NZYSW – The Alumni Experience

By Rangimakehu Hall

I remember the feeling. Excitement….and anxiety?

Those first emotions you feel when arriving at your first NZYSW workshop event, very quickly replaced with comfort and familiarity. The memory remains, and when you are no longer eligible to be a participant in the band, it’s those feelings and memories that you hold on to. On Tuesday 23 January, 2018, I saw it in the faces of many young musicians who had arrived at the University of Auckland Music Theatre not knowing what to expect. This time I witnessed it from the perspective of a past member and helper – and what a privilege it was.

The rehearsals ran much as they had in previous years. Under the capable baton of Simon Brew, the band was put through its paces. And as the warm-up on the first day drew to a close with that classic B major chord still ringing slightly out of tune in my ears, I remembered what it was like to sit in those chairs and warm up with my colleagues.

The next rehearsals were a wash of getting through repertoire and trying to keep it all together, but by the end of the day, the collective sound of those inexperienced, yet immensely talented, young people was better than bearable. And so the first day was wrapped up and off they went for socialising, entertainment, and respite.

The morning of the second day brought another B major chord but this time the distance between what my ears knew to be in tune and what I was hearing from the band was considerably shorter. Their tuning was improving, and a small smile dawned on me. Pride? Surprise? Time would tell.

Anthony Yelavich, Max Glazier, Rangi Hall, and Peter Anderson at NZYSW 2015

The day churned on and the sounds of a working band brought memories flooding back to me, of lessons learned. My own questionable tuning and learning why that was bad for everyone. The precious balance that exists within the band sound. How the function of my instrument changed piece by piece, or in some cases phrase by phrase. Band lore that has served me well as the principal horn for the country’s best community bands and orchestras. Value untold. And here I was, having learnt in this very setting, watching it unfold for others, in front of me.

That night brought the opportunity to socialise with the young people in a game of mini golf. I was bad.  Not remotely sporty, I think my score of second place within my group was perfectly respectable, even if I did only play half a game and then let my buddy Leo Jaffrey take over the club.

By the third day’s morning rehearsal I started hearing real change. A sound that has been cared for, crafted and thought-out. The band had started listening and the sound was heartwarming. Tonight was concert night and for some reason the nervous energy that normally accompanies such an event was gone. There was a distinct lack of formality in the style of the concert, but this did not diminish the quality of the music being made. By all reports from very happy audience members the programme was well thought out and enjoyable and the band sounded great! Yet another successful concert for NZYSW.

The final rehearsal on Friday morning was almost just a formality. The band was already in fine form, already a well oiled machine. It was a final sit down tune and play through some corners before the final performance of the week. A time for me to reflect a little on the week and the growth that had occurred in these young musicians. But the day wasn’t over. We packed up the theatre for an incoming recording crew to record for Voices NZ, and we were off to Aotea Square for the final concert of the week.

The concert was stellar, the crowd appreciative and the participants tired and ready for respite from what was a tough week. But then came the hardest part of the whole week for everyone: goodbyes. I don’t know if it’s simply because I know I may not get the opportunity again, but I felt a sort of sadness that I had never experienced before. For me the week had been about nostalgia. About remembering how I felt, when I was sitting in their seats. When I was learning those lessons; when I was experiencing those changes in myself, and in the band. It was truly wonderful to watch it happen from a semi-external place.

What is this band? What is its purpose? To keep some teens entertained for a few weeks a year? A funding draw card for a larger organisation? Maybe it’s an experiment to see how many tuning mishaps a band can have in a week?

Nope. Not at all. It is an institution, with appreciative alumni like myself who learnt the lesson of concert banding under capable directors. We sat next to our colleagues, forged life-long friendships, and gained incredible skills. It is a archetype of what music education and learning should be. Fun. Informative. It is an experience that one will never forget.

Excitement? Yes. Anxiety? Definitely. Regret? Not a chance! You will forever have my thanks NZYSW. My thanks and my heart.


Rangimakehu Hall

Stage 3 French Horn Student – BMus Classical Performance, The University of Auckland

Founding member and Alumni of NZYSW