We finish up our story of Bursledon Brickworks Museum volunteer Bob Palmer, with a quick…
Kim plays tuba in the Portsmouth RBL Victory Brass Band.
Although her primary instrument is the E flat bass tuba, she also has a passion for playing the trombone and the ukulele.
Kim, you’re from Gosport originally, is that where the family have always been?
Mum and dad still live there, along with my two younger brothers. Mum and dad were born in Leigh Park, Portsmouth, where I live now.
Does musical ability run in the family?
Nope, I’m the only one who followed that path. They’re very supportive, but not in the least bit musical.
Mum and Dad came to everything that I
played at as a youngster; they still do now.
How about schooling?
I went to school in Gosport, college in Havant, then on to University at Bangor in North Wales, for my Bachelor of Music Degree. My dad always said that I needed to be independent, so I decided to make sure that University was away from home. Bangor was my first choice out of four possible options. The others being Cardiff, Huddersfield and Sheffield. They all said to me that we need tuba players, which I was surprised by. I thought that if you went up north, that would be one the few musicians that they wouldn’t need. Just goes to show that we shouldn’t make assumptions, I suppose.
Have you always been musical?
I started piano lessons when I was five. I had a little keyboard to practice on. When I got better, mum and dad bought a piano, which they still have. It’s gathering dust and ornaments now, because I’m the only one who can play. When I get my own house, I’m going to take it back [laughs]. I was never a natural piano player though. I think mum and dad were hoping that I would become a professional pianist, but I wasn’t really that good at it [laughs]
I had music lessons when I was in primary school, with one of their rubbishy, old horns. Then when I went on to secondary school, my uncle Andrew, my dad’s brother, gave me his school trombone, which I’ve still got. It must be about fifty years old now.
You went from keyboards to brass; any reason for the change?
When they offered music lessons at secondary school, my mum asked if I wanted to go, and I jumped at the chance. When I joined, the tutor handed me a horn. It wasn’t as if I had a choice at that time. I didn’t want to play clarinet or anything like that, but I knew that I definitely wanted to play brass, because I already had the trombone. So baritone horn is what I started on.
Then, when I was in year nine, about fourteen, our tuba player left the school band. The conductor asked if anyone would like to have a go at it. Nobody volunteered, so I said that I’d have a go. So that’s when I started the tuba.
Dad was a bit shocked when I walked
in the door one day with a tuba.
How seriously did you take it at school?
Not very at primary, but I did take GCSE in music at secondary school. Not very many people were that serious about it. I think they chose the music option because they thought that they could muck around in the lessons. There were only a few of us, that were there, who wanted to do it properly.
Were you doing anything musical outside of school at that time?
I joined Hampshire County Youth Band [HCYB] when I was fifteen, playing the tuba. I wasn’t very good at that point, so I was put in the trainer band. I had to audition for that; not my strong point. Mind you, by the time I left, I was the principal tuba player. I did a lot of grade exams, as well, on various instruments.
I took my grade eight on the tuba, at eighteen. That
was terrifying, I put a lot of work into that though.
I assume that to get into University you had to have attained a certain musical standard?
You have to be grade eight on your instrument, and it’s preferred that you have a ‘B’ at music ‘A level’. I had to do an extra year at Havant College, because I didn’t start music ‘A level’ until the second year, when I worked out what it was that I wanted to do. So that delayed me going to Uni until I was nineteen. It was a bit of a trek getting to Havant from Gosport, but I shouldn’t really complain, there were a couple of kids who came across from the IOW!
My tutor when I was in the HCYB, was a highly accomplished musician, and had been the principal tuba player at the Manchester Symphony Orchestra. He never once played along with me though. He didn’t want his playing to influence me. His aim was to make sure that I developed my own style. I’ve still never heard him play, to this day.
What areas did you concentrate on at Uni?
One of my strongest interests was orchestration, so I chose that as one of my modules. If we played an instrument, it was compulsory to be in the orchestra. If you sang, you had to be in the choir.
Was the emphasis on honing your musical ability?
For me, it was more about performing. That’s the bit that I enjoy. I’m not a naturally, confident person, but I love it when I’m playing an instrument.
I’m most confident when I’m playing, I can
hide behind the tuba, because it’s so big.
How many people were studying music at Bangor?
Not that many. Over the three years, there were probably no more than about one hundred students. But that meant that we all knew each other, which was pretty good.
When I meet people, and they find out that I’m in a brass band, I get them to guess what I play. I usually give them three tries, but they never get it [laughs]. They don’t often even get that it’s a brass instrument.
It’s unusual to have female tuba players;
there aren’t that many of us around
Did you have any competitions when you were at Bangor, between Universities?
No, we did quite a lot when I was in the Hampshire Band, that was quite serious. It was good there. I enjoyed it, apart from having to get up early on a Saturday morning. Mum and Dad came to everything that I played at. They still do no; and my Nan. It’s her fault that I got into The Victory Brass Band [laughs].
You graduated from Bangor, then returned to Portsmouth. Were you looking for a band to join?
I had a little bit of a break, but in November 2010, I went to a brass band concert at St Mary’s Church, Portsmouth, with my Nan. The Victory Band were playing with their twinned band from Essex, The Harwich Band. She said to me, you should think about joining them. I spoke to the conductor after the concert, and asked if they needed any tuba players. He said that ‘yes, they always needed them’. So that was my introduction to the Victory Band. As luck would have it, they had just finalised arrangements for a tour to America the following August.
Wow, perfect timing.
Yeah, it was for two and a half weeks, up and down the East Coast of USA which was brilliant. That was really good fun. The Harwich Band conductor has a friend out there, who organised all our trips for us. He’s a tuba player, and helped out playing at some of the concerts. We visited our namesake cities, Portsmouth (New Hampshire) and Harwich (Massachusetts), and the White House.
