Long serving conductors

MoominDave

Well-Known Member
Hello Dave.

Gordon Cowley, Band Master of the Douglas, Isle of Man Salvation Army Band was commissioned in 1958.

He retired from conducting approximately 10 years ago but was pressed back into service about 3 - 4 years ago, due to another retirement!

Band Master Gordon is still conducting the band today.

I helped out the Salvation Army Band at a concert in December and at the prior rehearsal Gordon was conducting and playing baritone at the same time, not bad for a 93 year old, he also can still make a mean noise on his bass trombone too !

Many thanks.
Thanks Mark. Just Googling around, I find a quote from him in "The Salvationist" of 9/11/2013 (Salvationist 9 nov 2013, p.13), where he talks of serving 40 years as BM. I'll put him down as 1958-98 for now, and add a note that this is maybe not exact, and that he also has a later period with the same band. If you know more precisely, I can put that down.

In terms of first taking on a band to putting it down, that would top the list I have, so far as I'm aware - but the single band list is of conductors that have continuously taken that band for all of the intervening time.

Mike Gray has been conducting Crystal Palace Band since 1986 (30 years) and is still conducting them
Coming over the 30 year threshold in 2016, good spot Lynne.
 

John Brooks

Well-Known Member
Some long standing S.A. Bandmasters that I don't think have been mentioned include: Bernard Adams - I.S.B. - 1946 - 1975 (28 years); William Himes - Chicago Staff Band - 1977 - 2015 (37 years); Colin Woods - Melbourne Staff Band - 1969 - 1974 (25 years). Ron Waiksnoris and Ken Waterworth in New York and Melbourne each with at least 20 years and counting.
 

MoominDave

Well-Known Member
Thanks John, I'll add William Himes - he's the only one of that list over my (admittedly slightly arbitrary) 30-years-with-one-band-continuously cutoff.
 

PeterBale

Moderator
Staff member
Thanks John, I'll add William Himes - he's the only one of that list over my (admittedly slightly arbitrary) 30-years-with-one-band-continuously cutoff.
Seeing Bill Himes' name, I'm reminded that his successor in Chicago, Harold Burgmayer, previously led Pendel Brass from 1981 to 2015.
 

MoominDave

Well-Known Member
An update, having corresponded with Ken Huckstepp of the NSW Band Association, I've got some clearer info on Australian long-serving conductors (of whom there's been several outstanding).

The previous entry at the top of the list, Don Stewart of Tuggerah Lakes, it transpires has directed that band in three separate spells - 57 years from start in 1959 to the present day, but broken up into 1959-73, 1984-89, 1992-present. So sadly I must scratch him off the single-spell list, although 57+ years total career is high up on that list.
But Les Smith of Kogarah Municipal band conducted them continuously from 1909 to 1967 - 58 years, an outstanding feat. There's a new mark to aim for, slaidpog!

An interesting observation is that the top 4 on the list as it currently stands are all non-UK, three of them Australian - even without counting Don Stewart:
  • 1) Les Smith, St George / Kogarah Municipal (NSW, Aus), 1909-67, 58 years
  • 2) Børge Nørkjær, Ikast FDF (Central Jutland, Denmark), 1962-present, 54+ years
  • 3=) Sam Lewins, Bathurst District (NSW, Aus), 1885-1938, 53 years
  • 3=) Jack Tougher, Wollongong Steelworks / City of Wollongong (NSW, Aus), 1934-87, 53 years
  • 5=) Haydn Griffiths, Armthorpe Elmfield (S Yorks), 1964-present, 52+ years
  • 5=) Gerald Thirst, Stalham (Norfolk), 1946-98, 52 years
  • 7=) Charles Moore, Wigston (Leics), 1902-52, 50 years
  • 7=) Alfred Punchard, Chalk Farm SA (London), 1894-1944, 50 years
  • 7=) Joe Ireland, Dearham (Cumbria), 1953-2003, 50 years (maybe not continuous?)
Where two band names are listed ".../...", the single band changed its name during that conductor's tenure.
 

vaughan evans

New Member
From Vaughan Evans.
I joined the Billingham Silver Band in 1958 aged 14. I became principle cornet aged 21 and took over as MD 1972. I will have been with Billingham 58 years this year and will have been MD 44 years. This has been continuous service.
 

