Firstly, it is something I’ve been meaning to do for many years since I lived very close by to it in Stockport. I met a man there once who was riding it in its entirety, section by section over various weekends. It sounded like a good idea and something I decided I’d do myself one day, but perhaps in a full week. It has taken me around 4 years to get around to it.
I was meaning to book another trumpet lesson with Rod Franks. Tragically, he was killed in a car accident earlier this summer. He achieved much in his life, and still had more to give. I was looking forward to hearing him play again, but never will. I’m desperately saddened by this. I shall no longer put off something until the opportunity has passed. That considered, it is time to ride the trail.
Last year I was awarded a grant by the James Watson Fund, set up in the memory of the former head of brass at the Royal Academy of Music, where I just completed my Masters degree. It is a fairly new fund, and I was the first recipient. It helped me to buy an instrument which I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford. That instrument allowed me to find a new level in my playing and helped me on my way to achieving the award of Distinction in my degree. Inspired by others who have undergone similar fundraising events, I’m hoping to raise enough money to pay back what was awarded so that another deserving student can benefit and pursue their own ambitions without undue restriction.
I ride in memory of three former Royal Academy of Music professors, each whom I admired immensely and are personal heroes of mine. Each came from a similar background to myself, and have connections along the TPT route.
Jim was Head of Brass before my time at RAM. It is his fund that I have benefited from, and his legacy of the brass department that I learned so much from. My first encounter of RAM was to hear his memorial concert in the Dukes Hall, where an incredible lineup of trumpet players gathered to pay tribute in a memorable concert. His solo performances are legendary, as is his work with the Philip Jones Brass ensemble. One of my earliest memories of brass banding is watching his final contest performance as conductor of the Black Dyke band, who I will visit on my journey across the Pennines.
Rod taught me very briefly during my second year at RAM, but these sessions were some of the most memorable. He managed to draw music out of me that I couldn’t have imagined before. His passion for music and life were summed up in his wonderful stories from his long career with the LSO, and in Bergen. He also shared fond memories from his time at Black Dyke. His effortlessly brilliant playing is the level to which I aspire. I have watched him many times in the LSO, shining amongst the orchestra even in the simplest of trumpet repertoire. I will remember him during my visit to Black Dyke, and also as I pass through Shipley, his birth-town.
Like most people, I had heard Derek play before I realised it, most likely on a James Bond film. When I eventually did realise I was hearing him, he was stood live on stage in front of me with the Fairey band at the Royal Albert Hall after the 2004 finals. His effortlessly cool rendition of ‘MacArthur Park’ was memorably thrilling. Despite the occassion and venue, Derek seemed to be having the time of his life. I imagine he always played that way, which was in stark contrast to the adrenaline fuelled performances we had all been giving earlier in the competition. His long battle with illness ended during my first year at RAM, where he was teaching at the time. He was one of the great features of James Watson’s memorial concert, the standard of which was only topped by Derek’s own memorial concert earlier this year. The highlight at this one was of course a recording of Derek himself being overdubbed onto the live band. I shall remember him during my stop at Faireys, and at the Smith-Watkins workshop in York where Richard Smith continues to produce fine brass instruments under the name of their partnership.
I know these men were each passionate about educating future generations of musicians, and sharing the joy they have received during their careers with others. I am indebted to them for their inspiration, and for the knowledge they have passed on. Raising money for a fund that will support students seems like the most appropriate way for me to say thankyou to them without them being here in person. Doing it in this way enables me to visit places and people connected to them as well as taking me back to my own roots. In many ways, it promises to be a remarkable and emotional journey.