You didn’t get to play there, did you?
No, I think the President was out that day [laughs]. Apparently, it’s quite hard for foreigners to get into the White House, so there was a lot of behind the scenes wrangling to make it happen. We went to New York and stayed in a hotel in New Jersey. The band had an invitation to play at the Twin Towers memorial site.
We played at the Twin Towers memorial
site. That was quite sobering.
My uncle Andrew, who gave me the trombone, lives in the US now. He married an American woman, and they live in California. He’s the only other musical member of my family, and he lives thousands of miles away. At Christmas, if he comes over to visit, we write little arrangements for carols together. He plays them on the piano, and I join in with either my trombone or the tuba. It’s a bit like the Waltons [laughs].
The Waltons was a long running American television series, that was centered around a family in a rural Virginia community during the Great Depression and World War II.
The tuba was your first choice for an instrument?
Yeah. It was a present from my mum and dad for passing my exams to go to Uni. I couldn’t believe it, I was in shock for ages. I just sat looking at it for a whole day, I didn’t want to touch it for fear of getting fingerprints on it [laughs]. Of course, now, it’s got quite a few war wounds – a couple of dents and it’s dirty. It’s been well used and very loved. When I first got it, I wasn’t very good, but now of comments about the sound that I can get out of it.
I think we’ve kind of matured together, like cheese and wine.
I want to take it along to a shop at some point, to get the dents taken out. I should say that none of them are my doing. They’re all as a result of other people’s carelessness. Thankfully, they’re small enough that they don’t affect the sound. Mind you, it’s a bugger to clean. You have to set aside more or less a whole day. Everything has to be dismantled to do it properly.
Some people put their instruments in the
bath, mine’s too big for that, so I have to
put a hose down the inside, out in the garden.
Where do you keep it?
Usually at home, because I’m in another brass band [The Spinnaker Brass] and need it to be handy for their sessions as well. I’ve only been with them a couple of months.
Spinnaker Brass were placed 5th in the Regional Finals of Great Britain 2014, which means promotion to the Third Section for 2015.
You don’t have your own transport, so how do you get around with it?
Train, bus, the generosity of others with, hopefully, a reasonable sized car.
Where do you practice? Do you have a ‘mute’?
I can’t always practice at home, because my neighbours have got young children. The tuba is quite loud when I go full blast, so I have to plan my practices around them. I can’t afford a mute at the moment, they cost about £200. It winds me up. You get the cornet players coming in with like, three different instruments and a load of mutes and ten different mouthpieces. I wish I could do that.
Does your tuba have a name?
My last one did, but I’ve not decided on a name for this one yet. My last one was called Hector. I want something Japanese for this one because it’s a Yamaha, but I can’t think of anything suitable. The only thing that I vaguely like is Sushi [laughs], but it’s not really that good a name for a tuba. It’s definitely a ‘he’, but that’s as far as I’ve got.
Why a ‘he’?
I don’t know, it just seems to fit. The ukulele that I’ve just bought is a ‘she’ though. It was an impulse buy for my birthday the other day. I can’t play strings, so I thought I’d have a go.
OK, I give in, why a ukulele?
I don’t know really, it’s just such a happy instrument. If you play it open strings, it sounds so cheerful. It’s also a bit more practical to move about than the tuba [laughs]. My tuba weighs seventeen kilograms in its case. I only know that because it had to be weighed when we went to America. It barely fitted onto the conveyor belt where you check in!
The only downside to being a semi-professional musician, is that
it’s very difficult to go to a concert and enjoy it. You’re always listening
out for mistakes and different phrasing. I can’t just sit and enjoy it.
How many are in the Victory Band?
It varies, but permanent members would be about twenty-three I think.
Would you like to do anything else musically, other than playing in bands?
I quite like the idea of doing something like music therapy. The only other option, really, is teaching. I might look into one-to-one training for beginners.
What sort of music do you play in the Victory Band?
A bit of everything really. A lot of folk and pop songs that have been arranged for brass band. We do a thing called ‘cartoon classics’, which is a Mashup of things like the Flintstones soundtrack with other cartoon TV shows. That works well in a brass band. When we played The Moorside Suite by Gustav Holst, for the Portsmouth Music Festival, we won first place in our section. I was part of a solo contest for that one. I was called a ‘virtuosity’. That’s the first time I’ve been called that, so I was quite chuffed.
In 1927 Holst was commissioned to write a competition piece for the BBC and the National Brass Band Festival Committee. The result was The Moorside Suite. Holst played the trombone professionally and later became a teacher.
Some musicians, when they play badly, they glare at the instrument as if that’s the problem. When I play badly I blame myself, but if I play well, it was because of the instrument. Just my lack of confidence I suppose. I don’t ever glare at it. I do swear at it sometimes when I’m trying to get it in and out of cars, sometimes, though. My boyfriend’s car is a two-seater, so that can be a challenge [laughs].
Virtuoso – : … often used to refer to an individual with superior technique or execution in fine arts, or music, often singing, playing a musical instrument or composition …
Do you write your own music?
I don’t write music, but I’ve arranged the brass parts. I enjoyed doing that at Uni.
Do you have any musical ambitions?
Not really, but I would like to meet my favourite tuba player. His name is Øystein Baadsvik. He’s Danish and a real showman; really tall. He dances around with his tuba; he’s a really cool guy. I used to be in a covers band on the trombone. There’s a bit more call for that, and it’s more versatile. I arranged some music for them, and recently a Beatles medley for Victory brass. So that keeps me busy. Actually, I just want to help people enjoy music as much as I do. I think life’s a lot better with music.
Web Links and References of interest
Royal British Legion (RBL) Brass Band