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Composer of the Month

David John Roche

Despite having left Tredegar for university more than fifteen years ago, composer David John Roche still feels an strong bond with his home. He grew up in an area that was suffering, and still suffers, from the economic and social impact caused by the closure of the mining industry, but despite this, his childhood memories are overwhelmingly positive. Roche's new piece for the Vale of Glamorgan Festival, The Vow honours his hometown with ‘a feeling of determination, identity and roughness’ as positive aspects of its identity. He does this by celebrating the music that was key to him and the area – some folk music but also a lot of rock music that was enormously important to the valleys at the time. ‘There was a load of local bands (most famously Manic Street Preachers and Stereophonics) that drove ambition and pushed people to do great things,’ he says. ‘When you’re from a place like Tredegar, it’s inspiring to see people try and do things to an extreme standard and really express themselves.’

‘My piece is a promise to remember my home and people in the most positive way – not to be above it or apart from it, but just to be with it,’ Roche remarks. ‘The audience will be able to latch onto its sense of determination and yearning, and of mourning – a lot of the music I write about Tredegar, a sight of industrial and sociological abuse, is about loss. Most importantly, there’s the feeling of being a centre of creativity and hope.’

Now a multi award-winning symphonic composer, Roche began his musical career, aged seven, playing the cornet with the youth section of his local band. He was initially taught by Laurence Davies before receiving lessons from Tredegar’s principal cornet Dewi Griffiths. ‘I was very fortunate to benefit from Tredegar Town Band’s free programme of community musical education,’ he explains. ‘It was great playing with them because they were doing stuff that people actually cared about in a way that a lot of other organisations just don’t.’ Although he later went on to concentrate on the guitar and play with rock bands, Roche found his brass band training to be invaluable: ‘I wasn’t the best student, but I don’t think I would have been able to read music at all without being given this education.’

Roche has written for brass band previously, but this is the first work for an ensemble of this level. He felt honoured, but also slightly nervous when taking on the commission: ‘My old teacher is the principal cornet, it’s my hometown and I don’t want to accidentally disgrace those things! Top brass bands with their intense virtuosity can be extremely intimidating to write for – they can perform the most obscenely technical music and while this can be liberating, it also puts the onus the composer to make sure that you make it worth their time and effort. I found that pressure to be exciting, and my solution was to ignore these things and follow my intuition about what a good piece should be.’

While respecting the tried and tested principles of brass band writing, The Vow, which the composer describes as ’a blasting, fast, and determined piece of music’, is driven by the less traditional genres central to his own upbringing. Featuring rock music, monumental chords, and the folk tunes drawn from the sounds he grew up around in Tredegar, it is a proud and defiant celebration of the composer's hometown.

The premiere of David John Roche’s The Vow will be given by Tredegar Town Band under the direction of Ian Porthouse at 8pm on Friday 22 September at the Memo Arts Centre, Barry. Information & Tickets

> Composer of the Month: David John Roche

> David John Roche: The music that made me

> David John Roche composer profile page


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