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10 Questions With…Gary Curtin

He was the first euphonium player to study at degree level at the Cork School of music, from there he has held the Solo Euphonium seat at Fairey’s and Wingates before taking over the Principal Euphonium seat at Black Dyke for six years. Now he is the Principal Euphonium of Foden’s Band, and has a wealth of experience in brass bands, wind bands and orchestras.

From favourite pieces and performances, to advice on how to handle nerves and what the banding world needs to do to move forward, this is 10 questions with…Gary Curtin.

1) How did you first become involved with brass bands?

I actually started in a brass band, but then mostly ended up playing in wind bands before I moved to the UK in 2005. My first experience of a band in Ireland was being brought into the band hall on my first day and being lead over to the instrument store, where a little Yoda-like man (with his back turned) said “start him on baritone!” That was that. The only reason I moved to euphonium in 1996 was because the two euphonium players got together, got married and left the band. The baritone was grabbed and replaced by a euphonium.

2) How different is the brass band scene in Ireland compared with the UK?

Incredibly different. While there are some good bands, these are spread rather thinly across the country and mostly towards Dublin and the North of Ireland. I am, however, delighted to say that there is some good work going on in Ireland with various groups springing up who want to play brass band music and some of these people are full time orchestral players.

3) What opportunities has banding given to you?

This is a tough one. I suppose a large amount of my musical experiences and acceptance as a player has come through banding. Wingates band gave me my start in British banding, which I am eternally grateful for, because I was somewhat green when I arrived due to a rather sizeable lack of experience. Banding has allowed me to meet an awful lot of people and visit some wonderful places. To go to Manhatten and Japan, in one year, was pretty darn special.

4) How does playing the Euphonium in an orchestra differ from playing in a brass band?

Massively. You just need to forget about banding and live in their world, I suppose. Note production is often different, the use of vibrato is far reduced- if used at all, for me. Rather than trying to lead a section, I must concentrate on blending to the trombone/tuba section more.

5) If you could relive any performance in your career, which would it be?

Do I have to pick one? Any of the European own choice performances, really. Triumph of Time, Metropolis 1927, Revelation- some incredible memories. One, that is a solo performance, was playing Vizzutti’s ‘Carnival of Venus’ on stage at the Royal Albert Hall. We had been drawn number 20 (last band on) for ‘King Arthur’ and we had to come off stage, compose ourselves and go straight back on to do the gala concert, having waited around all day. It was certainly a great memory. Oh, and we also won!

6) What playing advice would you give to your younger self?

Always be humble and work harder on the basics from the beginning. I’ve had various teachers from different walks of life, but one thing that wasn’t greatly attended to from a young age was the basics of playing…of course, I know that now.

7) Favourite Brass Band Piece?

Resurgam- it never fails to grab me and pull me in. It’s a stunning piece of brass band music that stirs emotions and keeps hold of you all the way through.

8) Is there an event in your banding calendar that you’re looking forward to most this year?

I’m heading to Canada in April. I went last year and we did all the rehearsals with two different bands and the weather suddenly turned and everything was cancelled and I had to fly home without finishing the job. Luckily the band (Mississauga Temple Band) have asked me to come back and finish the job, so myself and my wife, Leanne are going to go together and do some touristy things whilst we’re there too!

9) You’ve played with some of the best bands in the country, how do you deal with nerves and the pressure of sitting in a solo seat for a top rank band?

Well, the only bands I’ve ever played for are Wingates, Fairey’s, Black Dyke and now Foden’s. As for nerves…this is often personal. For me, I just remind myself to play and enjoy the music. Forget about the fact that it is a contest. If I clip something and people don’t like it, they aren’t listening correctly, because there will be plenty of other notes that I haven’t clipped. The world won’t stop turning, I’ll still go to work on Monday and I’ll never do it on purpose! As always, fail to prepare, prepare to fail!

10) How do you feel about the banding movement today?

There has got to be a way of trying to get more young people to concerts and indeed playing. There are some absolutely incredible groups which have formed over the last number of years such as: Foden’s Youth Band, Yorkshire Youth Band, Lions Youth Band and all of these do a great job in trying to appeal to young people nowadays and try to entice them to play a brass instrument. It will always be a challenge and I’m sure it always has, but people are forever saying the movement is on its back-side…well if that’s what you think, lift a hand and do something about it!

I also believe Foden’s are a good example of a band who are looking into other avenues of where brass bands can go. Recording with artists outside of our bubble and performing concerts to a different audience, whilst playing in a totally different style. It will never be easy, but the journey towards preserving this great little bubble of banding has to start somewhere/sometime and that time is now!

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