University of Salford Manchester

Widening access and improving professional standards through brass band research

Brass bands embody a unique cultural, communal and industrial legacy within the North West and continue to thrive today. The University of Salford plays an important role in the ongoing success of local brass bands through its research, with the dual aims of informing and facilitating opportunities to widen participation and lead innovation in technique and composition. Together, these activities continue to drive the highest standards within brass band competitions.

Community benefit

The University’s Musical Arts Programme - founded 40 years ago this year as the Band Musicianship Programme – is the longest-running programme of its kind, training musicians studying a range of genres to produce graduates who have performed and conducted around the world. Through the programme,  University researchers  have sought to foreground the distinct yet evolving tradition associated with brass band cultures in the United Kingdom and internationally; across Europe, the United States, Australia and Japan.

These activities take place against a backdrop of the worldwide brass band movement which encourages active and lively competition between sections. These competitions feature 10-20 bands playing a single set piece, alongside blind adjudication. Set pieces composed at the University of Salford have  provided a technical and musical benchmark for musicians, defining the level towards which bands in lower sections aspire.

Initiatives which have had significant impact include:

  • The creation of innovative compositions which have been used as benchmark pieces, renewing competition standards and elevating the criteria to which brass bands aspire;      
  • Providing opportunities for amateur musicians to participate in music-making that is both creatively challenging and aligned to professional standards;      
  • Supporting practitioners as they seek to integrate pioneering research methods into their creative practice;      
  • Ensuring the longevity of brass bands by inspiring the next generation of musicians;      
  • Enhancing and developing the available repertoire by introducing contemporary ‘concert hall’ techniques to amateur brass band participation;      
  • Engaging with businesses that support the brass band movement, thus generating economic benefits within the communities where they are based.        

Professional practice

The University of Salford’s Musical Arts program, delivered within the School of Arts and Media, encompasses all aspects of traditional practice within performance, arrangement and composition. It encourages creativity  through  collaboration  with musicians from other genres as well as performers and artists from other performance disciplines.    

The focus on practice-based research was instigated by the late Roy Newsome, and continues to this day with the ongoing promotion of practice-led and brass specialist PhD and DMA programmes, first instituted in 1999, as well as the integration of brass band research into wider study programmes. Research  degrees  have  been awarded to several key figures in the brass band movement including: Professor Nicholas Childs (Black Dyke Band); Dr Robert Childs (Grimethorpe Colliery Band); and Dr Stephen Cobb (International Staff Band of the Salvation Army)

The work of the Music and Performance Research Group continues to be followed closely by many composers who undertook postgraduate qualifications at the University of Salford. This can be seen in the prevalence of competition  test pieces that are shaped by a genre-fusing style, incorporating modernist techniques, into a field of practice which had traditionally avoided them. These compositions include: Peter Graham’s Montage (1994), Harrison’s Dream (2002), and Cry of the Celts (2008);  Robin Dewhurst’s Vistas Latinas (2007) and Howard Evan’s Sanctuary (2008).

Key people

Further information