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NYBBS 2019
Scotland's best kept secret

Charlotte MacKay looks back at a memorable National Youth Brass Bands of Scotland annual residential course based in Perthshire.

NYBBS
174 players conductors and staff give the world a smile...

With the country sweltering in record temperatures, the well-manicured lawns of Strathallan School hosted Scotland’s finest young brass and percussion talent, as the National Youth Brass Bands of Scotland recently returned for their annual summer residential course.

A total of 174 students descended on rural Perthshire, drawn from all corners of Scotland and beyond, with some travelling from as far afield as the Isle of Man, Devon, Belgium and France.

There was certainly plenty to keep the students busy over the course of the week, with four concerts, a recording session, three solo contests and two talent shows to be packed into a hectic schedule.

New direction

Of the three NYBBS bands, two were under new musical direction. Leading the cream of young players in the Senior Band was new Musical Director Ian Porthouse under the watchful eye of Musical Director Emeritus Richard Evans. 

Meanwhile, the Children’s Band, featuring players aged between 9 &13, was eagerly marshalled for the first time by Alan Fernie, while John Boax returned to direct the intermediate Reserve Band.

Two days of hard work followed, as each band prepared for concerts on the Wednesday, with the  Children’s and Reserve Bands delighting a packed house at the Forgandenny Village Hall with performances full of exuberant energy. 

Despite a few nervous faces prior to the seating auditions (and not merely from the students for an event requiring a not insignificant amount of organisation!), it was quickly down to business as the students settled into their first full band rehearsals.

Two days of hard work followed, as each band prepared for concerts on the Wednesday, with the  Children’s and Reserve Bands delighting a packed house at the Forgandenny Village Hall with performances full of exuberant energy. 


The Blues brothers (and sister) - John Boax, Carrie Boax, Ian Porthouse, Richard Evans and Alan Fernie 

On the same day the Senior Band took in a trip to Edinburgh to play on the famous Ross Bandstand below the iconic castle, where hundreds of tourists took advantage of a break in the Scottish rain to be treated to a memorable performance amid the stunning backdrop of Prince’s Street Gardens, as the band powered into life with a conductorless ‘Blackbird Special’. 

Works by Jacob Vilhelm Larsen, Matthew Hall and Gavin Higgins followed amongst others, before Richard Evans led a version of the march ‘Where Our Flag Waves’ that showed the maestro hadn’t lost any of his swagger!

Rise to the challenge

With just two days to prepare such a tricky programme, there was clearly a lot to for the seniors to do in a short space of time. Nonetheless, the students rose to the challenge admirably, as Ian Porthouse told 4BR. 

“Once again the NYBBS impressed me immensely with their desire to reach the highest musical level,” he said. 

“Their grasp of the repertoire from such an early point in the week allowed us to spend time honing more detailed technical and musical elements. It’s that ability that I think is so important to consider when nurturing the future of our movement.”

Their grasp of the repertoire from such an early point in the week allowed us to spend time honing more detailed technical and musical elements. It’s that ability that I think is so important to consider when nurturing the future of our movement.”

Solo contests

There was little time for students or staff alike to catch breath before Thursday’s solo contests, and with 39 entries there was plenty of fabulous playing on show from all age groups. 

Adjudicators Brett Baker and Ailsa Russell eventually plumped for young baritone star Charlie Boax in the Children’s Band and fast-rising soprano talent Gregor Koziel in the Reserve Band as their champions.

In the Senior Band contest, adjudicator Nigel Durno had no hesitation in awarding the trophy to a stunning performance from principal trombone Robyn Anderson.


The principal players of the National Children's Band of Scotland

Friday evening offered a chance to let the hair down, as the now-traditional ‘NYBBS’ Got Talent’ night returned in all its raucous glory. 

There were tears and well choreographed tantrums (and that was just the staff), but eventually the title went to young Ethan Deane of the Children’s Band, whose comedic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ had young and old alike helpless with laughter.

Concert day

Saturday was concert day.

Kicking proceedings off at Strathallan was the Children’s Band, delivering a joyful performance described by Richard Evans as, “simply mindblowing”.

