Where there’s muck, there’s brass. It’s an old saying that rings true in Takapuna. Next to the playing fields on Taharoto Road sits North Shore Brass bandrooms. Since 1923, the sounds of brass have resonated from this location, and they’re as loud as they’ve ever been as the band celebrates its golden jubilee during what is proving to be a golden era for the band.
In an age of Artificial Intelligence, a throwback to times gone by is going stronger than ever here on the Shore; reconnecting people IRL (in real life) through a love of music and a sense of community belonging. North Shore Brass Band celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. And it is bucking modern trends in music by proving to be more popular than ever.
President Owen Melhuish has been at the helm of the band for over 13 years. The tuba player is proud and pleased to share the spoils of what has been a seminal year for North Shore Brass.
“We are enjoying a truly golden period this year. Not only with the golden jubilee, but with the calibre of players we have and having brought back so many wins from the national championships this year.”
Owen says eight members of North Shore Brass are currently touring Australia with the National Band of New Zealand after the band enjoyed huge success at this year’s nationals in Dunedin this July. There were six junior champions, the youngest winner being eight year-old trumpet player Celine Wu, who incredibly scooped the Under 15 national title. In addition, Matt Donaldson was awarded the Junior Champion of Champions trophy at only 15 years. This trophy had been won by North Brass Band’s Liam Wright since 2019. Last year, the overall Senior Champion of Champions also went to a North Shore player, Murray Borthwick.
“Both this year’s and last year’s national contest results have been staggering,” says Owen. “It really demonstrates the breadth and depth of talent we have here.”
There are currently 120 musicians, aged from eight to 80 years old, which make up four bands that play under the North Shore Brass banner: North Shore Youth Brass, North Shore Community Band, North Shore Brass Academy (playing in the national C Grade) and North Shore Brass (A Grade).
Sowing the seeds of the current success started a decade ago, says Owen, with the establishment of the band’s youth academy. “We started the academy over ten years ago and that has fed players into different levels of the playing group. Our Director of Music Harmen Vanhoorne has been a real driver of the band’s success in recent years. We’re lucky to have someone of his calibre on board.”
Originally from Belgium, Harmen took up his role of leading the band in 2020. Former cornet soloist with the Royal Wind Band of the Belgian Guides, Harmen is a revered player, tutor and conductor who has made a statement on the New Zealand band scene, not only with the success of so many players under his direction, but with his flamboyant conducting style.
A long time in the planning, a 100th anniversary celebration evening will be held this month – on Saturday 21 October – at the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna. The big birthday event, A Century of Brass, will feature long-time supporter of North Shore Brass, Don McGlashan.
Owen says, “We’re delighted to have the support of Don McGlashan for this very special event. We have done several collaborations with Don over the years, such as a project with New Zealand Dance Company, a World War One centennial performance, and some of our players have travelled to Samoa with him. He has long been a fan of brass band music, starting out on the Shore with East Coast Bays Brass Band.”
What does Owen feel is the enduring pull of being a member of a brass band, and how does North Shore Brass continue to attract so many young players amid the digital distractions of modern life?
“It’s a very family-orientated, safe environment for people of all ages and backgrounds to come together, spend time with each other and make music! It truly is an inter-generational activity. Children, parents and grandparents can all be involved in the same band. It’s not only about the music; it’s also about the sense of community.
“Playing in a brass band is something that can continue seamlessly from childhood into adulthood. It’s a low barrier to entry – most players start off with a cornet. These only have three keys and they are also cheap to hire.”
The band owns most of the instruments used, with some players choosing to buy their own. This includes a vast assortment of accompanying percussion instruments, something Owen says people understandably don’t think about in terms of brass band music.
He is rightfully proud of the state of the band in 2023. It is in a healthy position in terms of numbers, finances and competition wins, and is building even further on a successful 2022. “There are currently eight North Shore Brass players in the National Secondary Schools’ Brass Band, seven in the National Youth Brass Band and eight in the National Band of New Zealand. Three of our members are also in the Royal New Zealand Navy Band. It’s great to be able to say we’re in a strong position.”
Part of the 100-year milestone celebration is a book due to be published over Labour Weekend. Mirroring the name of the centennial concert, A Century of Brass, the book will take readers on a journey from the band’s formation back in 1923. It has been compiled by local historian and long-standing Channel columnist, David Verran.
In the book, David explains how the origins of brass bands stretch back to 1820s Britain and Europe, with the first brass bands on the North Shore being the short-lived Devonport Brass Band, formed around January 1886, and a separate Devonport Naval Band dating from 1885. There were various iterations between then and the formation of Takapuna Municipal Band in 1923.
The band became known as Takapuna City Silver Band from 1964 and entered a golden era during the 1970s, under the direction of Gil Morrison, in which it enjoyed significant national success, much like today. On 8 December 1993, Takapuna City Silver Band became North Shore Brass. It is now the only surviving brass band on Auckland’s North Shore.
To generate income, the bandrooms are hired to community groups, and Owen is pleased with the numbers of regular bookings they have attracted for various community activities. He says the band is grateful for the support of Devonport-Takapuna Local Board, and the numerous other funding bodies that have helped along the way.
A ‘sponsor a seat’ fundraising scheme has proved popular since it was introduced last year, with half of the available seats already snapped up. “Hopefully readers can help us get this scheme fully subscribed in our golden anniversary year,” smiles Owen.
Locals can also show their support and experience the stirring sounds of brass on Saturday 21 October at the Bruce Mason Centre from 7.30pm. Secure your tickets for A Century of Brass, with special guest Don McGlashan, at ticketmaster.co.nz. Door sales are also available at Bruce Mason Centre ticket office until sold out.