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Brass on the Mind

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By modefor, May 15 2019 07:08AM

This year the 99th Spring Brass Band Festival in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens falls in #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek (13-19 May), so what better time to talk about brass bands and mental wellbeing? One of my favourite topics.

In March I launched a survey about mental health in brass bands following my own lifetime of experience as a player, manager, conductor, judge, reporter and someone who also felt the need to turn my back on the movement for a while.

A huge thank you to everyone that has contributed so far (it’s not too late as I’ll keep it open until the end of May before I publish the results). The results are interesting as are the accompanying comments, but one thing that strikes me, though I wasn’t surprised, is the correlation between weakened mental health in bandspeople and contesting.

Nerves, anxiety, attempts to reach perfection and attain standards set by others all compacted by the judgement of others, whether that be fellow band members, conductors, judges or audience members are all contributing factors that affect so many brass band musicians on the contest platform and has resulted in players giving up for good in the worst case scenarios.

So, how can we address it and this #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek as a starting point, make things a little better for all those struggling and heading to Blackpool to compete this weekend?

Firstly, here are a few of the things to remember if you’re a musician performing in any brass band contest.

• Breathe… and breathe properly…. It’s the fundamental key to not only playing well, but controlling nerves. In those nerve fuelled moments, simply focus on the breath.

• Look after yourself first and foremost. Give yourself time to be places and do things. Be organised and don’t rush on contest day to keep control of your nerves. Focus on your job and your personal performance.

• Be kind and supportive to your fellow musicians. You might not know what’s really going on in their life or head. Support those who have jobs to do as well, like band managers or librarians.

• Be a contribution. Focus on your part and do it the best you can. The whole performance is not on you, you’re responsible for your own part so be the best contribution you can be. If everyone contributes excellence individually the effect is magical.

• Don’t strive for success, but strive for satisfaction. Success is measured by others, but satisfaction comes from within. Be satisfied, happy and content in your own performance by being the best you can be.

• There is no perfection, it doesn’t exist, so scrap that pressure, but what you can try to achieve is excellence.

• Other people’s opinions are not your concern… Yes, that’s right, even the judges. Their opinion is out of your control and subjective. What you control is your personal performance so make that excellent by your own standards.

• Know that your goal on the day is completely possible, if you’ve put the work in via a good productive plan and now you get to give your best performance (it’s the Three Ps: Possibility, Productivity & Performance).

• Also remember the four Cs: Confidence, Competence, Clarity & Communication.

• Enjoy yourself. You have a gift and a passion and regardless of whether it’s a concert or contest platform, be present, be involved and give yourself the best experience. Being fully prepared physically and mentally will help with this.

• Trust in the music. Make it about and for the music. Music is powerful and what feelings sound like. Let those feelings be heard.

The above is nothing you probably don’t know, but they’re points we often forget. But the most important thing is to put yourself first, look after you and then those around you and if all your band members do this, the collective result will be a performance to remember and that’s what we’re interested in, great performances that give us great experiences.

There are also other people that can help look after the mental wellbeing of our brass band musicians both in the lead up to the contest and on the day.

Conductors: (Disclaimer…. This next comment does not apply to all conductors, but a small proportion… and I’ve met and worked with plenty of them)

Just because you have the stick does not mean you have to be a **** with it (fill in with your own 4-letter word). You have a duty of care to the musicians around you and their physical and mental wellbeing. This game is not about your ego… it is about music. Treat the music, musicians and history of the movement and bands within it with respect, always.

Adjudicators: Your professional opinion is a well-respected asset, please use it wisely. Your words speak volumes and resonate for years so as well as being professional and honest, most importantly be kind.

Audience Members: Maybe you could do it better, maybe you couldn’t… opinions are subjective… support the performances… all of them; a lot of effort has gone into it, whether you like it or not and regardless of its standard.

Press: Just like adjudicators your words speak volumes and will resonate for years. BUT… you are not the adjudicators, you are there to support the movement and report for those who cannot be there. Your job is a privilege, handle with care!

As a collective we play in brass bands because we love the music and camaraderie. It is a unique movement. Let’s enjoy every moment, play great music and share experiences with friends.

I’m wishing great performance vibes to everyone competing in Blackpool this weekend. Enjoy every moment. There will be qualifiers and bravo to them and every single band that puts in so much effort for this historical brass band festival. Look after yourself and your fellow bands folk and I hope you’ll carry on this conversation about the importance of mental health and brass bands with me soon.

If you haven’t yet completed my survey, results of which will be published in the Summer and hopefully be put to good use for the benefit of our musicians and movement you can find it here: https://forms.gle/Vr2uXfWLmrKsMQzq9

For more info on my book The Three Ps and other music from Mode for…Publishing, head on over to www.modeforpublishing.com

Much Love

Tabby xxx

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A blog focussing on all things mental health and brass bands.