SUMMER SHOWCASE CONCERT BY GWENT MUSIC: was held on the evening of Monday June 26 at St David’s Hall, Cardiff.

The occasion was the climax of a very successful year for Gwent Music and the capacity ticket sales reflected the tremendous pride felt by the families, friends, supporters and school based staff who were in the audience.

Amongst the distinguished guests present were the lord lieutenant of Gwent  (brigadier Robert Aitken CBE), and the high sheriff of Gwent (Kevin Thomas) who were visibly transported with delight, listening to and looking at, over 850 participating young people.

Pre-concert and interval music were provided by: Gwent Youth Brass Ensemble (director Chris Turner), Blaenau Gwent Guitar Ensemble (Chris Fry), Nant Celyn School of Rock (Jonathan Bussy),  Newport Community Choir (Alice Timms) and Monmouthshire Community Choir (Aly Jones).

Our MC for the evening was Emma Archer, director of Gwent Music, who welcomed everyone before introducing Greater Gwent Youth Brass Band (director Gareth Ritter) who opened the concert in an appropriately triumphant manner with Buglers Dream: Fanfare and Theme by Leo Amaud and John Williams, arranged by Peter Richards. 

The ensemble played two more foot-tapping numbers before they were followed on stage by South Monmouthshire Sax Ensemble (director Simon Linton).

The group played an amazing version of  Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau by Evan and James James and Take A Chance by Lennie Niehaus. The tempo then changed masterly with Emma Archer directing Gwent Youth Strings in a fantastic interpretation of Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge by the iconic Benjamin Britten.

Gwent Youth Choir (directors Alex Davies and Carol Williams) is increasing its popularity amongst young choristers in Gwent and performed two upbeat numbers: Pop Medley featuring various popular hits arranged by the choir members themselves and Here Comes The Sun - G Harrison and K Shaw.

The first half of the concert concluded with Gwent Youth Wind Orchestra (director Sean O’Neill) providing a roof-lifting performance of Danzon No.2 by Arturo Marquez, transcribed by Oliver Nickel.

Sadly for us all this was Sean O’Neill’s last performance with Gwent Music as he is retiring. 

As Emma Archer told us though Sean had organised a magnificent Swansong with an international performance in New York, at Carnegie Hall, no less! 

Sean was presented with gifts and spoke very movingly of the time he had spent with the talented young musicians of Gwent and the plans he and his wife have for their retirement.

During the interval we were entertained well by the two adult choirs listed above; as Gwent Music truly offers Music for All.

During these interval performances the members of the audience were able to enjoy refreshments of a more liquid type from the bar or of the licking sort from the ice-cream cart!

Isca Linea Symphonia (director Nathan Stone) opened the second half of the concert with an arrangement by his wife Carly Stone of a David Bowie tribute, by David Bowie. This was a very moving performance, paying full tribute to one of our greatest pop musicians, taken from us so early in his spectacular career

Darchis (director Alex Davies), is a hugely popular and talented group of acapella singers, normally five in number, all male students from the Davies and Archer families. For this performance they were joined by three young ladies and boy was there a great buzz as they performed the Bruno Mars Medley - arranged by Darchis. 

Greater Gwent Youth Jazz Orchestra - (director Paul Hornsby), then took to the stage to perform two really cool numbers; Boogie on Reggae Woman - Stevie Wonder and Black Friday - Steely Dan. An amazing display of talent by these young musicians!

During the concert Emma Archer and Simon Linton provided an insight into the dedication of all the musicians and staff in the Gwent Schools and Gwent Music. They also praised Friends of Gwent Music for their fundraising which helped pay for many of the music courses, transport costs etc. including donating over £8,500 towards the New York trip. A great achievement by Martin Brown, chair, and Members of Friends of Greater Gwent Youth Music. Full details of the sponsorship scheme available be found on the website.

Tribute was also paid to those senior students in Gwent Music, who would be moving on with their careers, some having spent over a decade with Gwent Music.

A presentation was also made to Ken Hunt of Caerphilly Music Service, which collaborates on many schemes with Gwent Music. Ken, like Sean, is leaving after many dedicated years’ service to music in Gwent.

Tribute was also paid to those involved in stage management. It is a monumental task to rearrange the stage space for succeeding ensembles without delaying the smooth running of programme delivery. As always Gwent Music met this challenge with seemingly effortless professionalism and everyone in the audience would have been full of admiration. Emma and Simon also gave heartfelt thanks to all the sponsoring local authorities and other donors who contributed to funding for Gwent Music.

The members of the audience would also have been amazed at the superb behaviour of the young pupils, and senior school students, who had been sitting in the galleries for the whole concert, with obvious enjoyment, awaiting their turn to perform. It was their privilege to close the concert as the Cluster Choirs, with the Jazz Orchestra, performing the Welsh Premiere of Daniel Bickerton’s #Connect. The English Premiere had been at the Albert Hall.

Daniel is a former Gwent student and member of Gwent Music who is now passing on his considerable skills, lecturing in higher education.
Daniel’s highly innovative work relies on massed young voices, jazz and electronic effects to illustrate musically one of the marvels (and threats) of the modern age, electronic communication. The work has already received international acclaim and Daniel is becoming one of the greatest young composers in the world today.

Along with Gwent Youth Choir and Gwent Jazz Orchestra,  pupils and students from 23 primary and secondary schools in Gwent  were involved, including some from Caerphilly. The Torfaen schools taking part in this energetic and enthusiastic performance were: Abersychan Comprehensive School, Nant Celyn Primary School, Victoria Primary School and West Mon Comprehensive School. 

Well done all who were involved in the preparation for this gargantuan performance as schools rehearsed independently for most of the rehearsals. The faultless and enthusiastic delivery of #Connect made a truly memorable end to this amazing concert; and provided an experience the performers will remember all their lives.

(Mary Barnett)