Vegasbound

Active Member
My Father served as bandmaster with my home SA corps from 1965-97, he is still playing euph in the band at 84!
 

MoominDave

Well-Known Member
From Vaughan Evans.
I joined the Billingham Silver Band in 1958 aged 14. I became principle cornet aged 21 and took over as MD 1972. I will have been with Billingham 58 years this year and will have been MD 44 years. This has been continuous service.
My Father served as bandmaster with my home SA corps from 1965-97, he is still playing euph in the band at 84!
Proud records both, and I have added them to my list, thank you for them. Chris, what's your father's name and band?
 

euphoria

Member
Yesterday I received the sad news of the passing last week of Børge Nørkjær - the second longest serving conductor in your list. He led the band for the last time at a church service on september 10th.
 

MoominDave

Well-Known Member
I'm sorry to hear that - when I saw that you'd updated this thread, I feared that that might be the case.

By my reckoning that leaves only Haydn Griffiths at Armthorpe Elmfield among present conductors with over a half century of tenure with a single band.
 

Kofi

Member
You've made me feel guilty about taking the baton from my dad! 32 years is decent, and it's worth letting you know that he is still very much involved - takes the odd rehearsal, plays perc or Bari, and 'advises' me!
 

DublinBass

Supporting Member
Jon Woods was assistant director of the OSUMB from 1974-1983, and then head director from 1984-2011...so that's a 37-year run in total (not as impressive as some of the others, but still a good tenure).
 

MoominDave

Well-Known Member
It was drawn to my attention on Facebook the other day that Tom Street of Heage band in Cornwall has been wagging them since 1970 - 50 years so far, and still in post at age 93, most impressive. Given that Haydn Griffiths sadly passed away in 2018 after completing 54 years in front of Armthorpe Elmfield, Tom is now (so far as I'm aware) the current longest-serving brass band MD.

Can anyone verify that anyone else high up on the current list as it was last time I looked at it (a couple of years ago) is still in post? Thanks for any help - I'll list them below.

Tom Street - Heage - since 1970 - verified 2020
John Cowking - Slaidburn - since 1972
Vaughan Evans - Billingham - since 1972
Tony Small - Penclawdd - since 1973
Fran Cowley - Swindon Brass - since 1974
Philip Goodwin - Delph - since 1980
Ian Clague - Manx Concert Brass - since 1981
Charles Kitchen - Fairfield (Buxton) - since 1981
Terry Clifford - Maltby Miners - since 1984
Keith Johnston - Edinburgh Gorgie SA - since 1984
Michael Gray - Crystal Palace - since 1986

I'm also interested in hearing whether the following are still in post:

Don Stewart - Tuggerah Lakes Show Band, NSW - 1959-73, 1984-89, 1992 to at least 2018 - no single record-beating spell, but an astonishing record
Gordon Cowley - Douglas IoM SA - 1958-~98, second later spell to at least 2016 - ditto no single record spell, but truly astonishing also
 
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2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Some quite incredible achievements both in terms of service to a Band and longevity. I wonder about the many Pro’s and Con’s of one person being a Band’s Conductor for extended periods, but (IMHO) that’s not for this thread and maybe for a separate one instead.

What would be interesting here (well to me at least) is seeing a gender split; Brass Band membership has changed a lot since when I was a Lad and the fair sex now contribute enormously - without the Ladies many bands would be shut. I’ve no idea of who are and for how long the longest serving Lady MD’s have been conducting, but I’d have thought that 25 years would be a reasonable start point for consideration. Might it be possible to somehow recognise/celebrate the Ladies too?
 
