NYBBS' Easter Course showcases young Scottish composers

Friday 7 April 2017

NYBBS Easter Course 2017


The National Youth Brass Band of Scotland (NYBBS) brought its Easter Course to a close yesterday with a concert at the sun-drenched Strathallan School in Perthshire, the culmination of a busy week which included a trip to the Highlands as part of a new outreach project with a school in Inverness and the climax of the innovative 2017 Young Scottish Composers Competition.

The band which assembled this week in the stunning Perthshire surroundings was effectively a conglomeration of members of the NYBBS Senior, Reserve and Childrens bands from last year, along with four ‘newbies’ making their debut appearances at the Easter course. With several ‘more senior’ members of the NYBBS set-up moving on following last year’s tour of Norway, the current crop of players is seen as the core of the next phase of NYBBS bands, as the organisation looks forward to its 60th anniversary in 2018.

NYBBS at Millburn Academy, Inverness


Included in the four-day Easter programme, over and above an intensive rehearsal schedule with Musical Director Russell Gray and Director Emeritus Richards Evans, was a special concert held at Millburn Academy in Inverness, the result of a new collaboration formed between NYBBS’ Education Officer John Boax and Highland Council. In what is hoped to be the first of many such ‘outreach’ projects, the NYBBS performed to a packed-out school in an area which does not have as much exposure to brass bands as other parts of Scotland, the hope being that a number of the audience may have received the necessary inspiration to get involved in Scottish brass-banding.

The highlight of this course, however, was the final stage of the 2017 SBBA Young Scottish Composer Competition which saw excerpts from the works of the three finalists, all of whom were present, performed by NYBBS under Russell Gray’s direction. Earlier in the day, the judging panel of Paul Drury, Richard Evans and Franner Otter had reached their verdict on the podium places after deliberating over the scores and MP3 recordings. The winner, in what the judges confirmed was a very close contest, was Fergus Hall whose upbeat Those Who Were Seen Dancing earned him the title and £1,500 first prize. Iain Mundy came second with his The Island of the White Stag while Red Robin by Tom Gordon Aitken was awarded third place, the two young composers receiving certificates and awards of £1,000 and £500 respectively.

Fergus Hall receives first prize from Richard Evans


Speaking on behalf of the adjudication panel, Paul Drury who had also been involved in the judging of the semi-finals, commented: “Firstly, mention should most definitely be made of the work that has been done by SBBA, NYBBS and Creative Scotland in bringing about this excellent initiative. All of the judges have been truly inspired by the compositional voices we have heard this week and it is so refreshing to witness the encouragement towards the production of new music.”

Paul continued: “The brass band medium is quite a difficult one to write for, especially for those trying it for the first time, and all three composers probably realise that it is not easy to capture the various textures, technical aspects and musical limitations of the brass band. However, some of what we have seen and heard this week has been of a really high standard. We hope to continue to work with all three composers over the coming months to offer further help and advice with their respective works.”

Delighted on his award of first place, Fergus Hall was keen to emphasise the thrill of hearing a brass band play his work, commenting: “This is my only composition for brass band and I was literally gobsmacked at some of the sounds the band was able to make. There is a section near the beginning of the piece which I structured harmonically to achieve a certain sound but I was blown away by the depth and richness of what I heard. It was such a rewarding experience.”

Paul Drury presents 2nd place to Iain Mundy


 Iain Mundy has arranged for brass before but this was only his second original composition. Again, he thoroughly enjoyed the experience, admitting that he had written quite a difficult, and long, piece of music. “It was great to hear the band playing my work although I realise that a lot of it is quite demanding, both technically and in length! However, it has encouraged me to continue to write for brass bands alongside the work I am doing in other areas.”

Tom Gordon Aitken receives 3rd place from Franner Otter


Pianist Tom Gordon Aitken was keen to make use of the offer of assistance from the judges as he continues to develop the art of writing for bands, commenting: “It has been a great learning experience for me. There are rules and limitations about writing for bands that I have had to learn but I am looking forward to continuing to work with those who have more experience in writing for the genre.”

It was announced that the winning piece will be performed by the Senior Band at the NYBBS Summer Course in July while there is also the possibility of the other works which made the final being prepared by the Reserve Band. This latest initiative has received the full support of Creative Scotland which has already put funding in place for a similar event next year. 

Concert underway with Richard Evans


The Easter Course’s well-attended afternoon concert started with a ‘finale’ and ended with an ‘opener’, Richard Evans making typical light of the fact as he got the band underway with the Finale from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pineapple Poll. This was followed by James Curnow’s Appalachian Mountain Folk Song Suite and the closing toccata from Suite Gothique (Leon Boëllmann) before Russell Gray led the band through the various excerpts from the composition competition.

Russell Gray and NYBBS at Strathallan School Chapel concert


Russell Gray continued with some challenging works including Masque (Kenneth Hesketh) and Wilfred Heaton’s The Golden Pen before closing with Starburst by Dan Price. Given the attention which had to be paid to the new compositions, coupled with the excursion to perform in Inverness, the NYBBS organisers were delighted with efforts of the band and everyone else involved. Looking forward to this year’s Summer Course, SBBA President Carrie Boax commented: “It is important that all the youngsters involved in the NYBBS family can continue to grow and develop socially as well as musically and everyone can be safe in the knowledge that, together with an incredible amount of hard work this week, there has been lots of fun and laughter too. Hopefully, this young group is looking forward to the Summer Course as much as we are.”