America: Day 7 (by Matthew Gee)

Granville, Ohio – a New England-style community, located along the western edge of the Appalachian Plateau, population 3,500. Also the home of Denison University and our sixth concert. We were housed in the impressive Granville Inn, built in 1924, and offering a touch of luxury for our one and only free morning of the tour. Upon arrival we fielded the usual questions as to why we were in the States, and were delighted to hear that we were not the first travelling band of musicians to pass through the Inn; both Count Basie and the Dorsey brothers used to play at the Inn when on the road – exalted company indeed!

Today’s short trip

Exercise and sleep were the order of the morning, before hitting the road again at noon. A mere four hours in the battle bus to Detroit, Michigan was child’s play given the heavy schedule of the last few days. En route we stopped in a colossal Walmart to purchase a suitcase for our Denis Wick mutes, which gave us a chance to stock up on some necessities: mainly clean socks and boxers (having spent so much time in ‘the hole’, Huw decided that flight socks would substantially reduce the risk of DVT developing). Dan treated the group to a family sized container of Cheese Balls, and so we began the ten-hour-cheese-ball-challenge – could we finish the colossal serving by the time we returned the hire bus circa 11:30pm. Yes, with minutes to go, and some inspirational Motown tunes ringing around the bus (thanks Joey Atkins), we could!

Now you see them…

…now you don’t!

Our plea for entertainment on the long bus journeys had not gone unnoticed, and we had been emailed another quiz by an adoring fan (thanks Hannah from London): ‘Composer or pasta?’ Do you know your Puccini from your Piccinni? (Turns out we don’t – try it out at

The dodgy roads of Detroit (or was it the driving?) tossed us through the final few miles to our venue for the night, Christ Church Cranbrook. Built in the ’20s to replicate a traditional English church, the venue offered us a wonderful acoustic, and one that we felt very at home in.

Christchurch, Cranbrook

The stunning venue

When arriving at a venue, the first half hour is always given to the players for individual practice and maintenance. The performances are so physically draining, each player has fine-tuned their own warm-up and warm-down to both facilitate maintaining the exceptional standard of the group, and also reduce the risk of injury to the chops. Players combine this with a combination of lip remedies – Chop Saver, Vaseline, Robinson’s Remedies Lip Renew (a new one endorsed that night by Hunter Eberly, Principal Trumpet of the Detroit Symphony) – there are of course other brands available. However, it is not just the face muscles which tire. Holding your trombone up for a two-hour gig (often with a mute in), plus rehearsals and practice, can be tough on your left arm and hand.

Left: discolouration of the hand from excessive trombone playing; Right: discolouration of the hand from excessive cheese ball eating

The short rehearsal continued yesterday’s work for our concert in Ilkley on February 14th, before we got stuck in to our seventh concert in as many days. The wonderfully appreciative audience were invited to meet us all at a reception after the concert, where the Gershwin continued, but this time via a remarkable 95-year-old lady tinkling the ivories – all by ear, apparently unable to read music! With the Canadian border a stone’s throw from the venue, Dan’s heartstrings were being pulled every which way as he sought out each and every one of his Canadian brothers in the room.

Westy’s almost home

Canapés and cranberry juice devoured, we left the church and managed to squeeze in a pint before last orders at the Griffen Claw Brewery Company. Half an hour later, Matt and Simon dropped off the hire bus while we all checked into the airport hotel, looking forward to a maximum of four hours sleep before the red-eye to Arkansas. It’s mornings like this when someone misses the bus…

Tour stats:

Concerts: 7

Standing ovations: 7

Distance travelled: 7148 miles

Time on the bus: 34 hrs 32 mins

Cheers balls eaten: a lot

America: Day 6 (by Alan Thomas)

We’ve now reached the mid point of the tour, we’re all still in great shape and team morale is higher than ever. All downhill from here!

You may have noticed our rather arduous travel schedule, not to mention 10 shows in 10 days. However, sharing the driving and navigating, and plenty of laughs with a great bunch of pals has made the journeys pass in no time!

