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Author Topic: Mediocrity in community bands  (Read 2866 times)
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alownx

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« on: Sep 30, 2015, 08:55AM »

As a trombone player, I got frustrated with the trombone section in a community band I was in. I got frustrated enough that I jumped ship to play euphonium. Whenever the trombone section had difficulty with a passage, they would refuse to work on it. As a result, I felt that the trombones were the worst group in the band and I tired of having to share in that reputation even though I could always play my parts (I was a music major, so most things come easy). I remember a rehearsal where while I was playing euphonium the trombones couldn't play a very exposed part. I offered to need them in a sectional to fix it, but the response was "Ehhh, whatever. The director will yell at us either way."

Whatever happened to getting good for the sole reason of being good.
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« Reply #1 on: Sep 30, 2015, 09:18AM »

About a year ago, I became the manager of a big band. Even though we aren't a "community band" per se, a couple of our players have the same attitude. One in particular refuses to practice, saying he can't count the rhythms unless the rest of the band is playing. Another plays at one and only one volume, won't put his hand over the bell (in case he needs to use the trigger), and only has 1 mute after playing for more than 50 years.
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« Reply #2 on: Sep 30, 2015, 09:43AM »

You all have it easy.

I direct handbells.

Just saying.
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Tim Richardson
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« Reply #3 on: Sep 30, 2015, 09:46AM »

This is a directorial problem.  Part of the director's prerogative is to inspire the musicians through direct communication,  modeling, repertoire  (that's neither too challenging nor boring), and by arranging performances.

Your quote about him/her going to "yell at us anyway" is evidence that the player feels uninspired.

Just my .02 (as a director of community and college bands).
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« Reply #4 on: Sep 30, 2015, 10:01AM »

Community Bands come in a variety of flavors.

Some are really good and force their members to work hard on music.  Often they play music just a little above the ensemble to try to improve.

Some are "hangouts" and the people come to play easy music and socialize.  Mostly they want to play familiar music and not be challenged.

Some are "learning" bands.  The music is simple because the players tend to be either young kids or returning players who are REALLY rusty.  These bands often have odd instrumentation and the players tend to leave as soon as they get better.

Members of the 2nd two types of bands can often be people who are unable to do much practicing between rehearsals, either because of their jobs, young children in the house, or whatever.  It's part of the system.

The trick to being a good Community Band leader is to recognize which group you have and provide music to suit.  Too hard and they don't care.  Too easy and they inisist on sight reading.  And the right music will vary from group to group.
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Bruce Guttman
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« Reply #5 on: Sep 30, 2015, 10:36AM »

I think that "musical apathy" is the problem here, rather than mediocrity per-se. 
We were all mediocre once ( some of us still might be) and lower level bands need to tolerate this.
The problem is that with the apathy you would be less likely to get past the mediocrity.



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« Reply #6 on: Sep 30, 2015, 11:17AM »

I want to preface this by saying that I'm referring to lower level community groups here. Bruce summed it up nicely:

Community Bands come in a variety of flavors.

Some are really good and force their members to work hard on music.  Often they play music just a little above the ensemble to try to improve.

Some are "hangouts" and the people come to play easy music and socialize.  Mostly they want to play familiar music and not be challenged.

Some are "learning" bands.  The music is simple because the players tend to be either young kids or returning players who are REALLY rusty.  These bands often have odd instrumentation and the players tend to leave as soon as they get better.

Members of the 2nd two types of bands can often be people who are unable to do much practicing between rehearsals, either because of their jobs, young children in the house, or whatever.  It's part of the system.

The trick to being a good Community Band leader is to recognize which group you have and provide music to suit.  Too hard and they don't care.  Too easy and they inisist on sight reading.  And the right music will vary from group to group.

This might be an unpopular opinion but I think that when it comes to community groups it's important to realize that everybody has a different AND EQUALLY VALID relationship with what they are doing. Some people take their horns out once a week and sound terrible. Some once a week and sound OK. Some practice everyday and still sound terrible. At that level it's a hobby and needs to be seen as one.

The important word is COMMUNITY, not band.

Believe me, I expect a lot of myself musically (I'm currently working on a DMA at BU with Gabe Langfur and want to make a living playing and teaching the trombone), but I also play with my hometown community band during the summer because I think it is an important part of the town's cultural life (a very small town in rural MA). The other people in the band are farmers, retired teachers (only two of them music teachers), carpenters, elementary, middle, and high school students, and various other locals. Band for them is a time to get together and do something they enjoy. Everybody has a different level of expectation for their own playing, but what makes the group work is that nobody expects anybody else to play to a certain "standard." Is this professional? Not at all, but it isn't supposed to be.

