November 2007 saw me and my older brother and sister all successfully audition for seats in NCBB and NYBB and before I knew it summer had come around and I was packing for my first ever course! I had absolutely no idea what to expect and, being from the Isle of Man, the trip to Bromsgrove was quite an adventure. I was 11 at the time and hadn't been away from home much so I was a little homesick. Owen Farr, my tutor soon had me in stitches in sectionals, an older student mentor called Jess Derby took me under her wing and the fantastic house staff soon had me feeling at home.
Needless to say by the next summer I was counting down the days until NCBB. Two other young horn players, Helen Clarke and Myrddin Rees-Davies joined at the same time as me and over the next four years we moved up through the section together. I have some amazing memories of the National Children's Brass Band. I especially liked the Paul Lovatt-Cooper commissions we played and I still know every single word to "Under The Sea" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" thanks to his enthusiasm for singing.
My time came to move on however and Easter 2012 became my first ever NYBB course. I think I must've been having a good day in my audition because I found myself in the first horn section, sat as high as I'd ever sat in NCBB. I thought the hours of band practice might become tedious, but Maestro Tovey was scintillating.
That summer we played at the BBC Proms. It just so happened that this was also the only year that I was in the band with my brother and sister too. It was a challenging but rewarding week of preparation at Wymondham school; I particularly remember being completely lost in "Altitude" and Helen, Myrddin and I (still sitting together) having to use some strong team work to manage the ever changing time signatures. To say the Prom was amazing doesn't do the experience justice. I'm not convinced I played a single note on stage; I was so in awe of the Royal Albert Hall and just couldn't believe I was there!
The next Easter was a particularly good one for my family as my brother became principal cornet and I found myself on fourth solo horn. It took me a whole course to get used to being on the inner circle so thankfully I found myself there again in summer and had another shot. That Easter I was the proud recipient of the most improved tenor horn award.
The following year I moved up to third solo horn and had a fantastic course winning the Katie Ogden Cup, meaning I would represent the horns in the Harry Mortimer solo competition in the summer. I can remember the rehearsal the results were announced, phoning my mum in the break to tell her and hearing her cheer down the phone. Unfortunately three weeks before the summer course I crashed my bike and landed myself in hospital with a broken arm. I could barely hold my horn and that week at the NYBB was probably one of the hardest of my life. I couldn't position my horn in the right place on my mouth so my range went right out of the window and I was a ball of nerves in the Harry Mortimer. I did it though and was very proud that my brother won the competition for a second time. There is no denying that Major Rakers was an inspiration as guest musical director and I thoroughly enjoyed learning from her and just being around my NYBB friends again. I wouldn't have missed that for the world.
And then we come to 2015, my final year with the NYBB. I received an email from Mrs. Childs, the Head of the House Staff, before the course asking me to be an ambassador and mentor to three new girls. We had something like 30 new members on the Easter course and Sean Chandler (another member of the House Staff team) worked really hard with the mentors to make sure we were as useful as we could be and help the new members properly gel with the rest of the band. I have no idea what happened in my audition, but to my delight I found myself awarded the principal horn chair. I remember sitting further down the section when I was younger and being in awe of the older students in the top chairs, the way they played so confidently and weren't shy of a solo and that's not how I felt at all! Nevertheless I knew there were now a lot more eyes and ears on me, so I gave it my best shot. Helen was sitting next to me and was so encouraging; she also covered brilliantly for me when I stopped playing to recover a safe heart rate after every solo I played. Hannah Evans was the principal flugel and she too was new to the job; it seemed to work well and we grew in confidence together.
Midway through the week we had to select a new band representative, who is responsible for representing the students of the NYBB to Mr. Biggs, the Council and the Trustees. I feel truly privileged to have had my NYBB journey and I saw an opportunity to help all the new members to have a similar experience so I stepped up to the role. The Katie Ogden Cup came around again and I am thrilled to say I won again! I came back to Earth with a bit of a bump as it turns out that playing principal really takes its toll on your lip. I remember Professor Gregson coming to our rehearsal to hear how "Of Distant Memories" was sounding. I had a few bars of solo that covered from a bottom A below the stave to a top C above the stave. Full of adrenalin I just went for it and wasn't even close to hitting the C, which is normally well within my register. This happened a few times before I realised I was going to have to ease back and be a little more sensible, taking more rests for the last few days to prepare for the concert. Unsurprisingly I was again full of adrenaline and nerves at the concert, but someone must've been praying for me as I managed to hit every solo note, high and low, both nights.
I got a really pleasant surprise in the last assembly as Maestro Tovey presented me with the Maud Wright Award for all round meritorious service to the band. I feel truly honoured and humbled to have received it as I feel I am in debt to the NYBB for how it has helped me grow as a player and a person. Saying goodbye to my friends at the course conclusion really was hard. I feel I grew that week and was pushed out of my comfort zone, in a great way. I'm glad I took the opportunity to give something back as band rep and I genuinely cannot wait to see what the summer brings. Needless to say I'll be using my brakes properly when I'm out on my bike, it would be nice to have a shot in the Harry Mortimer with two working arms!
It has taken eight years to get from the bottom of the section at NCBB to the top at NYBB but every single step of the way has been unforgettable and I wouldn't change a single thing!