Less than 5 hours now seems short!

This morning we were spoilt by a seemingly late departure time of 9am. After a bit of FaceTiming to our long-suffering loved ones, we set off on the icy road to Granville, Ohio.

Usually we don’t plan our pitstops, but today we had 2 planned visits on route. First mission was to exchange our trusty tourbus MKII and transfer all our gear to a new identical one, at Budget Rental, South Bend International Airport. Needless to say, we now have loading and unloading off to a fine art so the swap over was exceedingly speedy!

Our jam-packed tour bus

Huw was more than happy with his new ‘hole’ and even reckoned tourbus MKIII gained him an extra inch of leg room!

Huw in “the hole” MKIII

Once packed up, our next stop was the Conn/Selmer Vincent Bach factory, in Elkhart, Indiana. We were kindly invited by a member of our audience last night who worked making Bach bells. He’d brought his brass playing son to watch our concert. Unfortunately none of us thought to get his name…

Septura outside the Bach factory in Elkhart, Illinois

On arrival the incredibly helpful staff at the Conn/Selmer Corporate reception were eventually able to ascertain our mystery audience member was called Rudi. Unfortunately he was on his lunch break so rather than waiting, a rather jolly Phil Brown, Category Manager, Low Brass, gave us a very insightful tour of the factory.

Trombone bells in the making

If you’ve got a Bach trombone in the last 46 years then apparently this guy made your slide

The trombone slides made today

This machine shapes the bells (and formerly made artillery shells)

Finished trombone bells

This was incredibly interesting, however when a rather clumsy Matt Knight had an accident with a newly handcrafted trumpet bell, we were soon sent packing… As for Rudi, we never did get to see if this was actually our man!

The ruined trumpet bell…a souvenir of our visit

Tonight’s venue, the Burke Recital Hall, Denison University was designed by Alvar Aalto, the same architect as the famous Finlandia Hall in Helsinki (former home to Simon Cox in his days as a trumpeter in the Helsinki Philharmonic). A good acoustic can often act as an 8th player, and this hall didn’t disappoint, with a perfect acoustic for brass chamber music.

The auditorium at Denison University

Now our American in Paris programme is well established, we’re now using our sound checks to rehearse programmes for concerts in Ilkley and Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on our return, 14 and 16 Feb respectively. Running through Parsons’ Ave Maria 45 mins before curtain up came as a refreshing change and showed the true versatility of Septura.

Rehearsing some Parsons

After much beavering away on their laptops by our in-house arrangers, Simon Cox and Matt Knight, the rest of us have now been issued with our parts for Pictures an an Exhibition for Kleptomania 2 (St John Smith Square 20th February and Cambridge Sunday 25th Feb). Needless to say hearing the odd extract of Mussorgsky’s piano masterpiece during Septura’s daily warm up routines is becoming more frequent. Ever the professionals!

Pete Smith warming up

So to the concert, after a pre-show snack of crudités and dips (requested by us in an update of our rider as we’re really missing vegetables!!) we performed our first half of Ravel and Debussy with customary aplomb and found time to mix with our audience in the interval both by the CD stall and some of the less mobile in the auditorium.

The lighter second half of Gershwin sent the audience off with a spring in their step and after a quick warm down we were treated to some food and beverages by our hosts, band director Chris Westover and composition teacher and assistant director HyeKyung Lee, in a local ‘Pub’ in picturesque Granville.

A brief snowball fight on the way home and tomorrow a much needed lie in the beautiful Granville Inn. Departure time tomorrow, midday!

Play loud and Prosper!

