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Building Bridges between Youth Groups and University Bands

Trustee, Nigel Birch, discusses the importance of connecting youth groups with university bands.

As an organiser and conductor of a youth music organisation, I believe that we, in my case Lions Youth Brass, have a responsibility to the wider brass band community. We aim to develop relationships with local bands so that when our players are ready, both musically and in maturity, we can guide them into the next stage of their musical development. Currently, we have 5 players who are members of the Roberts Bakery Band, 6 members with the Audley Brass Band and 2 players with Crewe Brass. Additionally, we have 10 players who play with the highly acclaimed Foden’s Youth Band. The strong bonds formed with these bands, and their conductors, means that all our players can have the opportunity to take an active part with both of their groups and therefore explore other areas of banding and community music more generally.

Over the years, we have had a few of our players go on to music colleges such as the RNCM, Salford and Birmingham Conservatoire. However, it is the non-music specific universities that I really want to develop a strong link with. Students who generally go to music colleges are going there to develop their musicianship and to explore the possibilities of becoming a professional musician, whereas students at other general universities still see their music making as a social gathering and a hobby.

In an era where players continuing into adult bands is declining, it is important that we keep as many players as we can playing when they go on to university and perform with adult bands. I believe that this not just the responsibility of the universities, but also to those in Youth Bands and Community Bands.

This brings us back to building and respecting musical relationships which allows all parties to thrive. As a UniBrass Trustee, I am already building a relationship with the Keele University Brass Band, and their Musical Director, Katharine Slater. Having directed a rehearsal for them before UniBrass 2020, we now hope to have a Christmas performance with all three Lions Bands and the Keele University Brass Band. Obviously, this depends on a number of things! Nonetheless, this is a partnership that Katharine and I are keen to grow over a realistic period, it does take time.

I would urge every university brass band to contact their local youth bands and musical authorities and explore the opportunities which are available to them, even if it is just putting links on your website or sharing social media posts between universities and youth bands. When performances are taking place, offer incentives such as free tickets or a guest soloist if appropriate. The opportunities are endless and can lead to great partnerships, and even expose you to new career prospects.

Quite regularly students who have a choice of two Universities will choose the one that has an active brass band, just so they can continue with the hobby they love and have grown up with. The success of doing this will not guarantee an immediate return, but if fostered will give you a sound foundation for the future.

Photo: Tewit Youth Band, UniBrass 2017.

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