A new challenge. My story could be your story!

As I write this latest Blog, we are in some form of lock-down, due to the Corona virus. Our daily routines and activities have certainly changed beyond all recognition and many people have used this enforced spare time, to invest in projects and activities that they’ve often thought about doing, but never really got round to, due to lack of time or inclination. Attics, gardens and garages everywhere have never been so tidy!!! It’s also been an opportunity for people to re-evaluate what is really important to them in their lives e.g. friends and family, good health, the ability and freedom to come and go as you please, job satisfaction and career choices, as well as hobbies and pastimes. Having something that is precious taken away from you only highlights how much we value it.

Lock-down has also given people time to think and assess what they want from life post Covid-19, when we can return to some semblance of normality and this period of reflection will perhaps ignite a desire for change and the pursuit of a new challenge?

I had one of these “Saul on the road to Damascus” moments some 14 years ago, at the grand age of 39, I decided that I needed something new, something different and something that would kick-start my enthusiasm for life in general. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t doing too badly for myself. I had a nice house, a job that I really loved doing and was managing to pay the bills each and every month. So what was the problem? The answer was, that I simply needed to be doing something that I’d never experienced before, that took me away from the “same old, same old” and perhaps out of my comfort zone, to where I couldn’t put my feet on the bottom of the pool and had to swim a little harder to stay afloat.

From a somewhat pessimistic and negative viewpoint, I felt I had ticked as many boxes as was possible in terms of my music-making experiences (particularly on a professional level) and that there were no more “Everests” remaining that I was capable of climbing and that I should be happy with what I’d already achieved. “So what changed?” I hear you ask.

Following a chance encounter with a friend I was encouraged to consider joining the Army Reserve as a Musician. I’d always been interested in all things Military ever since I was young, but the concept of playing in a Military Band – no change that to a Military brass band (as at the time it was the ONLY brass band in the British Army! – and getting paid for it fried my brain somewhat. Over the years, I’d been used to the concept of attending band twice a week (increasing in the run up to a major competition) and getting zilch for doing it, other than the huge amount of pleasure of performing at a high level and at some of the top venues around Europe.

The Principality Stadium, Cardiff

Having done my research and then attending a few rehearsals at the Barracks (to get a feel of what I was potentially letting myself in for) and asking hundreds of questions such as “what if…?”, “how many…?”, “will I have to do this….. will I have to do that?”, I was reassured that this was a good move and would be a decision that I wouldn’t regret.

Fast-forward 14 years and I now can say that this was one of the best decisions that I ever made. I discovered not only a new “Everest” to climb, but my “K2”, “Kilimanjaro” and many more peaks, with new ones still emerging even now. This new challenge brought a new dimension to not only my musical world, but to my personal and life experiences too and at the same time, I got paid for doing it and it brought me new career pathways too, as all these years later, not only am I a Sergeant and a musician, I am now the Recruiter for that Band – the Regimental Band of The Royal Welsh.

Corps of Army Music Short Term Training Team – Uganda 2015

Words cannot begin to describe the new horizons that I’ve encountered over these 14 years, but suffice to say that if you’re currently bored, feeling unfulfilled, craving something new or just plain curious to know “what if…..?” then go for it! Ask the question and see whether it is for you.

Whether it’s learning a new language, deciding to do a triathlon or joining a Regimental Band in the Army Reserve, then follow your dream and see where it takes you!

WW1 Commemorations, Thiepval Memorial – France 2016

For more information about the Regimental Band and Corps of Drums of The Royal Welsh, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/royalwelshband/

Last Post – Belgium 2019

Thanks for reading the Music for You blog.

An Open Letter to the brass band movement in Wales

The Blaina Band based near Brynmawr was formed in 1817 and it was claimed to be the first band in Britain to become ‘all brass’. In the intervening 203 years, the brass band movement in Wales has successfully produced some of the movement’s best and most successful players, conductors, ensembles, educators and teachers, composers and arrangers, administrators and commentators.

