NI brass band provides silver lining with competition win

A brass band from Northern Ireland has provided a silver lining to lift the black cloud hanging over the arts, culture and music sector.

Downshire Brass band's competition image

With no opportunity for liver performances available during the Covid pandemic, Downshire Brass members made a recording to go head to head in a worldwide brass band competition.

The Cory Band Championships saw 68 bands from Singapore to Scotland, Europe and the USA compete in an online competition during which Downshire Flugelhorn player Lauren Stewart brought one of the judges to tear.

The 20-year-old was named Best Soloist while the band was named as First Section Champion Band

With a theme of Tales and Yarns from Home, Downshire’s playing of .‘She moved through the fair’, ‘A ragged hank of yarn’ and ‘I’ll tell me Ma’ was overlaid with images of the rolling hills of Co Down, significant landmarks in Belfast and the Titanic Quarter.

The band’s Musical Director, Professor Michael Alcorn who arranged the music and co-ordinated the audio and video production said: “This has been a very challenging period for all musicians who have been unable to rehearse or perform together since March.

“COVID has led us all to reflect on our families, communities and the places where we live.

In writing these arrangements I was inspired by the people, places and cultures of Northern Ireland and wanted to take viewers on a journey from ancient rural landscapes to modern-day Belfast.”

Lauren Stewart, Flugel Horn Player

The icing on the cake for Downshire was the award of Best Soloist to Lauren whose rendition of ‘She moved through the fair’, moved adjudicator Steve Stewart to tears.

Lauren, who began playing cornet aged seven and Flugelhorn at 12, said: “I couldn’t believe it when I realised I had won the solo prize as I had heard so many amazing solos that evening.

“It still hasn’t sunk in. I’m so proud to be a part of Downshire Brass and can’t wait to get back to playing together.”

The pieces were recorded individually in members’ homes, garages, in the basement at work and even on top of Divis Mountain, then collated by Professor Alcorn.

Downshire’s achievements showcased a fraction of the wealth of talent in Northern Ireland and together with the beauty of the Province’s landscape was a winning combination.

Downshire Brass are the official band at the home matches of Ulster Rugby and play annually as part of Belfast Culture Night.

They were due to represent Northern Ireland at the European Brass Band Championships in Palanga, Lithuania in May until the event was cancelled due to coronavirus.