Updated: Sep 29, 2019
On the weekend of 5th and 6th of January, the Gloucestershire Youth Brass Band (GYBB) made a welcome return to the youth band scene. They met for the first time since 2013 thanks to a partnership between Gloucestershire Music and the Gloucestershire Brass Band Association (GBBA). Under the direction of Ian Porthouse, guest conductors Piet Visser (Netherlands) and Remi Vilys (Lithuania), and a team of ex-member sectional tutors, the young band undertook a weekend of rehearsals and sectionals, before showcasing their hard work to a large audience of enthusiastic parents and supporters.
On the Saturday, the young players were given a full day of rehearsals from Ian Porthouse, learning an eclectic choice of repertoire. Later in the day, the band were joined by Piet and Remi, whose unique conducting styles and passion were enjoyed by the young players. On the Sunday morning, the band split into sectionals, being led by ex-members Emily Wilson (cornets and horns), Ben Stratford (euphoniums, baritones, and trombones), Andy McDade (tubas), and Max Ireland (percussion). In the afternoon, the youth band was joined by a reunion band of past members, providing an opportunity to catch up with old friends and learn from their experience.
GBBA Youth Development Day
Alongside the GYBB course, the GBBA ran a free Youth Development Day; attracting 21 local youth band leaders, teachers, and organisers. On Sunday morning, Ian Porthouse led the delegates in a conducting workshop, who gained the benefit of his years of experience as a performer and conductor. Ian explained the basics of conducting technique using musical examples, how to establish and maintain tempo, and use the hands to convey different messages to the band. He put forth various ideas on player management, as well as providing a number of amusing anecdotes. The delegates, joined by some members of the reunion band, formed their own ensemble, allowing volunteers to put their conducting skills into practice, under the expert eye of Ian, who provided useful advice for their improvement.
In the afternoon, the delegates gathered to listen to presentations from Piet Visser and father-son team Remi and Laurynas Vilys about approaches to youth band development in the Netherlands and Lithuania respectively. Outlining his approach in his home region of Friesland, Piet stressed the need to: recruit in schools; engage parents in the process; have an organised band structure with clearly defined roles; senior band players actively assisting learners; and, most importantly, focus on fun and enjoyment! Together, Remi and Laurynas have built the Lithuanian brass band movement from scratch. Since forming the country’s first British-style brass band 20 years ago, the country now boasts a rapidly expanding brass band scene, and in 2020 will host the European Brass Band Championships in Palanga. This remarkable rise has involved a huge amount of youth organisation and development, with similar lessons to be learned as in the Netherlands. Remi and Laurynas talked about approaching prospective students through schools, and winning over parents has proved a crucial factor. Giving the learners plenty to do with an abundance of concerts and appealing repertoire is crucial to the enjoyment of the youth banding scene. Competitions are also a key aspect, leading to the formation of the national championships, and even a Whit-Friday-style event in Lithuania, with bands racing each other to perform in as many villages as possible. A further important point raised was to be proactive in terms of applying for grants, fundraising, and asking for help from other organisations, local or abroad, when needed.
Feedback from the attending delegates was very positive, and the GBBA should be applauded for taking such a proactive approach in helping to inspire youth band development.
The culmination of the weekend was a concert from the GYBB, which was recorded as an entry to the National Festival of Music for Youth. The band’s percussion section opened proceedings with a drum-line showcase, featuring some impressive synchronised playing and stick-crossing techniques. The band followed suit with a disciplined world premiere of the brass band version of 14-year old Morris Harper’s (son of Philip Harper) march, The Brigadier. The dreamy A Gaelic Blessing demonstrated fine control and some admirably expressive solo playing from around the band, before the lively contrast of the popular I Will Follow Him was dispatched with gusto, featuring the bands enthusiastic 9-strong trombone section.
The reunion band players then joined the GYBB in a stirring rendition of The Magnificent Seven. The percussion were featured once again alongside some playful choreography from the massed-band in the irrepressibly catchy swing of Music for Drums. Finally, the band performed Glorioso by Philip Harper, a piece originally written to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the GBBA, bringing the concert to close in a blaze of sound and animated applause from the audience.
For a band that met for the first time the day before, the standard was quite remarkable, with the young players rising to the occasion with a genuine zeal. The GYBB has been successfully resurrected, and long may it continue. Both Gloucestershire Music and the GBBA should be congratulated for organising this excellent weekend of music and youth band training.
Written by Thomas Dunne
For more information about the day, visit the following links:
- Gloucestershire Music (Facebook)