Mark Davey Interview: Playing 1st Trombone with Wellington Brass Band, Conducting Hutt City Brass Band & Improving the New Zealand Brass Band Scene
I was fortunate enough to speak to Wellington Brass Band's 1st Trombone player Mark Davey after the band achieved its second competition success for 2018, winning the 2018 New Zealand Brass Band Championships A Grade. We spoke about what it takes to succeed at a high grade, his role conducting Hutt City Band in the B Grade and his thoughts on improving the New Zealand banding scene!
Jared: How did you get started playing in brass bands?
Mark: I got started playing in bands when a former French Horn player from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra was starting a beginner’s brass band, connected to Wellington Brass Band. I had stopped playing guitar but my parents always wanted us to do sports and music; I told my mum about the French horn guy who came to school, we went to the brass band open day, and got sent home with the trombone.
Wellington Brass Band won the 2018 New Zealand National Band Championships earlier this month, reclaiming the title after Excelsior's narrow victory in 2017. How has the band reacted to the competition?
Of course we enjoy the competition, but the reason we enjoy contesting is because the competitions push the band to put on the best versions of the music as we can. We're always looking for new fun opportunities to perform, so who knows? Maybe a couple of good results in a row means some other doors open for us contesting wise in the UK. (Hopefully!)
You have succeeded at both the 2018 Australian Nationals and New Zealand Nationals under the Musical Direction of Nigel Seaman. What has Nigel's impact been on the band this year?
Nigel has been great. He has spent the better part of 4 months down here working with us. Nigel is a gentleman, and a very savvy musician. We have enjoyed working with him very much. With Dave Bremner resigning, the band was at a bit of a "what now?" point, so we were delighted when Nigel expressed his interest in being with us.
Nigel can't be in Wellington all year long, so how does the band rehearse while he isn't there?
When Nigel isn't around, we have used a number of Freelance conductors. We usually contract one conductor per gig. The variety has been nice. Sometimes either Byron, David Maas, or I will take the odd rehearsal or sectional.
Alongside your commitments with Wellington Brass Band, you also conduct Hutt City Brass Band in the B Grade. How do you balance conducting with your performing?
I enjoy conducting Hutt City Band. I've known a lot of the people in that band for a long time, but now I am friends with them. I just try help them get the most out of their music that they're looking at, enjoy themselves and have a good time rehearsing and performing.
I would say that my life, especially at contesting times, is not very balanced, running around from performance to rehearsal and back. There’s not a lot of flexibility; you just have to be organised, and up for it I think. I'm lucky that the Hutt City Band manager is organised, and puts up with the Wellington Brass commitments.
In New Zealand, brass banding contest calendars seem to mostly be made up of just the New Zealand National Championships. Would you like to see more contests held in New Zealand?
The National Championships is the main one, but each district also has a competition, where you play a hymn, own choice and 30-minute concert program. Sometimes the districts combine to hold a joint contest which is good. The Wellington and Central districts have a combined contest coming up in September.
A question was raised over the weekend regarding international import players. Do you think the current rule works, or would you like to see an increase or decrease in the number of players bands can fly in for contests?
I don't really mind the rules, though I prefer the British contesting rules. There are, of course, benefits to getting in exciting guest players.
But I do sometimes scratch my head, because I look at some bands rosters who, year on year, fly in guests. When you add them together and wonder “if only those tens of thousands of dollars had been spent on a youth band”, by now they would probably have six or seven awesome players grown from within.
Are there any aspects of New Zealand Banding that you would like to see changed?
I would like to float one idea. I do think bands should have to do more than put on an okay performance to be considered an A Grade band. I think it should be a requirement to have a thriving youth band. Obviously, national and regional associations would need to help initiate this and provide support to the bands. Once the A grade has got its stuff sorted, drift the concept down to the B grades.
I know this would just massively help grow brass bands, bring in a bit of money for all band organisations, grow talent, grow interest and potentially provide careers for hard out tenor horn players! In a few years, bands would be asking themselves “where am I going to find my next baritone player?” They would be looking forward to giving little Jimmy an opportunity to show his stuff.
This is essentially what happened to Wellington Brass 10 years ago, and since then, we've profited from similar systems in Whanganui, and Whakatane. Just look at the Eastern Bay of Plenty Brass (Whakatane) at the moment: they’re going great guns, and they are awesome to see and hear! I think it is the key to success on and off the stage. We should be placing more of an effort there, and maybe less money spent in flying some guy from Sweden out here who might have a better day than the 3rd year student at the Sydney Conservatorium.
What is next for Wellington Brass Band? Is the band considering the Australian Nationals in Brisbane in 2019?
Haha! Yes, we have considered going to Brisbane. We went to the Brisbane contest about 10 years ago. We were in the B grade then, and we had a great time. With flights direct from Wellington to Brisbane, it is certainly on the cards. We will see…
Congratulations on your back to back victories in 2018! Best of luck for the remainder of 2018, and hopefully look forward to seeing Wellington and Hutt City Band in 2019!
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Jared loves to share his passion for music and artists through music reviews and commentaries. These include a selection of reviews written for community radio stations 3MBS and Radio Monash.