Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Silver Band - Music in the Dale

I rushed up to Stanhope last Saturday to stand in the pouring rain to watch Stanhope Silver Band march through the main street up to the showground for Stanhope Show.  My Uncle Willie, my mother's only brother, used to play in the band and I can remember my mother saying that my grandma couldn't bear the noise he made when he was learning to play - I think it was the cornet. She made him go off down the fields to practise, down by the River Wear below the farmhouse with the cattle gathered around him, listening intently.

When I was a little kid my fearsome Auntie Janet ( other side of the family, one of my father's three sisters and heroine of my book, Silver Street ) took me to an outdoor brass band concert. I sat on a rug for one of the longest most tedious afternoons of my life.  As an adult I have learned to love all music though I do dislike the growing trend of very young musicians who, though they might have a decent voice or play an instrument, unleash on audiences their own material.

Whatevcer makes them think they are composers? It's like an actress writing a play. Of course it happens, brilliant song writers do emerge but the majority of sensibly modest musicians start off by using other people's material. I long for a folk singer who is not grinding out the limits of his small experience when there are wonderful Border, Tyneside, Northumbrian and Scottish songs, written by experts and loved by many people that have endured for centuries or are we going the same way as art and we don't know whether we're seeing/reading or listening to the Emperor with his bottom showing?
The home of the band

The art of course is to know your music, to understand your audience. Stanhope Silver band knows its audiences very well and is a credit to the kind of music it plays and the place it comes from. It was formed in 1823 and is three generations strong. The oldest member is ninety, the youngest eleven and I have been to concerts and seen their conductor, Steve Robson, encourage the children to stand up and do their solos, giving them confidence in themselves and pride in the music.
I talked to Steve Robson and he told me that they don't know why the band is called The Silver Band because obviously all the instruments are brass and that originally he thinks there was a Band of Hope which played in the local Methodist chapel for a royal funeral which appears to have been the first glimpse of history about the band.  In the 1930s there were three or four bands in Rookhope alone which shows how communities went on in those days. In upper Weardale in the 1970s the London Lead Company supported the band and would give money to buy instruments.

The building which houses the band was the co-op in Stanhope and was first the home of the band  about fifteen years ago but they have outgrown it and are hoping to extend to the area at the back which they already own. Steve says there are 26 brass plus percussion and fifteen junior members.

Dates for your diary - on October 2nd there is a concert in the Methodist Chapel at Stanhope, the sixth Junior Band Festival, when opera singers Graeme Dandy and his wife Valerie Reid will be joining the band, October 16th there will be a marquee in Wolsingham for a junior band concert, Music from around the World, in December famous trombone player Brett Baker will be playing with band - he plays with the famous Black Dyke Band.

The band makes CDs both to provide money for the band's needs and for charity and has raised large amounts of money for Brass Band Aid, World Vision and Leah Pattinson from Frosterley went to India to set up Women in Need for women with leprosy and other problems and they have and are raising money for all these and other causes.
On Saturday morning at ten thirty it was pouring with rain but there they were, marching and playing and  carrying on one of the best traditions that we have and people stood under their brollies amid the fun fair and clapped and cheered and the narrow valley of the dale was full of the sound of joy.

I wondered whether my Uncle Willie, who died years ago and my grandfather and all the people who have lived in the dale, can hear the music still and maybe even the cattle down by the river stood and listened for a while as the dales' own band marched on through the little town.

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