Fire in the Blood
Updated: Aug 24, 2021
Guest Blogger: David Howell
This weekend I asked myself a rhetorical question:
‘How might I possibly explain to people what teamwork, leadership and culture is just in 11 minutes?’. In other words, when you put all three elements together what does it actually look like?
A tall order, you may well ask, given the complexities of each element. People have spent years attempting to define what those three words actually mean.
Well, after giving it some thought I came up with an answer!
This is where I let you into a secret passion of mine, which is brass band music. Granted not everybody’s cup of tea but having been taught how to play the cornet from the age of 8, that passion has remained with me. Over the years I have been lucky enough to have played with some fantastic brass bands, travelled extensively across Europe and in the process built some amazing lifelong relationships.
For me the stand-out brass band to aspire to has to be the world-famous Black Dyke Mills Band. Formed back in 1855 its reputation for playing to the highest standards, attracting amazing talent and reaching a world audience (they even played at Glastonbury in 2017!) is reknown.
So how possibly does a brass band from Yorkshire encapsulate the very essence of teamwork, leadership and culture?
Well, you simply need to indulge yourself and listen to one piece of music composed by Paul Lovatt-Cooper and performed by the band in Luzern, Switzerland at the World Band Festival on 2nd October 2014.
Before I go on you need to know something about this very special piece of music and the performance. Paul Lovatt-Cooper is actually a percussionist in the band as well as being the bands Composer in Association and he was actually playing during this particular performance. Paul was asked to compose ‘Fire in the Blood’ by Dr Stephen Cobb the musical director of the International Staff Band of the Salvation Army. They themselves are a highly accomplished and internationally renowned brass band and Paul was asked to compose this particular piece of music for the Salvation Army’s 120th anniversary in 2015. He composed the piece as a concert finale and based it on three Salvation hymns; Psalm 95 Sing for Joy, Lord (you know that we love you) and finally, I love you Lord. ‘Fire in the Blood’, is a direct reference to the Salvation Army’s motto of Blood and Fire.
Before you listen to the music let’s first consider and appreciate the three components of teamwork, leadership and culture.
A brass band, generally consists of approximately 30 people and is split into several individual and distinct sections dependent on what instrument the musician plays. The sections comprise of the cornet, horn, euphonium, baritone, trombone, bass as well as a percussion section. The production of that distinct brass band sound is only achieved as a result of carefully and meticulously combining and fine balancing (along with a certain amount of tuning!) of those individual sounds across the whole band.
The cornets generally take the melody but that is not always the case, as you will soon hear. On some occasions other sections of the band have to play softly in order to allow others to take centre stage and show case their individual sound and musical mastery.
You will also note a range of ages across the band with younger, less experienced musicians, being supported by more ‘seasoned’ performers. That blend of age and experience also assists with resilience and succession planning, with the principal players acting as aspirational and inspirational role models.
Although working as individual sections they cannot afford to work in silos. The music would just not work, chaos would reign. It would not be enjoyable for either the musicians themselves or the audience.
If the band played at full volume all of the time it would be totally uninteresting (lacking musical diversity) the players would soon become fatigued resulting in a degradation of quality. The audience would also soon become bored and probably get up and leave, along with an accompanying headache! By providing a contrast in sound, rhythm, tempo, and style it provides the listener and performer with interest and encourages that all important audience interaction and engagement.
However, when the full might of the band is applied it creates a remarkable sound, one that makes the hair on your neck stand up. It is easy to then understand why music is such a personal and emotional experience in terms of passion, power, inspiration, sadness, joy, love and hope.
It is important that every single member of the band understands and appreciates their own very specific role and responsibility in order to create music that is a memorable experience for both the audience and band. The band may well have several world class musicians amongst its ranks but without that synergy it would not constantly create the amazing cumulative sound. This is a team effort with everyone knowing exactly what is expected from them.
How do you possibly translate the vision of the composer from notes on a page to a performance that the audience will appreciate, experience, remember and want to come back for more? Isn’t that, after all, what every organisation and company constantly strives for?
The band are fortunate enough to have one of the all-time great performers, conductors and musical directors overseeing their fortunes, Professor Nicholas Childs. His leadership creates an environment where success is inevitable and musicians are encouraged and supported to be the best that they can possibly be. Those leadership qualities are highlighted in this particular piece of music. But that only comes with hard work and dedication. What you see and hear during this performance is the culmination of that hard work, passion and dedication aligning in ten minutes of pure concentration, focus and musical artistry.
I contacted Paul a while ago and asked if the Black Dyke Band had a membership handbook for new members outlining what is expected from them in terms of behaviour. He informed me that they don’t provide such a booklet as they simply have an implied expectation of the high standards, values and behaviour that is required of them as soon as they join. The bands envied history and culture is one other band seek to emulate.
