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”.

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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.

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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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Why, in the world of music, does mediocrity win over genuine talent and skill?

Its been a while since I last wrote a blog, but I’ve been inspired to put cursor to screen having witnessed music-making of the very highest order this week. Both events were polar opposites, but the levels of skill and talent on display were never in question.

First up was my brass band  “Fest” watching the live streaming of the European Brass Band Championships from Oostende, where 12 of Europe’s finest (including the Cory and Tredegar Bands from Wales and Brighouse & Rastrick Band representing England) were vying for the coveted title.

Tredegar Town Band, 2002 European Brass Band Championships, Belgium

The  24 performances – each Band performed a set-work (Kevin Houben’s “Where Angles Fly”) plus an own-choice work – over the 2 days was quite frankly astounding. I’ve been privileged to have performed at the Europeans on 8 different occasions and the standard of playing since I first appeared in 1990 has risen year on year, to a point where you’d be hard-pressed to say that these weren’t professional ensembles.

Cory Band, 2015 European Brass Band Championships, Germany

Wales once again were at the forefront come results time, with Cory (defending Champions) being placed third and Tredegar coming in fifth. The winning Band this year were Eikanger-Bjorsvik from Norway, led by their inspirational conductor Ingar Heine Bergby, who won following a near 30 year gap since the last time they lifted the trophy. Their stunning own-choice performance of “Fraternity” by Thierry  Deleruyelle will live long in the memory.

Following the Europeans, my next source of inspiration was at Cardiff’s St. David’s Hall, where the wonderful, zany, jaw-dropping, breath-taking etc. etc. “gentlemen” of Mnozil Brass wowed the audience with the mastery of their art. Musicality, power of recall – playing everything from memory, humour, timing, stamina (where do they develop that staying power?), diversity, subtlety and innuendo and so much more. A sheer joy to hear and watch, leaving the audience shell-shocked and spellbound in equal measure. Superlatives are often over-used, but each one I have used was hugely earned and justified.

So, the point of today’s blog is, why do the general public get pawned off with rubbish on television and radio and the publicity given in column inches in the press/social media, when there is so much REAL talent out there? Admittedly, the European Brass Band Championships is very much a niche market, but when Cory Band last year (2016) won the “Grand Slam” of European, National, British Open and Brass in Concert titles (an amazing achievement), they barely made a mention in the local paper. Eikanger’s win at the Euro’s last weekend earned them a massive welcome reception at the airport on their return, with TV and media crews in attendance! Says a lot for what we think of our Champions doesn’t it?

Mnozil however, is an ensemble that could easily be featured on mainstream TV, or at very least on one of the Arts-focused stations. But no, we are subjected to performing dogs or yet another 11-year-old bashing out a Celine Dion hit and being told she has “amazing talent” and will go far etc. etc.

As “defenders of the faith”, perhaps we need to be more pro-active in demanding that the TV companies and media do cater for the more discerning audience and not settle for the rubbish that is often forced down our throats.

A small ray of sunshine in this gloom of mine, was Cory’s invitation to appear on ITV’s ‘Tonight at the London Palladium’ programme hosted by entertainment star Bradley Walsh.

Their performance was recorded live in front of a packed audience of 2,200 people and subsequently broadcast to an estimated audience of over 5 million people last night (03.05.17). Perhaps this is a significant step towards redressing the balance and highlighting the TRUE talent that can and should be presented to audiences the world over.

Here endeth the Lesson!

Stomvi Piccolo Trumpet

What’s that funny looking thing sticking out of the end of your trumpet?

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I was at Llys Prês, a Cardiff-based instrument repair workshop the other day, and found myself taking a keen interest in the wide variety of tools that Denis Wedgewood had at his disposal. He patiently answered all my innocent (perhaps naïve) questions as to why that was a certain size or this was a particular shape and why he needed 3 or 4 very similar looking tools to complete a certain job, however I left the premises with no more skill; these things come under the heading of D.I.Y. – Don’t Involve Yourself, but certainly far more informed and enlightened as a result.

This then made me think about my own job and the tools that I have to use and I remembered Mrs. Wife asking me similar questions about playing the trumpet. One such question was regarding the “funny things you stick in the end of your trumpet” and what was the point of it all, so this has prompted me to explain a little to those of you who don’t know either.

These “things” are actually called mutes and their function is to change the tone and sound of the instrument, so as to create a variety of effects, moods and timbres to the music.

There are a multitude of mutes available on the market nowadays, with manufacturers constantly striving to develop unique, newer or improved products, so in the Blog I will cover the main mutes used by most trumpet players, however there will be many that I have left out due to the myriad out there.

The Straight mute – This is the most commonly used by players, but there are variations even for this type, as they can be made of metal, wood, fibre and plastic and have distinctly different sounds.

