The Timaru Municipal Alpine Energy Brass celebrates 150 years

Timaru band member Sheryl Smith. Smith was the first female to join the band.
JOHN BISSET/FAIRFAX NZ

Timaru band member Sheryl Smith. Smith was the first female to join the band.

The Timaru Municipal Band will celebrate 150 years in June. Timaru Herald reporter Koren Allpress talks to past and present members about their time with the band.

The first woman ever to join the Timaru Municipal Band (which goes by its sponsored name Alpine Energy Timaru Brass) in the early 1970s says "it upset a few members".

Sheryl Smith was only 16 when she joined the very male dominated band but it didn't deter the B flat bass player.

"I just did it … I think they just had to accept it," she said.

Sheryl, nee Wilkinson, her mum Gwen and dad Keith had just arrived in Timaru from Napier. In Napier, her older siblings played in the Napier band with their dad.

"It was just something we did, followed dad, and he was in the band," she said.

"It was just a natural thing."

Not long after Sheryl joined the ranks, "a few more girls came along", and there were soon females in both the junior band and Timaru band.

Sheryl still plays and says she probably will "forever".

"I think it's just family, isn't it? And the music side, obviously."

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Sheryl's husband, Kent Smith, 64, is the current president of the band committee.

"We have no other friends except band people," Sheryl jokes.

Highlights of her time in the band include competing against other bands, and quick step marching which the band no longer does.

"I know we used to win the marching which was a real boost."

The band members used to "hate" practicing marching, but they "always did well" at it, she said.

She believed difficulties with closing streets had contributed to the demise of marching.

Kent and his father Doug were both trombone players for the band. Kent and Sheryl's son Anthony, a cornet player, was also a member. The three generations of men each started out at Waimataitai School's brass band.

Doug's grandsons, Barrett and Slade Hocking, also started at Waimataitai on the cornet - later becoming Timaru band members.

Kent said the band's culture was perfect for children.

"It works in families and it's so good for families because they can do their hobby together," Kent said.

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Timaru band musical director Shane Foster, 55, originally from Lancashire, might be a more recent addition to the band – he's been with them for about 12 months, but he and his family have had ties to New Zealand for much longer.

The soprano cornet player was invited to New Zealand to join the Woolston Brass Band in Christchurch in 1981. He declined.

Foster's grandfather fought in World War I and teamed up with Anzacs during the battle.

"He always had a strong connection [with New Zealand]."

Foster took up conducting in 2000. He and wife Angela and son Chris came to New Zealand for a holiday in 2003 before shifting to Darfield in 2006.

After the Canterbury earthquakes he and Angela relocated to Herbert, however Chris remains near Christchurch, a member of the New Zealand Army Band based at Burnham.

In his role, Foster selects songs for the band to perform.

"I was pretty much given free range of the music but I consult with the committee, especially for the 150th, because they know the band musical history."

He wanted the set list for the concert to feature some key moments from the band's history.

"There is going to be 15 pieces, we've one specially commissioned as well by Dwayne Bloomfield who was a past conductor, titled The Rocket Brigade."

The set would begin in a traditional manner - with a march or an overture before diversifying to include old and new songs, he said.

"We go way back, then we start moving forward in time.

"It's not going to be boring, I like good fresh concerts," Foster said.

"It's a major celebration for us, not many institutions can say they've lasted 150 years."

The band nowadays faced competition with sport when it came to attracting youngsters, he said.

"You got to make it interesting for them, hopefully they'll progress and keep the band moving forward for another 50 years."

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Former band member Barrett Hocking, in his "mid 30s", remembers his time with the band fondly, having started out aged 7.

Hocking credited former Timaru band conductor David Wolfe for getting him to join the Waimataitai band.

"He was a major part of starting me out as a brass musician."

Wolfe passed away a couple of years ago.

Hocking went from the Waimataitai band to the Timaru junior band, and had a crossover period for a while when he played for both the junior and Timaru bands.

"I went to my first national competition with the Timaru Municipal Band when I was 12, so that would have been 1993, in Whanganui."

Hocking shifted to Christchurch in 1999 for his last year of high school and to play for another Canterbury brass band.

