Rosemary de Jong, BA Music and English Literature (3rd year)
Saturday 15 February 2014 saw the return of the highly anticipated annual UniBrass competition. The contest, founded in 2011 by pioneering students of Lancaster University, and this year hosted for the first time by the University of Warwick, is the world’s only inter-university brass band competition.
Each participating band performs a twenty-minute programme, individually chosen and choreographed, to adjudicators and an audience. The performance is judged by the adjudicators on entertainment value and musical prowess.
The adjudicators this year were Mike Fowles—one of the leading brass band conductors of his generation who has worked with many top bands in the UK including Leyland, Fairey, Hepworth and Foden’s—and Tom Davoren, who has rapidly developed a reputation as an exciting young brass composer and also conductor working with the BTM Band and Filton Concert Brass.
With such eminent names determining our position, Cardiff University Brass Band prepared for the competition with new musical directors David Langley and Andrew Mitchell, hoping to keep our good standing. Since the competition began we have been ranked consecutively in 3rd, 5th and 4th place.
The event began for Cardiff University Brass Band on Friday 14 with an informal performance of our programme in our own Concert Hall. An encouraging turnout from students and lecturers gave us a brilliant send-off, from which we jumped into minibuses and made our way to Coventry. The draw of the contest meant that we played to the judges at 11am on Saturday.
Our programme, entitled ‘Modern World, Modern Music’, included only music that was written in the last five years. Cardiff University has a reputation in the competition for exploring music which is contemporary and exciting. Our programme opened atmospherically with ‘Sunrise’ by Swedish composer Magnus Hylander. In this piece, an evocative pianissimo opening with a flugelhorn feature, played by Benjamin Atkinson, gave way to a rousing, almost Celtic, setting of the main theme.
This was followed by ‘Castell Corbett’, a march written by our very own tuba player and former musical director, Martin Humphries. Following this, our solo feature was ‘Scene from a Silver Plate’ by Peter Meechan, played by our principal trombonist Elan Higueras. Our programme closed with ‘Fanfare for the Future’ by Andrew Stevenson.
Tension and friendly rivalry mounted throughout the day until the results were given. The judges took some time to come to a decision, but the outcome was worth the wait.
Only seven points behind the winners, Cardiff were awarded fifth place and retained the title of Welsh Champions. In first place was Huddersfield, in second place Manchester, in third place York. ‘Best Solo/Feature’ went to Sheffield. Warwick received the prize for the ‘Best March’, and the ‘Most Entertaining’ award went to York. Durham took home awards both for the ‘Most Improved’ band and the ‘Best Original Composition/Arrangement’ with a piece which featured narration entitled ‘The Lambton Worm’ by Dave Collins.
A celebration ensued, the proceeds of which went to Brass for Africa, a charity that – founded in 2009 with the donation of thirty second-hand brass instrument – uses music to empower and to support disadvantaged children and their communities in Uganda and Liberia.
All the bands that entered put in a huge amount of preparation and hard work. Part of what makes UniBrass so unique is that, although each band wants to do well, it is equally rewarding to witness the growth of brass bands in each represented university. The improvement in quality of performance and musicality from year to year is what makes UniBrass so worthwhile.