Straight Mute (Metal)

Straight Mutes (Metal) – The mute on the left is for a PiccoloTrumpet and the one on the right is a standard sized one.

Straight Mute (Plastic)

Straight Mute (Plastic)

Fibre Straight Mute

Straight Mute (Fibre)

The Cup mute – This as its name suggests, has a cup shape and makes the sound much mellower and softer. Some cup mutes have a moveable cup that slides closer to, or away from the bell of the trumpet, in order to change the tone slightly.

Cup Mute

Cup Mute

The Harmon mute – The Harmon mute is another mute where the tone can be altered, using a movable stem. The general tone is quite “nasal” and constricted and this is often used to portray a trumpet playing distantly. The further out you pull the stem, the darker the tone gets until you can actually remove it completely.

Harmon Mute (Stem in)

Harmon Mute (Stem in)

Harmon Mute (Stem removed)

Harmon Mute (Stem removed)

The Bucket Mute – This clips on to the bell of the instrument and is lined with a soft padding. This absorbs most of the brightness of tone, making the music sound muffled.

Bucket Mute

Bucket Mute

There are many more mutes, as I have already mentioned; such as the Plunger mute, the Solo-tone and a Practise Mute (designed to keep your neighbours happy when you start ripping through the Haydn Trumpet Concerto at 2.30 in the morning!), but I hope that this gives you an insight to these “things”, commonly known as mutes.

For more information about Andrew Jones and Music for You, please visit www.andrewjonesmusic.com

The Monday Morning Mention – Part 2

For those of you who read my Monday Morning Mention post a few weeks ago , praising the efforts of the Welsh brass bands who became National Champions, I’m going to risk sounding repetitive now, I’m going to risk sounding repetitive now – sorry! – and reiterate my sentiments, but with one slight, but significant amendment.

Whilst the focus of discussion at the photo-copier this morning, will undoubtedly be on the Welsh rugby team’s inability to see off 13-man Australia in the Rugby World Cup and the wonderful achievement of the national football team in making its first major championships in over 50 years, I will champion the cause of our wonderful brass once again and highlight the fact that Wales also starts the week with not three, but FOUR National Champions now.

Congratulations to the Cory Band who, under the baton of their conductor Philip Harper, have once again won the National title at the Royal Albert Hall, performing Thomas Doss’s fiendishly difficult work “Spiriti”.

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Having been privileged to have performed on the Contest platform as a guest player with the Band earlier this year, I have had an insight into the effort that it takes to perform at the highest level and believe me, it borders on being scary! During that intense period of rehearsals, my Wife said to me “This brass band lark is a bit obsessive, isn’t it?” Perhaps there was more than an ounce of truth in that statement, but it goes to show how much effort and commitment went in to trying to win that competition!

It would be remiss also not to acknowledge the achievements of another Welsh outfit and my former Band – Tredegar Town Band – who came 5th at the same competition. A great day for Welsh brass bands indeed.

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(Tredegar Town Band at the Royal Albert Hall, London in the 1990’s.)

So, yet another big shout out this Monday morning for the unsung heroes of Usk, Ebbw Valley, Goodwick and now Cory, who are now National Brass Champions of Great Britain, in Sections 4, 2 ,1 and Championship Sections respectively.

Rugby? What rugby match?

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(The Cory Band performing at the 2015 European Brass Band Championships in Freiburg, Germany.)

The Monday morning mention

The Welsh Nation will start another working week and the hot topic around the water cooler and by the photo-copier, will be the win against Uruguay and the massive upset caused by Japan against the South Africans in the Rugby World Cup.
Whilst on a totally different “playing field” – sorry couldn’t resist that – Wales also starts the week with THREE, yes 3 National Champions , from the world of brass bands.
Big deal huh? Yes, it was a massive deal, as each band had to qualify from it’s respective Region in the UK (typically a field of 10+ competitors) and then beat around 18/19 other bands in the Finals.

The amount of personal preparation, hours of endless practice and self-sacrifice, including financial, might not be on an exact par with the rugby players -it’s certainly a lot safer, that’s for sure! – but the achievement is just as hard-earned and means the world to those involved. This is all the more remarkable, given the standards of performance achieved and the fact that brass banding is an amateur pastime.

So, a big shout out this Monday morning for the unsung heroes of Usk, Ebbw Valley and Goodwick who are now National Brass Champions of Great Britain, in Sections 4, 2 and 1 respectively. This was their Rugby World Cup and if you’re from their area, tell everyone at the water cooler and by the photo-copier, because you’ll have something extra to smile about this morning!

For those of you interested in reading more, go to 4barsrest to see what goes on in the world of banding.

The unsung “Champions” on our doorstep

In an earlier blog, I wrote about exploring “new horizons” and doing something different, in order to “spice things up” in one’s career.