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MoominDave

Well-Known Member
Hello Dave,
I'm still conducting at Slaidburn and enjoying making music with the band and entertaining the public.
I rather thought you'd be the first on that list to confirm, John! Glad to hear all is well up in the Forest of Bowland.
 
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MoominDave

Well-Known Member
Some quite incredible achievements both in terms of service to a Band and longevity. I wonder about the many Pro’s and Con’s of one person being a Band’s Conductor for extended periods, but (IMHO) that’s not for this thread and maybe for a separate one instead.

What would be interesting here (well to me at least) is seeing a gender split; Brass Band membership has changed a lot since when I was a Lad and the fair sex now contribute enormously - without the Ladies many bands would be shut. I’ve no idea of who are and for how long the longest serving Lady MD’s have been conducting, but I’d have thought that 25 years would be a reasonable start point for consideration. Might it be possible to somehow recognise/celebrate the Ladies too?
Interesting question. Female mass membership of brass bands is not something that long established - as we've covered in (occasionally bafflingly contentious) threads here in the past, gender balance in banding is even today, still 'working its way through the system' - it's rare to find a band with more female than male members, even though statistically we'd expect approximately half to be so. And there also we've noted that as one ascends the banding tree, the balance even today still grows further out of whack - female MDs are much rarer than male, even in this arguably enlightened year of 2020...

A long-serving MD on the kind of scale of years celebrated in this list must by chronological necessity have been in post since an era of rather different gender politics. So we should expect to be picking from the smaller pool of modern female MDs anyhow, and further, to diminish that pool substantially through the greater difference seen at career outset. The longest spans will be shorter, in short.

I'll start you off with our example - Catherine Underwood conducted Kidlington Concert Brass 1994-2010, for 16 years. She still conducts the Sponne School Brass Band in Towcester, which she set up in 2002 - 18 years so far. Impressive records of service both, but not of the gargantuan span seen at the top of the main list. 26+ years for total wagging career so far.
The next band and people that my thoughts turn to are East London Brass and the Murrills, Sue and Jayne, mother and daughter. Sue conducted them (as Waltham Forest Co-op) 1983-2000, 17 years, and Jayne since 2007, 13 years and counting. Sue conducted Hexham Brass in Northumberland until she sadly passed away in 2016 - total wagging career at least 33 years.

Um... Mareika Gray has a career of 11 years so far, not as long as I'd suspected.

Let's go historical:
Betty Anderson - total career 1958-95 with bands around Leicester, but no particularly long span with any. At least 37 years total.
Barbara Stone - total career only 1972-9, with Swindon and Hanwell, was expecting longer
Elizabeth Lumb set up the band at Highfield School in Bradford in 1945. I know she was still taking it in 1950 - but I suspect she carried on doing so quite a bit longer than that. Anyone know?

Across the Atlantic, Jessica Sneeringer has been taking the Central Ohio Brass Band since 2005 - 15 years so far.
Found a new front-runner... Anita Cocker-Hunt conducted the Cincinnati Brass Band 1993-2017 - 24 years.

In South Australia, Veronica Boulton is recorded taking both Marion City and Warriparinga since 2005 - 15+ years.
Over the state line in Victoria, Melina Benger has been taking the Croydon Citizens' Band since 2001 - 19+ years.
Also in Victoria, Phillipa Edwards took A Grade band Footscray-Yarraville 2004-18 - 14 years.

A quick flick through recent NZ Nationals results turns up no long-serving women MDs at all. I'm sure there must be some.
Haven't looked at either Switzerland or Scandinavia - there must be some good examples there too.

So, my quick and unthorough survey here turns up the following marks to beat:
Total band conducting career: Betty Anderson, 37 years at least.
Longest span conducting one band: Anita Cocker-Hunt, 24 years.

As with the main list, I suspect that the leading examples are often going to have been working away quietly in a local way without drawing much attention. Let's have TMP's best obscure examples to raise these bars...
 
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