Welsh banding is firmly on the international contesting map

Ebbw Valley Brass – 2013 National Champions (Section 4)

Names such as; David, Nicholas and Robert Childs, the Cyfarthfa Band, the Cory Band led by Philip Harper, T.J. Powell, Bram Gay and Philip Morris, Iwan Fox and 4barsrest are just a handful of names recognised not only within the Principality, but across the world. These are luminaries who have successfully put Wales on the “musical map”, and through their work have ensured that the movement has grown and flourished.

In 2013 no less than 4 Welsh bands were crowned National Champions of Great Britain in all but the Third Section. This was a truly remarkable achievement for such a small nation; however these successes, along with significant contest successes by Tredegar and the No.1 World-ranked Cory Band before and since, have masked the underlying decline of fortunes for Welsh banding at grass-roots level.

Demise of brass banding in Wales

With the demise of music in education due to austerity and the reduction of funding for the Arts in general, and with music services having to introduce charging for instrumental tuition in schools, the number of young player either joining, or being retained in the movement has reached extremely worrying numbers. More than ever, bands are relying on a small group of (mainly unpaid) volunteers, who are struggling to keep some semblance of a production line going in terms of young players. Bands in all sections are struggling to fill seats, with the pool of players ever-diminishing.

The administration and governance of banding in Wales, has to date lain with the respective BB Associations in West Wales, South East Wales and North Wales, with additional tiers added for the Welsh Regional Contest and the National Eisteddfod. These however, (with isolated exceptions) have almost exclusively existed in order to organise and oversee competitive banding in the Principality, with no clear structure or pathway mapped out to develop and nurture new projects and initiatives to benefit the movement in general.

Lack of a single unified voice to benefit from Arts Council Funding

Thus far, funding for any new projects has always been as a result of the diligence and initiative of hard-working individuals who have secured money from a variety of sources, usually benefiting an individual band, or small cluster of bands. Arts Council Wales have not been receptive to approaches for such funding, as the contesting tag has always been inextricably linked with most of the ideas presented and more importantly, the movement does not have a single unified voice to make those representations in the first place.

 One representative body for Welsh banding

Surely the time has now come, before it is too late, to introduce a model similar to the Brass Band England organisation and have one representative body, speaking on behalf of the interests of ALL brass bands in Wales. This organisation would oversee ALL Youth and Senior Bands, ALL Competitive and non-competitive Bands and its primary function would be to nurture and encourage some “joined up thinking” across a wide range of stakeholders, including;

  • All Bands
  • Conductors
  • Arts Bodies and Administrators i.e. Arts Council Wales, the 3 Welsh Brass Band Associations, Tŷ Cerdd
  • Music Services and Hubs
  • Schools and Colleges (including Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama)
  • Peripatetic teachers
  • Educators
  • Composers & arrangers
  • Industry suppliers – i.e. instrument manufacturers, repairers, insurance providers, publishers
  • Arts and Concert venues
  • Influencers i.e. 4barsrest, Brass Band World, British Bandsman & others
  • Arts Festivals
  • Other Arts organisations e.g. Choirs, Folk Music, Theatre, Dance

These stakeholders could all contribute their knowledge and expertise and assist in the following areas:

  • Administration – help with running a Band on a day-to-day basis, access to template documentation, running a library, contracts for engagements
  • Governance – e.g. ensuring bands had a proper Constitution, Safeguarding & GDPR policies in place, advice on DBS checks, returns to the Charities Commission, Health & Safety and Risk Assessments
  • Funding advice – where to access funding, assistance with completing applications
  • Finances – accessing the best deals for; insurances (such as Public Liability or instruments), utilities, travel and accommodation
  • Artistic and Creative Development – Encouraging collaborative work amongst bands, new commissions, workshops
  • Education – developing new conductors and teachers, sharing good practise, collaborative projects

The new organisation would NOT be involved with;

  • The organising or promoting of any competitions

Many of these suggestions are not new ideas and this concept has been attempted once before, when Brass Band Forum Wales was launched in 2012. Sadly it did not achieve the traction and impact that was hoped for, however nearly 8 years down the line, the banding movement is in a much more precarious position and things needs to be revisited – and fast!

