Case study: Building stronger community connections with Barnes Concert Band

Andrea Lee, chair of Barnes Concert Band, tells us how connecting with other music groups and organisations within their local community has led to a year of incredible collaborations and exciting performances. They share valuable lessons gained along the way for other groups seeking to deepen their community ties.  

Tell us a bit about your group.

Barnes Concert Band (BCB) was formed in the 1970s by a small group of residents in Barnes, Southwest London. Currently there are 38 members aged between 18 to 82 years old playing in a traditional concert band with woodwind, brass and percussion sections. Our repertoire spans classical music, big band, musicals and contemporary pieces. We describe ourselves as being really friendly with a professional attitude. 

Why is community music-making valuable to your group? What are the ways your group has contributed to the local community in the past year?

We are proud to call ourselves a ‘community band’ and operate based on these three principles:

  • Preserving the connection with our local area, Barnes, by taking part in community rituals, celebrations and festivals that take place annually.   
  • Being a local group where leisure-time music-makers from all walks of life can connect and enjoy playing and performing with others. 
  • Enriching the lives of the community by performing in local events, raising awareness of local activities and fundraising for charities. 

Over the past year the band has played an unforgettable role in the celebration of events of national significance, most notably performing in a Platinum Jubilee concert and, as we normally do, for Remembrance Sunday. We were thrilled to showcase our talents once again in an annual concert of our own as part of the established Barnes Music Festival. We have also played for the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival, Barnes Fair, Barnes Christmas Festival, Community Carols, a garden party fundraiser for the Museum of Richmond and a bandstand concert in nearby Kingston-upon-Thames.  

How did you engage with other local music groups and what was the outcome of your collaboration?

For some time, our musical director, Daryle Lowden, wanted the band to raise its ambitions for Christmas concerts and perform alongside an established choir. With the help of one of our trombone players we managed to get in contact with a local choir, the Landmark Singers. After some initial discussions and realising that the two groups were a good match, we confirmed a joint Christmas concert at the Landmark Arts Centre in Teddington. We were all slightly wary of this being a new venture and wanted it to be successful from an artistic and entertainment perspective as well as financially. Our concerns proved unfounded, and it was a joyful end to the year with a programme of superb music and such a warm and appreciative reception from a nearly full house.

What were some of the challenges you faced in trying to lead with a community-focused approach? What did you learn from this experience?

Despite being involved in the community it can be challenging to get to know other groups and uncover potential opportunities. The routine of regular rehearsal nights and long-standing community events means it is all too easy to rely only on familiar and established contacts. However, we have learnt that our band members themselves can be valuable in providing a first point of contact with other groups. 

Balancing serving the community whilst also seeking new opportunities can be tricky. The Band regularly plays in the Regents Park Bandstand Festival, and last year we received an invitation to help the Games Maker Choir celebrate their 10th anniversary with a livestreamed performance in London. In both instances the venues were outside of our local patch, but it meant we were able to represent Barnes and play for a more diverse audience. With careful management we balanced these wider opportunities within our annual performance programme without displacing important local commitments.

In what ways has your group’s community engagement benefited both your group and the local community?

The Band benefits from an interesting and diverse mix of performance opportunities throughout the year ranging from formal performances to more informal ‘street music’. This helps the Band develop musically and means that we can offer players a repertoire that is both challenging and fun to work on. This is important to attract and retain our members who are looking for a friendly and supportive environment to improve their playing.  

By taking part in local events, the Band is more recognisable outside of our circle of just our family and friends. We have become integral to community events and celebrations, therefore we are committed to making them successful. The sentiment of feedback we receive when we perform is that live music lifts people’s spirits and makes a real difference to the local scene. In this way we contribute to making the community what it is. 

What advice can you offer to other groups that wish to increase engagement with their local community? 

Based on the experiences of Barnes Concert Band:

  • Find out what links and connections players in your group already have to the local community that could be useful and ask players to help make introductions.
  • Look out for local festivals, open garden schemes, fetes, fairs and street parties and make an approach to see if the organisers would like music to enhance the event.
  • Be specific in your goals. This will help find the right kind of engagement e.g. we would like to perform a joint Christmas performance with a choir.
  • Stay active and regularly update your website and social media so that anyone in the audience wanting to find out more about your group and connect with you can do so easily.
  • Seek out local charities and offer to raise funds for them with performances and/or explore the possibility of music becoming integral to their aims e.g. lunchtime performances for older people.
  • Develop smaller ensembles in your group so that you can provide a flexible offer to meet different needs e.g. a quartet to play in a local garden as a fundraiser or a group to play outside local shops or farmers’ markets. 
  • Don’t rush things with potential partners. Have an initial meeting to find out more about the group and take the time to develop a strong relationship and seek alignment that will benefit both partners.
  • Keep things simple. Inviting parents and children from a local school to join some outdoor music-making with simple percussion on a Saturday morning is a lot easier than creating a whole new education project and may be a good starting point for further ideas.
  • Be brave and take risks. Local audiences are incredibly supportive and forgiving, so it’s okay to let them know you’re trying something new. 
  • Be a credible community group by ensuring that you are rooted in the identity of the place and are able to genuinely support community events.

Find out more about Barnes Concert Band on their website and follow them on Facebook.

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