New Zealand – Brass Band Utopia? by Alex Kerwin

Discussion in 'Articles and Interviews' started by Kerwintootle, Mar 3, 2006.

  1. Kerwintootle

    Kerwintootle Member

    It was with a heavy heart that I left Scotland to start a new life in Auckland, New Zealand.

    To leave my best friends at the Scottish Co-op Band was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, I had had the best time I had ever had in a band and aside from the band, I lived in a castle with my family? Life couldn’t get any better could it? However, the castle was very cold (even in Summer) and had no heating and no hot running water. My husband Simon had to build an electric shower and put up water heaters around the house. We now have two young children and had to think carefully about their housing and their future.

    So, after auditioning earlier this year for the ‘Trusts Waitakere Brass’, Simon had to spend a month away from us to see if he could carve a new life for us. He left us just a few days after the European Championships in Glasgow after the ‘co’ came an excellent third. I was in two minds about relocating to the other side of the world. I was still on a high after the contest. Simon called everyday and spoke of the wonderful time he was having. I was still unsure. However, I was very aware of the chance of giving my children a fantastic life. I asked everyone who had been to New Zealand of their opinion. No-one had a negative comment to make and the recurring theme was that it was just the best place to raise children. The images I had seen of NZ on the TV, internet and of course the Lord of the Rings films certainly left their mark and there is something exciting about a new challenge. We had already lived away from the UK before, we had been in Norway for four years, where we had married and our first child was born. What new experiences could New Zealand offer? We could potentially offer our children better financial security in NZ due to the cheaper prices over here.

    For example, we have just bought a diesel car. Diesel is a third of the price it is in the UK, after eight weeks driving we have put just £60 of fuel in the car. We spent that and more in the UK every single week. So it was decided, Simon in his month away had settled into his two jobs so we would emigrate at the end of June, just one week after completing the recording of my debut CD, with Doyen. It was going to be no relaxing into the country, the day after arrival Auckland it was straight to rehearsals for the New Zealand National Championships in Christchurch just one week after our rehearsals. And my goodness, they make you work hard at the contest! Not only was there a set test, which this year was Tristan Encounters (not bad considering I had played this with the co-op just a few months earlier and won by three points), there was also an own choice (Waitakere played Paganinni Variations) and there was an own choice hymn and a street march, which in my eyes is very cruel in the middle of winter.

    Christchurch in winter is very cold, there is ice and snow. To conclude the weekend’s events there is an invitational entertainment contest, which is heralded as the ‘band of the year contest’. In addition to the band events there are solo and ensemble contests. I entered the open soprano contest. Oh dear, I was terrible! You could definitely say that I had a bad day! Not such a good start to my banding life in New Zealand! It was hard though as I was using the bands instrument and had only had for a few days, anyway enough of the excuses. So, I was especially determined to make up for the playing in the band contests. Garry Cutt conducted the band on this occasion and we had Dean Morley joining us on BBb Bass. The contest is pre-drawn, so I knew before we left Scotland that we would be playing last in the set test piece.

    What I didn’t realise was that we would be playing at 11.40pm! In fact, we didn’t leave the stage until 10 past midnight! None of the ‘kiwis’ batted an eyelid! This was a common occurrence. The argument is that as band players we are more used to playing in the evening, so it makes sense for the contest to be held later on. We fared well in Tristan, but a few notes were missed in the tail end of the piece, I was very pleased to have played well. We played better in Paganinni but intonation was a problem. The band was announced as third place and to be honest I think that was fair enough, we have a few things to work on as a band. I was delighted to have won the Best Instrumentalist Prize after the solo contest disappointment. So, to the band of the year contest. We played, Valero, which is a cornet feature arranged by Sandy Smith, then to ex-Grimey and Fairey player, Ken Cant playing ‘Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair’. He played fantastically well. We followed that Freikugeln, a polka (with a fiendish soprano part!), then Simon Kerwin’s arrangement of Gee, Office Krupke and then to my solo, Ray Farr’s arrangement of Gethsemane, which starts on a low G for sop and goes as high as a top C. I was mentally and physically exhausted from all the playing and of course the whole moving to the other side of the world thing! But, luckily, the solo went very well. We finished our segment with another Sandy Smith arrangement, Danza Orgiastica. We finished second behind Woolston, who had David Thornton on solo euphonium. I was again pleased with winning the soloist prize.

    All in all it was a very successful contest. I did note however that because of the late draws we had I had no chance to mingle after we had played. The place was deserted and in fact, I was either playing in the contest, rehearsing or sleeping. We didn’t get chance to hear anybody and I managed a fleeting ‘hello’ to my British friends, David Thornton, Iwan Fox, John Lewis (a kiwi himself) etc. I have not experienced that before, I’m used to seeing all other bandspeople at contests both before and after we have played. It’s part of the charm, isn’t it, the playful banter with the rivals and seeing old friends. We visited Queenstown with Garry Cutt and Lucy Murphy, They stayed at a different hotel to them, so we effectively said that we’d meet up again a couple days later at the airport before they went back home. Just one day later, Simon and me were poring over brochures wondering where to visit. Cecelia, our daughter said she’d like to visit the famous ‘glow-worm’ caves. This meant a two-hour drive, which we did. We parked the car and straight in front of us eating their lunches were Garry and Lucy! That was quite spooky. Arriving back in Auckland meant getting back to real life and adjusting to our lives here. We had to get Cecelia into school, which on the second day she’d decided not to go anymore, if we didn’t mind she was going to give it a miss. Well, of course she went. She now loves it.

    The band have had two engagements since the contest, one was a fanfare at Auckland Town Hall, as part of a major conference for a market leading estate agents. Simon had to arrange the piece, which involved full band stood on rises and two sets of timpani. The next concert was again at the Auckland Town Hall and was a voices and brass concert which featured, the City of Sails Chorus and Gina Sanders, soprano voice. We also went to see our good friend, Russell Gray in concert in Auckland with the Greater Gwent Youth Band, it was a tremendous concert and was good to see Russell again, who incidentally is Cecelia’s godfather. Simon, was asked to be guest tuba with the Auckland Philharmonic, he had his first rehearsal last week. I asked him whether he was nervous, as usual he was his laid back self and replied ‘nah’. When he came home I asked him if it gone well. He replied ‘oh yes’ but I didn’t play the tuba. I was perplexed. How come? He said that due a clerical error the conductor didn’t show up and was miles away in Christchurch. On finding out that Simon is a conductor, the orchestral manager asked Simon if he would mind conducting the orchestra for the rehearsal?! He jumped at the chance. So there he was conducting this world famous orchestra, putting them through their paces through pieces like, Swan Lake, Cinderella and Ritual Fire Dance. He was ecstatic at the experience. I too, have had some good news, I have heard the first edit of my debut CD and it sounds great and also I am overjoyed that I will be playing Soprano with Black Dyke at the British Open and the National Championships of Great Britain Next years National Championships are being held a bit earlier, in March 2005 to accommodate the World Championships in Kerkrade, so already we’re preparing for the contest so we can go two better next time around. So far, life is good.

    As cliché as it sounds, we take each day as it comes and keep our minds open. We do miss the UK and that is natural, but we are together as a family enjoying another life adventure! Alexandra Kerwin, September 2004.

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