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!

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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!

 

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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