Tuesday 5 December 2023

“If we consider again just how much money the music sector brings into the economy each year, it’s remarkable our government would not want to invest generously in its future.”

Gavin Higgins delivers the 2023 Brass Band England conference keynote speech (Photo: Gavin Joynt)
Gavin Higgins delivers the 2023 Brass Bands England conference keynote speech (Photo: Gavin Joynt)

The 2023 Brass Bands England (BBE) Conference took place in Huddersfield in October, a gathering together of over 150 delegates from over 80 organisations. The most recent BBE annual report testifies to increased financial resilience and membership increases, well defined commitments to inclusivity and diversity, the appointment of two new Youth Trustees and the funding of a ‘brass and drag’ musical project led by Freckleton Band and artist Jamie Fletcher.

The keynote speech at the conference was given by composer Gavin Higgins, who delivered an impassioned plea for arts funding and who testified to the importance of the brass band movement in his own background.

"I owe a debt of gratitude to the brass band movement for my training, without which I may never have become a musician."

Higgins' speech focused on the urgent need for advocacy and financial support for artistic subjects both in and outside our education system, and he called upon specific MPs who have benefited from a musical education or showed enjoyment of the arts, including Sir Keir Starmer, Thangam Debbonaire, Barbara Keeley, Chris Bryant and Kevin Brennan, to share concrete plans for supporting arts opportunities.

“For the first time in decades, we have a loud and supportive group of MPs who are passionate about the arts.”

Members of Tewit Band and Tewit Youth Band (Photo: Lorne Campbell)
Members of Tewit Band and Tewit Youth Band (Photo: Lorne Campbell)

When arts subjects are being subjected to more and more Government cuts, brass bands continue to offer both training and inspiration for performers of all ages and social backgrounds and act as a vital conduit for our professional music sector.

Higgins comes from a long lineage of working-class brass band musicians dating back to 1895 and his passion for this heritage has resulted in a number of vigorous, daring works for brass. His biggest and most ambitious piece to date, the Concerto Grosso for Brass Band and Orchestra premiered at the 2022 BBC Proms and has led to him winning a Sky Arts Award as well as a Royal Philharmonic Society Award in the Large-Scale Composition category for the work. The work was premiered by the Tredegar Band, with whom Higgins has a long association, and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with whom he is currently Composer in Association.

“You cannot begin to understand the wider world of British music without first understanding brass bands. They are still the biggest mass movement of working-class people making music in history and, I believe, Britain’s most alluring form of folk music.”

Horn player Ben Goldscheider will be premiering Gavin Higgins' Horn Concerto with BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Jaime Martin in Cardiff on 14 January 2024 [see BBC website for details], and the work's London premiere will be on 7 February 2024 when Goldscheider joins the London Chamber Orchestra, conductor Christopher Warren-Green at Cadogan Hall [see Cadogan Hall website for details]

“The brass band to orchestra pipeline goes back a long way here in the UK ...
But I worry where the next generation will come from."

Read Gavin Higgins' full speech at the BBE website.

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