• Liv Appleton

Twenty-Three Things I’ve Learned At Twenty-Three- Brass Band Edition

So I’ve recently celebrated my twenty-third birthday (one step closer to a zimmer frame and a free bus pass- wahoo!) and during my twenty-three trips around the sun, I think it’s safe to say, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve seen this type of post floating around the blogging scene, so I thought I’d jump on the band wagon (pun intended) and as it’s me, of course it’s going to be a brass band version.

So, settle down with a brew and a biscuit (or a gin, if you’re reading this after 5pm) as this is a long one…

1. The more you insist that your instrument is not a trumpet, the more often people will call it a trumpet.

It’s an easy mistake to make, but I’ve come to find that as soon as you correct your non-banding muggle friends that it’s not a trumpet, they take great delight in calling it a trumpet just to wind you up.

2. Be careful when you criticise a test piece- you never know who might read it.

When this blog was still in its infancy, I wrote a review of the 2015 national finals piece for the second section – The Snaring of the Sun by Stephen Roberts (click here to read). I wasn’t even sharing my blog to friends at this point, it was just kind of my own little geeky space to write my nerdy band thoughts, and didn’t think anyone would actually read it- so I was brutally honest. Who should stumble upon my review? Only the blummin’ composer! Luckily he appreciated my review, which gave me the confidence to finally share my blog posts publically and It’s Not a Trumpet officially became a thing!

3. Banders are ordinary people.

Going up and saying hi looks far less weird than wailing, drunkenly, in a bar that ‘you’re not talented enough’ to talk to a bander who just happens to play for a top section band- trust me on this. Click here to read why one of these responses is better than the other.

4. The banding world is not easily pleased.

Controversial opinion alert. I’m proud to be a part of this musical community. However I do find it frustrating how we seem to enjoy moaning about EVERYTHING. For years we have struggled to capture the attention of the non-banding public and this year we’ve managed to have a dedicated series on national television and still this was met with criticism. I also feel that suggestions to progress our movement are met with negativity before the person making the suggestion has a chance to finish their sentence. Talking about suggestions to modernise caused my website to have it’s first troll- by which I mean an angry keyboard warrior, not a grumpy creature who lives under a bridge…although having said that, maybe he was an actual troll and that’s why he was so grumpy. Moving on!

5. Some things just aren’t meant for you and that’s ok.

Whether it’s a university course, a band you’ve joined or a gym membership- if it makes you miserable, stop doing it and find something else. There’s no shame in accepting that some paths are just not meant for us to walk down and life is too short to keep forcing yourself down that path, when there are so many others to choose.

6. Always book the day off work after a contest.

What’s worse than a Monday morning? A Monday morning with a hangover. Why can’t all contests be on a Saturday?!

7. Remember everything you need for a contest BEFORE going on stage.

Failing to do so will result in you running like Mo Farah on Red Bull through the Winter Gardens to retrieve your stuff, minutes before going on stage- click here to read that story.

8. No ID? No Problem.

So you’ve got to Jaks at Butlins, but unfortunately you seem to have misplaced your ID- silly you. Don’t fret just get one of your older band friends to pose as your Grandmother and guilt trip the bouncers by saying that they have simply ruined your family holiday for not letting you into Jaks. They’ll eventually give in and allow you to enter- works a treat.

9. Don’t go to the loo during the Durham Miners Gala.

Both times I’ve played at the gala, I’ve nearly ended up in A&E during a trip to the loo. The first year, I fell down a flight of stairs on the way to the bathroom and this year I fell into the door and bashed my head. Durham is a dangerous place…definitely had nothing to do with the copious amounts of gin that was consumed over the course of the day.

10. Banding gossip.

It can be more elaborate than Nessa’s stories in Gavin and Stacey and spreads faster than nits in a primary school. However, it’s tragic when you hear gossip about stuff you’ve supposedly done- i.e. you’ve dated a particular person or you demanded a seat in a band in a diva-like manner, and you realise that this gossip version of you has a far more interesting life than the real you…

11. Take the dep job.

Aside from being great practise and good for sightreading, you never know where it might lead. Every band I’ve ever played for, I got my seat purely through depping. Even if you’re not looking to move bands, it’s a great experience playing alongside a different group of people. If I hadn’t depped, I wouldn’t have the banding friends I have now. I wouldn’t have had the chance to play at the Open or in a palace in Austria. I wouldn’t have played the last post in front of around a thousand people in my home town.