The need to promote Welsh banding interests

This is also not an attempt to reinvent the wheel and for sure, Brass Bands England fulfils many of the above issues, indeed there is no good reason why Welsh bands shouldn’t be encouraged to join BBE, and make use of many of the resources already available. BBE however doesn’t promote Welsh banding interests specifically. We need an organisation to be run by Welsh banding for Welsh banding.

Until the Welsh banding movement has one unified voice to represent the interests and promote the movement for ALL participants, I fear that the very existence and future of our wonderful movement is in grave jeopardy.

I have no mandate from any banding organisation to initiate or promote this venture, just a deep love and passion for a form of music-making which has given me so many opportunities and experiences over the last 40+ years and sincerely wish to see it flourish and bring the same joy to others for many years to come.

If you agree or have thoughts to add to this letter, please feel free to e-mail me at andrew@andrewjonesmusic.com or call 07973 869621 and together, see if we can formulate a plan of action for the good of Welsh banding.

Returning to your roots and giving something back.

Going back to your roots, whether it is researching your family tree (as I have recently started doing), visiting your old school or driving past a former home, I always find to be a rather surreal experience. It doesn’t matter whether some or all of the people have long gone, there still remain some sights, sounds and even smells that that can trigger a myriad of deep-seated memories, which have lain dormant for countless number of years, transporting you in an instant back to a bygone age.

My “blast from the past” has been a return to both my spiritual and musical roots. One might argue that they are one and the same, as they are inextricably linked.

I was brought up in the small village of Llangyndeyrn in the Gwendraeth Valley – a very rural part of Carmarthenshire, Wales. So rural in fact, that the last bus into Carmarthen (5 miles away) and any semblance of civilisation, left the village at 5.05pm. Even worse was the last bus back left at 5.45pm, thus curtailing any potential fun and nighttime revelry, before it had even started!

Bearing in mind that the local Primary School only had a total – yes total! of 14 pupils at the time I attended it, one had to be fairly creative as a result, when it came to childhood “recreation” and “entertainment”.

My good luck and salvation was music. Both my parents were extremely musical with my Mum having sung in the London Philharmonic Chorus, under the great maestros such as Beecham, Boult and Barbirolli. Dad meanwhile was a keen singer too, having sung on the Eisteddfod circuit, with a certain degree of success too. In addition to this, he also played in the local brass band – Crwbin Silver Band (The difference between Silver and Brass I hear you ask? Silver was deemed posher, as it was a more valuable commodity than brass, therefore gave the band a tad more credibility).

So at the age of 7 and with a limited number of friends in the village to fulfil any meaningful sporting activities – cricket or rugby played by 3 people has its limitations you know! – and with a suitable number of trees climbed (and fallen out of), one looked to new horizons and took the obvious choice of learning to play an instrument in the local band. I was given a cornet to play. Like Father, like Son.

Lessons commenced, with my first teacher being my Uncle Stan, who also conducted the Band. Although I viewed him more as a grandfather figure, he was certainly no soft-touch and ensured that all who attended behaved and put in some hard work each rehearsal. Hymn tunes were the first melodies attempted once we had “mastered” enough notes and my first public performance was on the hymn “Hursley”, quickly followed by “Whitburn”.

Opening new bandroom

Stan Jones (pictured left) who was my very first brass teacher. He is pictured at the opening ceremony of the new band room in Crwbin.

Much practising and hard work followed over the next couple of years and this was eventually rewarded with “promotion” to the full senior Band. Now things got serious as rehearsals were held 3 times a week – Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoons if memory serves me correctly. Hard to imagine a Championship Section Band attempting that sort of commitment nowadays, not to mention a Fourth Section Band, but it certainly beat 1-a-side cricket and falling out of trees, so this was my pathway to a lifelong musical journey. No chance of getting bored now!

scan0004

Yours truly sat in front of the Bass drum. Stan and my Dad are either side of the Drum, with my Cousin Julian in the back row (6th from right).

