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NCBF; a parents perspective

Young people and teachers: both seem to get a bad press these days. So, early one Saturday morning, I began to wonder how I’d managed to allow myself to volunteer, as a parent helper, for a school trip. Surely there are better ways to spend the first full day of a weekend, especially one still in the Easter school holidays. And what was the teacher thinking? Could this be more important than a well-earned rest before term got underway again?


The National Concert Band Festival (NCBF) has been running for over 30 years and has grown to include 120 bands representing 5,000 players who all start their journey in five Regional Festivals in England and Scotland. From there the best bands go forwards to the two-day National Festival with almost 2,500 participants and 1,000 supporters in attendance – the largest gathering of wind musicians in the UK.



The Robert Smyth Academy Big Band had reached the 2016 final at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester through the Midlands qualifying Festival in November last year. With such stiff competition from more than 20 schools on the Saturday alone, how would the 17 young musicians fare?


After the three-hour coach journey, the band had time to settle in, grab some food and get set up in their practise room. Mind you, snaking our way along corridors, up and down stairs, across food halls with instruments aloft, somehow the line got broken and the two halves of the band ended up in different places!


But this band had spirit, grit, determination and high expectations. Directed by the able Helle Petersen, they soon settled into their stride as they worked through their three numbers ahead of their main stage appearance in the early afternoon.


In jazz music, so I learnt, the rhythm section is particularly important, providing the rhythmic reference for the rest of the band. So, no pressure then Taylor Burton on keyboard, Jacob Bentley on bass, Jake Cartwright on electric guitar and Lyle Burton and Jonny Nicholson on drums / percussion. The question was how well they ably accompanied the rest of the instrumentalists – with their trumpets, saxophones, trombones and flutes.


What made the Festival different this year was the way feedback was provided. After their performances before an appreciative audience, one of the two adjudicators, both distinguished personalities from the world of jazz, got onto the stage. He provided what can only be described as a masterclass, getting the band to re-run one of their numbers and highlighting areas for improvement. At times it bordered on the cruel, but this Festival was about people moving to the top of their musical game, so standards were high.



By late afternoon the drama moved to the presentation of awards on the Upper Concourse where hordes of students gathered to hear their fate. It was with a mixture of relief and delight that Taylor Burton and Jacob Cartwright collected the Gold Award on behalf of The Robert Smyth Academy Big Band.


Throughout the day the students were a credit to their school, their teacher and their parents. They are clearly a talented bunch who will go on to greater things in the field of music – whether as a hobby, to study or a career. If you are a parent reading this, then I’d highly recommend you take time out of your busy schedule to go as a parent helper on any one of the many music trips run from the school. You won’t be disappointed.


By Mr. Nicholson

Next Year’s Midlands Regional Festival is on Sunday 27 November 2016 at Nottingham High School