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Reviews & Articles
Thursday, 22 January 2004

Over the years I have often had the pleasure of performing duets with my father. We have appeared as soloists together in a great number of concerts throughout the world and on every occasion the feeling I have had when performing with him has been very special. However, in recent times it has become more usual for us to appear together as conductor and soloist which for me is equally special. Following the Welsh Area Championships last year we travelled to the United States and performed as soloist and conductor with the Brass Band of Central Florida and later in the year we crossed the Atlantic once again to perform in the same capacity with Canada's Hannaford Street Silver Band, a truly unique ensemble.

There are few bands left in the UK that still use the once popular 'Silver' in their name, so for me it came as a surprise to learn that there was a British style 'Silver Band' based in Toronto. The name of the band itself suggests a real sense of banding tradition and in all honesty I was expecting to perform with a group of keen amateur bandsman trying desperately to copy the set-up of their British counterparts. To say my expectation was inaccurate would be a gross understatement. Imagine a band based in London using twenty-five of the finest brass musicians from the surrounding orchestras (LSO, RPO etc.) together with two professional percussionists. Comparatively speaking this is the Hannaford Street Silver Band, but in Toronto. The entire band personnel are professional musicians; the vast majority from the Toronto Symphony, Opera and Ballet Orchestras. They don't rehearse unless they have an engagement be it a concert or recording, they don't compete against other ensembles in a contest environment, they have a policy of performing original works for brass band and in turn regularly commission composers to write contemporary music for their medium, so I suppose in many ways the similarity with the British tradition starts and ends with their instrumentation!
As you can imagine, the band is of a terrific standard and were a pleasure to work with. Their principal cornet is the newest member of 'Canadian Brass' and their soprano cornet, Robert Venables is a soloist in his own. I had the pleasure of playing with Brighouse & Rastrick when he came over to the UK and made a fantastic solo album with us. The band's founder, Ray Tizzard plays on the front row and is a freelance trumpeter in Toronto. Their principal euphonium, Curtis Price is a specialist euphonium player and teacher throughout Canada and it was Curtis who invited my father and I to work with the band on a concert programme entitled 'Euphoria'.

We arrived in Toronto on Thursday and rehearsed with the band the same evening. Both my father and I were impressed with how well the band read - this was their first rehearsal on the entire repertoire we were to perform in concert and they took it all within their stride. Of the three major works they worked on; Gareth Wood's Salome, John Ireland's Downland Suite and Philip Wilby's Concerto for euphonium, it was surprisingly the Ireland that took the most rehearsing. However, once they became familiar with the unique style of the music there was no problem. Friday's rehearsal ran smoothly and after just two rehearsals the band was ready to give a Saturday Evening Concert in Hamilton with the Hamilton Philharmonic, and a Sunday afternoon Concert in Toronto's main Concert venue. This concert was part of their twentieth anniversary celebratory series and was a big event for all involved.

It was an interesting experience to see a brass band operating as a professional ensemble and in many ways refreshing. Preceding the concert we gave on the Sunday, the band management organised a reception for all their subscribers to meet the conductor and soloist. This is something they do to give the audience an opportunity to ask any questions they may have about the programme or other matters relating to the concert. The idea sounded quite strange to me at first, but in actual fact it was a very useful exercise. Dad was able to explain the concept behind his programming, I was able to explain the story behind the Wilby Concerto and give a little background on my other solo items and we were both able to answer questions regarding our own careers. By the time the stick came down for the concert the audience felt part of the performance and were able to appreciate what was initially unfamiliar music.

When it came to the band itself it could be argued that there wasn't the same level of camaraderie or work ethic we experience in some of Britain's finest bands, but for these musicians it was a job - every player from second horn to principal cornet was being paid a rate in accordance with regulations set by the Canadian Musicians Union for their 'work'. During rehearsals there also had to be a minimum of ten minutes break within every hour, and thirty minutes break after every two hours because of the union regulations. With so little rehearsal time for so much unfamiliar repertoire, I think this was often quite frustrating for my Dad who likes to work hard throughout an entire rehearsal. However, once the band was back from their break, they were fresh and ready to continue concentrating on the music. It seemed like a good idea to me - I certainly wouldn't have a problem if BAYV Cory ever wanted to adopt this rule!
In addition to our concert performances and rehearsals during our visit, I also went along to the Hannaford Street Youth Band to have a listen to their rehearsal and also give a master class whilst Dad crossed to the other side of town to direct a conductors workshop organised by the HSSB. The Youth Band was on tip-top form under their director, Larry Shields and they were a joy to work with during the class.

With their unique organisation and structure, together with a great Youth Band, I believe the Hannaford Street Silver Band is in safe hands to continue their pioneering work for the brass band movement throughout the world.

© The Brass Herald 2004

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