12. Don’t dye your hair the day before an outdoor gig.

It will rain and your hair colour will run and it’ll all be very embarrassing. Click here to read that story.

13. Learn your scales!

Little Liv didn’t like learning scales when she first picked up a cornet. My attention span wasn’t too dissimilar from what it is now and I got bored with them. Do you know what’s even more boring though? Having to spend time working on a semi-quaver pattern that’s scalic- which you wouldn’t have to do if you had just learned your scales when you were a kid!

14. Don’t go to the bar in your PJs.

If you decide to get into your pyjamas, you have committed to the notion that you have had enough of the evening’s proceedings and you’re off to bed. Do not then go back to the bar of your rather fancy hotel in your batman pyjamas with matching socks (I KID YOU NOT) to order a pint. You will be stared at, as I learned after my first British Open, because YOU LOOK LIKE A PLONKER! I do these embarrassing things, so you don’t have to- you’re welcome.

15. Always pack your uniform.

Just in case you’re at a party full of banders and a few of you get an SOS call to dep the next day- it happens. Better yet, wear your uniform under your normal clothes, like Superman, so you can spring into banding action at any point.

I look like I was still drunk from the night before…

16. Put a bottle opener on your keyring.

Genuinely the most useful piece of advice I can give you. If I had a pound for every time I’ve brought bottles on a coach and no bottle opener, I’d never have to work again.

17. Attitude maketh the player.

I was once given the advice that being a good person in the bandroom is just as important as being a good player, i.e. not walking in like you’re god’s gift to banding. It’s true; I’ve seen players, who are more than decent, pushed out of bands because their attitudes are horrendous.

18. Never put anyone on a pedestal.

Similar to point three of this article. There were so many top players who I put on a pedestal. Don’t do this. Admire their ability, of course, but don’t think of them as anything other than normal people. Talk to them, ask advice or, if they teach, see if they have any spaces for lessons. I was lucky to have so many opportunities to learn from top players but was too intimidated to speak to them. I wasted a lot of time, before I plucked up the courage to actually approach them- don’t be like me.

19. Balance.

Yes, banding takes a lot of commitment- we all know this, but your life is more important. I used to prioritise banding over everything and this wasn’t healthy. Prioritise the important things around band and if you have to miss a rehearsal to revise for that exam or see elderly Aunt Edith or just need to have a minute because life is hectic- do it! Band matters, but it can also wait.

20 Leaving isn’t easy.

No matter how ‘proper’ you go about it, leaving a band isn’t always plain sailing. This is why ‘poaching’ is a well-established word in our community. At the end of the day, this is a hobby- do what you need to do. If you’re lucky, they’ll be happy for you (or at least accept you’re leaving with a bit of respect). If you’re not lucky and the band takes it personally, it is what it is- don’t worry about it. Top tip to bands- don’t cut your nose off to spite your face if someone leaves. You’ll be sorry when you’re looking for deps when you could have asked a past member…that’s all I’ll say.

21. Take every opportunity.

Chances to play on a different seat or instrument, opportunities to play in a different band or at a specific contest/concert venue- do it! I would never know that I’m actually a better flugel player than a cornet player if I hadn’t said yes to changing my instrument for a contest. I would never know how great it is to teach at a brass workshop if I’d turned it down, because I was afraid I wasn’t good enough. There would be a whole list of things I’d have never experienced if I didn’t take the chances that have been offered to me. Forget about wondering if you’re good enough or if you’ll succeed or whatever it is that is making you hesitate- just go for it.

22. Elastication.

Not sure if that’s a word, but if you need to wear a dress during a concert, I would advise choosing something with an elasticated waist to allow for breathing. I learned the hard way of the potentially disastrous consequences of wearing something with very little breathing room. Click here to read about that.

23. Banding is a hobby, but it can be so much more.

It’s not a job. The world would not combust if banding suddenly stopped, but my little world wouldn’t be the same. Taking time away from banding taught me that (not to sound dramatic) it’s a part of my identity. This isn’t me saying I identify as a Besson Prestige, I’m saying I feel the most ‘me’ when I’m involved in banding. It’s given me some of the of the closest friends in my life. It’s given me this blog, which has introduced me to so many people. It’s given me memories. It gave me the motivation to look after my mental health, because I didn’t want to be forced to step away from playing ever again. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- I’ve made many a poor life choice in my time, but being involved in banding was the best decision I ever made.

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