Composer Christopher Bond adjudicated the UniBrass Shield 2020 in Bangor. He is also the only person to have competed in, had his music performed at, and adjudicated UniBrass.
For our next Five Minutes With blog, we spoke to Chris about his musical life, his experience of UniBrass, and what brass bands mean to him.
How does it feel to have come 'full circle' with UniBrass?
It of course felt a little strange to be adjudicating a competition I was competing in a few years ago, but at the same time, I always feel incredibly lucky to be doing what I do now; not just the adjudicating, but to have my music performed too - I love knowing where and when my music is being performed, and always try to support wherever I can. I think it was probably relatable for those taking part to know that I took part too, in a competition that is only 10 years old.
What are your thoughts on the UniBrass contest?
UniBrass is a really unique competition in so many ways, but very important for students all over Great Britain. I know of some university bands which have been set up with the very purpose to work towards and attend UniBrass, and anything to encourage the active participation of brass bands is a good thing, right?
I also think for many university brass bands it is the one unique chance they have to compete against other like-for-like bands, so the competitive nature of it is exciting and special.
Oh, and there's the social - that MUST be unique in so many ways - I remember it well!
You adjudicated the Shield section at Bangor 2020. What was that experience like for you? Did it bring to mind any nuggets of advice to offer bands preparing for the contest?
It was a great experience and a really enjoyable contest to adjudicate, with some super playing. In terms of advice for bands preparing for the contest, I'd say the over-arching thing is to never lose sight of the idea that your performance starts from the moment you enter the stage to the moment you leave it.
Everything within that time counts and is seen and heard by the adjudicators. Many bands will often focus so hard on the music, the other parts go unprepared; walking on and off the stage announcing the pieces, standing up and sitting down - it all counts and adds to the performance and overall impression.
How did you first get involved with brass bands?
My first involvement came when I was 8 years old, and started learning the cornet in primary school. This soon led to my involvement with Camborne Youth Band, with whom I played for 10 years before moving to Cardiff to study at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama. During that time I was also a member of the Cornwall Youth Brass Band, and the two youth bands combined gave me such enjoyment, I knew this was something I'd like to continue doing.
When and how did you know you wanted to be a composer?
I don't remember specifically, but I have composed music from a very young age. When I was at primary school, I would make up my own tunes on the piano and try to write them down, and this escalated into my first piece for brass band when I was 11, and then a string quartet when I was 12. I still have those early pieces - they're not great! I would say that when I was doing my A Levels, I decided to apply to study composition at music college and that's when I suppose I thought I could make something of it.
Which are your compositions are you most proud of and why?
That's a tricky question! For brass band, in terms of its populism, I was really pleased with Neverland which was used this year at the UK Regionals in the fourth section. Compositionally it wasn't complex, but I was proud to think of all the people working on the piece, and it seemed to go down well.
Having said that, I'll never forget working on the soundtrack for Magic in the Skies - the summer season of firework displays at Land's End, Cornwall, where my soundtrack was used for five seasons 2014 - 2018. It was a great project to work on and it's right up there!
How would you describe your musical style and inspiration?
In regards to style - I have no idea, and I don't really think too much about it. I always try to fulfil a brief to the best of my ability, so style can vary to some extent, depending on what the commissioner is looking for.
I'm not under any illusions though; my music is generally populist and relatable to its audiences - I love being able to connect with an audience and take them on a journey through my music. I've been inspired by so many musical styles and composers, I wouldn't know where to begin!
If you could have dinner with any composer from history, who would you pick?
This one's easy. Johann Sebastian Bach, primarily because he was a true master, but also because when you delve deeper into his life, I think he would make interesting conversation. He lost both parents when he was 10 years old, he married his cousin and had seven children, and he was once arrested and put in jail for several weeks. I'd love to find out more about someone who's gone on to become such an iconic figure in music.
What's next on the musical horizon for you?
A lot of my work is on hold at the moment, but composition wise for brass bands I'm working on some small projects; some arrangements for Hal Leonard Publications and a new original work for Wotton Silver Band in Gloucestershire. Outside of brass bands, I'm in the middle of co-writing a children's musical which is being staged in 2021, so that's great fun!
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