For the third year in a row, Russell Gray and the Bathgate Band have joined forces to hold a conductor’s seminar in West Lothian which culminated in a concert last night at a packed Bathgate Partnership Centre.
From left to right: Peter Kench, Wesley Thompson, Brian Mackie, Stuart Black, Jamie Buchan, Russell Gray, Steve Critchlow, Calum Stephens, Laura Good and Matthew Gee.
In a new addition to this year’s event, a Foundation Course was included, giving the opportunity to conductors with little or no experience to work with the Bathgate Youth Band.
As a result, a total of 10 conductors, including Russell Gray and Foundation Course director Stuart Black, took part in the free concert in front of the capacity crowd. One of the stars of the show was 13-year-old Calum Stephens who conducted Bathgate Youth Band (BYB) in the theme tune from Wallace and Gromit to huge applause. Calum, and fellow fledgling conductor Jamie Buchan (17), had received generous bursaries from the Scottish Brass Band Association (SBBA) enabling them to take part in the weekend event.
Calum Stephens rehearsing Wallace and Gromit
The course required a high level of commitment from both Bathgate Band, only a week after gaining promotion to the Championship Section at the ‘Area’ contest, and the Bathgate Youth Band, both of which put in around 10 hours of rehearsal over the weekend as all the conductors rehearsed their respective concert pieces in Bathgate’s current multi-room bandhall in Livingston.
Joining Calum and Jamie in conducting BYB were Laura Good and Brian Mackie. All four did an excellent job in guiding the youngsters through a wide range of repertoire which included Abba Goes Brass and Everybody Needs Somebody from the hit Blues Brothers film, complete with trilbies and shades.
Foundation Course director Stuart Black was also delighted with how the weekend had gone, commenting: “This was a brand new experience for everyone involved - the conductors, myself and the Bathgate Youth Band. We are simply delighted about how it has gone - the kids were so responsive to all the different conductors and everyone seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the event. Taking part in a concert in front of a large, appreciative crowd was a thrill for everyone.”
BYB President Derek Brown was also thrilled by the occasion, commenting: “Everyone involved in the Youth Band has thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, it has been a tremendous experience for the kids being exposed to different conducting styles – we have seen many of them grow over the weekend and the event has come at a great time for them.”
Russell Gray had devoted Saturday to guiding his seminar delegates through sections of Land of the Long White Cloud, the 1st Section test-piece at the previous week’s Area contest, discussing baton technique and various other nuances of effective conducting, before analysing and discussing video recordings of all the conductors in the evening. On the Sunday, delegates Matthew Gee, Wesley Thompson, Peter Kench and Steve Critchlow all had two pieces to rehearse prior to the evening concert which meant for a busy day of rehearsing.
All four delegates thoroughly enjoyed a fraught but exciting weekend where their respective conducting techniques were put under the spotlight, albeit in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Delegate Steve Critchlow commented: “It was a really valuable weekend for me. I was a bit worried that the course would be full of RMA students but all of us were in the same boat and working with Russell and the Bathgate Band was a real thrill. It is such a positive platform for aspiring conductors within brass banding.”
Wesley Thompson, making his second appearance at the event, added: “The band engages in the event and the players are very sympathetic to the different conductors, making us feel so welcome and relaxed. It’s a learning experience for all of us and immensely enjoyable.”
Also returning to the course was Matthew Gee, a huge fan of Russell, the band and the course format who commented: “It’s such a great course - Russell is great to work with, Bathgate is such a talented and accommodating bunch and, although intensive and at times nerve-wracking, it’s just a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.”
Peter Kench is a cornet player at Yorkshire Imps who is keen to develop as a conductor. Peter endeared himself to the band by encouraging the sizeable audience to make a contribution towards Bathgate’s upcoming Cheltenham trip before adding: “Russell Gray’s teaching style is really impressive and he was an inspiration to all of us. It’s been hard work but a great experience.”
Summing up the event, Russell Gray was already looking forward to the next one, commenting: “It is actually quite difficult to get the right band for this kind of event. Many will try it once, some twice, but this is the third time with Bathgate and their dedication and approach to the event has been wonderful each year. We are already talking about plans for next year. It would be lovely to see some aspiring Scottish conductors get involved in the senior course next time. We had Scott Kerr on the Saturday this year but he had other commitments when the concert was on so it would be great to see an increased conducting representation from Scotland next year.”
Bathgate Band President Gerry Duggan is keen for Bathgate to continue the relationship with Russell for as long as possible, commenting: "This has become a fixture in our calendar that we very much look forward to each year. The timing is great as it gives us an immediate focus after the intensity of the preparation for the Scottish Championships. The band loves working with someone of Russell's stature but the course also serves to remind everyone in the band that the art of conducting is not easy - it makes us appreciate that, in Anne Crookston as our Musical Director, we are fortunate to have one of the best in the business!"