That personal commitment to being a member of the band is a huge undertaking, not only for the musician themselves but their immediate family. Rehearsals, personal development, competitions, concerts and international travel all need to be considered before making that commitment. With that commitment comes an expectation to live and work by the bands values and display the right behaviour at all times.
The band’s motto of ‘Justum Perficito Nihil Timeto’, (‘act justly and fear nothing’), still sits at the heart of that culture.
Playing to such high standards does not happen without quality rehearsal and dedication. A raft of rehearsals will involve personal practice, sectional rehearsal and finally the complete band rehearsal. All of these rehearsals ensure that the vision of the final polished performance is aligned.
It was a few years ago now but I clearly remember learning an important lesson whilst playing for a brass band called Derwent Brass. We were rehearsing for one of the numerous competitions that the band had entered. Pitting our musicianship against numerous bands of a similar standard. Oh yes, brass banding can be frightfully competitive! For this one rehearsal we had invited along a world class trumpeter and conductor called Richard Evans. He was an enigmatic character, had a sense of fun and humour but knew what he wanted from us. He also had a huge amount of credibility and the commanded the utmost respect. We struggled desperately with this particular piece as it was technically difficult and required all of our available skill and concentration. I was very much out of my comfort zone! However, we got it right after several minutes of struggling to find the right notes, style and intonation. This is when Richard came out with a phrase that I have remembered to this day,
‘You should not be rehearsing until you get it right but rehearsing
until you cannot get it wrong’.
That comment changed my whole philosophy on training and practice, and not just in the musical arena, work too.
Things to watch for whilst listening to the performance
You may think that’s a strange thing to say as you surely listen to music with your ears and not your eyes! Well here are a few things to watch out for whilst enjoying the performance, which will enhance your experience.
Communication - How do you create a performance of such outstanding quality when the musicians are unable to speak to one another?
Well, two of the most understated and underused elements of communication are utilised to their full extent; listening and watching. Listening intently to each other will help a musician know when to make an entry and also how loud or quiet to play. Constantly watching and monitoring the conductor is a vital quality as minute changes in tempo, signals to hold back, quicken up or play a fraction louder or softer will be communicated by subtle gestures from the conductor and his baton.
Collaboration – the individual sections of the band may well rehearse as a team but ultimately each team will have to collaborate with other teams in order to bring those individual performances together. That’s where leadership comes in…
Individual solo performances – as I mentioned the cornets normally take the lead in terms of the tune but this particular piece shares out that responsibility. There is also a moment where the fourth front row cornet gets to his feet to play a beautiful lilting solo. This rarely happens but at the conclusion of the piece you can see how that specific moment is appreciated, not only by the audience but by his fellow musicians too.
The contrasts – notice the collaboration that goes on throughout the passages of music with different individual performers and sections interacting constantly to create that rich melodious sound. This standard of performance can only be achieved if people are in tune with each other, listening and watching, whilst concentrating on every one of the conductor’s fine movements and expressions.
The tempo – consider the change in tempo throughout the piece and how the conductor makes that happen. You may even be able to work out where each of the three tunes starts and finishes.
The conductor (musical director) – notice how he leads, without fuss or stress. He knows that all the hard work has been already done and it is now time to enjoy the performance. That is not to say that he is not ready for any unfortunate event and is prepared to stop people rushing, playing too loudly or being out of sync. He has the whole manuscript in front of him and has the bigger picture.
The audience reaction – well this really says it all. If you get it right then you gratefully receive the adulation of the audience. There is a definite release of endorphins and dopamine.
The composer - the final person to take a bow at the very end the performance is the composer, Paul Lovatt-Cooper and deservedly so. It was one of those very rare moments where someone’s vision was developed, perfected and then performed to the satisfaction of the band and its audience.
Now sit back, watch and listen and, most importantly, enjoy…
David Howell - Conduct Change Advisory Board member.
The reason for being so passionate and interested in the subjects of teamwork, culture and leadership is because, in my opinion, if you get these three things right then you naturally eliminate bullying. Psychologically safe and well led organisations, which promote inclusive cultures, bring out the very best in people. When an organisation does get it right employee wellbeing is increased , there is a reduction in absenteeism; creativity and productivity then become a positive by-product.
Get the teamwork, leadership and culture right and then watch the magic happen.
Conduct Change was founded in 2019 with the purpose of changing behaviour in workplaces to create more courageous and compassionate approaches to prevent workplace bullying. The founder, Nicki Eyre, has been through her own workplace bullying experience during her career and recognises the scale of the problem at both an organisational and individual level.
We recognise that workplace bullying is a sensitive topic for many businesses. If you are concerned that you may have a bullying issue in your workplace, or just want help in opening up the conversations, we are here to advise. We offer a free and confidential discussion to understand the issues and explain what options are available for you.
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