Throughout my childhood, I listened to my grandad as he regaled long, awe-inspiring tales of his days working at the coal face. Fourteen years down your local pit will leave you with no end of stories…from gas leaks to cave-ins. 6-year-old me was fascinated by these tales, as most young boys would be. I eagerly listened as he told me about his experiences, trials and tribulations as a miner.
It’s safe to say that mining communities were some of the most resilient and tightly-knit in England during the 1970s and 1980s. Endless graft and thankless work bonded the miners and the rest of their community followed closely behind.
One of the most crucial parts of a colliery was its brass band.
Brass bands were particularly popular amongst miners. Even today, events like the Durham Miners Gala see thousands of miners pour into the city to proudly honour their heritage. The country's finest brass bands take pride of place.
Unfortunately, despite the nostalgia that surrounds them, brass bands are dying out.
The simple answer as to why this is concerns a lack of interest. Several developments, following their heyday in the 1970s and 80s, have led to brass bands’ gradual decline. One of these is the upsurgence of popular music streaming platforms, such as Spotify and YouTube.
In the past, mining communities enjoyed listening to brass music, but as more and more collieries closed, their brass bands also went the way of the dodo. The few brass bands that have survived are living precariously—they’re low on members, short on funds, and they’re struggling to gather an audience.
The lack of interest from younger generations is a real shame. Brass bands are such an important part of our heritage in the UK, and to see them slowly die a painful death is something I struggle with.
Why should you care?
Chances are that most of you reading this will have never had an interest in brass music. But perhaps it doesn’t have to be that way for the next generation.
The first few years of our lives are the most formative. It’s a time when we’re more impressionable, quicker at learning, and hungrier for creativity than at any other point in our existence. I’m not saying that all children should be indoctrinated into brass bands, nor should they be forced to learn a particular instrument, but there have been significant studies carried out by major universities and institutions that prove the profound beneficial effects that learning a musical instrument can have on a child’s development. Statistics show that it can make them more creative, more adaptable and more sociable. Those are some great skills to harness, wouldn’t you agree?
These skills can be gleaned from learning to play any musical instrument, from the piano to the electric guitar to the drums. So why do I recommend brass?
Learning to play a brass instrument helps to strengthen your lungs. In several cases, and contrary to popular belief, it actually improves breathing conditions such as asthma, as it teaches you how to control your breathing and your airflow.
Additionally, the social skills that come from playing in a band are invaluable. The brass band community is ever so welcoming to new, younger players. No one will ever put you down for not being ‘good enough’ or ‘not learning quickly enough’. To this day, I clearly remember my first experience with an adult brass band. All week, my 9-year-old-self had been nervous. I questioned myself on whether they would like me, how intimidated I would surely feel… within that first two-hour long Friday night rehearsal, I already felt a part of something special.
That’s what a brass band is and that’s everything it stands for. A brass band is a family.