So, back to the reason for the blog. Having started my musical journey some cough, splutter, ahem years ago – okay, okay it was 45 years ago, happy? It was a huge privilege, buzz and pleasure to be asked back to the Band as a guest conductor a couple of years ago, with the working relationship getting stronger especially over the last few months, as the previous Musical Director had moved on to pastures new.

The return to the old band room where it had all started did indeed reignite all those memories with a sensory overload to boot. Apart from many friends who are still members in the Band, my cousin Julian (Stan’s son) also still plays, so a stronger link from past to present you couldn’t wish for. Pictures of family and friends (and one or two of me) on the wall, as well as memorabilia from times past, the view of the Gwendraeth Valley down to my home village, not forgetting the “Welshness” of the surroundings, where Welsh is still the main language spoken most of the time. Something I rarely get a chance to do even though I still live in the Principality.

Crwbin 3

Crwbin Silver Band c. mid 1960’s. (Back row 4th from left is my cousin Julian, centre front row in the bow tie is my Uncle, Stan Jones (Bandmaster) and on the right hand end of the front row is my Father, Morley).

Imagine my delight then last weekend (03.08.19) when the Band were crowned 2nd Champions at the National Eisteddfod of Wales in Llanrwst. This was a true return to my roots in every sense, allowing me the opportunity of giving back and thanking the organisation and some of the people who helped nurture me into the person that I am today.

Diolch Seindorf Arian Crwbin.

Thank you Crwbin Silver Band.

National Eisteddfod Llanrwst 03.08.19

Crwbin Silver Band – 2019 National Eisteddfod 2nd Section Champions

For more information about Andrew Jones and Music for You, please visit http://www.andrewjonesmusic.com  Contact andrew@andrewjonesmusic.com or 07973 869621.

Music for You – it’s just that!

 

Are brass bands guilty of wanting something for nothing?

I’m not sure whether I’m going to regret “sticking my head above the parapet” here or not, but here goes.

Once again, the British brass band movement is mobilised into social media action, with the announcement of the 2018 Regional test-pieces.

For months, there has been speculation, rumours and whispers regarding the choices of the works that all bands will have to tackle at their respective Area Contests, for the right to represent their Region in the National Finals in Cheltenham and the Royal Albert Hall next year. The waiting is finally over and the decisions of the “wise men” on the Music Panel representing Kapitol Promotions have been announced.

Now let battle commence!

There will now follow some fairly intense moaning, along the lines of “that piece is rubbish”, “that’s way too hard”, “this piece doesn’t have a trombone solo” etc. If we listened to some of the so-called “experts” on Facebook, we’d be having the Derek Bourgeois “Concerto Grosso” for 2nd Section and Philip Wilby’s “Paganini Variations” in the 3rd! You can’t please everyone that’s for sure, but what irks me more than anything – now it’s time for my whinge! – are the complaints about the cost of purchasing the chosen pieces of music.

Paganini Variations by Philip Wilby

In a brass band, there are usually 28 players if all positions are covered and often more. Given that some of the test-pieces chosen are new works and that all bands will need to purchase their respective piece, we are looking at an average cost of say £75.00 – maybe more, maybe less. This works out at less than £3.00 per player (or less than a pint of beer or glass of wine, depending on where you drink), for a piece of music that will probably go out on the stands either this month or at the latest next month, and potentially get used, on and off, week in week out for the next 4-5 months.

Many will respond, and rightly so, that there are numerous printing mistakes found in a lot of these pieces, however this can’t be applied to all new publications and the banding community are quick to forget about the indiscriminate amount of photocopying that goes on during the rest of the year, robbing the publishers and composers/arrangers of any income they are rightly entitled to receive!

Whilst I freely admit that brass bands are genuinely struggling, both with membership and financial issues, the “something for nothing” culture is killing the movement. Players will moan about venues, entry fees, admission prices, adjudicators and anything else that you can think of, but compared to other hobbies and pastimes, we invest very little, other than time and effort. Most players enjoy the benefits of a free instrument (worth usually in excess of £2,000), a uniform, tuition, rehearsal facilities and much, much more. Compare this to something like golf – would you have a free set of clubs, a round of golf and coaching all for nothing? Unlikely and their membership/subscription rates and green fees are eye-watering in comparison!

