WMC Kerkrade Retrospective

What is the Status of Wind Music Today?

Original Text by Luc Scholtes (06.09.2022)
Translation by Edward Lee (06.09.2022)

It is true that the opinion is growing amongst wind musicians, that the scene seems to be in a difficult situation. Wind bands in some regions have fewer and fewer active members, and there seems to be no real perspective. Despite a few exceptions, the general question arises: Which direction should wind music take in order to reach as many people as possible in the future?

The WMC (World Music Contest), World Music Contest in Kerkrade in the Netherlands might give us an insight into the scene. Often referred to as a “laboratory for wind music” It is the largest wind music festival in the world and a well-known music competition for all types of wind music, and this year, it took place for the 19th time.

If we take a look at the number of participants, unfortunately, even at the WMC, we can see a negative trend. Compared to the last festival in 2017, there were 25% fewer participants in Kerkrade. According to artistic director Björn Bus, there are many reasons for this, including uncertainties connected with COVID-19, the war in Ukraine and the economic crisis. Above all, bands from Asia and the American continents did not come this year. Nevertheless, with 15,000 participants and hundreds of thousands of visitors, the three-week festival was more than successful.

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A Diverse Programme

The WMC programme is broad and very diverse, with numerous concerts, open-air events and a large competition for all wind music disciplines.

The "World Championships" for wind bands and percussion ensembles in all the various divisions took place in the two well-attended concert halls of Kerkrade. As expected, the turn out was better for the performances in the higher divisions.

It was particularly exciting to see the bands performing at the highest level, the Concert Division, presenting a full music programme including singing, dance, theatre and visual effects. These extensive performances presented a kind of “total art” in a way not often seen in the world of wind music. With this 'experiment', the WMC really lived up to its name as a the “Wind Music Lab” of the world. The performance of the Gelders Fanfare Orkest deserves a special mention, performing a musical space journey entitled XPLORE!, that won them the award for the most innovative programme in the top fanfare orchestra division.

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Unfortunately, there was much less interest in the marching and show band competitions than expected. This may be partly to do with the notable absence of the Asian and North American participants who are usually well presented in these categories. However, the lower visitor numbers might also reflect a general declining public interest in these disciplines.

In the folk music category, there is an interesting connection between WMC and the Woodstock der Blasmusik (Woodstock of Wind Music). The band competition Copa Kapella at WMC is widely considered to be the pre-selection for the Woodstock Wind Music Festival, which will take place in 2023 in the Austrian Innkreis. It is fascinating to see how this wind music discipline is enjoying a huge popularity boost since it updated its repertoire, which was once considered dusty and old-fashioned among teenagers and young adults.

The concert series held parallel to the competitions was also a great success, with sold-out concerts by the Banda Sinfónica Municipal de Madrid, who put on an amazing show with singers, instrumental soloists and a dance group, the United States Marine Band, Brass Band Willebroek and the Black Dyke Band as well as the German Pop Wind Band Querbeat.

There were many great, positive reactions to the free and extremely varied open-air programme, which featured a wonderful selection of youth ensembles, big bands, modern brass bands, and both local and professional wind bands throughout the city. Cover bands with wind instruments were also given a place in the programme. This offered the participants the opportunity to get to know other wind music styles.

It was also nice to see due attention paid to promoting young people. As part of the WMC Academy, the world's most promising artists between the ages of 18 and 23 came together in the World Youth Brass Band. The Young Generation Project saw several youth orchestras mixing with great success to form new formations and the international conductors’ competition, as well the various workshops and master classes attracted many international participants. Concerts were held where young and old from different parts of the world could listen and learn from each other. This Academy programme shows once again that the WMC wants to play a leading role in the future of wind music and is always on the lookout for new formats.

In general, it is fair to say that the organisational team at the WMC has tried to establish cross-connections within wind music, both between different age groups and between different wind music and art forms. This was very positively received by spectators and participants alike.

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What does all this tell us about the future of wind music?

First of all, there could without a doubt be a bright future for this wonderful field. Hundreds of thousands of fans came to Kerkrade to hear all these forms of wind music. If you look at the average age of the participants and spectators at the WMC, it is noticeable that wind music is very popular with young people. Even if the younger generations seem to be staying away from the local (wind)bands, it is not the case that they are no longer interested in wind music.

However, the programming of the WMC and the different levels of interest in the various disciplines also teaches us that we have to keep up with the times. If future generations are to be enthusiastic about wind music, then diversity and collaborations with other disciplines are more important than sticking to old traditions. The great interest in event style concerts suggests that they might also be a good fit for local wind bands. For example, the traditional Christmas concert could be livened up with storytellers, dancers and/or actors, to test this new and exciting collaborative concert format. As long as music continues to be of good quality, then the event will surely be a huge success.

There will probably never be a universal recipe that works for every wind band and every music school. But standing still means going backwards, so it's high time to add new ingredients, so that everyone finds the right combination of tradition and innovation!

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