Brackley & District Band and the Stowe Brass Musicians were delighted to have had the opportunity to work with Steven Mead, a world-famous euphonium soloist and tutor at the wonderful Stowe School during our Masterclass and evening concert on Saturday. The opportunity came about since our Musical Director Micah Parsons once studied under Steven as a young euphonium player.
Our afternoon began with a rehearsal where we worked alongside Steven Mead to put the finishing touches to a number of euphonium solo items we had been working on in preparation for our joint concert that evening.
Following our rehearsal we were joined by musicians from Stowe School for a full band Masterclass during which Steven Mead took the baton. As part of this session he discussed breathing and its importance within brass playing before working on two contrasting pieces of brass band repertoire, 'Under Two Flags' written by Bramwell Coles and 'Pound the Streets' written by Paul Lovatt-Cooper. Throughout both sessions Steven was encouraging, helpful in his observations and suggestions and a pleasure to work with.
After a short break we returned to the auditorium for our final Masterclass of the afternoon, during which Steven spoke about his own experiences as a professional musician before exploring different aspects of playing and performance including breathing, long notes, technical exercises as well as simple practice routines that cover all the basics of brass playing.
The Band opened with the evening concert with the aptly named ‘The Home of Legends’ with its rousing opening fanfare theme which set the scene for Steven to take to the stage and perform two of his solo items. The first solo was ‘Neath The Dublin Skies’ allowing him to showcase his technical skills and ‘In Gardens of Peace’ his beautiful warm lyrical playing. Our Musical Director Micah Parsons felt it was a particular honour to conduct and listen to Steven play this second solo since it was originally commissioned by Micah himself, together with Wolfgang Weichselbaumer, and was written by Cory Band MD, Philip Harper. The first half also included ‘The Path to Peace’, ‘Marching Onward’, ‘Procession to Covenant’ and closed with ‘Farandole’ from L’Arlesienne.
The second half opened with ‘Pastime with Good Company’ followed by ‘Guardian of My Soul’ before Steven once again took to the stage to perform his final two solo items ‘Carnival of Venice’ and ‘The Song of the Birds’. The Band then performed ‘Backdraft’ before Micah also picked up his euphonium. This turned out to be another highlight as Micah performed alongside Steven in an absolutely electric performance of a euphonium duet entitled 'Timepiece' written by Norman Bearcroft. This very duet was featured over 27 years ago by Micah’s father Geoffrey Parsons and Steven in a concert with The Coventry City Salvation Army Band in 1991.
Steven then entertained the audience with something a little different. He performed two movements of Pearls by Roland Szentpali whilst accompanied by an electronic backing track, something he is not often able to do often since travelling with so much equipment can be difficult. This performance was just phenomenal and demonstrated the versatility of the euphonium as a solo instrument since this exhilarating and challenging music had a strong jazz influence.
‘Thrift Shop’ was the final Band item which again showed the versatility of the modern-day brass band. This hip-hop inspired number requires the Band to exclaim ‘This is really awesome!’ and the upbeat funky rhythms and the improvised trombone solo performed by Neil Brownless certainly were.
The Stowe School musicians then joined us for the massed band items. Both went down very well with the appreciative audience, the first ‘Under Two Flags’ with its references to ‘Rule Britannia’, ‘Men of Harlech’, ‘Bluebells of Scotland’ and ‘God Save The Queen’, and ‘Pound The Streets’ which was a fast pounding rock number which quite appropriately, given the involvement of the youngsters from Stowe School, was commissioned for the National Youth Brass Band of Scotland in 2010. The youngsters did fantastically well given the limited amount of rehearsal time on each piece and it was a delight to have worked with them.
Our finale was the ‘Lincolnshire Poacher’ and this got everyone clapping and brought an end to a fabulous concert that has been months in the making. We were delighted that the day went so well and that everyone involved had such a great time. We are incredibly grateful to Steven, who is a truly inspiring and fantastically talented musician.
We were also pleased to be able to support Keith Muggeridge at the concert. Keith was able to further his fundraising efforts for the Thames Valley Air Ambulance through the sale of his CD ‘Flight’ whilst raising awareness of the organisation which made his life-saving rescue back in February 2015. Steven also donated half of the monies from the sales of his CDs made at the end of the concert.