Covid: Brass bands at risk as player numbers fall

By Mared Ifan
BBC News

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Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
There were concerns singers and musicians were at risk of Covid due to the way it is thought the virus spreads in droplets through the air

There are fears Wales could lose its brass band tradition after player numbers plummeted during the pandemic.

Bands from across the country said they had lost members, with fewer younger players joining.

According to Brass Bands Wales if nothing is done to stem the decline, Wales will "lose a real jewel in the crown".

The Welsh government said it was committed to providing music tuition to more children and young people.

During the pandemic, bands were not able to meet up for months on end, with performances and rehearsals cancelled due to Covid rules.

While many bands got creative, holding practices over Zoom and putting on concerts online, there are concerns many bands will not recover from the impact of restrictions.

Image caption,
Musical director, Matthew Jenkins, said it had lost nearly half of the youth band

Before the pandemic Goodwick Brass Band, based in Pembrokeshire, had been thriving, but now there are fears they have lost too many members.

"We've had some months where we've been practicing and then other periods where we've not been able to come to the band room at all. It's been a long two years," said musical director Matthew Jenkins.

"We've probably lost nearly half of our youth band to be honest," he said.

"We were up with maybe 30-35 members before Covid...We're probably down to 15, maybe 20 on a good day now. Similar with the main band as well."

Goodwick has four brass bands, the beginners, youth, community and main band.

Many of the younger members said they enjoyed spending time with their friends, and learning playing their instruments in the group.

Cornet player Bronwen, aged 10, said: "I'm learning new things and it's fun to learn different notes."

But some older players said getting back into regular rehearsals with the band had been hard, after so many months of restrictions.

Image caption,
Goodwick Brass Band has been hit hard by the pandemic

"We didn't have an excuse to practice, so it's damaged my performance as a player," said Rhys Colet, who has played with the band for six years.

While Llŷr Williams, who has been in the band for 11 years, said the band had had to adapt after the restrictions eased.

"It's a lot different now than they were in early 2020. They've got to be a lot more laid-back to get people back interested in banding after such a long period away," he said.

Meanwhile at Northop Silver Band, in Flintshire, conductor Aled Williams warned some players had "moved away from the hobby completely".

"Even senior players, who have played for years have looked into other avenues for things to do," he said.

"One or two people have come back to playing but in general there's a bit of a decline."

Media caption,
The Brecon Town Concert Band rehearsed outside with social distancing when rules first eased

Brass Bands Wales fears bands across the country are facing similar challenges, putting the future of the long-standing tradition at risk.

The organisation's Andrew Jones said: "Covid exacerbated an already precarious situation.

"There was the Welsh brass band regional championship (in March). There were five bands taking part in the fourth section, where most of the young players compete.

"Compared to 20 years ago, there were 13 bands taking part."

He said he believed "drastic, draconian" cuts in music education had played a part.

Mr Jones said: "Children now don't have access to instrumental tuition within the schools and the schools worked hand in glove with brass bands to generate new talent.

"Unless we can stem the decline in the movement... then we will lose a real jewel in the crown because Wales has a very strong brass band heritage and history."

Image source, The Cory Band
Image caption,
The Cory Band have performed online concerts, including a performance with Welsh choirs of Cwm Rhondda

Councils are responsible for music education, but the Welsh government said it had provided an extra £6.8m for resources and instruments in 2021/2022, with plans to create a National Music Service for Wales.

The Welsh government said it was committed to providing more children and young people music tuition.

A spokesman said: "Plans are currently progressing to establish a National Music Service for Wales which will include additional funding to support music services across Wales and broaden access to music education and tuition.

"Throughout the pandemic, we have supported the wider cultural, creative and sport sectors in Wales through the cultural recovery fund which has so far provided more than £108m."