Since writing that, I have been very lucky to have been given yet another opportunity to push the boundaries, but this time it’s not a new experience, but one however that has challenged me (in every sense) to the very limit and given me a much deeper appreciation, of the standard of music-making that goes on around us, on a day-to-day basis, much of it unacknowledged and without suitable recognition.

My musical upbringing was in the brass band movement, learning to play the Cornet aged 7, with the Crwbin Silver Band. With just 2 pubs, 2 chapels and a church in my home village in the Gwendraeth Valley, there wasn’t much for a young person to do, so joining the local band seemed the obvious thing to do, especially as my Father, Uncle and Cousins were already playing in it.

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Where it all began – Crwbin Silver Band c.1974 (I’m the one sat in front of the bass drum)

I remember my first competition with them, was at the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea in 1976 on Edward Gregson’s “Voices of Youth”. Having performed in the 4th Section, I recall spending the rest of the day, not only sitting, gazing at the fantastic murals on the walls of this fantastic venue (some might disagree), but listening in awe to the bands in the Championship Section tackling Gilbert Vinter’s “Spectrum”. Names like Parc & Dare, Tredegar and Cory led by Ieuan Morgan, Bram Gay and John Childs.

These names were for me, the equivalent of Chelsea and Mourinho and Manchester United and Van Gaal for a young kid today. Superstars and demigods whose skills and talents were of a different planet to mine. The music too, was also of a “language” that I was totally unfamiliar with, yet there was something about “Pageantry”, “Variations for Brass Band” and “Contest Music”, that caught my ear and made me thirsty to hear more and more.

Little did I know at the time, that listening to these and future performances in that Hall over the coming years would shape and influence my dreams and ambitions for the future. I certainly never expected things to have panned out as they have now.

Fast forward approximately 40 years and I have had the great honour and pleasure of not only having played for Parc and Dare and Tredegar at the National Championships, the British Open and European Championships, but also conducted both bands in concerts and competitions, attempting in some small measure to follow in the footsteps of those icons who were my childhood heroes.

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Parc and Dare Band – 2014

The scrapbook will this weekend be somewhat more complete however, as I take to the stage of the European Brass Band Championships in Freiburg, Germany, performing as a guest player with the Cory Band, where they will compete with bands from England, Norway, Belgium to name but a few, to win the coveted title.

The circumstances for being invited to play are extremely sad but that aside, I am extremely excited (yes, even aged 40 something I can still get animated about my music-making!) to be performing at one of the premier events in the brass band calendar.

Each band performs a test-piece (this year written by Rolf Rudin entitled “The God Particle”) on the Friday evening, then the following day return to play an own-choice work. The aggregate points awarded for each performance will then decide who is the victor. Having been a former Champion and the No.1 ranked brass band in the world for the past 8 or so years, it’s safe to say that Cory are in with a shout at least! Not that they are taking that as a God-given (sorry, no pun intended!) right to win the title. It will be down to good old-fashioned hard graft, blood, sweat and a few tears perhaps.

In the last few weeks, since trying to get to grips with “The God Particle” and the other work (I can’t tell you what it is, as it’s highly classified information!) I have been reminded of the amazing standards and levels of commitment that our nation’s brass bands are capable of. Listening to them perform is one thing, however, when you’re at the coal-face and getting stuck in as a player, one instantly can appreciate the intensity of concentration and sheer effort given to every single note produced during those rehearsals. Not that the conductor doesn’t earn his corn either mind, as I well know. Philip Harper, Cory’s Musical Director, has worked tirelessly in his preparation, meticulously dissecting the scores to get the very best out of his players.

With still a few nights’ rehearsals to go, I know the band will move up another few gears in terms of their performance, which given how well they are playing already, is scary to think what levels it could potentially achieve. The purpose though of my writing, is to highlight that for all it’s successes and the incredible standards achieved, the brass band movement never really gets the plaudits and acknowledgment it so thoroughly deserves, either in the press and media or often from its local community.

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For Wales alone to have 2 bands (Cory and Tredegar), in the top 3 world rankings must count for something surely? However, a dog performing tricks on a prime time TV “talent” show will get more air time and social media publicity than any of our brass bands ever will sadly.

In the meantime, know that regardless of their status in the rankings, the brass band on your door-step may not all be world-beaters, but they work their socks off, contributing to the local community when needed for Carols at Christmas, playing at a Charity Concert when raising much-needed money for the local hospice or children’s hospital or providing music for the annual Remembrance Parade. Not to forget also giving great pleasure to many people along the way. As if that wasn’t enough, they’ll also give you and your kids the opportunity of learning to play an instrument, (usually for no more than a couple of quid a week) AND they’ll probably lend you an instrument free of charge!

Let’s hope that Chelsea win the Premier League this week and that come next Monday, there may be a few spare column inches on the front page of the paper to hopefully announce that a certain Welsh brass band has become Champions of Europe!