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Interview: Iwan Fox of 4BR talks with David Childs

Being the son of a famous father can be both a blessing and a curse: a blessing in that you can bask forever with the pride gained from having a dad who was most probably better than anyone else’s at what he did, but a curse in that what ever the son chooses to do with their own life, they will forever be held in inferior comparison.

For the sons of most famous fathers it has unfortunately been the latter outcome that develops, but for the very gifted few, the son outshines the father to become even more famous than both may ever have wished. David Childs is a case in point.

David is of course the son of Robert Childs, erstwhile Musical Director of the Buy As You View Cory Band, the current holders of the National Championships of Great Britain and the British Open titles, as well as being universally recognised as perhaps the greatest euphonium player of his or any other generation. That’s a hard act to follow for any son, but at the moment it’s the father who’s the one who basks in the parental glow as the son develops into both an acclaimed euphonium soloist in his own right and a thoroughly gifted and dedicated musician. This is a young man who is setting out on a career that promises to eclipse even his fathers amazing playing achievements.

We caught up with him a few weeks ago at the International Brass Band Course in Swansea where he combined a dual role as tutor and soloist with student players from all over Europe.

Even when rehearsing with a very accomplished piano player for his evening recital, the first impression you get of him as a player is one of complete professionalism in what he does. It’s a trait that he says he gained not surprisingly from his father. “My Dad has always been my inspiration both as a player and a person. He’s given me the belief in my own abilities, but the attitude that success can only come through hard work and dedication.”

Never a truer word as he runs through his recital for the umpteenth time before both he and his accompanist are satisfied that everything is up to scratch – then it’s a very polite “thank you” and the instrument is laid to rest. The accompanist smiles and quietly walks past us whispering “brilliant playing eh?”. He’s talking about the euphonium player of course.

Brilliant playing doesn’t come by dint of talent alone and David Childs acknowledges that he has to put in his fair share of practice. “I’ve not got a set routine like many players, but I must do a couple of hours a day of dedicated practice. My father instilled in me that it’s not the quantity but the quality of practice that’s important and that it should be varied, interesting and fun. I’m never bored when I have to practice because I’m always looking for something new to try and do. Some days I pick up my euphonium and everything feels great, but on occasions I find myself checking down the bell to see if something is stuck down there! It’s when your lips feel awful and your sounding well below par that you need the self motivation to sit down and spend time working things out.”

It’s nice to know that even the most talented players can sometimes sound just like you and me, but you get the feeling that these days are rarities, even if David Childs is a little too modest to tell us. That’s the other thing about this young man. Throughout the interview it’s like drawing teeth to get him to shout about what he’s already done as a player, even though you know damn well that lesser players would be crowing like Chris Eubank if they had done half as much as he’s already done in his short playing career. It is a very likeable trait in a very personable and likeable young man.

He is currently in the third year of a BMus Honours degree at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and has already become an Associate of the Royal College of Music with honours. During his A-level studies he taught lower brass at the University College of Ripon and York. In addition he’s a solo artist for Boosey and Hawkes and has played with many of the leading symphony orchestras in the UK. He’s played with Brighouse and Rastrick as solo euphonium in winning the National, European and Masters titles and won the coveted Harry Mortimer Award for performance whilst attending the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. In 1996 he won the Junior International euphonium prize and is currently the International Euphonium Player of the Year. All this and he’s only 20 years of age.

2000 also saw him raise the profile of the euphonium as a serious orchestral solo instrument when he won the title of BBC Young Brass Musician of the Year. It was an amazing experience. “After all the fuss to get the euphonium into the competition, I began to feel the pressure and quite honestly thought I had no real chance of getting through the early stages, especially as the standard of the players I was up against was so high. Luckily I managed to get through the four stages of the competition and win the Brass Final, but was left with the problem of what to play in the Concerto Final that could stand up against Concerto’s from Strauss, Rachmaninov and McMillan. Thankfully, Philip Wilby was able to produce a fantastic orchestral score to his Euphonium Concerto that the BBC Philharmonic thought was out of this world. It just showed what a great composer he is and as a result it really showed off the euphonium as a serious orchestral solo instrument. Even though I didn’t win, I think people had their eyes and ears opened to what the euphonium as an instrument could do. It was an experience of a lifetime.”

