Being in a brass band improves your health say Yorkshire researchers

It will be music to the ears of brass band players the length and breadth of Yorkshire.

By Alex Wood
Tuesday, 10th December 2019, 6:00 am
From the 1996 film 'Brassed Off' which was set in Yorkshire.
From the 1996 film 'Brassed Off' which was set in Yorkshire.

Researchers in Sheffield have found being a band member can boost people’s health and well being - cutting stress, improving mental health - as well as giving players lungs like an elite athlete.

The study shows playing in a brass band can even help improve some respiratory conditions and have similar mental cleansing effects to meditating.

With the help of Brass Band England, the academics circulated a questionnaire asking players about the positive and negative effects of playing in a band.

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One participant with over 20 years’ experience, who suffers with asthma, reported how playing helped them gain control over their breathing, leading to a doctor comparing their lungs to a top-class athlete.

Another, who started playing relatively late in life, said: “If you are prepared to spend the time and effort to master a brass instrument, you will never be lonely or bored again.

“There are so many bands out there and many are crying out for players, that you could be out every day of the week playing with some band.”

The study’s authors, Dr Victoria Williamson and Dr Michael Bonshor, of the University of Sheffield, hope the results encourage people to join a band as a “sociable way” of contributing to physical and mental health. Dr Bonshor said: “Our research has clearly shown that playing in brass bands can be beneficial for individual physical, psychological and social wellbeing.

“Players report perceived improvements in respiratory and cardiovascular health, general fitness, cognitive skills, mental wellbeing and social engagement.

“Our survey respondents particularly valued the opportunities for community building, reporting a sense of social bonding and belonging, not only within the brass band world but also through their band’s musical role in a range of public events and fundraising activities for the wider community.”

Former cancer patient Morag McKay, who plays the B-flat bass, the largest instrument for Dodworth Colliery Brass Band, said when she was going through months of treatment, playing in the band was “the only thing that was normal”.

She said: “It’s a safe sanctuary, a place for me time, where it is irrelevant whether you have a disability or an illness, you have come together to collectively to make music. It focuses and uses both parts of the brain at the same time - nothing else does that.”

And Julie Harris, a trombone player with the Leyburn Band, said: “It’s like a family - everybody is so different. The youngest is 10 - the oldest is over 80.

“It’s the most strange mix of people you would think would never go together but we do. It amazes me how individually we are not that good but when we are all together we make a noise that is really, really good.”

Grimethorpe Colliery Band, became world famous after the 1996 comedy Brassed Off.

Director Peter Haigh - who is stepping down after 42 years on December 31 - said: “They must enjoy it when you consider there’s a minimum two days a week rehearsing, travelling all over, sometimes to the other end of the country for concerts, and doing more rehearsing on top at home.

“They are not body builders - but they have to be fit to blow and blow as they do.”