The beautiful Granville Inn

Tour stats:

Concerts: 6

Standing ovations: 6

Distance travelled: 6913 miles

Time on the bus: 30 hrs 32 mins

States driven through: 9

Tour buses: 3

Broken trumpet bells: 1

America: Day 5 (by Matthew Knight)


Our route to Michigan

Almost half way through our tour, and things had been going a little too smoothly. Something had to give, and it turned out that something was our windscreen. Barely 5 minutes into our journey it cracked into a broad grin, stretching almost its entire width. With no replacement available within 500 miles, we had little choice but to push on through the ice and snow of Iowa towards our destination, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Driving conditions at the outset…

…before this happened!

Morale was high, but the temperature low (-15 Celsius to be precise), and driving conditions exceedingly difficult. Entertainment was provided by one of Septura’s most ardent fans, Elise Campbell, who had emailed in a quiz. The front of the bus (where I was sitting with Alan and Pete) prevailed in the more cerebral early rounds. When it came to later popular culture rounds (and I think these questions may have been mostly devised by Elise’s 7-year-old niece) the back of the bus really came to the fore (let’s just say their knowledge of Disney is a little unsettling). They won 34 points to 30. (Any other entertainment suggestions please email them to

The frozen Mississippi River.

By the time we crossed the Mississippi into Illinois the snow was coming thick and fast, coating the road more quickly than it could be snow-ploughed, and reducing visibility to almost nothing. Several native drivers had come unstuck and were to be found facing the wrong way on the Interstate. Wary of this potential outcome we proceeded with caution.

Driving conditions deteriorated

The slow pace gave us a good opportunity to catch up on some admin. We now have the dates for our next US tour, in February 2020, and so we have just begun to contact promoters for that trip.

Having inched round Lake Michigan, we arrived late at our hotel with just time for a quick swim in the pool (eager to work off some calories from the Chinese we had for lunch) before heading off to the concert.

Rehearsing in Michigan

The Howard Performing Arts Center on the campus of Andrews University is a stunning venue, the acoustics of which would put most of the halls in London to shame. Our concert coincided almost exactly with a local sporting event known as the “Superbowl”, so we were expecting the audience to be select, but in fact we were pleasantly surprised: a great crowd full of enthusiasm (a particularly eager audient hailed our arrival with the greeting “play loud and prosper”). We received an incredibly warm welcome, with the second-half Gershwin going down particularly well. Meeting members of the audience to autograph programmes and CDs afterwards it was striking how knowledgeable they all were about music and brass instruments: so many of them seemed to have had formative experiences in bands at high school and beyond.

Catching the end of the Superbowl

Our work done, we managed to catch the very end of the football at a neighbouring hotel. Dan, our resident expert in all things American (especially food, beer and sports), talked us through the intricacies as the Eagles powered to a convincing victory. As night fell and the temperature plummeted yet further, the crack in our windscreen lengthened menacingly, and so we went to bed with the task of finding a new tour bus the first thing on the agenda for the next morning.

Tour stats:

Concerts: 5

Standing ovations: 5

Distance travelled: 6617 miles

Time on the bus: 25 hrs 12 mins

States driven through: 7

Windscreens cracked: 1

America: Day 4 (by Simon Cox)

These days it’s easy to keep in touch with everyone back home whilst on tour thanks to technology, so a few calls were made once we embarked on the day’s drive (only 6.5 hours this time) to check in with family…perhaps just as importantly, it allowed us to keep track of a thumping victory for Wales over Scotland in their Six Nations opener, a big morale boost for a certain section of the bus.

The journey from Manhattan, Kansas to Waverly, Iowa

We’ve often wondered what we would do on a tour like this if someone got sick. The hours upon hours that we’ve spent rehearsing, recording and performing together means it would be nigh on impossible to find a last minute replacement for one of our concerts. Our curiosity was satisfied when Alan suffered the aftermath of a migraine an hour or two into the journey. It’s probably best that I gloss over the details (and we certainly won’t post any photos), but it wasn’t the most pleasant part of the journey. A quick stop at the first available services, followed by some rehydration and a bit of a snooze, and he was back in business, delivering his usual immaculate performance when the evening came.

