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BRASS BAND AID AND "THE BIG BLOW 2007"


During its 2006-07 season, the New England Brass Band, of which I am Music Director, has been raising money for Brass Band Aid, a charity organized in England that is partnering with World Vision to build a school in Adet, Ethiopia. In January 2007 I travelled to England to take part in a number of brass band related events that benefitted Brass Band Aid. The photos that follow give a glimpse into my time in England.

Brass Band Aid has raised over 50,000 (approximately $100,000) for the Adet school project thanks to the generosity of bands, band members and brass band enthusiaasts around the world. The brainchild of Bob Thompson and his daughter, Briony (trombonists in England's Stanhope Silver Band), Brass Band Aid works with the charity World Vision, one of the most respected relief agencies in the world, which ensures that the money donated for the school project actually gets to the project rather than be siphoned off by layers of "middle men" and corrupt government officials. Ground has already been broken for the school and it is hoped that it will be completed by the end of 2007.

Brass Band Aid had a major role at the Mineworker's Open Brass Band Championship, held at the Butlin's Resort in Skegness, England on January 19-21, 2007. Situated on the east coast of England just north of Boston (yes, Boston) on the Central Trains line, Skegness is best known as a summer holiday destination but even in the winter, it proved to be an excellent venue for a host of brass band related activities. 87 bands took part in the brass band contest and Brass Band Aid was represented by a trade stand, a concert featuring a "celebrity" brass band and "The Big Blow 2007."

The Brass Band Aid stand in the Skyline Pavillion was a hive of activity. Shown above are Bob Thompson (standing) and Denis Huxley fielding questions. The Brass Band Aid stand offered information about the work in Ethiopia, registered participants for "The Big Blow" and sold Brass Band Aid shirts, fleeces and "The Big Blow" commemorative items. "The Big Blow" was the idea of Jonathan Handley of Tor Designs, the leading manufacturer of stand banners and uniforms for British brass bands. With so many bands present at the Mineworker's contest, Brass Band Aid decided to work with the Guinness Book of World Records to put together the largest officially documented brass band. Registration fees and donations to a raffle would all go to Brass Band Aid. On the table in the foreground can be seen music for "March: The Big Blow" composed by Andrew Duncan. After registering for the event, participants took music for their instrument with instructions to meet on Saturday, January 20 for the world record setting event.

The work of Bob and Briony Thompson has been nothing short of extraordinary. The response of the brass band community to the Brass Band Aid initiative has been truly stunning. It seemed that the Brass Band Aid stand was a magnet for a veritable "who's who" of the brass band world. Shown above are World of Brass Radio host John Maines, tuba virtuoso Steve Sykes and his wife Joanne, and BBC Radio's "Listen to the Band" host Frank Renton. Frank was to play an important role in "The Big Blow" as host and conductor of the event.

I spent a lot of time at the Brass Band Aid stand, helping to answer questions and providing support to the other volunteers who were working there. In the photo above I am flanked by Bob Thompson and his daughter, Briony.

On January 19, Brass Band Aid hosted a concert by a "celebrity" band made up of some of the top players in British brass bands. I was delighted when Bob Thompson asked me if I would like to play as a member of the band; while I have been music director of the New England Brass band since 1998 and have performed as soloist with many of the finest brass bands in the world (including Black Dyke, Fairey, Fodens, the New York Staff Band of the Salvation Army, Pennine Brass, New England Brass Band), I had never actually played as a member of a brass band. To play in a group with people whose playing I had admired for many years was a tremendous joy. In the photo above, Nicholas Childs, conductor of the Black Dyke Band is shown with the Brass Band Aid "celebrity" band in rehearsal. Others in the photo are Glyn Williams (Fodens) and Brenden Wheeler (Leyland) on euphonium, Katrina Marzella (Fairey) on baritone and Richard Marshall (Black Dyke) on cornet.

The trombone section of the band consisted of Garry Reed (Black Dyke), Alan Fernie (composer, adjudicator and free lance trombonist) and myself. When Alan took the baton to conduct his arrangement of "Do They Know It's Christmas?", his chair was filled by both Bob and Briony Thompson as the piece required four trombone players. The photo above shows Alan Fernie (standing) with Briony, Bob and Garry Reed in rehearsal.

The "celebrity" band played to a capacity audience. Playing in the band was a tremendous thrill for me - the music making was at a very high level and the varied program included several solos including Kenny Baker's cornet solo "Virtuosity" played by Richard Marshall, the euphonium solo "Rule Britannia" by J. Hartmann played by Glyn Williams (Fodens) and Steve Sykes (soloist and adjudicator, former Grimethorpe) playing Richard Phillips' "The Meeting of the Waters." The photo above shows the band, sporting Brass Band Aid polo shirts provided by Tor Designs, taking a bow.

