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The Whit Friday contest rule updates: What bands need to know

UniBrass have contacted Saddleworth & Oldham Whit Friday organisers to ask for clarification of this rule, and to highlight the detrimental impact that this decision will have on the ability of new players in brass bands to participate. Unfortunately they have decided that this rule will stand, with no exception for university bands. Our understanding is therefore that the use of trumpets, French horns, or plastic instruments would result in the disqualification of the band. It is unclear how this will be implemented on the day, and whether or not the bands would be allowed to perform (and subsequently disqualified), or stopped from playing at all.


A spokesperson for Durham University Brass Band, who regularly compete in the Whit Friday contests, said “Unfortunately, this new rule means that some of our players may be unable to take part. Whilst the band has some instruments, we are unable to provide cornets to all trumpet players. Telling band members that they cannot attend Whit Friday is the last thing we want to do, but is the reality we are facing. This decision may ultimately discourage young people from joining brass bands.”.


UniBrass are disappointed in the decision from the Saddleworth & Oldham Whit Friday contests, and believe that it will directly result in a drop in participation. When asked about the rule, the organisers did acknowledge that “there has never been any issue with the type of instruments played in previous years”, despite the fact that many bands who attract members at the beginning of their brass band experience often have to supplement their ranks with trumpets. The reasoning behind this decision is unclear, as although the organisers described themselves as having “a fairly flexible approach, and accept that there may be a trumpet played instead of a cornet, but this would be noticed by the adjudicator, and judged accordingly”, the implementation of the rules does not seem to match. 


The issue of access to brass bands for players just starting out is clearly one the organisers are aware of, as they do give an exception to this rule for youth bands. UniBrass believes that without dedicated engagement with the needs of players at the start of their musical experiences, whenever they may come in life, we will continue to see the reduction of participation in brass bands that has occurred over the last decades. By adapting to the needs of bands, such as through the allowance of the use of “non-standard” brass band instruments, UniBrass is one of the few areas of brass banding in the UK that has seen significant growth in the last decade, with the number of bands and players having roughly doubled.


The University of Warwick has attended Whit Friday for many years. Jack Oram, president of the University of Warwick Brass Society, commented “We are very privileged to own enough instruments for our band, however university bands are run with a tight budget and most rely on players owning an instrument. Making contests accessible to university-aged players is crucial for the survival of brass banding, and banning non-standard instruments is counteractive to this.”.


Saddleworth & Oldham Whit Friday organisers have suggested that if students “don't own a suitable instrument, most bands, and many players, have spare, which we are sure they would be willing to loan”. UniBrass believes that this does not reflect the state of brass bands in the UK, and whilst there are some privileged bands out there, experience tells us that this is not a viable solution - of course, UniBrass heavily encourages bands to try! The lack of instruments is one of the biggest concerns university bands have shared with us over the years, and purchasing them requires money that university students and bands simply do not have. Many people would agree that, in an ideal world with plenty of resources available to all bands, every player would be able to use traditional brass band instruments. However, as we are not in that situation, UniBrass believes that this new rule should be dropped entirely, as it appears to only serve to create a barrier to entry. We have encouraged the Saddleworth & Oldham Whit Friday organisers to reconsider the rule, and are always willing to engage in conversations about how we can best serve the needs of our communities.

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