What makes a good band, better?

I had recently started a thread asking about how the bands you have had experience in deal with attendance records, and rehearsal attendance. And I thank you for your thoughtful input.

But now as I am drawing some conclusions together for a discussion document for our committee, I am coming to realise that we will be missing an opportunity if we tackle this as a single issue. We don't want to improve our attendance records just for the sake of it - we want our band to improve because of it.

If we are going to take our band forward on a path of improvement, there must be so much more to consider.

So with a blank sheet of paper in front of me, I have drawn up a list of issues to consider and discuss with the committee, and then the band, that can each contribute to our improvement. They are:

Leadership - committee, conductor / director, sections
Library - new music, degree of difficulty
Personal skill development
Recruitment of new members
Promotional activity - CD, website
Balance of instruments in the band - section numbers to target or limit to
Rehearsal attendance
Motivational activity - guest soloists, competition playing

I put these here for discussion also.

What would you add to the list?
Would you prioritise, and how?
Have you experience in these aspects to share?
Have you experience in pushing for improvement, and taking the band with you?

As a suggestion, and if practicable, you might want to poll the group, first, to find out what they expect to achieve in the group. Use an anonymous questionnaire or something. Then you might want to compare it a bit with what you actually see. If the musicians all say they want to get better, but they primarily come because it's a social club, that'll tell you something, there.

The people that can tell you a lot about the group aren't always just the section leaders, but the folks that are putting in a lot of effort and volunteer to help set up 'n' stuff.
Chris, I will follow this thread with interest, and plan to share your list with the band board on which I serve. We are three weeks into rehearsals with our brand new director, who is inheriting a band badly in need of rebuilding.

I would add to the list of concerns that of determining whether you will have a come-one, come-all policy; an audition band with limitations on section size; or something in between these extremes. Our group has been come-one, come all, with all of the attendant problems of such a policy. We have had a loosely defined attendance policy, which was never really enforced so is essentially meaningless.

Tomorrow will be our first board meeting since the appointment of the new director----there are many, many issues to be discussed and policies to be determined. It will be an interesting year!

Cheers! Ruth
Thanks for your thoughts. The document I have prepared, though, is more for the committee as a starter to discussion. Absolutely, once we have tempered my mad musings into something we can work with, we will design a questionnaire around the keys points and canvas the views of our members.

I hope your discussion goes well and it might be good to compare notes!
I will email my mad musings to you tonight for interest, so if you don't see it in your inbox, check the spam!

As I said here, I worked really hard with our community band board to change our charter. I used the "drive" rather than the "lead" method, but that's more about me than anything. Some of the people who couldn't really play their instruments (after 30 years of music performance experience) were on the board! But I had support of key people and we dragged the band kicking and screaming to the next level of performance.

I would say the two things that improved the band the most during our transition from a take any musician to an audition-based group was picking a world-class director and playing more challenging music. So many of the bottom skill level players left over a period of two years.

I know a lot of people feel that a community band should be all about the fraternity and less so about the music. Fortunately in Seattle there are so many community bands, that if that is the need that needs to be filled, one can find a band to play in.

Having instituted this "next level" of performance, we find two interesting things. Maybe unique to a large metropolitan area with many, many bands to chose from, we are growing our audience with a higher quality of performance. And, we have a waiting list of people wanting to get into our band.

We could use another bassonist and oboe player. And filling a percussion section continues to be a challenge for most community bands in our area. But I think that the choices this band voted in, and btw barely make the vote, are now seen as the right decision for most of the people in our band.

As a new community band member, I would have to say getting to know the new folks and making them feel welcome is a big plus. The band I joined did this well, and it's a huge motivator to play better and practice smarter when you have a team to work with to reach that goal of pulling off a great performance.

I would also add encouragement of one's skills and improvement, versus audition. There are still parts I struggle with, but I'm confident that I am playing 90% of the music and playing 100% of that 90% well. But if I had to audition, that's a different story. However in larger metropolitan areas where there are many community bands to choose from, the use of auditions in a band known to push things to the next level is a necessary step.

So, to make a community band better, I think focus on the community nature of it is important. Not as a social gathering, but truly caring for your "community" and encouraging each other to grow. The board members will likely have more of a managerial viewpoint and strategy, but the members who are participating regularly and supporting each other will have a huge impact on whether the band stalls out or takes it to the next level.
Chris, as this plays out, do consider updating the thread. I'd be particularly interested of what was decided and if there was any resistance to the changes in consideration. Every community band is a little soap opera, don't you think? ;)
Yes, I will update the thread as we work through some of the issues. We have a committee meeting tomorrow, and my aim is to acknowledge the document I have written (happy to share if you want to see it, pm me your email address if you want), but then probably try and get some decisions on other business for the future, so I can have some protected time to discuss these issues in our November meeting.

We are trying to get a grant to produce a CD, as well as finalising a weekend tour to Jersey (Channel Island) in 2 weeks time, and a Christmas concert

And that having just finished a large concert last night

In fact a member arranged a video and for the first time ever, we have a YouTube presence!

http://youtu.be/gsU6Hn-2t0I - this is a guest soloist. Wish she was a permanent member!

Chris, as this plays out, do consider updating the thread. I'd be particularly interested of what was decided and if there was any resistance to the changes in consideration. Every community band is a little soap opera, don't you think? ;)

Oh yeah! Drama abounds! The first board meeting with our new director present went pretty much as I had expected----a whole lot of "we thought about that [probably 10 years ago] and decided against it", protracted meandering about the "old days" [some of these guys have been in the band 50 years, and I'm not making that up or exaggerating!], topped off with variations on "we've always done it that way"]. Fortunately, the new director is sharp and was forewarned, so will settle in and work gradually to change the culture. The previous director stepped down (his choice) after 20 years, so there are lot of deeply entrenched attitudes and habits to be dealt with, not all of them good. And there's more which I can't air publicly.

On another, lighter note, Kris and I are not only fellow North Carolinians---it emerged in a couple of PM's that we are also in the same town, and in fact played a concert in the same band just one week ago! How's that for a major coincidence!? She's new to the group and we are in different sections and had not met, but will remedy that at tomorrow's rehearsal! And just so she and you know, my comments above are not about that band--- they refer to another group that I play with and on whose board I serve.

I will be very interested to hear how things progress with Chris and his band and will share what I can about our progress. Our upcoming holiday program looks to me to be well chosen, but somewhat less difficult than some of the programs attempted by our previous director. The band will do well with the material---and it will also serve as a good means for the new director to assess just what she has to work with and what is needed to permit more ambitious programing down the road. This band IMO has all too often gone into a concert badly under-rehearsed and has come close on a couple of occasions to a major "train wreck" in performance----that's the kind of anxiety I can do without!

Cheers, all. Ruth
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