“Scotland’s Kingdom Brass and its Youth Development Program”
Over the past three years, I have had the privilege to be involved in a youth development program that has been a huge success. Back in 2008, I made my first trip to Scotland and I have lost count of the number of journeys I have made north of the border to a place that has almost become my second home! The driving force behind this program is the Scottish Brass Band Association (SBBA), but from day one the project has been spearheaded by one man, youth development officer Alan Edmond.
In December 2007, Alan first contacted me about coming up to Scotland to do some workshops. At the time, I was stuck in an airport hotel in New York. Technical problems and bad weather had meant that I missed my flight home and would be spending an extra night in New York with my Brass Band of Battle Creek colleagues, Martin Armstrong and John Rudkin. After a very long day of travelling and not getting very far, we decided to get some rest and sleep in the next morning. This was a great plan until my phone rang at five AM. To be fair to Alan, he didn’t know I was in America. As I answered my phone, still half asleep, I was greeted by his cheery and enthusiastic Scottish accent.
Although I had never met Alan and didn’t really know much about youth development in Scotland, I could immediately sense his enthusiasm and that working with Alan would be great. Little did I know that this would be the start of a fruitful relationship in a pioneering youth development program. Developing the youth brass band scene in Scotland from around eight bands to nearly fifty is no mean feat, and one that I am immensely proud to be part of.
One band with which I have had the pleasure of working is the Kingdom Brass Band in Fife. A relatively young band, Kingdom was formed in August 1999 after the amalgamation of the Cowdenbeath and the Kelty & Blairadam Bands. Individuals in both camps saw the potential to form one band with the cream of players in Fife which would be capable of challenging for the top honors. Since then, Kingdom Brass has gone from one success to the next and their development plan for the youth in the area is now seeing wonderful results.
The Kindom Brass Band. L-R Tubas: Martin Stack, Richard McCann, Andrew Whitaker. Baritones: Carol Sandell, Colin McCabe. Euphoniums: Brian Paterson, Neil Philip. Colin just won the best euphonium/baritone at the Scottish Championships.
I had the chance to speak with John Todd, Secretary of Kingdom Brass Band. Todd says:
Things started to happen back in February 2007 when we attended our Area Association Solo & Ensemble Contest. It had always had a fairly healthy attendance in the senior and junior sections but that year there were only two entered into the junior event across all the age groups. This caused a bit of a debate and we decided as a band to launch a youth development program. Luckily, Alan Edmond had just been appointed as the new SBBA Youth Development Officer so we arranged to meet with him for some guidance, and then we started the hard work.
The first thing we did was come up with a five-year plan, outlining step by step what we wanted to achieve and where we wanted to be each year. It was a very ambitious project, with the aim of growing from a single senior band into an organization covering a development group, two junior bands, and two senior bands plus dedicated percussion training, about 150 musicians in total.
By the summer of 2007 we had our infrastructure in place and applications were submitted for funding. By the autumn we had funding in place from Awards For All, instruments were ordered, and contact was made with all the local primary schools, who were more than happy for us to visit them to recruit new players. Our first school workshops took place in November 2007 and the first tuition began in December. By August of 2008, the junior band was ready to perform and played a few pieces in a local senior band concert. It was a concert we had done before, always well attended, but this year it was standing room only with parents crammed in to see the new band play for the first time. It was a great atmosphere, and we knew things would never be the same again! The new youth band performed its first contests after that, appearing at Brass in the Park, then at the Scottish Youth Championships. A huge step and one the players definitely enjoyed.
September 2008 saw us awarded Youth Music Initiative funding from the Scottish Arts Council which led to an ambitious series of workshops and concerts throughout 2009 and 2010 with guests such as James Gourlay and Les Neish.
In August 2009 we took the band away for our first residential course in Meigle, Perthshire. Les Neish came along with us and for three days the kids played music, took part in all kinds of team building activities and had a fantastic time. We were of course preparing for a serious concert on our return, with Les as guest soloist, and that was a huge success.
