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Pegasus Brass going strong
Buy this photo » Playing their hearts out at a practice session at the Swindon School of Brass are Lorna McConkey, Megan Hopkins and Hannah Blackwell
BRASS bands belong in the same cultural bracket as flat caps, whippet racing and the non-ironic use of the words: “Ee bah gum.”
Or so the cliche has it, anyway. Brass bands, supposedly, are anything but cool.
Fortunately nobody seems to have passed on this nonsense to a thriving Swindon band and its growing school of brass.
The 35-strong Swindon Pegasus Brass Band recently took third place in its division at the National Finals of Great Britain, which was its best performance yet. It is also the regional champion.
At Pegasus HQ in Stratton, meanwhile, the potential stars of the future arrive every Saturday for training and rehearsal at the Swindon School of Brass. Of the 15 trainees, most are aged from seven to 14, but there is also a handful of adults.
The youngest trainee is Kaj Bailey, who plays the euphonium and has been a student for two years. “I like being in Swindon School of Brass because I want to play an instrument like my Nanny and Grampy,” he said.
“I also like learning to play my instrument and read music."
Many people in the brass band world are following in the footsteps of loved ones, but countless others have no such background. If the young people in the school of brass have anything in common, it’s that they enjoy improving a skill, challenging themselves and having a ready-made group of like-minded friends.
Typical is 14-year-old Lorna McConkey, who said: “I enjoy being part of Swindon School of Brass as it’s lots of fun playing, learning to improve my cornet skills, making new friends – and its all for free thanks to the tutors who give up their time every Saturday morning.”
Chelsea Lane, 12, who has been in the school of brass for five years, added: “Being a part of Swindon School of Brass is a good way to socialise with others and learning how to play music – while having fun at the same time.”
The music played by brass bands these days ranges from classics written centuries ago to hits so modern that they’re still in the charts.
Pegasus bandmaster, percussionist and school of brass teacher Jason Ferris, 27, explained: “It’s easier now. We have music software that can arrange any piece of music you want for brass band. You could pick Lady Gaga.”
Other non-traditional music is also making its mark. A few years ago one of Britain’s most famous brass bands, the Williams Fairey, put out an acclaimed album of house covers called Acid Brass, and currently a beat-heavy octet of young Chicago men called Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are regular festival stars.
Jason added: “When the music is in full flight there are certain chords that are spine-tingling. It’s just such a warm sound – you can just get lost in it, in the moment. There are so many moments like that in so many pieces.”
Jason’s wife, 27-year-old Hayley, is the school’s assistant musical director and the band’s concert secretary. She is also a musician trained in piano and woodwind.
“Brass band music has something for everybody,” she said. “Coming here is good for musical skills, good for social skills – they improve all the time.”
There is no charge for attending the school, and no charge for the use of instruments, although people tend to buy their own as they become more immersed in band life.
The school can be contacted on 07792915026 and at email@example.com, and the band’s website is www.swindonpegasus.com
A long and proud history
SWINDON Pegasus Brass Band started life in 1903 as the Gorse Hill-based Wesleyan Mission Chapel Band, making it the oldest musical organisation of its kind in the town.
Subsequent changes of circumstances saw it become the Gorse Hill Brass Band, Great Western (Swindon) Band, Swindon British Railways Social and Educational Union Silver Band, Swindon Concert Brass and finally, after a five-year sponsorship deal was signed with Readers Digest in 1989, its current name, which reflects the company logo.
The deal ended but the name stuck.
In the 1970s the band took ninth place in the National Championships of Great Britain held at the Royal Albert Hall, the highest position ever for a Wiltshire band. In 1995 and this year it took the West of England championship in its section, qualifying for the national finals.
Musical director Graeme Lewis said: “Music is an amazing thing. For me it is therapy. I honestly do not know where I would have ended up, had my father not introduced me to the cornet at the age of seven.
“There was a report, just last week that said ‘People who play musical instruments think more deeply than those who don’t.’ “I don’t know if it is true, but to me it doesn’t matter what the instrument is, every child and adult should have the opportunity to learn to play something.
“Be it a brass instrument, the bagpipes, drums, guitar, woodwind, keyboards or strings. The joy that can be had is amazing.”
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