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10. The first time I ever heard a "British brass band" was on your CD recording, PROCLAMATION. Can you tell me more about this kind of ensemble?

The "British brass band" has been around as a viable ensemble since the early 1800's. While well known in the United Kingdom, Europe and countries that have had a significant British influence (notably Australia, New Zealand and Canada), this ensemble is not as widely known in the United States. While there is a growing brass band movement in the USA, many players are surprised to learn of this unique ensemble with its instrumentation made up, with the exception of the trombones, entirely of conical bored instruments (cornets, flugelhorn, alto horns, baritones, euphoniums, tubas). It was my great pleasure to record my new CD PROCLAMATION with the Black Dyke Mills Band. Here are some thoughts about working with this extraordinary ensemble.

My first hand experience with the Black Dyke Mills Band (now the Black Dyke Band), one of the finest brass bands in the world, really opened my eyes. And it all fits in nicely with my continued pulpit pounding about the subject of excellence in performance.

For most of us in the USA, our experience with brass bands has been unfortunately very limited unless you come from a Salvation Army background. While the brass band movement in the USA is strong and growing, in no small part due to the excellent work of the North American Brass Band Association (which publishes an excellent Journal of which I was editor from 2006-2009), The Brass Band Bridge, that can be downloaded for free at

It is still the image of the town wind band (brass, AND woodwinds) that makes up so much of our band thought on this side of the "pond." This is regrettable, because brass bands are quite unique in style and sound, and there is much we can learn from those who play in this kind of ensemble.

What we would be well to discover is the fact that many of the top, championship level bands in the world - which are made up wholly of AMATEUR players - are every bit the equal of the top American and European orchestras.

This is no exaggeration.

When I recorded my solo CD with Black Dyke, it was apparent to me that I was being "fronted" by a group that in terms of passion, dedication, intonation, ensemble and sheer love of music, is unparalleled in my experience. I got an education. Sure, I made an album, but more than that, I LEARNED something I shall never forget.

My own Boston Symphony Orchestra (and likewise the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and all the rest) can only DREAM of having the kind of unity of mind and ensemble that bands like Black Dyke have.

A case in point: During our second recording session in September 1996, we began the day putting down a new piece written by Boston Symphony bass player (as in string bass) Lawrence Wolfe. Larry wrote the arguably most difficult piece on my album ("Triptych"), and we began by recording the fiendishly difficult third movement. The first take had some problems, but much in it that was good. The conductor, James Watson (who, by the way, began his career in the Desford Band at the age of five, became their principal cornet at age 9 and went on to become the principal trumpet of the Royal Philharmonic, Covent Garden Opera and Philip Jones Brass Ensemble), put down his baton and quietly said:

"Gentleman. Doug and I are going to go down to the booth and listen to that take and you all are going to take out your pencils. That was a shambles."

Jim and I left the hall for the recording booth and on the TV monitor I could see that NOT ONE player left their chair, EVERYONE had their pencils out and they ALL began practicing. During their break. No talking. No complaining. The next take was terrific and it was a direct result of the concentration and high level of professionalism displayed by each and every individual member.

When's the last time you've seen THAT kind of behavior and dedication at a recording session from an American Federation of Musicians, AFL-CIO, $100,000 a year base salary, top level American Orchestra? You haven't seen it because it doesn't happen.

After you've heard the Foden O.T.S. Band play the Elgar "Enigma Variations" (Polyphonic QMPR 605D), or Black Dyke play the Holst "Planets" (Doyen DOY CD 050) or the Britannia Building Society Band play the Ravel "Daphnis and Chloe" Suite 2 (Doyen DOY CD 045) or Dyke play Eric Ball's "Resurgam" (Polyphonic QPRL 061D) you will be hooked. These bands are remarkable. They are setting new levels of excellence in brass playing yet they labor (labour!) virtually unknown in the USA.

And they are AMATEURS. They aren't making big (or any!) bucks from this. For instance, the Black Dyke bass trombonist, Adrian Hirst, is a coal mine surveyer. Their second trombonist, James Stockdale, works in a bank. Do not let the word "amateur" fool you - these players are serious and committed, and while they do not make their living playing their instrument, their excellence is every bit as inspiring as that of the most seasoned professional.

We in the USA would do well to gain an appreciation of these brass colleagues across the Atlantic and in our own backyard (there are many recordings of excellent Salvation Army Bands and other brass bands from the USA and Canada) who play at the highest level simply because they LOVE it. There is no money in banding; just pride, honor, and the satisfaction of a job well done. I have continued to experience this joy of playing with brass bands in recent years as I have performed as a soloist with many bras bands including the New York Staff Band of the Salvation Army, Foden's Band, Pennine Brass and bands around the USA and Canada including the Rocky MOuntain Brassworks, Brass Band Northwest (Seattle), Weston Silver Band (Toronto) and the New England Brass Band. Several years ago had the happy occasion of recording a second CD of bass trombone solos with a British Brass Band - Two of a Mind - this album was with the Williams Fairey Band. One of the nice side effects of the release of my brass band solo CDs has been to introduce many brass players in the USA to the brass band.

In fact, my experience with Black Dyke led me - a few years after my recording sessions with them - to accept the position of Music Director of The New England Brass Band, a position I held from 1998-2008. Working with a brass band on a weekly basis brought me great joy, especially since my wife played baritone horn in the group. The comments I made to the band upon my retirement may be viewed HERE; they represent my most comprehensive thoughts on the rewarding experience I had working with the band.

For current information about the worldwide brass band scene, visit the web sites for The North American Brass Band Association (NABBA) (of which I served as a member of its Board of Directors, including a term as Vice President), and

Pick up a brass band CD sometime soon. You won't be disappointed. After listening to the fabulous level of playing, you'll probably want to either quit or practice.

It makes ME want to practice.

Which reminds me.........

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