‘Tis the season

One of my musical ventures this year has been to join a brass band. This is in fact the second time I’ve played in such an ensemble, as I spent about a year playing with the adult beginners’ band (wonderfully entitled “Last of the Summer Wind”) of the Beaumaris Band a few years ago. That served as my introduction to brass playing and taught me the rudiments of playing the Eb bass (or tuba, as it’s commonly called outside the brass band world).

I had to stop playing with that band after a while as I got too busy with other things but a couple of months ago I was delighted to discover that the Menai Bridge Band meets just a few minutes’ walk down the road from where I live and that they were looking for some new players. In particular, they had a spare Bb bass (i.e. an even bigger tuba than the one I used to play) and wanted somebody to play it. Needless to say, I was more than happy to oblige and it’s been great to be at it again.

I started playing with the band towards the end of September and my first public appearance with them was for a competition in early November. Apparently competitions are a fairly major feature of the brass band scene and (adult) bands are divided into 5 sections, with the best bands playing in the Championship section, the next best in section 1 and the worst (at least of those who take part in recognised competitions) in section 4. It’s a bit like the league system in football, with divisions 1 to 3 and the premiership. I think it made a lot more sense when it was just divisions 1 to 4 with the best teams in the first division, but there you go! (And, yes, I’m as surprised as you that I actually used a football analogy in my blog, given my usual complete lack of interest in the game.) Menai Bridge Band is in section 4, so we’re not one of the greatest bands out there. Still it was satisfying to get 2nd place (out of 6 competitors) in our section at the North Wales Rally at Llandudno this year.

Since the competition we’ve been focusing on getting ourselves ready for various concerts. The first of these was a joint event with a local male voice choir (Cor Penrhyn, in case you’re interested) at Bangor Cathedral in mid-November. It was then that I discovered how good the Cathedral’s acoustics are for playing the low brass instruments. I managed to get the best low F I’ve ever managed. 🙂

For the past couple of weeks, the band has been pretty busy with carol services and other seasonal gigs, including quite a few open air carol singing (or at least playing) sessions. Fortunately they let the basses sit down for those, although the rest of the band play them standing up (unlike our indoor gigs, which are usually sit-down events for the whole band). I haven’t been involved in all of these gigs, as some of them have clashed with prior commitments and some have only required a small subset of the band.

So far this month, I’ve played for one carol service (back at Bangor Cathedral, for the Emergency Services) and a couple of outdoor carol events also in Bangor, next to the town clock. I’m due to be playing a couple of short gigs in Menai Bridge on Saturday morning and may be going up to Holyhead for a couple more in the afternoon (the details are not yet confirmed). I’ll possibly also be playing outside Tesco in Holyhead next Thursday evening. This represents somewhat less than half the total number of gigs the band are doing this month.

I suspect that the lead up to Christmas is probably the busiest time of year for most brass bands. Certainly the sound of carols played on brass is one of the sounds I’ve long associated with Christmas, so it’s quite fun to be part of making those sounds now, instead of just listening to them. I hope that by next Christmas I’ll still be playing with the band and will have experience of a whole year in the life of a brass band to look back on.

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1 Comment

  1. Lakshmi Loves To Shop

     /  2012/12/15

    I play 2nd baritone in a brass band…a dream come true!


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