How ex-lorry driver and nurse sought comfort in band during darkest moments
When district nurse Alison Wain suffered a multiple breakdown of her immune system, she turned to the band for solace and support.
When ex-lorry driver Dennis Allport lost his wife at Christmas, his fellow players were a second family.
Where there’s brass, there’s more than music. The brass band is a community in miniature, with young and old, girls and men, the well and the disabled.
And not only that – playing in a band boosts the heart and lungs, while cutting stress and improving mental health, Sheffield University reported recently.
Dr Michael Bonshor said: “Our research shows playing in a brass band can be beneficial for physical, psychological and social wellbeing.
“Players report improvements in respiratory and cardiovascular health, general fitness, cognitive skills, mental wellbeing and social engagement.”
Brass-banders have known this tune for a long time. One dedicated group of players in Yorkshire has brought fun, entertainment and social therapy to local people for 20 years.
Lofthouse Band, set up in 1999 by cornet player and conductor Andrew Whitaker, has a mission to reach out to people in the former pit village it is based in.
Alison Wain, 52, an NHS nurse for 26 years, now walks on double crutches because of her life-threatening illness, which still leaves her frail and vulnerable. But she’s strong enough to play second horn in the front row.
“I spend a lot of time isolated at home,” she says. “This is a safe place to come, everybody is so supportive.
“I don’t work any more. There are so many things I can’t do – but I can do this. They all look after me and that enables me to do other things.”
Dennis Allport, 65, plays bass trombone. For 13 years, he was in the military band of the 9/12th Royal Lancers, playing in Northern Ireland and Germany. He’s been hooked on brass “since my dad bought me a trumpet for Christmas”.
After losing his wife, Dennis says: “I’ve got my family, a budgie, two fish tanks and the band. I was depressed but I’ve started playing again and the smile has come back on my face. It’s a warm family feeling round the band.”
Lofthouse, near Wakefield, had a band when the pit – scene of a 1973 disaster in which seven miners died – was working. It shared the fate of social collapse when the colliery closed but since Andrew revived the tradition it’s been going strong.
The band has around 50 members, the youngest 13 and the oldest 80, and is equally divided between the sexes. They play in three bands: Beginner Brass, mainly for primary children, Brass Roots Band, for mixed children and adults, and the “top flight” Lofthouse 2000 Band, ranked at the top of the third grade in banding.
“The band is never still,” says Andrew.
“We’re involved at all levels in the community: parades, concerts, fetes, event openings, church services and funerals. We succeed by making brass-banding a fun and rewarding experience that gives a unique sense of community, and for younger members valuable interpersonal skills.
“Yes, a brass band today is as likely to produce male and female doctors, engineers, teachers and other professionals as it ever was miners, shipbuilders or railwaymen.”
I met the band rehearsing in Outwood Working Men’s Club. A jolly crowd, the enjoyment of music was plain to see. Their rendition of tunes like Love Divine All Loves Excelling and He Who Would Valiant Be moved this old reporter brought up with hymns at a C of E school.
“It’s a really nice atmosphere,” says cornet player Chloe Hemingway, 14. “We all enjoy it. And it relieves stress.”
Fellow cornet Georgina Mann has been playing since she was seven. “But I ended up with asthma and now it helps with my breathing.”
Don’t get me wrong, the band isn’t a sick ward. Listen to it belting out numbers on the sample from their CD, Round The Town, on their website lofthousebrassband.org.uk. If that doesn’t get your foot tapping, nothing will.
Nonetheless, musicians are three times more likely to suffer from mental ill-health and the band has a positive policy on the issue, promoting a safe and stable environment for those directly and indirectly affected.
Andrew was the mental health manager in a digital business and oversaw the adoption of a comprehensive strategy on the issue.
“I realised within a group of people like this there are those who have, or have experienced, mental health issues. We need to have a policy and a support mechanism.
“The band is very open and very aware. We have had people with lifelong conditions and they have shared that with us. Our policy is you tell us what you need in the way of support and the band will provide it, if that’s what you want.” The policy worked so well with one player her confidence rose – and they lost her to a rival band.
This is the modern face of banding, which is widely celebrated for its Victorian heritage but less so for the role it can play in today’s stressed-out society. In the immortal words sung by Kathleen Ferrier, a favourite on Desert Island Discs: “Art thou troubled? Music will calm thee/Art thou weary? Rest shall be thine.”
- Lofthouse has qualified for the National Championships and needs to raise £5,000 to take part. All donations gratefully received.
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