There are around 40 official university and conservatoire brass ensembles, from Southampton and Chichester on the South Coast all the way up to Edinburgh and St Andrews in Scotland. The bands are run by university music departments or as student societies; other university music departments may run a brass ensemble, but don’t advertise it online. The bands range in size from quintets and ten-piece groups to fully fledged brass bands and even plus sized brass bands (Birmingham University fielded 51 players at UniBrass this year!).
What Do University Bands Do?
- Rehearsals and Concerts
All University bands meet at least once a week for rehearsals, playing a variety of music from traditional brass band pieces to more modern works. Bands tend to do at least one concert per term in a wide mix of locations, ranging from churches and cathedrals to castles and concert halls, and even the set of ITV’s Let’s Do Lunch!
University bands aim to have a lot of band socials, with a range to cater to all tastes, including meals out (curry tends to be very popular!), pub trips, quizzes, bowling, film nights, pudding socials and much more.
A number of bands run overseas tours every couple of years. Recent locations for bands have included Ireland, France, Belgium and Germany.
The majority of bands compete in UniBrass, the University Brass Band Championships, which takes place every February, and some also take part in the Whit Friday contests. Some bands also compete in other local contests, and one band (Warwick) also competes in the “areas” every March.
- Masterclasses (and Joint Concerts)
Some bands have invited well-known musicians like Steve Sykes and Brett Baker to do a masterclass with their students, and sometimes even do a soloist concert. Other bands have organised joint concerts with some of the best brass bands in the country, from Fodens to Reg Vardy.
- Different Ensembles
As well as their main band, bands often offer opportunities to play in smaller groups, like ten-piece groups or quintets. Some also offer Beginners ensembles aimed at teaching brass instruments from scratch.
For another viewpoint on university brass bands, our article on the Dos and Don’ts of university bands is available here!
University Band FAQ’s
- Do I have to be a music student to join a band?
No-all bands accept non-music students as members.
- Are university bands auditioned?
With the exception of Manchester, Salford, some conservatoires and Huddersfield’s competing band, all university bands are (as far as we are aware) unauditioned. There may be auditions for certain seats within bands.
- Do university bands provide instruments?
Some bands are able to provide instruments, but others aren’t. We would recommend contacting individual bands to see which instruments they can provide.
- Can I join a university band and a local band?
Yes-if you think you have the time! As university bands (apart from Warwick) don’t compete in the Areas, there are no major clashes of interest between the two. In fact, a number of university bands have close links with local bands, for example Nottingham and Thoresby Colliery, with several players playing in both bands.
- I’m not a brass player. Can I still join a band?
Some bands run Beginners schemes where they can teach you how to play a brass instrument from scratch. Again, it is best to contact individual bands to see what they provide. Percussionists are also always welcome!