JMU's British-Style Brass Band Performs in United Kingdom


HARRISONBURG - James Madison University's unique British-style Brass Band will return to its musical roots across the pond. 

Kevin J. Stees, the director of the 29-member British-styled band, started organizing the June 26 - July 7 trip to northern England and Wales a year ago so his musicians could play in concerts with other brass bands. As one of only six or so college British-style brass bands in the United States, the JMU ensemble has to seek its "kin" in the regions of the United Kingdom where brass bands flourished and remain popular today. 

"I wanted to take my students over there so they can hear the bands because most of them have only heard recordings of other bands," Stees said. "I wanted them to hear bands that are made up of people who just do it for fun in the tradition of British brass bands."

Traditional British-style brass bands are associated with coal mining and textile factory towns, where companies sponsored the after-work-hours musical pursuits of their employees, Stees said. Other bands were sponsored by towns, temperance organizations or churches. "Brass bands were blue-collar musical ensembles," Stees said. 

The JMU Brass Band, the 2006 and 2007 North American Brass Band Association Championship Section runner-up, will perform in England June 29 with the Freckleton Brass Band in Kirkham, July 4 with the United Co-op Milnrow Band in Leeds and July 5 with the United Co-op Yorkshire Brass Band at the Brighouse Festival of Brass. 

On July 6, the band will compete in the Brighouse March and Hymn Tune Contest, a traditional British march contest, which "goes back to the very, very earliest days of brass bands," said Stees. One at a time, competing bands will march a short distance on a street to the town square, where each band will set up in concert formation and play a hymn tune and a march for three judges. 

As a special treat July 1, the JMU ensemble will perform at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff with the Cory Band, the 2008 European Champions - the top brass band in the world. The Cory Band, the band in residence at the college , the RWCMD Brass Band and the JMU Brass Band will each play selections before joining to perform one piece together at the end of the concert. 

Among the selections the JMU Brass Band will play while on tour is "Letter from Home," a piece the ensemble commissioned London-born composer Philip Sparke to write. 

While in the United Kingdom, the JMU musicians will attend other bands' rehearsals and do some sightseeing in London. 

Local audiences can enjoy a pre-tour performance by the JMU Brass Band Sunday, June 22, when the ensemble plays in the Concert on the Lawn Series at JMU. The free outdoor concert will begin at 7 p.m. in the Sculpture Garden between the Music Building and Duke Hall. The rain location for the concert is the War Memorial Auditorium in Memorial Hall. 

Parking for the JMU concert will be available in lots between Duke and Miller halls and in the Warsaw Street Parking Deck. Audience members may bring picnic dinners and lawn chairs to the concert. For more information, call 540-568-6987. 

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Published: Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Last Updated: Monday, June 15, 2020

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