Culture & Events

Brass bands marching to the same drum

Hamilton hosts the NZ Brass Band Championships for the first time in 40 years this July.

The five-day event, opening on 10 July, will draw bands from all over New Zealand, as well as from Australia and the United States of America. The championships feature numerous competitive events and special performances the public can enjoy – plus the Parade of Bands through three central Hamilton streets, during which the musicians will carry out the Salute to the Mayor.

Malcolm Barr, Principal Trombonist with Hamilton City Brass Band and the organising committee chairperson, says Hamilton bid for the event in 2016 and it’s been three years in the planning.

Mr Barr says it’s the most important event on the national brass band calendar: “This is what we aim for, it’s a big deal.”

“Having been to plenty of contests everywhere, I really wanted to have one in my home town,” he says. “I just didn’t know how much work it was going to be!”

The competition is divided into categories based on the experience and quality of the bands.

Hamilton City Brass has two bands competing this year, with the goal a finish in the top half of the A Grade field, Mr Barr says.

Bands are judged on the performance of their selected tunes, and judging is “blind” – the scorers cannot see the bands they’re judging at the time. Bands competing in the various grades will all play the same tune – known as the “test piece” – in their grade to ensure they can be accurately compared and scored. Bands in all grades also get to select a second tune known as the “own choice” (chosen from a list of familiar compositions suitable for the grade), and a reflective tune.  Solo and ensemble competitions also feature as part of the event, and more than 70 trophies are up for grabs across the entire championships.

The Parade of Bands – taking in Bryce St, Barton St and London St on Friday 12 July from 12:30pm – is a separate competition within the championships and doesn’t count toward overall aggregate scores to find the eventual winner. Mr Barr says the event aims to engage and entertain the wider public with brass bands, and as it occurs during school holidays families are encouraged to attend.

Band member numbers are capped at 31 brass instrument players, plus three or four percussionists. Musicians’ ages are spread between young players in their early teens to experiences veterans into their 70s and 80s.

And, like many sports and competitive past-times, brass bands are a family affair: organising committee member Marilyn Edgecombe says she’s “from a family of brass band royalty, if you like”, with several relatives directly involved in brass bands.

“My father is 79, and he’s playing in the A-grade, which is pretty special,” she says.

The visiting American band, from Chicago, has a track record of strong performances in American brass band events. Similarly, the Australian bands frequently commit to competing in New Zealand “because they’ve been doing well over there, and they want to come over and see how they go here”.

  • For the Parade of Bands, on Friday 12 July, there will be parking and traffic restrictions on Bryce St, Barton St, London St, Harwood St and a section of Anglesea St. Click here for more information.

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