by Jim Vaughan, director, The British Federation
Our Federation, which has brought together all of the 14 major national youth organisations in the United Kingdom that involve their young people in all styles of marching bands and corps, is celebrating its fifth birthday this year.
It’s been a roller coaster five years that has increasingly made the whole UK activity look to the future and plan strategically. No one would claim that this still young organisation has all the answers or indeed has changed perceptions dramatically, but it has begun a process that can only be beneficial to the whole UK activity.
Music has never been valued in UK schools in the same way that it has in North America and this area of the curriculum suffered a further decline from the 1970s. There never was a marching band programme in the UK state school system and this genre of the community-based youth arts is still not valued by arts or educational policymakers.
But times they are a-changing! The only marching show band that is currently part of a school programme is the Trinity School Marching Show Band from Nottingham and this group is a beacon which we hope others will follow.
What the five-year-old Federation has done is gradually change perceptions. Much of what we have achieved may not bear fruit for several years and, retrospectively, the role the Federation played may well be forgotten. But the world is about statistics and, because the member organisations have worked together, combined numbers have made a difference.
The Federation has been involved in meetings with members of Parliament and with Senior Civil Servants to further the cause. The founding of the Federation coincided with a new lottery distributor being established — Youth Music.
Because the whole activity was working to a similar strategic plan, Youth Music has supported developmental work for four years, granting in the region of $300,000.
Where has the money gone?
Because the UK activity is entirely voluntary, it has been possible to ensure that the vast majority has been spent at the grassroots-level. Bands and corps have been encouraged with Federation grants to stage local workshops — in community and sports centres and in schools.
In just the past two years, these workshops have involved almost every county in the country. Most recently, Kidsgrove Scouts and Concord Drum and Bugle Corps ran workshops that attracted new young people into the ranks, whilst the Senators junior and Pegasus Corps combined to stage a master class with the aim of improving the performance of both units.
Numerically, the most successful series of workshops was staged by Essex Marching Corps, a show band that visited three schools and two sports centres in one week, recruiting 60 new youngsters into their band. These are typical of the pro-active nature of Federation-supported initiatives
Enthusiasts worried about the activity’s future always shout “we need more PR,” but what we really need so that our activity survives and prospers, as we have clearly shown, is for corps and bands to get out into the public domain and sell themselves.
Innovation and collaboration are two key facets of our current “Reaching Out” programme. Bands and corps have been working together on training, an example being Chase Drum and Trumpet Corps working with Staffordshire Boys Brigade on an activity weekend, to be repeated this year.
A major feature of our 2003 to 2005 development initiative was the five-day “World Show Band Championships and Music Festival.” Bands and corps worked together and performed to tens of thousands of people in the holiday town of Bournemouth.
Additionally, the Senators collaborated with other bands to perform “Raw Rhythm,” an indoor live music, marching and manoeuvre show. They have subsequently staged one percussive set at the Royal Northern College of Music.
This is an innovation that the Federation is keen to support other bands to follow — new audiences, new venues and a possible winter activity.
The Senators and the Federation acknowledge Star of Indiana’s “BLAST!” and “Cyberjam” as inspiration for this project.
In the UK, ours is a totally voluntary, community-based arts programme. In this era of “regulated volunteers,” the Federation has realised the need to ensure that leaders have an accredited qualification. This will ensure continued support from parents and from grant-giving bodies, but will also raise the standard of instruction and ultimately of performances.
During 2005, we hope to pilot this initiative. The programme will be carefully designed to enshrine the enthusiasm of leaders in our unique activity with an accredited diploma, officially recognised by education, work place and the community.
To further promote our unique activity nationally and locally, and to attract more young people into marching bands and corps, the Federation is promoting its first “National Marching Youth Music Week” between 25th June and 2nd July. Throughout the UK, bands and corps will be staging extra local performances and workshops. This is another ambitious initiative which cannot fail to attract major media coverage and hopefully many more youngsters.
The Federation is already thinking further ahead. In January it held the third of their biennial conferences. Although only in draft form, the conference established three main objectives for particular focus during the next two years — education, community and recognition.
The Federation is entirely dependent on grant income for its voluntary work and, providing funds can be sourced, there is no doubt that, together with its member organisations, the Federation will continue to make a major difference to the marching band, show band and drum corps activities in the UK.
Here is a sample message of support from international percussionist Evelyn Glennie, OBE: “I am very pleased to support national ‘Marching Youth Music Week.’ Music is such an important part of our lives and marching bands do so much to involve young people from their communities in making live music — the best kind! I am sure many more young musicmakers will become involved during and after what promoses to be a great national celebration of young talent.”
The member organisations of the British Federation of Youth Marching Band Organisations include: Air Training Corps, Army Cadet Force, Boys Brigade, British Youth Band Association, Church Lads and Girls Brigade, Drum Corps United Kingdom, Girls Brigade, GirlGuiding UK, Nautical Training Corps, Royal British Legion, Scout Association, Sea Cadets, St. John Ambulance and the Traditional Youth Marching Band Association.