Granted many band players pay monthly contributions and do fund-raising activities throughout the year, but that has always been the case and that will be a necessary part of their organisation’s survival, but we (as a movement) are on a very slippery slope if we think that £3.00-4.00 per person is an excessive amount to invest in our primary hobby.

To clarify and give the blog some perspective, I have been involved in brass banding since the age of 7 and have done my share at all levels, paying weekly contributions, missing out on paid work to go to rehearsals and contests, done my hours tidying up the bandroom, cleaning toilets and sorting out the library as well as playing Christmas Carols on a freezing cold December night. No, I don’t want a medal or a pat on the back, but just that you realise I’ve been there and done it and not preaching from an ivory tower, about something I have no experience of.

Do you agree or am I missing the point? Send me your thoughts in the comments section below.

Nationals Trophy Pic

The National Championship Trophy, which will be the spoils for the victor at the Royal Albert Hall in October.

 

A strange coincidence or perhaps something more?

It’s curious how certain occasions can throw up the most amazing coincidences, without anyone trying or even most people realising what has taken place. Some call it serendipity and others would say that a “higher-being” was working their “magic”, but whatever your thoughts, I hope you find this little anecdote an interesting read.

As many of my regular blog readers will know, I’m a member of the Regimental Band of The Royal Welsh and for part of our Annual Camp this year, we were honoured to be invited to attend the 100th Anniversary Commemoration Service of the Battle of Passchendaele, held  at the Welsh Memorial in the small village of Langemarck in Belgium.

The Welsh Memorial at Pilckem Ridge, Langemarck in Belgium

The guests of honour included His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones, Belgian and Flanders politicians, high-profile Military representatives, plus members of the Armed Forces, Comrades and Veterans Associations and over a thousand members of the public, who had made the journey, many to honour fallen relatives.

Running in parallel with this Commemoration was the unveiling of a memorial stone to the Welsh language poet Private Ellis Humphrey Evans, better known as Hedd Wyn. He served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and was killed in action on the 31st of July 1917 at the Battle of Pilckem Ridge. Prior to leaving home for action on the Front, Hedd Wyn had submitted a poem (under the pseudonym of “Fleur de Lis”) to the Chair Competition at the National Eisteddfod held that year in Birkenhead.

Royal Welsh Fusiliers Cap Badge 

When it was announced at the Chairing Ceremony that Hedd Wyn was the winning poet, but that he was not present to be acknowledged and honoured due to being killed in action, the Chair (ironically designed by a Belgian!) was draped in black cloth and was dubbed as “Cadair Ddu Penbedw” or “The Black Chair of Birkenhead”.

Despite his absence, the winning Bard was accorded the full honours and adulation that the winner is normally given, with tributes offered in verse, song and dance.

Now to the coincidence of my visit with the Band. The winning Bard is honoured with a rendition of the song “Rhyfelgyrch Capten Morgan”  or “Captain Morgan’s March” (sometimes known as “Men of Glamorgan”), sung by a member of The Gorsedd or Assembly of Druids. It just so happened, that the March (“The Welshman”) that the Regimental Band played, to lead the procession to the Monument that day, contained an excerpt of that very same tune!

As a young lad, I “cut my musical teeth” competing in numerous eisteddfodau all over Wales and whilst attending, heard this song performed on many, many occasions. Marching past the Hedd Wyn Memorial playing this tune, the connection and meaning was quite powerful to say the least!

Shan Cothi sings “Rhyfelgyrch Capten Morgan” at the National Eisteddfod Chairing Ceremony.

Hedd Wyn never got to hear that musical tribute in his honour back in 1917, but 100 years later, in a small village in Belgium, he was afforded that recognition and one hopes that he would have approved that we, as his own compatriots were the ones to deliver it!

The Memorial Stone at Pilckem Ridge