The course was an absolute blast. We began each morning with warm up sessions and then went into rehearsals. Throughout the day we would also take part in team-building games. Although music was key to the course, the social aspect was also important. Some of these youngsters had never been away from home or from their families before and it was a great way for them all to interact and become more of a team. The weekend finished with a concert by Kingdom Brass – A Night at the Movies – a great show featuring music soundtracks accompanied by a visual and light show. I appeared as guest soloist at one point donning a bear suit and playing a Sousaphone. John continues:
Les Neish, in and out of bear costume, solos with Kingdom Brass.
In September 2009 we received further YMI funding to set up our new percussion academy, with the band’s principal percussionist Lynsey Paterson driving that forward through 2010. That led to a fantastic partnership with Simone Rebello, who came up to spend time with our percussionists, delivering workshops and appearing with the senior band, junior band, and percussion academy in a fantastic concert. September 2010 saw our junior band win their first contest with a first place in the novice section of the Brass in the Park contest. A great achievement for such a young band, in a field of twenty bands!
Throughout 2000 and 2011 we’ve attracted new players into the junior band through word of mouth and local press, delivering lessons to new starts and feeding them into the band gradually. The aim for 2012 is to start our second junior band and we’ve just completed a recruitment program which has seen us perform workshops in four local primary schools. Ten new players started last week, with another ten coming in next week which will give us the basis of a brand new junior band. We’ll have two bands entered at the Scottish Youth Championships in November, one in the 14 and under novice section and one in the brand new 12 and under preparatory section.
Our percussion academy is set to double in size as well. Currently ten players receive weekly lessons, but this will expand to 20 later in the year. The most experienced players feed into the junior bands, but the ensemble as a whole performs specially commissioned music written for youth band and multiple percussion, which is fantastic to see!
The final part of our five-year plan is the formation of a second senior band for 2012. This will complete the link between junior and senior band, with the oldest junior players making that step into a lower section senior band, complemented with players who maybe don’t have the time to commit to the Kingdom ‘A’ Band. We’re working on the development of that right now.
After speaking with John it really was reassuring to see that the band had such a vision and many people behind the scenes putting in thankless hours of hard work to make it all possible. Sometimes when we follow brass bands, it can be very easy to look at the top players and performers and be in awe at the wonderful things they can do and marvel at the fantastic contest performances that some of the top UK brass bands can produce. Taking nothing away from that, I am always humbled when I get to see what grass roots brass banding is about. Being part of a community and giving youngsters a chance that they would never have had before. Playing in a brass band and being part of a team is a wonderful thing and I am sure that many of the experiences these youngsters have had will only further enhance their future in whatever path they follow.
L-R Tubas Danielle Stark, James White. Euphoniums: Ross Bahlaj, Heather Wilson. Danielle Stark won the prize for youngest tuba in the 4th section at the Scottish Championships.
As for Scotland as a whole, what has been achieved here is remarkable and it is still growing. Having worked in all areas of Scotland I have had the opportunity to see this first hand. This is a program that has ensured youth playing for the future and also a steady stream of players into contesting bands throughout Scotland. There is talk about the future of UK bands and how banding is declining in general; I can assure you that’s not the case in Scotland right now!
Les Neish is one of the leading tuba players of his generation. His endeavours as a tuba player have gained him recognition as a soloist, chamber musician and educator throughout the world. His career has been extremely diverse with highlights including a performance at Millennium Park, Chicago and recording on an album with pop star “Sting.”
He gained a First Class Honours degree, Professional Performance Diploma and Postgraduate Diploma with Distinction from the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. As an alumnus, Les is proud to be tuba tutor at the Junior RNCM as well as the role of Besson visiting tutor at this prestigious conservatoire.
Always pushing the boundaries, Les became the first tuba player to be awarded the Worshipful Company of Dyers Award for Wind and Brass at the Royal Overseas League Competition and performed the first solo tuba recital at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. His debut solo CD “Salt of the Earth” was received to great critical acclaim, winning Brass Band World, British Bandsman, and www.4barsrest.com Solo CD of the Year Awards and receiving airtime on BBC Radio 3.
Away from solo performance, Les is privileged to be part of the tuba section of the world famous Brass Band of Battle Creek and as a chamber musician is a member of the Fine Arts Brass Ensemble, a group which has performed in over 60 countries for the last 30 years.
Awards for All is a grant program for small, community-based projects in the UK.