"And this band was in the A grade, called the Woolston Brass Band," Hocking said.

While in Christchurch he picked up another instrument – the trumpet.

Nowadays he plays with well-known Kiwi band The Black Seeds, who are getting ready to release their sixth album and tour North America. Hocking also plays principal trumpet for the Wellington Orchestra.

The Timaru band was a "major part" of his upbringing, he said.

"It all started there … I'm really grateful for my time in the Timaru band, it holds a really fond area in my life and my heart."

He was "pretty gutted" he couldn't attend the celebrations because of work commitments.

"But I'll be there for the next major celebration no doubt."

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Another person who travels globally with his music is former Timaru band conductor Dwayne Bloomfield.

The euphomium player ("it's like a small tuba") began playing in the Timaru band when he was 10-years-old in 1980.

He left Timaru aged 18 for the New Zealand Army Band, a spot he held up until three years ago.

In 1999 Bloomfield took over from Wolfe as conductor of the Timaru band, and travelled from Christchurch to Timaru frequently for practise.

He kept this up for about 15 years.

In between commuting, Bloomfield also found time for another musical activity – composing.

"I started composing in the 90s, when I was in the army band."

The first year he conducted Timaru for a contest, the band won using Seven Wonders – which he wrote about the seven wonders of the world.

The song has been played around New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom, he said.

Bloomfield actually started composing The Rocket Brigade about 20 years ago when wanted to write something for Timaru.

He was researching the town's history, and saw a headline which used the words 'black Sunday' in reference to the famous ship wrecks and subsequent rescue, which sparked inspiration.

But he "never got around to completing it".

"I think in some ways I was kind of just waiting for the right event to kind of finish writing it for, and obviously the 150th is a good kind of reason."

It's still not quite complete. He's got the last 24 bars to go.

"I've just got to get the ending right … I know in some cases the ink will still be drying on paper when they're playing it on stage."

The song begins by depicting the ships with big sails, he said.

"Then there's a bit of a sea shanty kind of depicting the port."

The shanty switches mood from upbeat to that of a something darker.

"The storm is quite ferocious."

It was at the storm that Bloomfield got stuck writing 20 years ago, feeling daunted by the task.

And in between times, the software he began writing the music on has become obsolete, he's had to update the music onto something else.

But he has finally tackled the storm.

"The band will be challenged on the day to get through that part because it is quite fast and ferocious and a lot of notes flying here there and everywhere."

During the storm, the song moves into the part where the Rocket Brigade, the heros, save some of the sailors.

The song then acknowledges the deaths of the nine that lost their lives, he said.

His next job will be to end the song with "a bit of reflection" and to incorporate a bit about how the coast is now.

Like Hocking, Bloomfield attributes his beginnings with band for helping him get to where he is.

"It was fantastic, obviously growing up there and coming through the junior band has got me to where I was in the army band."

He was glad he was able to use the knowledge he gained from his time in the NZ Army Band with the Timaru band while its conductor.

Seeing youth improve their playing was "very rewarding", he said.

"The Timaru band are a great bunch and they do a lot of things very well .... they're like a family as well."

When he visited recently from Rolleston with his sheet music, he was pleased to see "some of the old faces" as well as the new faces.

"You haven't got many hobbies where you can get a 70-year-old sitting beside a seven-year-old sharing the same hobby and interest."

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In the Timaru Municipal Alpine Energy Brass Band band room on a dark and wintery night, Thomas Kissell, 16, has arrived with his soprano cornet ready for rehearsal ahead of the 150th concert.

The Roncalli College student is unsure if pursuing a professional career in music is something he would like to do.

"It's more a hobby."

He began in the junior band, before making the move to the senior band about five years ago, and he enjoyed the camaraderie.

Kissell said 150 years was "a hell of a long time" for the band to have been around for.

"And it hasn't faltered."

The band is calling for registrations from past and present members, friends, family and supporters of the band for a celebratory dinner on Saturday June 3. It will be preceded by a concert at the Theatre Royal which is open to the public. Tickets from Newmans Musicworks.

 - Stuff

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