Schools out for Summer! - International Brass Band Summer School


4BR takes a look at the reinvigorated International Brass Band Summer School, where 120 students from around the world worked hard and had plenty of fun at Swansea University.

Reputations are hard earned but easily lost.  Put your head up above the parapet every now and again and you can expect it to be at least bashed about a bit, even if it may not be completely knocked off. Try something different and at times you can come a cropper.

It must be hard therefore to think that you can reinvent one of the great old standbys of the brass band movement -  the age old brass band summer course - except that you can, if you give it plenty of thought, lots of fresh ideas and input and can capture the imagination of the players who attend.

Having fun
Having fun: Some of the students on the IBBSS Course enjoy a quick break from playing 
The International Brass Band Summer School has been going now for some considerable time and although in the past few years it has been successfully undertaken at Swansea University it was ripe for a makeover and something of a reinvention.

Robert and Nicholas Childs have earned their worldwide reputation through talent as well as hard work, but even they must have thought they were putting their necks on the block by trying to reinvigorate a six day long course for music students in Swansea. On the evidence of this year’s course though, they seem to have succeeded splendidly. A small and well run event for around 40 students has now become a large, vibrant and immensely successful course for 120 students with the scope to double in numbers in the next few years to come.

Those reputations have helped enormously of course since the Childs brothers took over the running of the IBBSS this year, but reputations alone don’t get paying students from all over the world coming through the doors to a University campus in West Wales.

By teaming up with partner sponsors such as Leeds Metropolitan University and York Instruments, the IBBSS course has been able to expand both its musical as well as recreational scope, something course director Nicholas Childs has felt has been central to its success this year. “We felt we needed to expand to develop both the musical and recreational side of the Summer School. Having partners with expertise in these areas such as Leeds Met and York Instruments has meant we have been able to do just that and as a result we have been able to reach out and attract many more students from across the world.”

The result has seen players from as far afield as Japan, USA, mainland Europe as well as the UK make the trip to the University of Swansea campus for six days of intensive musical education, delivered in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere by a team of world class tutors. Importantly however, the recreational side of things has now become an integral part of the course, with the appointment of an ‘Entertainments Officer’ to ensure that there is something going on at all times from the time they get up in the morning to the time they get to bed.

”Everyone has come here to learn and enjoy themselves,” Robert Childs told 4BR. “Getting the mix right has been important as we have worked the students hard and tried to stretch them as players, but we have also made sure they have had plenty of fun time too.”

The Marshall Plan: Richard Marshall takes a lesson

The increase in numbers this year has meant that the staff of tutors has been working hard, with plenty of individual 1 on 1 teaching as well as ensemble, duet and recital tuition to go with some stern band work, which included plenty of sight reading exercises – something Robert Childs was keen to emphasise. “We felt that this was important, as it gives players the chance to play music they wouldn’t otherwise come into contact with. Working through a test piece such as ‘Connotations’ is both demanding and rewarding and it shows players just what they can achieve when they really are ambitious and work hard.”

The week opened with sectional rehearsals and seat allocations and the clever splitting of the players into two well matched bands gave a friendly sense of rivalry between the ‘Preference’ and ‘Eminence’ ensembles.

The tutors were delighted with the response and hunger of the players (of all ages and abilities) to learn and improve. David Childs had 28 players booked into his day of 1 to 1 workshops. “I was shattered by the end of it, but it was a real delight. Everyone wanted to get better as a player and as a result the time just flew by. It’s great to see even the smallest tip being taken on board – I certainly learnt a few things too!”  

Cornet players had the chance to work with Ian Porthouse and Richard Marshall, horns with Owen Farr, euphoniums and baritones with David Childs, tubas with Steve Sykes, trombones with Brett Baker and percussion with Alun Horgan. In addition Professor Philip Wilby was inundated with people wanting to learn more about composing and arranging with the help of his computers and budding conductors and soloists were catered for by ensemble coordinator Chris Turner who was responsible for putting on the popular lunchtime recitals in the refectory.

