With a population of around 150,000, Panevezys is a typical, Lithuanian industrial city. A central hub with many outlying villages that form part of a municipality. Over the last 20 years, the Municipality of Panevysis has supported a unique programme establishing UK style brass bands in towns and villages.
In 1996, Remigius Vilys (cultural minister for Paneveysis) witnessed brass bands for the first time at a European festival. He saw how young people were engaged in positive music making and how communities and town bands were key to developing young players of the future. So when Remi was charged with the responsibility of providing new ways to engage young people through music he looked to the British Brass Band system for inspiration.
Remi started to research how community brass bands in the UK used local community musicians to teach young people in their areas. Many of these musicians are not qualified teachers in the formal sense but this does not hinder students as we can see through the many fine youth bands around the country. Remi mirrored this approach in his own area by utilising local musicians to teach local children.
This infectious programme has since spread the length and breadth of the country. The bands meet regularly to perform and compete throughout the year with five graded sections. A National Youth Brass Band has represented Lithuania at the European Youth Brass Band Championships on two occasions and EBBA has agreed to hold the 2019 European Brass Band Championships in Palanga, a coastal town on the East coast. The Lithuanian Brass Band Association (www.lbba.lt) oversees the bands, foreign trips, fundraising, instrument purchase and festival organisation. As part of their work they have also taken ownership over the Trefor Evans Trust* and brought other partners on board to support the development of young players.
Remi understands that the issues for young people in Lithuania are different to many in the UK however music, no matter where, can be used as a vehicle for helping to raise the aspirations and confidence of young people. Remi used this philosophy as a way to gain funding from his local government to help issues of social mobility.
The local government of Panevezys originally provided funding for music with the simple aim of keeping young people occupied. They can now see how music can have a profound effect on peoples lives and raise their confidence and aspirations.
This trip was my 16th to Lithuania and ten years since my first visit in 2006. The occasion is a special one, to mark the 10th anniversary of the Tefor Evans Trust. In March 2006, Lydbook Brass Band visited Panyvesis to give performances to a brass band movement that had only been in existence since 1995. During their tour, Trefor had commented on how it would be possible for the band and Gloucestershire Music to help the young people by sending instruments and resources over from the UK. Many members of Lydbook Band were shocked to see how few instruments were available for students (in one band 20 pupils were sharing 5 instruments). In one village they discovered that the band had to stop the pupils taking the instruments home to practice as family members often sold them for money. Trefor’s passing a day after the band returned led to his then partner Jo Millin to establish the Trefor Evans Trust. Initially the trust was set up to raise money and collect instruments to send to Panevysis. The Trust raised £3000 and amassed over 120 instruments that were delivered to Lithuania later that year. This great response was the catalyst to providing local villages with the opportunity to establish bands for their young people.
It was particularly poignant to be joined on this trip by four members of the Lydbrook Band (past and present): Robert Morgan, Philip Storer, Paul Mclaughlin and Jo Millin. A commemorative concert was held on Saturday 1st October with representatives from many of the bands and music organisations of Lithuania. Philip, Paul and I were then asked to lead master classes and rehearsals with the Austyn UP Youth Band on the Sunday. These are among some of the finest youth brass band percussion players and always keen to learn more about the British banding scene and to explore new ideas.
On Monday 3rd October we packed our bags for our afternoon flight back to the UK. Remi however had one last visit for us. We made a brief detour to a primary school close to the City called Panevezio Pajonas. Philip Storer, a passionate teacher and experienced whole class tutor, led two stunning sessions that gripped the children as they experienced their first session of playing a brass instrument. It is always a pleasure to witness great teaching and learning and, as the Director of the School commented, ‘Philip is the perfect teacher’.
So ends my 16th trip and what a difference since that first tour in 2006. Hundreds of young musicians now play each week in over 20 bands. Many have gone on to study music both in Lithuania and abroad and the reputation of Lithuania bands is spreading. Who knows what will be possible by the time they host the European Championships in 2019? Watch this space.
Steve Legge, Extended Learning and Provisions Manager, Gloucestershire Music.
PAUL MCLAUGHLIN (Bass player with Lydbrook Band) said: ‘I wasn’t sure what to expect for my first trip to Lithuania but having heard so much about it from my Lydbrook colleagues, I was intrigued. I found the people incredibly welcoming, the children talented and grateful for any assistance we could offer, and the surroundings beautiful. The final session in the primary school with two groups of 16 or so kids was interesting to observe and participate in. Working with very experienced educators like Steve and Phil was insightful and the children obviously enjoyed it’