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Report & Result: 2018 European Youth Championships: Development Section

MD Lee Rigg leads the celebrations as Wardle Academy becomes European Development Section Youth champions.

  MD Lee Rigg (centre) leads the celebrations with his winning band from Wardle Academy

As celebrations go you would have thought Lee Rigg, conductor of Wardle Academy Youth Band, had experienced them all.

With five top flight European titles to his name he has enjoyed more than his fair share of glory at this event over the years, although given the way he jumped for joy and hugged just about every person around him in the hall when his band was announced as Development Section champion, you could be forgiven in thinking this was his very first.

Remarkable band

It was a wonderful sight — one that filled the heart with joy as he simply exploded with the type of emotion that only comes when you know someone has invested everything and more in something they love. He is the remarkable conductor of a truly remarkable band.

Victory was thoroughly deserved in a contest that was a showcase for all that is good about the European 'Festival' experience — four cracking bands delivering programmes that showed variety and inventiveness allied to startling technique and emerging musicality.

EBBA challenge

However, it also highlighted the pressing challenge now facing EBBA in the coming years in making the European Youth Band Championships more than just a frustratingly under-appreciated addendum to its main events.

10 minutes before its start, the EBBA delegates were still discussing topics and presentations in its General Meeting in another part of the TivoliVredenburg complex, whilst competing youngsters were only being allowed in to listen to the playing if they were wearing pre-paid wristbands.

The first band to take to the stage, Elland Silver Youth played to around 200 people in hall that sits 1717.

And as much as a payment of €1,000 will come in handy in meeting the huge costs of attending, the rather short-sighted thinking that sees Valaisia Brass Band, the newly crowned Champion Band of Europe presented with two brand new, but seemingly redundant euphoniums in recognition of their victory, whilst the youth bands get nothing, added up the feeling that the Sunday event is in desperate need of inspirational long term vision.


And it is vision, alongside passion, commitment and sheer youthful brilliance that stood out with Wardle's success — their second at the event following their triumph in 2015 in Freiburg.

"We invest everything into the youngsters so that they can enjoy their playing and widen their musical experiences," Lee said before he finally lost his voice.

"The youngsters work so hard and give me everything I ask for and the support we gain from the Wardle Academy organisation and especially the parents and families is incredible.

We wanted to win of course, but we wanted first and foremost to give them all an experience that will live with them forever."

There will be little doubt of that as the players simply revelled in the moment of victory — waving flags, bunting and home-made banners, taking selfies and generally showing just what outstanding ambassadors they were for their Academy and for the nation they so proudly represented.

Startling maturity

Earlier they performed with startling maturity; from the opening sounds of 'Fanfares & Flourishes' to the set-work, 'Valerius Variations' by Philip Sparke and their closing item 'Jubilation', all topped by a super tenor horn solo, 'The Lark in the Clear Air' played with effortless ease by Emma Conway.

Little wonder the adjudicators (Katrina Marzella — Wheeler and Rieks van der Velde) were full of praise. "It was stunning, " Rieks later told 4BR. "It was hard to imagine we were listening to people so young. Amazing!"

After winning the Intermediate Section of the National Youth Band Championships of Great Britain a few weeks ago in Warwick, they are now faced by the challenge of defending both titles next year — with this one in Montreux in Switzerland.

"We would love to do that," Lee added. "We hope we can, but we also hope we can gain some help from Brass Bands England to enable us to give even more youngsters an experience of a life-time. I will be getting in touch with them!"

Brave defence

Given the result here it could also mean that Elland Silver Band, who came third after a fine defence of their title led by the indefatigable Sam Harrison may well be invited back too — although no one seemed to be quite sure.

They certainly gave it their all, with a bold set-work and the talented cornet player Daniel Clough on 'Concert Etude' the pick of a fine set that also included 'Summon the Dragon' and 'Abide with Me' played with warmth and considered dynamic contrasts.

They can also be proud of their achievement (as well as their fund raising exploits to get to Utrecht) as they ended just a point behind second placed Brass Band Aukstyn from Lithuania.

Their delight at coming runner-up on their fourth consecutive appearance at the contest was almost as joyful as their English counterparts — and once again provided ample evidence of the rapidity of the progress they are making (mirrored by Sunday Brass in the adult Challenge Section). The playing of the set-work in their final item 'Brass Machine' was outstanding.

Non stop celebrations

Meanwhile, Tasta Skolekorps from Stavanger also showed their emerging potential as they delivered a fine programme that included a brace of 'Valerius' inspired items from the pens of Jan de Han and Philip Sparke as well as two suavely played jazz standards in 'Sugaria' and 'Caravan' by Duke Ellington.

Their superb marimba player Skage Rollheim Larsen, who only took up playing percussion three years ago, was the deserved 'Best Instrumentalist' winner.

Wardle Academy could not be denied though, and it was hard to imagine that the celebrations led by their MD didn't last until they got home to their school near Rochdale in Greater Manchester on Monday morning.

It was hard to imagine we were listening to people so young. Amazing!adjudicator, Rieks van der Velde


Development Section:

Test Piece: Valerius Variations (Philip Sparke) & Own Choice Programme
Adjudicators: Katrina Marzella-Wheeler, Rieks van der Velde

1. Wardle Academy Youth (Lee Rigg) — 92
2. Brass Band Aukstyn (Piet Visser) — 91
3. Elland Silver Youth (Samantha Harrison) — 90
4. Tasta Skolekorps (Morten Ovrebekk) — 89

Best Instrumentalist: Skage Rollheim Larsen (Marimba) — Tasta Skolekorps


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Alan Duguid

BA (Hons), PGDipMus, PGCE
Conductor, Composer, Adjudicator (ABBA)