Moments in Brass Bands That Defined ME - Part 1
I've been playing in brass bands for over 17 years, which is just mental - it's gone so fast!
I'm edging ever closer to my 25th birthday and it's incredible to think that 17 of those 25 years have been spent playing in brass bands.
A lot of my most treasured memories have taken place at a concert venue, contest stage...or the pub afterwards.
It's where I met my partner, numerous friends and friends who became family.
It has taught me so much about myself and what I'm capable of.
There are moments in my banding career that I feel have defined me as both a person and a player and I thought I would share them with you!
It's nice to reminisce - I can imagine a day when I'll be boring (or maybe shocking) my grandchildren with some of my banding memories!
Discovering Brass Bands
Obviously, I have to start where it all began.
I was a very shy child - hard to believe, I know - but I was!
My mum was keen for me to have a hobby, to not only build my confidence, but so I could have something that was mine.
My next door neighbour had a daughter who played euphonium for the St Helens Youth Band who were under the baton of Linda Nicholson at the time.
The neighbour suggested that my mum take me along to one of their concerts to see if I fancied having a go myself.
I'll be forever grateful to this neighbour!
I was 6 ( nearly 7) at the time - so nearly 20 years ago and I don’t remember much of it other than being awestruck by the sound and panicking when the children in the audience were requested to join the band for the last piece and were given various percussion instruments to play.
Despite my panic, I was really taken with it and as soon as my mum asked if I wanted to have a go, I think it took me less than a second to say yes!
From banging the drum to blowing the horn
It may surprise you to discover that I didn’t start life in brass bands as a brass player.
I remember my first rehearsal very clearly.
It was with the Old Hall Community Band, based in a building within a small business park in Billinge.
I’m sitting behind the drum kit, with a set of claves in my hand playing along to Tony Christie’s ‘Amarillo’.
The dream at that point was to learn how to play the drums, but after a few months of observing the cornet section, the dream changed.
I wanted to be a cornet player.
I was very fortunate that the band were able to lend me an instrument and there my journey into the world of brass playing began!
I took part in my first contest at the age of 13 with Old Hall Brass - the senior band of the Old Hall organisation.
It was at St Helens Little Theatre (sadly the contest doesn’t exist anymore) and the piece was Rhapsody for Brass by Dean Goffin.
I was absolutely terrified - I spent the whole week leading up to the contest panicking!
However, when I experienced a contest day for the very first time I was hooked.
Although this was an important moment, I wouldn’t say it was defining.
Fast forward 3 years.
The year is 2013 and we’re at Fleetwood Contest - the piece we’ve chosen is Firestorm by Stephen Bulla.
It’s my first contest as principal cornet - I’m 16 and absolutely terrified.
I have always found it difficult to believe in myself and even though I was doing well in rehearsals, I’d convinced myself that I was going to mess this up.
“I’m not ready...I’m not good enough...I’m going to make a mess’
‘I’m going to be sick’ was another thought that went through my mind before we took to the stage...but we’ll swiftly move on.
To my surprise - I nailed it and the band won the contest, I couldn’t believe it.
This was the first step in a very long journey of learning to believe in myself - it’s a journey I’m still on.
A Dream is Born
We’re going to back track a couple of years to when I was 14.
I’d heard recordings of elite level bands, but I’d never heard one live.
At this point, as much as I enjoyed banding, I wouldn’t call myself a complete band geek or obsessed with it….yet.
Over the course of an evening, sitting in St Helens Town Hall, listening to Black Dyke Band play - this all changed.
I’d never heard a brass band sound like it - even in recordings.
The way the noise filled the room and seeped into your chest, making your heart race, was something I’d never experienced before.
I watched Paul Duffy take to the stage and play his arrangement of 'O When the Saints' and I was so inspired by how much he looked like he was just loving every moment of performing.
As you listened you thought that the players were completely incapable of making a mistake.
I watched and listened and within my heart a dream was born.
Some people dream of winning an Oscar, some dream of playing football for England, some dream of publishing a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, but for me, I dreamed of playing for a band of this calibre.
And more than that, I dreamed of being a soloist for a Championship section band.
If you’re lucky enough for a dream to come true, it takes time (sometimes a lot of it) hard work and taking some hard knocks, but you never know…
Is this a hint?
Who knows...you’ll have to keep reading to find out.
Swapping the Cornet For the Flugelhorn
We’ve fast forward 2 years and I’m now playing with Eccles Borough Band.
I signed on the Repiano seat and at the, beginning of the year, we qualified for the National Finals.
A couple of months before the Nationals, I get a call from our MD, Mareika Gray.
Me, being a complete chronic panicker, starts worrying that I’m being sacked or I’ve done something wrong.
As they usually are, my worries were completely pointless, and instead of being met with a sacking, I was offered the flugelhorn seat within the band.
I’d never played flugel before - I didn’t even know if I could get a note out of the damn thing and I was going to have to play it at the Nationals!