The rush of elation took me by surprise. Normally calm and unflustered, I found myself uncharacteristically ecstatic. I was stood with fellow members of my brass band listening to the announcement of our first prize in an important contest.
I have always been ambivalent about competition. I watch others strive for it and am touched by their success, whether at Wimbledon or in the Great British Bake-off. I observe the pursuit of excellence and the elation of success rubs off on me. But I have never sought competitive success for myself. I am one who enjoys the playing rather than the winning. Or so I thought…
Perhaps it was the release of a few weeks tension that added intensity. Our practice schedule had been difficult. As an inexperienced player, it was my first contest. I desperately didn’t want to let people down. I walked off the stage after our performance painfully aware of some mistakes. The final announcement released a lot of stress.
Perhaps the camaraderie of being in a band intensified these feelings. We had worked hard together. We had dared to hope for greater things. We had achieved this success as a well-orchestrated unit. To share the joy is perhaps to increase it.
Why compete in the performance of music? Surely music generates pleasure without the need for contests? What struck me here was not so much to outdo others, but to rise to greater performance. The music touched people more deeply because we had excelled. That first prize expressed the pleasure we had given our audience.
Brass bands hardly feature in popular culture and mass media. We exist in our bubble. But, with 15,000 performers taking part in this round of area competitions up and down the UK, we find ourselves the most popular form of participative music in the country. Generally under-recognised, we play with pride against the backdrop of a more revered classical scene and the compelling world of pop music. Unlike most who enjoy these musical forms, the pleasure for us is in playing rather than listening.
All this reminds me of the value of being part of something purposeful with others. People continue to retreat into their private and lonely worlds. Maybe we can remind ourselves of the joys of coming out to play.