Brass band coming together that may just fly

Cornet versus B-flat bass – Tauranga City’s Jeremy Thompson and the Sallies John Burns Photo: Nikki South.

It’ll be a big, bold, brassy sound – enough to lift the lid clean off the citadel on the corner of Cameron Road and 5th Avenue.

The collective power of the Tauranga City Brass Band and the Salvation Army brass band – more than 40 players when normally 28 will do.

It’s a fundraising performance for the Waipuna Hospice on Sunday, May 27 at 4pm.

“It gives us a chance to play a range of music that a small band can’t play on its own,” says Sallies bandsman John Burns. “For example, you get a completely different sound when you have a decent row of basses. There will be nine of us.”

Nine booming B-flat basses, the largest and lowest pitched instrument in the band – and a price tag as big as the sound. The instrument John’s holding cold cost $30,000 to replace.

“Lovely, lovely instrument,” says John. “Best in the band, the foundation sound.”

John and Jeremy Thompson are pretty close to being the oldest and the youngest in the band. John started playing brass with the Sallies when he was 12. He’s 81 now. Jeremy is cradling his cornet – he’s 34 and started when he was nine.

 “People give me grief all the time about being in a brass band,” says Jeremy. “That’s not cool. What’s a guy your age doing playing in a brass band? Well, it is cool.”

It was an inevitable thing for John. “We’re in the Sallies - people expect us to be in a brass band.” Although John freely admits he couldn’t sing a note in tune, played a piano “very childishly” and ended up with the double b-flat after failing at every other brass instrument.

Banding was probably instilled in Jeremy. He’s from a banding family – his Dad was in the Rotorua band for many years, and that’s where he learned it all and just kept going.

“Dad is now conductor of the Tauranga City Brass. My brother is the solo horn, my other brother is the flugel player, and I am the principle cornet. My twin brother is in the UK and playing over there.” Puckered banding lips run in this family.

“And the reason it’s cool is because I enjoy it – no-one plays a hymn or a march quite like a brass band, which is what we are known for.”

Marches like the stirring Jubilee March. “Sounds great with a big band, bass solos, the bass section and the middle row – it’s really good played well,“ says Jeremy. “There’ll be hymns and marches, but we will be doing other interesting stuff at the concert. And if you come along you will get to hear it.”

There’s also the expanded family thing in brass banding, and you don’t have to scratch too deep or search too far to find someone who once played with someone in a band somewhere.    

“Did you know our Grant?” John asks Jeremy. Grant is John’s eldest son and was the Salvation Army’s itinerant brass tutor for the Rotorua district. He ran the Saturday morning music school.

“Yes, I know him very well,” says Jeremy. “He taught me to play the cornet when I was about five-years-old. That’s how I got started.” Satisfaction for the elder bandsman. And John, his second son and namesake, is now the band master at the Salvation Army in Tauranga.

The Salvation Army’s connection with banding is fascinating, because it was a bit of a marketing ploy. In the 19th century, when the Salvation Army took its message to the streets and markets, a certain Charles Fry and his three sons formed a brass quartet to pull punters to the outdoor meetings.

Hear the music, listen to the message. It seemed to work, and so the Army’s founder, William Booth, started to use the brass band on his own campaign.

And so, 150 years later, a rather unique coming together of two of Tauranga’s brass bands will happen at the Salvation Army Church Hall on Cameron Road on Sunday, May 27, at 4pm. Adults are $5 and children $2. Proceeds will go to Waipuna Hospice.

American composer Charles Ives once said: “In thinking up music I usually have some kind of brass band  with wings on it in back of my mind.” So this is one concert that could really fly.