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UniBrass 2019: Review

*This article was written for The British Bandsman in February 2019.*

UniBrass’ 9th contest came to an end in the early hours of Sunday morning after a day of diverse, innovative and exciting performances all round. Starting with the contesting bands themselves and ending with Atomic Brass at the social, every person there can testify for the excitement the university community provides to modern day banding.

In the UniBrass Shield, 11 bands fought it out in what is one of banding’s hardest to predict contests. At the end of the day, it was a well delivered set from Chichester, under musical director Emma Button that secured the title and sent the band back on the long journey south very happy. With a prize-winning performance of Caravan, featuring trombone soloist, Lars Thorkildsen, and a fine contribution from the best bass section, Chichester suitably impressed adjudicators Sheona White and Alan Fernie to ensure the victory and a place in the UniBrass Trophy for 2020, at just the third time of asking. Behind them, came a reinvigorated York, led by first-time student conductor Brandon Fletcher who took a gamble performing the whole “Windows of the World” suite by Peter Graham. Their well-delivered set featured some great use of videos and a full range of lighting effects to support some fine playing and award winning percussion playing. The University of Cambridge managed to retain their Best Entertainment prize alongside a best-ever result of third place thanks to a slickly delivered set that included a vast array of props, including the UniBrass debut for the Post Horn.

Beneath them, came a range of highly varied entertaining sets featuring some really creative thinking from the students. Sheffield University were very pleased to see their conductor, Jack Aitken, pick up the Best Student Conductor Award for the Shield, leading them through a diverse set of Eric Whitacre to Duke Ellington. Once again, in this section, the standard of playing was not far behind the entertainment, with the level of performance increasing year on year! With the Shield featuring a large number of student conductors and several universities that don’t even have music departments, the focus is all about getting out and performing - but this is certainly not to the detriment of the overall standard, and this led to a thoroughly enjoyable day for audience and adjudicators alike!

In the Trophy section, we saw several bands produce some outstanding performances, leaving adjudicators Anne Crookston and Alan Morrison with a difficult decision to make. After the slightly smaller section of 10 bands finished, we saw the Royal Northern College of Music come away with the the UniBrass trophy for the third time, meaning that they have been in the top spot every year since their first appearance in 2017. Under the baton of Ryan Watkins, they also came away with the Best March Prize with their rendition of Mephistopheles and their Principal cornet, Dominic Longhurst, won Best Soloist for his sublime performance of Rusalka’s Song to the Moon. Hot on their heels, with just one point below them, The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire gained second place for the fourth time consecutively. This year they also walked away with the Most Entertaining award after an astonishing performance of Mnozil Brass’ Lonely Boy, which saw soloist, Charlie Denney, play not just one instrument but four! If this wasn’t enough to leave them smiling, their very talented Euphoniums and Baritones won Best Section and their percussionists got Best Percussion. Grabbing third place in the Trophy, was Huddersfield University, led by Jonathan Beatty.

It wouldn't be UniBrass without special awards dedicated to the students, Best Student Conductor of the Trophy was won by Hugh Morris of Manchester University and Leeds University student, Lewis Hammond, came away with the Best Student Composition award for his arrangement of Youngblood Brass Band’s piece, Brooklyn. It is this area of the contest that makes the day so special, UniBrass aims to promote and excite students so that they want to continue into banding after their university experience and by giving these awards we can encourage them to explore new avenues of the banding world.

Regarding the contest as a whole, Sam Harthan-Evans, Organising Chair says “The whole day was a great success, everything ran very smoothly- even running ahead of schedule at points, and everyone I spoke to seemed to have a brilliant time in this great location. After all the work that goes into the contest this we couldn't have asked for a better day". The weekend did not end with the contest, however. The Band of the King’s Division not only opened the results ceremony but also held a workshop with the public during the day and gave a performance in the Hugh Owen Hall. Going into the evening, Tredegar Town Band treated us to a fantastic gala concert led by Ian Porthouse after his prize winning streak with Royal Birmingham Conservatoire earlier in the day and featured many great soloists. If that wasn’t enough, the night came to a close with the UniBrass social, often named as the highlight of the day for the students, they were left partying into the night with Atomic Brass, a five piece Pop/Funk Band from Lancaster.

UniBrass would once again like to thank Brass Bands England for their constant support of the contest and the UniBrass Foundation’s activities across the year. We are also very excited to say that the contest will once again be held at Bangor University in 2020 and that preparations are already underway for another fantastic contest. If your university would like to take part in UniBrass next year then feel free to send the UniBrass Foundation any questions to, they are always happy to help!

All in all, UniBrass 2019 once again proved be a huge success and gave bands across the country the opportunity to not only play fantastic music but also meet together in their joint aim of keeps the movement young and exciting. If this year was anything to go by, the contest will be going for many years to come and will hopefully bring brass bands to even more student communities as well as making existing students take the leap into their local banding communities too.

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