He told 4BR: “I was so pleased when Alan Fernie was appointed as the new MD, and in the space of a week he turned them into an unbelievable ‘superteam’. I just love what he does.”

He told 4BR: “I was so pleased when Alan Fernie was appointed as the new MD, and in the space of a week he turned them into an unbelievable ‘superteam’. I just love what he does.”

Brilliant week

In response Alan added: “It’s been a brilliant week with a brilliant band. It’s such a privilege to conduct these fabulous kids. We set them huge challenges - two concerts, a recording session, a test piece, three world premieres - and they responded magnificently. 

If only our local authorities here in Scotland could see just what music can do for young people. I hope the band enjoyed it as much as I and our fantastic team of tutors and house staff did.

Plans are already afoot for next year and I can't wait!"


The principal players of the National Reserve Band of Scotland

A long but rewarding week finally drew to a close with the Reserve and Senior Bands’ concert at Stirling’s Albert Halls. 

First to the stage were the Reserves under MD John Boax with a performance of contrasts; the six-strong percussion section impressing particularly.

The main test came in a well-measured performance of Kevin Houben’s ‘Lake of the Moon’, while Tom Davoren’s ‘Embers’ and Frederick Schjelderup’s ‘Concordi’ provided fine counterpoints.

Proud

A proud MD told 4BR: “It was clear early on that this was going to be a successful week with a well-balanced band enabling us to pick repertoire specially chosen to highlight different sections. 

The final concert has really showcased the hard work the students put in. It’s been another great week with the NYBBS family, with happy, smiling faces all round and many already looking forward to next year.”


The principal players of the National Youth Band of Scotland

With Ian Porthouse unavailable for concert day, it was left to the indefatigable Richard Evans to lead the Senior Band in a tour de force that provided a fitting finale to what he described as a “wonderfully exhilarating” week of music-making. 

With a suitably Wagnerian ‘Rienzi’ a stand-out, Richard was ably assisted by Brett Baker who led the band through two movements of Malcolm Arnold’s ‘Scottish Dances’, and former Principal Cornet Eoin Tonner, who picked up the baton ‘Shine As The Light’.

Honour

For Eoin it was an honour to be back with the band once more, as he told 4BR: “It’s been slightly surreal being back on the other side of the fence. Caroline Farren was NYBBS Principal Cornet back when I first joined, followed by Iain Culross who I took over from. To now have the three of us all tutoring on the course has been amazing.”

With a suitably Wagnerian ‘Rienzi’ a stand-out, Richard was ably assisted by Brett Baker who led the band through two movements of Malcolm Arnold’s ‘Scottish Dances’, and former Principal Cornet Eoin Tonner, who picked up the baton ‘Shine As The Light’.

As tearful goodbyes were said with proud students and parents disappearing into the night, it was time for the staff to reflect on a job well done and to turn to the future.

It was not just the 300-strong audience that was impressed by the performances, with Richard Evans admitting the next day that he was “still buzzing with proud excitement”.

Made his mark

He concluded: “Ian Porthouse has certainly made his mark. I’ve not heard them play to that standard for many years. The same is also to be said about both our Reserve and Children’s Bands. The future looks rosy.”

“After hearing all three bands this week, I can undoubtedly say the future of NYBBS is in very safe hands with the current music staff,” Ian Porthouse responded before he headed for his well earned holiday rest. 

After hearing all three bands this week, I can undoubtedly say the future of NYBBS is in very safe hands with the current music staff


He added: “I can’t thank our brilliant team of tutors enough and Richard was his usual inspirational self! The ongoing support from SBBA and the incredible House Staff led by Carrie Boax ensures that I can concentrate on purely musical matters. 

We have a very clear plan for the future, with several new commissions in place for next year which I’m looking forward to hugely. Bravo all, it was music making and organisation of the highest standard!”

It was left though to Richard, unsurprisingly, to have the last word. “I still think NYBBS is the best kept secret in Scotland". 

On the evidence of this week it would be hard to argue.

Charlotte MacKay

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