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Reviews & Articles
Tuesday, 3 May 2005

An article by David Childs commissioned by The Brass Herald In January 2002

I visited the USA for the first time as a soloist and toured for almost three weeks, giving workshops, recitals and appearing as a guest artist with a number of ensembles. During the tour I had the pleasure of working with many great musicians and experienced the hospitality of six different states. However, there was one part of the tour which I particularly enjoyed, and that was the time I spent in Orlando, home to the British style 'Brass Band of Central Florida'.

I remember the first concert we gave together very well. I didn't realise at the time, but the band had only been in existence for little more than two years and this was the first time for them to feature a guest soloist from outside the band. It was apparent from the outset that they were not an organisation to do things by half; for the same concert they also booked Philip Smith, Principal Trumpet of the New York Philharmonic and billed the evening as a 'Soloists Showcase'. For me, it was a dream come true to share the stage with such a legend. I heard Philip Smith play live in the Bridgewater Hall back in 1996 and from that day he has been a brass playing idol of mine. Performing duets with him accompanied by the BBCF made an already exciting concert an extra special experience - one which I know will remain long lasting in my memory.

Since that initial encounter in 2002 I have crossed the Atlantic to perform with the BBCF on numerous occasions. Last year my father and I spent five days with the band helping them prepare for the North American Brass Band Championships and during March this year we made a similar visit which culminated in a Gala Concert at Orlando's Museum of Cultural Art. Working with the band and their conductor in preparation for their annual contest has been very rewarding for both my self and my father who directs the rehearsals. The band appeared to be on the edge of their seats storing every word of advice that came their way. There were no prima donnas in sight and collectively they responded fantastically to any musical suggestions. I helped in any way I could during the rehearsals (including sitting in the euphonium section), but for me the highlight of the of the trip was the Gala concert which featured the test pieces the band had been working on in rehearsals, some lighter concert repertoire and a couple of solo items from my self. Like the concert with Phil Smith back in 2002, this was also a very special evening for me. During the second half of the concert following the band's two scintillating test piece performances, I took the stage to perform John Golland's Euphonium Concerto No.1, a work originally composed for my father. This was the first time for me to perform the concerto and with my father at the helm directing a superb band accompaniment it provided yet another experience I will never forget.

From the moment I heard the band playing this year it was obvious they'd gone from strength to strength in every way, so having witnessed first hand their development over the last three years I spent some time during this most recent visit to gain an insight in to the story behind Florida's premiere brass outfit from their founder, Mark Griffin. Mark was born here in the UK and enjoyed playing cornet with his local village band in Cornwall. However, still in his teens he left his cornet in Cornwall along with some fine brass banding memories and moved to Florida. Some years later he had his parents ship his Besson cornet over to Orlando, and after listening to old band recordings and rekindling his playing he soon realised what he had been missing out on and decided to found his own brass band. In June 1999 Mark's Brass Band of Central Florida had their first rehearsal; however, forming the band was not an easy task as Mark will tell you. "The band was formed by someone giving me the name of a brass player in town. I called him, but he was not interested and gave me some other names and numbers. I called them and they gave me even more names until after about three months of phone calls we eventually came up with a list of approximately fifty-five different players who agreed to try it out for a month. We now have a very secure core of players who really enjoy the band and the music we play."

Only ten months after their first rehearsal the band travelled to Chicago and competed in the Championship Section of the North American Brass Band Championships where they finished seventh out of eight bands. "We were pretty humbled by that experience and realised we had a long way to go before we could seriously compete for top band honours." It is this humility and work ethic which I believe has contributed to the band's recent success. In 2001 they reached fourth place in the Championships, in 2002 they reached third, and last year's Championships saw them finish second to the visiting Champion Band of Norway, Stavanger. When spending time with the personnel of the BBCF, including their talented conductor Mike Garasi, it is easy to understand how they have made such progress in the short space of time they have been in existence. It is refreshing to hear them constantly discussing ways they can improve the band – their enthusiasm is infectious. However, enthusiasm is no substitute for talent so it's lucky for them they have this in abundance too! Their soprano cornetist, Dee Mc.Afee models his playing on one of the best in the business, Kevin Crockford. Like Kevin he gives one hundred and fifty percent all of the time and takes no prisoners when it comes to the tricky stuff, for me he's a joy to listen to. The Band's principal euphonium, Gail Robertson is widely regarded as one of the US's leading euphonium figures having performed in conferences all over the world and Bob Hinckley, the band's principal cornet could easily play in one of the UK's top bands. I could go on, the band is full of talent which combined with their dedication and enthusiasm makes them a force to be reckoned with.
The Brass Band of Central Florida have many exciting plans for the future including the formation of a youth band, but far more imminent at present is their appearance at this years National Contest. If every thing goes to plan for them, they may well be current Champions of North America by the time you read this article, but if not; it will be back to the grind-stone for another attempt next year. That is the measure of the band Mark Griffin has created in one of the world's most popular destinations.

© The Brass Herald 2004

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