Playing for Scotland
NYBBS youngsters enjoy Easter Course

Damien Martin reports from the recent National Youth Brass Band of Scotland's Easter Course, where new connections were put in place for an exciting musical future.

72 and counting: The 2019 Easter Course delegates line-up for the camera

The tranquil beauty of rural Perthshire was shattered for four days last week, as the National Youth Brass Bands of Scotland held their annual Easter course at Strathallan School. 

72 of Scotland’s finest young brass and percussion players were put through their paces by new NYBBS MD Ian Porthouse, alongside Musical Director Emeritus Richard Evans, with students representing bands from Orkney to the Borders and some from as far afield as England and Belgium.

It wasn’t all work and no play though. In addition to the hectic rehearsal schedule, there was also plenty to enjoy in their downtime, with social evenings including a rowdy karaoke night, and a quiz won, much to their delight, by the front-row cornets.


The packed end of course concert saw a vibrant showcase event - right from the opening grooves of ‘Blackbird Special’, whilst the audience was thrilled to see Richard Evans stepping to the rostrum to lead a serene rendition of ‘The Lord Bless And Keep You’.

The concert also saw the world premiere of Tom Davoren’s ‘Scottish Rhapsody’ played with stunning virtuosity by tenor horn star Rachel Neil.

Commissioned with assistance from Creative Scotland, the students had earlier been able to gain a unique insight into the thoughts behind the piece, with the composer appearing from New York in a specially made video.

Rachel Neil
Rachel Neil premiered Tom Davoren's new horn work

For Rachel, a former alumni of the band, it proved to be a memorable occasion, as she told 4BR. “I’ve been involved with the National Youth Brass Band of Scotland for over ten years; starting on bottom second horn and work my way up to section leader, and finally working as a member of House Staff. 

To be invited back to perform as the guest soloist was such an honour.

It’s been fantastic to work with Ian Porthouse and especially exciting getting to work once more with Richard Evans, who has been involved with my NYBBS journey since the beginning. It was a performance I won’t ever forget.”

Ideal opportunity

The Easter course serves as an ideal opportunity for members of both the NYBBS Senior and Reserve bands to play alongside each other to gain invaluable experience for the main NYBBS courses in the summer.  

This year’s representatives certainly benefitted hugely, with a demanding programme of nine pieces prepared from scratch for the end of course concert. 

The students at Strathallan this Easter loved his methods of showing them how to improve their playing. There was such a great connection between them both

Great connection

It was something that Richard Evans was particularly delighted with. “With every new NYBBS intake, we are never quite sure how the students will perform.

Well this year, as soon as our new Musical Director brought his baton down to start the band we knew we were in for a successful four days.”

I have known Ian since he was just 16 and came to stay with myself and my wife as a young up and coming cornet star.

The students at Strathallan this Easter loved his methods of showing them how to improve their playing. There was such a great connection between them both.”

SBBA President Carrie Boax and her NYBBS conducting line-up

Limitless possibilities

For his part, Ian confessed to being bowled over by the musicality on show from the young players. 

“There is always an element of apprehension to start with, but I was delighted that after a matter of minutes that disappeared. It was replaced with thoughts of the limitless possibilities that lay ahead with this talented group of young musicians. 

Their openness to learn was immediate, and they demonstrated such character and maturity that I was able to work in exactly the same way as I would with an elite level band.”

He added, “To work with Richard again was also a huge bonus. To see the rapport he has with the players is inspirational and reminded me of exactly how I felt playing under him all those years ago.”

Also working alongside the duo were Reserve Band conductor John Boax, and new Children’s Band conductor Alan Fernie.

They are backed up by a dedicated team of ever-patient House Staff, whose hard-work and ability to produce late-night trays of toast at the drop of a hat was much appreciated by everyone!

Brilliant management

As Ian added; “NYBSS has a brilliant management team. The relationship between staff and students is one of mutual respect; allowing me to work on the music but still allowing the players to have a lot of fun. 

The atmosphere was further enhanced by the superb surroundings, facilities and staff of Strathallan School, all adding to the quality of the experience for students.”

He added: “I’m looking forward to a long and successful relationship with NYBBS where we can collaborate with composers on many innovative artistic projects, so watch this space!”

“The new Children’s Band MD Alan Fernie works so brilliantly with young players, and the future, with John Boax in charge of the Reserve Band and Ian at the pinnacle with the Senior Band is looking very exciting.”

Six new promotions to the Senior Band were made following the course, and with around 200 students expected across three bands on the summer course, the depth of young musical talent in Scotland is evident, as Richard Evans pinpointed.

“The new Children’s Band MD Alan Fernie works so brilliantly with young players, and the future, with John Boax in charge of the Reserve Band and Ian at the pinnacle with the Senior Band is looking very exciting.”

2019 Summer Course

The 2019 NYBBS summer course will run from Sunday 21st to Saturday 27th July, with Saturday performances for the Children’s Band at Strathallan School, and the Reserve and Senior Bands at the Albert Halls in Stirling.

A very limited number of course spaces are still available, strictly on a first come first served basis. Application forms and further information on these events can be obtained from the SBBA.

But for now, as the curtain falls on another successful course, it was left to the inimitable Mr Evans to sum up the week. 

“The whole four-day course was filled with joy and happiness, and the students and staff were so well behaved! It made me very proud to be associated with such a fantastic organisation.”

Damien Martin

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