This paradigm of playing music is very different than what we learn gigging, at a university, or a at conservatory but that doesn't make it less valid. If people want to get together and play to a low standard, who are we to tell them to go practice?

I think that if you find a community group frustrating to play with that frustration is the incompatible element, not the lower standards of some of the other members. There is a time and place for being picky about playing ability but I really don't think community groups is it. Cut them some slack. They obviously have different priorities than you do.

We are all at different stops on our musical journey, and some people just decided to get off the train at one point and stay where they were.
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« Reply #7 on: Sep 30, 2015, 12:54PM »

Find a different band. You won't be able to change the band's approach to music.
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« Reply #8 on: Sep 30, 2015, 01:51PM »

I want to preface this by saying that I'm referring to lower level community groups here. Bruce summed it up nicely:

This might be an unpopular opinion but I think that when it comes to community groups it's important to realize that everybody has a different AND EQUALLY VALID relationship with what they are doing. Some people take their horns out once a week and sound terrible. Some once a week and sound OK. Some practice everyday and still sound terrible. At that level it's a hobby and needs to be seen as one.

The important word is COMMUNITY, not band.

Believe me, I expect a lot of myself musically (I'm currently working on a DMA at BU with Gabe Langfur and want to make a living playing and teaching the trombone), but I also play with my hometown community band during the summer because I think it is an important part of the town's cultural life (a very small town in rural MA). The other people in the band are farmers, retired teachers (only two of them music teachers), carpenters, elementary, middle, and high school students, and various other locals. Band for them is a time to get together and do something they enjoy. Everybody has a different level of expectation for their own playing, but what makes the group work is that nobody expects anybody else to play to a certain "standard." Is this professional? Not at all, but it isn't supposed to be.

This paradigm of playing music is very different than what we learn gigging, at a university, or a at conservatory but that doesn't make it less valid. If people want to get together and play to a low standard, who are we to tell them to go practice?

I think that if you find a community group frustrating to play with that frustration is the incompatible element, not the lower standards of some of the other members. There is a time and place for being picky about playing ability but I really don't think community groups is it. Cut them some slack. They obviously have different priorities than you do.

We are all at different stops on our musical journey, and some people just decided to get off the train at one point and stay where they were.
I agree.  Apart from my role as a pretty good musician contributing to my local New Horizons Band, the emphasis for me is the community aspect of the whole thing, with the "mission" of bringing a sense of culture to sunny Carlsbad, Ca.  Many of our people are taught from scratch here by our really gifted director, Allison.  A few of my customers who know I play have even joined up.  Yeah, it's frustrating at times.  And there are two "better" groups here locally I would be welcomed in, but there's a different kind of energy playing with these middle and senior-aged "new" players that I really find appealing.  There will always be those less disciplined than us.  I double on tuba here, and I have lots to learn on this instrument, so in a way I'm kinda "new" anyway.  Follow your heart and needs.         
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« Reply #9 on: Sep 30, 2015, 02:20PM »

Nice thing about Community Bands is they will often let you play whatever you want.  For example, I needed some time to get used to my alto trombone.  So I played some 1st trombone parts on it in rehearsal and some French Horn parts on it in rehearsal.  They even let me play a solo (one movement of the Haydn horn concerto) on it.  I wanted to learn my Euphonium, so I joined another Community Band on that.

Some groups might tell me to put it away and go home, but not my lower level Community Band.
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« Reply #10 on: Oct 01, 2015, 06:52AM »

Many of us live in places where we don't have more than one community band to choose from, at least not without driving a long way. I have mostly stopped playing in our local band, as rehearsals have become less and less enjoyable over the past few years. Much of this is due to the style of the director. He will literally spend the whole 2 hour rehearsal on 2-3 pieces of music, with most of the time spent running and re-running the more difficult woodwind passages. Most of the folks in the woodwind section don't feel the need to take the book home and practice. So the brass section spends most of the rehearsal sitting on our hands waiting for an opportunity to actually play a note. After a couple years of this, I just sort of stopped showing up for most rehearsals. I will go to a couple of practices for each concert.

Fortunately, there is a college wind ensemble in town that also uses community players and is (usually) playing at a higher level than the community band. But that school seems to be suffering from a lack of ability to recruit well qualified players recently. Many of the folks that pass as music students there probably wouldn't hack it in some of the better HS bands in the state.

