I still remember stepping over the threshold for the first time. My trombone-carrying arm shook a little as I took in the brassy smell that is typical of any band room. I’d been asked to help them out for a competition – that was a nice feeling, especially because it’s my home town.
I held my breath as I walked through the small hallway and turned into the main room, eyes searching around for somebody to put me at ease. I instantly relaxed, as there were a few people I knew. But it was more than that: open, warm smiles from complete strangers.
You can spend your whole life trying to get to know some people and still have no connection. And with others you connect almost instantly, as if you’ve known them forever; this is how I felt about the community of Menai Bridge Band. It was like home.
I was giddy when I returned from the first rehearsal. At that time in my life, hyperactive behaviour would usually signal an imminent migraine – the high before the low. Mum was convinced I was going to get one! But I didn’t. After each rehearsal, I came back in the same mood, and yet no migraines appeared. I was just happy!
It was a breath of fresh air (a cliché, I know, but very much apt). I felt so valued. I think that’s one of the big things we crave in life; we want to feel as if our presence makes a difference, a positive difference. I had been struggling with this aspect, and in one night Menai Bridge Band had manged to boost my self-esteem and positivity.
Music is well known for its therapeutic qualities, but it had become insufficient for me. The loving, inclusive community helped me to recover from disillusionment and to fall in love with music again.
My involvement with the band deepened. I eventually decided to play for them full-time and began conducting the training bands. I noticed that my health was improving, which allowed me to take on more opportunities. At least, I assumed it was that way around. In the past few days I’ve started to question that: perhaps it was the improvement in my mental state that was the catalyst for my physical health improving. Either way, my life had taken a good turn, and band played a huge part.
It led on to years of amazing experiences and opportunities, both in brass-banding and in all other areas of my life – I don’t believe that this is an overstatement. It gave me confidence.
Brass bands are like a family, with the highs and lows, fun and frictions that come from that closeness. It’s not always easy. We rehearse twice a week, sometimes grumble at each other, roll our eyes, wince at bad tuning or ensemble issues, and get frustrated whenever attendance is poor.
Occasionally I do question, as a rational-ish person, why I do it. Why do we all give up our evenings to rehearse twice a week? Why did we play a march in a chip shop for television? (And why did we eat dogfish?!) Why do we freeze our butts off playing Christmas carols outside supermarkets? Why do we sit and play in the pouring rain? Why do we squash ourselves in spaces that are clearly too small for a band, or where people don’t even bother to listen? Why do we enter competitions in which the results are often unpredictable?
Well, because it’s worth it! We help each other through those struggles, and enjoy the wonderful occasions ten times more than if we’d experienced them alone. We all get caught up with the excitement that comes from a good performance. It’s often the small things – pulling together despite the odds, having a laugh together, managing to finish a concert during a blackout, chuckling our way through rehearsals (I love our trombone section!), making the most of free refreshments at gigs, and countless other things that I could never fit into one blog post. The memories we make are not just single moments; each one is deepened every time we smile at each other and say, ‘Remember when…’
Menai Bridge Band recently triumphed in a competition, returning home with four trophies and an overall 1st place! It’s the first competition that we’ve won while I’ve been in the band. The coach journey home was wonderful – we cheered as the adjudications were read out, almost teared up as we listened to the recordings of our performances, and sang the pieces at the tops of our voices!
In a more reflective moment, our flugelhorn player (a good friend of mine) observed, ‘The thing is, we all really like each other. And that shows in our performances.’
I think that sums it up perfectly. I’m grateful and proud to be part of it. Thank you, Menai Bridge Band.