The success of the BBC Competition has really opened new avenues for the player and he sees his future firmly as a soloist. “I want to try and carry on the work of players such as my father and Steven Mead in trying to promote new and challenging works for the euphonium, both with brass bands and in the orchestral field. Now that the door has been opened ever so slightly, I feel I’ve really got to try and push through and get the profile of the euphonium raised even further in the general publics eyes. Just look how percussion has become such a popular feature in orchestral programmes since players such as Evelyn Glennie and Simone Rebello forced the public to accept the brilliance of their performances. That’s what I want to do with the euphonium.”

The first step along this path has been the release of a CD, entitled “Prodigy” that sees him take an eclectic mix of the new and the traditional (he even performs on the trombone) and also incorporates pieces that he has arranged himself to feature string quintet, harp and piano. It’s been a great success (recent concerts have seen the stock he takes with him run out before the end of the first half!) and spurs him on to try and get further releases with new and more challenging repertoire in the near future.

“I hope to be able at some time to release a CD that will feature not only a performance of the orchestral version of the Wilby Concerto, but also other ‘substantial’ works. I love playing all the flashy pyrotechnic band solos – It's what I have been brought up on, but unfortunately this type of solo is not always well received by non-brass playing musicians. I have recently been successful in commissioning Carl Rutti (who recently composed the brilliant Montreux Wind Dances for the European Championships) to compose a 12 minute work for euphonium and wind orchestra which I intend to record in the future.”

Does this mean that he will be seen less in the brass banding world and the contesting scene then? “No – I still love brass bands, and I’m very fortunate to be able to play with CWS Glasgow. They allow me to combine my growing work as a soloist with my love of playing in a brass band. I get a huge thrill out of walking on stage with The Coop to compete in the major competitions or brass festivals. Top flight contesting is fantastic training for any kind of performance. I find it a lot more nerve racking playing a relatively small solo part on a contest stage than I ever find it playing on my own. If I under achieve in a solo performance, I’ve let myself down, if I under achieve in a band performance I’ve let myself and 27 other passionate bandsmen/women down. Playing in front of a packed concert hall with 5 million people watching you at home as it was with the BBC Final appears to be a lot more manageable once you’ve experienced something like Dove Descending or Harrison’s Dream!”

However, the demands on this young man are such that the last month or so has seen him rack up more air miles than Alan Whicker. During the recent International Band Course held in Swansea David made two trips to Manchester for rehearsals with the BBC Philharmonic in preparation for playing in front of the cameras again with a live performance at the BBC Blue Peter Prom Concert with an audience of 7 million at home and the Royal Albert Hall full to the rafters to hear him perform his own arrangements of Carnival of Venice and Flight of the Bumble Bee. “ I felt a bit out of place at the prom – it was full of teenage pop stars and celebs. It went very well though and I had a great time performing with the BBC Phil again.” After the afternoon prom in London it was straight back down the M4 to play in the brass band summer schools evening concert in Swansea.

After this it was off to the Canford Summer School in a teaching capacity and a rip to the Forest of Dean halfway through the week to give a concert with the Lydbrook Band. Then it was off to Finland with his dad for the International Tuba and Euphonium Conference before a further flight to Ireland to take part in a week long course with members of the Fodens Band and some of the most enthusiastic Irish brass band students you would ever likely to meet.

“The last few weeks have been hectic to say the least, but have also been brilliantly rewarding, particularly playing duets with my Dad – that’s really special for me. There are so many nice people out there all of whom want to see the profile of the euphonium raised. I can’t help feeling that because of their attitudes it makes the hard work of practicing from the Arban and learning new repertoire all worthwhile.”

It's one of the pleasures of life seeing young talented people perform. It’s even nicer when you get to meet them and they come across as personable, articulate and thoroughly nice as well. David Childs fits the bill to a tee and it will be no surprise to 4BarsRest that when we meet up with him again in the next few months this fine young man will have made his famous father even prouder than he already is. That’s the measure of what he has already achieved.

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