The cornet section of the band was superb. The photo above shows the solo cornet row including Richard Marshall, Mark Wilkinson (Fodens) and Ian Porthouse (conductor of Pennine Brass, former principal cornet with Black Dyke and Yorkshire Building Society); at the right edge of the photo (in a green shirt) is Stephen Wilkinson (Brighouse & Rastrick). Peter Roberts (far left), who usually plays soprano cornet (Black Dyke) was playing second cornet and Joanne Sykes is seen on the far right playing third cornet.

Here is a complete list of the players (and their band affiliation) who participated in the concert with the Brass Band Aid Celebrity Band:

Euphonium players Brenden Wheeler (Leyland) and Glyn Williams, Steve Sykes and I are shown above in performance. The photo of Steve shows him playing his solo and his stand sports one of 14 limited edition banners made by Tor Designs to commemorate "The Big Blow." Four of these banners were autographed by all members of the band and all of the banners were sold at the Brass Band Aid stand with all proceeds going to help fund the school in Adet, Ethiopia.

"The Big Blow" took place on Saturday, January 20. Jon Handley had organized an efficient crew of volunteers who registered participants and ensured that everyone had a good time. It was great to see people coming into the venue - bandsmen in uniform, families (such as the one above - the young boy is holding a soprano trombone!), professional players and people who had come from far and wide to be a part of brass band history. As they made their way up to "The Big Blow" venue, all participants were given a commemorative pin badge with the thanks of Brass Band Aid.

As mentioned at the beginnng of this article, the New England Brass Band has been raising money for Brass Band Aid. It was my great pleasure to bring a check for Brass Band Aid for 1,500 (approximately $3,000) which I presented to Briony Thompson. The photo above shows me, along with Briony Thompson and Frank Renton, talking to the participants at "The Big Blow" about the New England Brass Band's enthusiastic efforts on behalf of Brass Band Aid.

Frank Renton was the master of ceremonies for "The Big Blow" and he interviewed members of the "celebrity" band who served as section leaders for each group of instruments. Sections were rehearsed one by one and finally Frank gave the downbeat for the performance. Nearly 450 players gave a spirited performance of Andrew Duncan's "March: The Big Blow." The performance not only stayed together but I felt it to be exciting and even musically rewarding - amazing for such a big group. A huge shout went up from the crowd as we entered the Guinness Book of World Records. Surely other groups will work to break this record but if such future attempts are done to benefit Brass Band Aid, then we can hope for many more such record-breaking attempts. The best part of "The Big Blow" was the fact that 4,000 (approximately $8,000) was raised for Brass Band Aid. THANK YOU to all who particpated and for your support of the important work going on in Adet.

Following "The Big Blow" I took part in a televised show hosted by brass band conductor Stan Lippeatt. "Stan Lippeatt and Friends" featured interviews of Nick Childs (conductor of Black Dyke), Peter Roberts (soprano cornet, Black Dyke) and myself. As part of the show, a rock band accompanied Stan (on flugelhorn, "Feels So Good"), Peter (on soprano cornet, "Memory" from "Cats") and me ("In The Hall of the Mountain King") as the evening of "The Big Blow" came to an end.

My trip to England continued with several other activties: a concert with the Bones Apart trombone quartet (we played a set of quintets by Stephen Bulla including a new arrangement especially made for this concert of "Ain't We Got Fun"), a day of teaching at Chetham's School in Manchester, a solo engagement with the Pennine Brass (Ian Porthouse, conductor) which was a benefit for Brass Band Aid, a recital at the Taunton School, a visit to Lincoln Cathedral and an afternoon spent at my family's ancestral home, Clovelly, a fishing village on the southwest coast of England where Yeos of old lived and, sailing from Bristol, travelled to the British West Indies where they settled before coming to America. My good friend Nick Hudson accompanied me to Clovelly and he snapped the photo above in Clovelly harbor, a scene that has not changed much over hundreds of years. I also must thank those who gave so much of their time and effort to drive me around the country during this trip including Steve and Joanne Sykes, Ian Porthouse, David Chatterton, Nick Hudson and Roger Challoner Green. They are true friends and their kindness is deeply appreciated.

My relationship with Brass Band Aid continues, not only as the New England Brass Band continues to introduce its audiences to this great charity work, but as I make contact with other brass bands in the North American Brass Band Association to spread the word. I am deeply indebted to Bob Thompson for his kind invitation to be a part of this historical weekend of activities and I encourage you, if you have not already done so, to make a donation to Brass Band Aid and be part of the world-wide initiative to "make poverty history."


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