitterato, and the whole thing nearly came to standstill in the slow moment. Gentlemen they were an absolute disgrace and should be firmly in last place…but my oh my what an ovation!  We’ll put them in the frame.”


The adjudicators are too busy writing, conferring or scoffing sherbet lemons to be conned by any orchestrated bovine influence.  Some believe it creates an atmosphere that transcends into the box. If this airy-fairy belief is true it will have an equal measure of crowd resentment vibe wafting through the ether like a cloud of Marmite!

On the other hand, it is entertaining to watch.  Players openly cringe and shuffle sheepishly.   False grins like shot foxes because they know the applause is manufactured. Soloists are forced, reluctantly out to front and centre stage…even though they played their cadenzas like a zoo on fire.  Peer pressure is the only thing that keeps the crowd clapping and the stage manager is looking daggers at the clock.  There are waves of hate coming from the percussion section of the next band on. It’s quite a spectacle.  Everyone knows it’s a farce but the clapping goes on and on…and…on!

When a band does pull out a blistering performance a real audience eruption occurs and everyone knows it’s deserved.  The best way for the audience to take care of some of the more preposterous antics of post-performance celebrations is with a slow hand clap or by simply stopping the applause en masse – now that would work a treat! Bowing and scraping in silence would soon force the ovation seekers a sharp exit   The other benefit would be hands that are not ‘clapped out’ by the time they need to hold a well-deserved bevy during the comfort break or while a ‘cuppa tea’ band is on stage.

Is milking the crowd for higher placement a realistic proposition?  Can conductors genuinely crawl up the approval ratings this way?  Adjudicators are not stupid and a performance that has been skimmed of any substance cannot be propelled upwards by a fabricated clapometer. 

So just remember all you time wasting audience milkers – cream will always rise to the top!

Appeared in the satirical article ‘And Another Thing’ written and illustrated by Rob Nesbitt (Nezzy) in Brass Band World Magazine October edition 2018

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