From the moment Boris Johnson urged us all to stay indoors in March, musical groups – from community choirs to samba bands – have faced a blanket ban on rehearsing and performing.
The particular mechanics of brass playing have made a brass band return challenging. Research from Brass Bands England confirmed that playing a brass instrument increases the level of potentially contaminated airborne droplets (although at a lower level than singing or breathing).
While socially distanced outdoor rehearsals are possible, this isn’t always practical. The realities of traditional rehearsals, often up to 30 people in close proximity in cramped bandrooms or church halls, make social distancing nigh-on impossible.
Banders are circumspect about their change in circumstances, as Blackburn & Darwen Brass Band chairman Dave Stevens quips: “Who’s going to sacrifice public health just to play [popular march] Slaidburn?!” For committee members like Dave, perspective rules: “There’s been lots of sadness, but it’s been overshadowed by events elsewhere. Music has been put at the right priority level – most of us are doing this as a pastime.”
Although money rarely changes hands, the commitment of players means band members effectively have a second career. Euphonium player and Blackburn’s musical director Daniel Thomas wearily describes his pre-lockdown routine, which involved “six nights a week out at band. Friday is my night off, in the pub, usually with the band as well.”
Banding is a family affair, often stretching back generations
He’s a teacher too, as are others in the band, and Dave is quick to dismiss the usual image of amateur music as driven by retired hobbyists. “There are only two retired people in the band – otherwise, it’s full of professionals.” Blackburn’s ranks include prison officers, electricians, students, insurance brokers and NHS workers, a snapshot of the area’s diverse workforce.