A brass triumph: Derwent Brass win RPS Inspiration Award!

Chris Leonard, manager of Derwent Brass, discusses winning the 2024 RPS Inspiration Award, programming a 35-show run and the future of brass banding.

Congratulations to Derwent Brass for winning the Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) Inspiration Award, the first brass band to achieve this in the award's over 200-year history. We had the pleasure of interviewing Band Manager, Chris Leonard about the group’s historic win and what’s in store for the future.

You’ve been praised for your innovative programming in Derbyshire, leading to winning the RPS Inspiration Award, what aspects of this work are you most proud of?

'We often perform works rarely programmed for brass bands (such as the entire Planets Suite) or commission new music of varied styles. Though that's not to say everything we programme is necessarily avant-garde, sometimes putting existing works into a new format, or making music that isn't traditionally associated with the brass band idiom (think Stan Kenton to Sweet Charity and everything in between) can go a long way. In my opinion, brass bands should look outside and be artistically brave to remain exciting and relevant, and it is the continued determination of Derwent Brass, combined with their love of collaboration and doing things differently that I'm most proud of.'

Can you tell us about what was involved in orchestrating the 35-show run of Brassed Off at Derby Theatre?

'Initially staged in 2015, the production saw a triumphant return in 2023 and we were delighted when asked to be involved by our friends from Derby Theatre. Directed by Sarah Brigham, Derby Theatre's CEO, the wonderful way in which she crafted the production was what made it different to your typical fare. The band (often acting themselves) were joined by actors, who even learnt to play brass. Our collaboration with them allowed us to convey genuine emotions and a strong sense of community in the performances. We were also substantially involved in the rehearsals and despite the demanding schedule of a 35-show run, a rarity for leisure-time music groups, the band’s commitment and skills enabled us to manage rehearsals effectively. By performing as a smaller ensemble, we were able to schedule most of our membership across the show.'

How does Derwent Brass plan to continue promoting brass banding in the Midlands?

'As somebody said to us shortly after winning this RPS Award “Keep doing what you've been doing!”. Just a few nights after winning the RPS Award, we were on stage with Russell Watson in Derby Cathedral; it was truly incredible and an example of how we are actively trying to promote brass music to a wider audience. Once they have heard it, they love it, so it's also about breaking that mantra that brass bands can only play traditional heart-warming tunes (though we do love doing that too!). 

Balancing heritage and innovation to make quality music accessible to a diverse audience is key to the future of brass band culture across the Midlands and all of the UK.'

Derwent Brass was among the four Making Music members nominated along with Glasgow Madrigirls, Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus and The Sunday Boys. 

Find out more about Derwent Brass on their website

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