Ballina Shire Concert Band has been performing for the people of Ballina on a continuous basis since 1883, making it probably the longest-serving band in Australia. As they approach their 140th anniversary this year, they’re on the hunt for new players, and memorabilia.
Originally from Sydney, Laurie Green has been with the band as musical director for five years, but has an association as a player going back to the ’80s.
‘I retired from work and got a phone call, asking whether I wanted to come and take on the job as assistant musical director, to which I ummed and ahhed, and then decided, yeah, I’ve got nothing to lose, because I’ve always enjoyed conducting, and then eventually I became musical director.’
Mr Green says it’s a very big commitment. ‘Rehearsals are only one night a week, the band probably does maybe a dozen or so performances throughout the year, which doesn’t sound very much. But when you’re rehearsing repertoire all the time, and having to come up with new and interesting repertoire, and then learn the scores so that you know them better than the band knows them, it’s a time consuming operation!’
He says it’s a challenge to manage players of different skill levels and experience to create a cohesive sound, with ages ranging from ‘two young lads on percussion’ of 12, and the oldest member of the band being 94, and ‘a huge spread of ability’ from casual players to ex-professionals and military musicians.
‘It’s about having to juggle between what you want to hear and what the band is capable of,’ he explained.
Is there a common reason why people join?
‘It’s fun! Simple as that,’ said Mr Green.
‘It’s fun to sit down and make music with other people. It’s fun to go out and play, and have people enjoy what you’d play. And there’s a whole community atmosphere about the band.
‘We’re very lucky here in Ballina, this is a really friendly band. Everybody gets along, everybody likes each other. I make a particular point of making sure that in every rehearsal, there’s something to laugh about. I don’t want it to be dead serious. But I want it to be serious enough that we can make good music.’
Laurie Green’s approach is obviously paying off, with the Ballina Shire Concert Band enjoying a great reputation around the area as a very professional outfit, and enjoying lots of friendly rivalry with other regional bands.
Is it hard cracking the whip, musically, while still keeping it fun? ‘It can be challenging,’ said Mr Green, ‘but I have to remind myself that I am also a player. And I don’t want a musical director or conductor standing in front of me laying down the law. That’s not what I go to band for. I want it to be enjoyable, as well as productive. So it’s a fine line.’
Mr Green is a trumpet player himself, which gives him a particular affinity with the brass side of the band.
‘Yes, I know much more about brass players than I do about woodwind; flutes, clarinets and saxes. I do fool around with a saxophone. But I call myself a saxophone owner, not a player!’
He keeps up his playing chops on trumpet by performing with the Lismore Symphony Orchestra, and other bands in Tweed Heads and Lismore.
140 years of music in Ballina
The Ballina band is about to hit its 140th anniversary of continuous existence, not even taking a break during the Boer War, First World War, Depression and World War II.
‘I know that it struggled at times,’ said Mr Green. ‘They were down on players because people were joining the services and going off to fight. But to the best of our knowledge it’s one of the longest continuously serving bands in the country.’
Considering the massive cultural changes in Ballina and Australia over such a long period, it’s incredible to think that people have always turned up each week to play, and now there are new challenges.
‘Yes, cultural changes have made a difference to all volunteer organizations, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a band, or Rotary or Lions or surf lifesaving. Because now we have families where mum and dad are both working,’ said Mr Green.
‘People are often in precarious part-time employment, which means they have neither the energy or the time to devote to other projects, basically. So that makes recruitment difficult. But that’s a challenge for every organization, not just the band.’
Ballina Shire Concert Band is currently looking for new members. ‘We have sections of the band where we’re desperate for players,’ said Mr Green. ‘We really need trombone players. And we badly need flute players. Clarinets!’
What would you say to people who are thinking of joining?
How much experience do they need to have, and what kind of time commitment is there? Mr Green said players need to commit to turning up to weekly rehearsals, as much as possible, and doing some practice on their own at home.
‘We know people have other things in their lives. So if you can’t make it sometimes, that’s okay.’
He said that new players might struggle at first, but with practice musical skills soon start to develop, or redevelop. ‘We have players that haven’t played for 20 years, and now they are holding important positions, after just a few years, because they put a little bit of effort into it. The main thing is making a commitment to giving it a go.’
People who haven’t played in bands before will feel the thrill of being inside the sound. ‘Yes, being part of it is quite different to sitting out the front and listening to it.’
What’s planned for the big anniversary?
With only a few weeks before Ballina Band starts again, Laurie Green is currently looking for inspiration in terms of repertoire. ‘I’ve got to get cracking, and get this all happening!’
A big concert is planned for Lennox Head Cultural Centre on Saturday 6 May, with former members also invited to participate. Mr Green is looking at musically re-enacting each of the band’s various lineups through history, along with the music from each era, with additional players joining the stage until the full concert band is playing in all its glory.
Organisers are also seeking additional information about the history of the Ballina Concert Band – photos, memorabilia, old competition trophies and stories of the band, so that a display and information can be collated for the event.
It will be a big sound, with the band currently having 35 players on its roster, and more expected to join after the challenges of COVID and floods in recent years.
‘Now we’re basically back to normal,’ said Mr Green, ‘and all of that now is in the past. The band has a lot of stuff in the past because it’s been going on for such a long, long time, but it’s actually a forward looking band. We’re always thinking about what we’re going to do next.’
Laurie Green said that for many of the players, band is something to look forward to each week, and an important part of their lives. ‘Bands like this are called community bands for a reason. They are part of the community that we operate in, but they are also a community within themselves. And they become quite close-knit.
‘It’s not so much the band or the music, it’s the community,’ said Mr Green. ‘You know, working together to get to a goal. Making music is a collaborative effort.
‘The whole community thing I think, is very, very important, because there’s just not so much of that anymore.’
The Ballina band has recently restarted a collaborative program with Emmanuel College, and is also keen to involve ambitious younger musicians looking to extend their musical experience, and go up another level.
He said young players in the past have made the transition from school bands to professional or military playing, via the town band.
How to get involved
Ballina Concert Band rehearses every Wednesday from 7pm, starting again in February, with a diverse repertoire including movie themes, contemporary styles and marches that the whole community can enjoy.
The band continues to enjoy supporting community events and holds major annual events, such as regular performances with Dean Doyle and Sophistication, Christmas Concerts and collaboration days with other local bands.
If you would like more information, are interested in coming to listen, or want to join the band, please contact Laurie Green on 02 6628 2716, get in touch via Facebook fb.me/BallinaConcertBand or check out the band’s website: www.ballinaconcertband.com.