Accompanist John Wilson from the Royal Northern School of Music was also kept busy on the piano with students coming to perform with him on solos and duets. “It’s been a joy to work with so many people,” he said. “It’s been great to both see and hear.”

The tutors line up: No, its not the IBBSS rugby team...

Gareth Ritter was the ‘Ted Bovis’ entertainments officer for the week and he managed to keep everyone happy with trips to the seaside, into Swansea, and well into the night with quizzes and fun and games for all ages. He even had time to put up daily updates of photos on the computer for everyone to see as well as record the final end of course concert so that each player could take home with them a CD of the night.  “It’s been exhausting,” he said, “but I thoroughly enjoyed it and the response has been great.” By all accounts the Japanese students were the undisputed karaoke champions!

Each evening the tutors put on a recital performance, with a special guest appearance by Peter Roberts on soprano, whilst the Royal Marines, one of the partner sponsor, for the week came and opened the eyes up of the younger players with thoughts of a music career by telling them just what they had to offer too.

”The recitals and evening entertainment had a dual role,” said Robert. “We wanted to show the players just how good the tutors were of course but we also wanted to give them something to think about too. The Royal Marines were so professional and we are delighted that they will be on board with us next year to offer conducting classes to students. That’s another aspect of the course we are going to develop further.”

There was also the chance for the players to enjoy something a bit different too with the introduction of a Welsh version of the Whit Friday March contests – although this was more of a Swansea Thursday March Contest.

On the Thursday the 120 students were broken into four bands called Upton Baldderworks, Tabernacle Chapel, International Temperance and Briggus Blowers, and they had to perform a street march and concert march at three venues on the campus – rather quirkily entitled, Denshaw, Delph and Dobcross. Eeve the tutors were involved with Robert Childs playing Bb tuba with his band “It was heavy!” he said.

Much to the delight of the other students on campus the four bands took it in turns in the sunshine to march down to each venue playing their own choice selection and then regaling the adjudicators (who were non playing members of the course) with their own march. A return to the main quadrant in front of the main hall saw a massed bands march before the announcement of the results from the balcony and the award of prizes.    

Whit Friday
Come follow the band: Its Whit Thursday in Swansea!

Next year it is hoped that the concept can be taken further. “What would be great is for local bands to come along too,” said Nicholas. “We would love to be able to take the contests out to some small villages with local bands and scratch bands coming along to play.  I think it would be a great chance to bring music right into the heart of the communities and promote a Welsh version of the Whit Friday contests.”

The ambitious plans are already underway, but they will only succeed if the players think it is well worth coming. Tuba player and budding conducting star Maria Molund from Sweden is in no doubt that she will be back. “I have had a fantastic time here with my friends from Sweden. I have enjoyed it so much and the chance to conduct the band was great.”

Closer to home, one of the rising stars of Welsh banding had already made sure that her mum had paid her deposit for next year. Ffion Haf Williams is a soprano player with the Goodwick Band near Fishguard and the 14 year old has had a great time. “It’s been brilliant. There has been so much to do and I’ve learnt so much from the tutors.” Mum chipped in to tell 4BR: “I’ve had to pay the deposit already. It’s been great and Ffion is already looking forward to coming again next year.”

The week was rounded off with a free concert which was attended by over 300 family and friends as well as a number of those impressed students from other courses on the campus.

Nicholas Childs was delighted by the response and felt that it showed that the traditional concept of the brass band summer school can be reinvigorated and expanded.  

”We hope to try and get involved with the local music festival next year as well as expand the course to accommodate greater numbers as well as new initiatives. We feel there are real opportunities here and with our partner sponsors we are confident we can offer something for everyone of all ages and abilities, whilst the campus has superb facilities with excellent disabled access too.”

It seems on the evidence of this year, the International Brass Band Summer School is well and truly on the road to doing just that.

Iwan Fox


2016   2015   2014   2013   2012
2011   2010   2009   2008   2007
2006   2005   2004 (1)   2004 (2)   2003
2002   2001