So I enjoy playing in a jazz band, brass quintet, and community theater when possible.
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« Reply #11 on: Oct 01, 2015, 07:17AM »

Similar experience here, except our group is a community orchestra. I bailed after the 2nd season. The leadership of the group focused almost entirely on strings, who are a mix of casual come backers with second to fourth or fifth year students. It's the only large group in town, though I also take part in a church group of a dozen or so older folks. The orchestra would work 2 pieces per rehearsal twice a month for up to 2 hours, leaving the brass section with little to do for over half the session. While some of the problems I saw were related to the direction of the group, there was not any significant amount of woodshedding done by the other brass players.  I am exploring options for a couple of other groups in the next county after my kids go off to college next year.  Disappointing experience.
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« Reply #12 on: Oct 01, 2015, 07:31AM »

Personally, for a trombonist, I think jazz and brass ensembles are where it's at. We are used and even highlighted. In orchestral works we are just embellishment. With band works, we are treated like we are drooling kids in the back that aren't talented enough to play another instrument.
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« Reply #13 on: Oct 01, 2015, 07:38AM »

Whatever happened to getting good for the sole reason of being good.

I play in three "community" bands that span the gamut (from anyone can join to you have to be ok'ed to join to you need to be invited), however, I've not come across the "Eh, whatever" mentality.  Even the 80+ year old guys in the lower of the three bands still try their best to get it together.

However, if the MD was an always negative person, then I could see that happening.  But then - why still come?  If it ain't fun and you're not getting paid - why do it?!
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« Reply #14 on: Oct 01, 2015, 10:07AM »

... With band works, we are treated like we are drooling kids in the back that aren't talented enough to play another instrument.

You are clearly playing works published for the school market where the Euphonium parts are doubled in the tenor saxophone, the French Horn parts are doubled in the alto saxophones, and trombones and bassoons are window dressing.  Try finding a band where they play some of the old orchestral transcriptions, Sousa marches, and music from the golden era of the Concert Band (1880-1950).
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Bruce Guttman
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« Reply #15 on: Oct 02, 2015, 05:19AM »

Personally, for a trombonist, I think jazz and brass ensembles are where it's at. We are used and even highlighted. In orchestral works we are just embellishment. With band works, we are treated like we are drooling kids in the back that aren't talented enough to play another instrument.

Yes. This. Swing bands FTW.

But the "drooling kid" thing sort of perpetuates itself. For those of us who came up through the band system, we never got a chance to play tricky stuff, so when composers DO throw tricky stuff at us, we are totally unprepared to handle it. I will probably always panic at the sight of sixteenth-note runs.


...I think that when it comes to community groups it's important to realize that everybody has a different AND EQUALLY VALID relationship with what they are doing. Some people take their horns out once a week and sound terrible. Some once a week and sound OK. Some practice everyday and still sound terrible. At that level it's a hobby and needs to be seen as one.

The important word is COMMUNITY, not band.

<--snip-->

Yes. This. One of my community bands recently alienated and effectively chased away a player they didn't feel was very good. What the heck???


Whatever happened to getting good for the sole reason of being good.

::shrug:: As others have said, we all play for different reasons. That's not why I play. I've been that once-a-week player, bored and frustrated and ready to quit. Right now I'm playing in bands that inspire me, where I feel compelled to play my ass off just to try and keep up with the incredibly talented (and friendly, and encouraging, and not snooty) musicians around me. (What's that Stan Getz quote... "you have to play with musicians that are better than you"?)

I don't know what the solution is to turn a section from uninspired to inspired. It'd be like herding cats.
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« Reply #16 on: Oct 02, 2015, 06:11AM »

Is this a lot different from the office softball league or bowling league?

Your driven type A's find a more competitive group, the rest do their best but don't sweat their performance too much?

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Tim Richardson
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« Reply #17 on: Oct 02, 2015, 06:19AM »

Unfortunately, not everyone has many options within driving distance :-/.

I also feel that most of the band isn't striving for "mediocrity". Most are really trying. Most of them are pretty good, but the trombone section just seems to care less than everyone else.
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« Reply #18 on: Oct 03, 2015, 09:41AM »

...the trombone section just seems to care less than everyone else.

Yeah. It's frustrating. Attitudes are contagious, be they positive or negative. Negative players feed off each other's negativity. If that guy doesn't care, why should I?

I think BGuttman mentioned in some past community band thread that the "good" players sort of become the leaders and driving forces within the group. If the trombone section is lacking that sort of leadership and drive... I dunno, man. Introducing talented and enthusiastic fresh blood into the section can help stir up apathetic players, but you've already done your best to be that force, and it didn't work, and you gave up and joined the euphoniums. It's tough. Some players are just set in their ways.
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