Big Brass Weekend at TAISM
In a fanfare of youthful confidence last weekend, young people from amalgamated international schools across Muscat enjoyed a weekend of Big Brass workshops hosted by The American International School of Muscat (TAISM), to hone their skills as brass players of the future.
This was the third such camp in which wind instrument students could spend two days learning, playing and developing their abilities under some of the best tutors available in town — who gave their time and expertise generously free of charge. The teenagers also enjoyed the social element of spending two days in each others’ company; eating, chatting and getting to know people from other schools in the capital and swapping notes — literally and metaphorically.
Originally this Big Band special was conceived by the late maestro, Darrol Barry, who wanted to share his knowledge and reach out to the potential in local international schools. Sadly, Darrol passed away in June, and so this convention bore a memorial quality, with the participating teachers from Muscat Brass determined to continue his legacy and encourage youngsters to enjoy communal music- making in the spirit in which Barry intended.
The culmination of about 10 hours rehearsal time was a creditable concert on Saturday afternoon at The Bosch Centre for Performing Arts in Ghala comprising seven sterling performances. The opening fanfare was an arrangement of ‘The Avengers Theme’ for school bands. The second piece changed the mood completely, with an anachronistic arrangement of “Pastime with Good Company”, rumoured to have been written by King Henry VIII (or at least, a court composer), beginning with a quiet statement of the mediaeval melody, complete with muted trumpets, and gradually building up in texture to a rousing conclusion.
Conductor and course convenor, Dan Anthony, welcomed the audience and introduced the concept of allowing instrumentalists from different schools to meet, socialise through musical masterclasses and verbal interaction in what turned out to be a fun weekend.
Next up, “Misirlou” was a Greek traditional tune arranged for school band in what sounded for all the world like a Persian Tango – and what a treat! Again Dan Anthony addressed the audience, but this time in more sombre tone to pay tribute to Darrol Barry’s influence and legacy to Oman over seventeen years in a moving address. To honour his memory the Big Band performed Barry’s appropriate, “Quiet Moments”, a reflective chordal piece with excellent intonation and control, glockenspiel echoes, and a beautiful solo trumpet contribution from Lars Boersma.
Scott Joplin’s, “The Easy Winners” woke the audience with a jolt in the Ragtime band arrangement. It featured great trombone and tuba Oomph-a lines in the intro, followed by fine trumpet playing of the leaping melody by the students, and jaunty snare drum accompaniment. You cannot have a band concert without a march, and “Blaze Away March” reminded one of the Monty Python theme tune, so not easy to keep a straight face. It was magnificent and surely great fun to play. The teachers of horn, trumpet, trombone, and euphonium were from Muscat schools and military music institutions, such as ROSO and the Royal Guard of Oman.
The Finale was a splendid arrangement of a Russian theme – “The Song of the Volga Boatman”. Opening with euphonium and tuba intro, the trombone choir entered proudly and then the trumpet ensemble brought the piece to a Jazz Big Band sound, to the credit of all the musicians, young and professional. The work ended on an amazing jazz added-chord climax. It was so good, they played the piece again. And the playing was so good that next year’s Big Band Weekend will be eagerly awaited by more than just this reviewer.