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Tips on Hiring a Brass Band

The purpose of this page is to give you some tips on how to be a good host and make a success of having a brass band make a positive contribution to your event. It is aimed at people who are thinking about hiring a brass band, but don't know what's expected.

EVERY band is different, Some bands pride themselves on the highest standard of music and allow only people who can meet their high standards to join. Other bands are keen musicians who are there for the music and put enjoyment of the music and each other's company ahead of achievement. Of course there are various shades in between. As I said, every band is different.

In general (yes, generalisations are dangerous), you'll get a higher class of music from the first type of band, but you will often find the second sort of band perfectly adequate and maybe more amenable. Oh, just because a band places importance on enjoyment, it doesn't necessarily mean they're no good musically! Most bands are contesting bands — they compete against other bands to see who's the 'best'. Other bands only do concerts and so concentrate all their efforts on perfecting their concert repertoire. In reality the vast majority of bands are quite capable of putting on a concert or providing music for, say, a garden party.

Anyway, what a band requires will vary from band to band, so check everything! To help you, there are some pointers here to some of the common things you'll need to be aware of.

---> 1. Find Your Band
You are very fortunate, because you are on this site. Go to the Contact Cards section to find your band. Alternatively, Libraries are a good place to look. BBC Essex helpdesk knows of a few brass bands also. But you probably won't find them in a phone book!
---> 2. What you want the Band to do

It's best to have a clear idea of what you want the band to do. You'll start by telling the band what the event is.

Sousa player

These are some of the sort of things bands get asked to do:

  • Do you want a full concert? Will there be a formal audience for the band (in which case the band may want to prepare a compère and a programme).
  • Do you just want background music (to what?)?
  • Is it accompanying congregational singing (in which case you'll need to go into great detail)?
  • Are other groups (musical and otherwise) also taking part in the same event? How do you propose sharing out the time and space?
  • How long do you want the band to play?

Usually musical directors of bands will arrange their own programme, but if you would like a certain piece or type of music, please discuss it beforehand. Never expect a band to be able to respond favourably to "Can you play..." requests on the night because it's impossible to carry around a full repertoire. A possible exception is a Christmas concert where people want favourite carols - but even then carol books don't always have every type of Christmas song!).

---> 3. What to provide

Please provide seating (the band will tell you how many). Chairs with arms make things difficult for brass players, so it's best to avoid them. Brass bands usually sit in horseshoe 'formation' (i.e. 3 sides of a square), usually two rows deep.

The band will need a back room or similar to congregate before playing, including somewhere to store their instrument cases.

Bandsmen will often come by car and will need somewhere to park. Players of some of the larger instruments, such as tuba and percussion, will appreciate being able to get a car close to the venue in order to unload and load.

Light refreshments would be a good gesture half way through. If you would like to reward the musicians with more substantial refreshments, please do that at the end. It's not good to play immediately after eating and drinking well!

---> 4. Outdoor Engagements

The open-air is a good place for a brass band in the summer, but it needs special attention. Drums particularly are vulnerable to extreme heat and rain, so you may be asked to find a shady spot.

From a practical point of view, the ground needs to be flat. Not only is it important for the physical positioning for somebody who is to work sitting down for an hour or two, but music stands can get a bit top heavy and blow over in the wind if the ground is not good. Bands will, however, usually bring their own pegs to hold the music on the stands.

If you want the band to play on grass, please pay particular attention to the type of chairs you provide. On more than one occasion I've played in a band on soft grass and we've been given chairs with thin circular legs that penetrate slowly into the soft ground!

If your space is hard ground, make sure you tell the band so that they can bring bits of carpet or whatever to protect their instruments when they put them down.

Please pay attention to what is going on around the band. For safety, don't place them right next to a fast road. Think also of animals; you could end up with dogs barking throughout the engagement! Horses, particularly can be startled by a band if they are not used to them. So if you're having pony rides and a brass band at a summer fete, please don't place the two attractions next to one another.


---> 5. Timing

Don't forget that most brass bands are amateur, so it is often difficult to get a band together during working hours.

Some bands get booked up well over a year in advance. Please book early. At minimum please give a few week's notice. A band's busiest times are during the summer season, with such things as garden parties and concerts in the park, and in the run-up to Christmas.

Once at the venue, the band will require time to set up. If the band has sole of the space for the duration of their engagement, so much the better, but if it's a shared arena, then a few minutes will be required to get things straight before the band can play.

Percussion is always a challenge in this situation — it takes quite a while to set up properly. A reduced percussion set may be called for if there is a lot of moving around. Even if the band has its own place to play, percussionists usually arrive first and will need access up to an hour before the event in order to set up.

It's unlikely that band members will be very enthusiastic about reorganising their day just to play for 15 or 20 minutes. An hour or two is usual. A suggestion for a typical engagement is 45 minutes playing, 15 minutes break and another 45 minutes playing. Please bear in mind that heat makes it more difficult for sustained playing without a break.

---> 6. Payment

As most brass bands are amateur, you fortunately won't have to pay 30 or more players professional rates! However, you should be prepared to pay a reasonable fee to the band. It costs a lot of money to run a band. For example, a decent cornet (the smallest instrument) can cost well over £1000. Music and rehearsal facilities have to be paid for. The funding for this comes from the jobs they do and from the members' personal contributions.

A brass band can make an event really come alive, so they're worth paying for. For public garden fetes etc. families of the band members may also come and boost your takings! Some bands will have a set scale of fees, others negotiate. Some bands can command a higher fee than others.

Any band secretary wanting to add to this advice, please mail me

© 1999/2000 Brian Nichols