This hasn’t been the healthiest tour. Here Dan is about to consume a deep-fried sandwich

This season has seen a big increase in the number of concerts we’re doing (around 40) so we’re getting used to preparing for upcoming projects whilst on the road. I spent most of the journey putting the finishing touches to a new arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition that Matt Knight and I have been working on for the continuation of our KLEPTOMANIA concert series later in the month in London and Cambridge, although I can’t say our bus is the ideal work environment.

Simon polishing off some arranging on the road

Snow greeted us in Iowa

Huw was well prepared

Our concert in Waverly was to take place at Waverly-Shell Rock Middle School, and began with a short performance together with hand-picked students from the school band. Having all experienced the ever-shrinking music provision in British schools, it was incredible to see how well-equipped the school’s music department is, and to hear that the band has 130 members – not bad for a middle school in a town with a population of less than 10,000!

This is how you do music education properly

Once again, the concert went well with the Debussy Préludes a particular highlight. It was good to chat to some of the audience afterwards, who were telling us about all the musical happenings in their town – including an over-55s band with a big membership, featuring until recently a 104-year-old percussionist! We also met a couple who had travelled for over 2 hours from Wisconsin to come to the concert. They had found out about Septura from our YouTube videos, and we were relieved to hear that we didn’t disappoint in real life!

After the concert we headed to a nearby bar with our host Scott Muntefering, and despite our best intentions we realised it was probably time for bed when we discovered that we were the only ones left. Tomorrow, Michigan.

Tour stats:

Concerts: 4

Standing ovations: 4

Distance travelled: 6218 miles

Time on the bus: 19 hrs 5 mins

Time on planes: 11 hrs 31 mins

Arrangements completed: 1

America: Day 3 (by Huw Morgan)

Day 3 took us from the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas, to the college town of Manhattan, Kansas, home of K-State University and affectionately nicknamed ‘The Little Apple’.

Today’s journey – the longest of the tour

The 494 mile drive seemed at times almost interminable, the sun-scorched prairies stretching as far as the eye could see, occasionally punctured by a roadside service station. ‘Des’ (or designated driver) for the morning session was Simon, who sought redemption for a dramatic misadventure early on by proceeding to put in a sterling 5-and-a-half hour shift behind the wheel.

Not the scenic route: this was basically our view for all 7 hours

As the only member of the group without a driving licence, I’ve been condemned to the ‘hole’ at the rear of the bus, where leg-room is at a premium (though still more comfortable than American Airlines economy!) It has meant a good vantage point for the ride, however, where I’ve been continually amazed by the size and quantity of pickup trucks speeding past us on the interstate.

Morale is high at the back of the bus

The downtime on board has also given many of us the chance to catch up on movies, reading, emails, spreadsheets, score learning or arrangements, the battle bus often resembling a mobile office, littered with laptops and iPads.

Reaching Manhattan only 30 minutes before the scheduled sound check, we proceeded to check into our hotel before heading out to the performance venue.

Setting up in Manhattan, Kansas

Most players’ pre-concert routines involve a gentle warm-up, some stretching or breathing drills, but the green room at the First Presbyterian Church afforded Matt Knight and Alan the opportunity to test their table tennis skills as 7:30 approached. Matt, our resident southpaw, dominated the early exchanges, before Alan’s guile and experience came to the fore, no doubt with a little help from his tour book, Matthew Syed’s Black Box Thinking. Final score: 11-9 to Alan, and the trumpets handed a well-timed morale boost before heading onto the platform.

Warming up Septura style

The concert itself was a real success, with yet another hearty welcome and standing ovation from our friendly audience, many of whom dazzled in their purple KSU Trumpet Studio jackets.

Welsh members Huw Morgan and Simon Cox with new Septura fan Henry Law

After several post-concert pictures and CD sales, we headed downtown to the local Irish pub, accompanied by Henry Law, an enthusiastic, sociable and ever-inquisitive bass trombone student who ensured that we were well looked-after by the charming bar staff. A round (or was it two?!) later and we headed home, ready to rest our limbs before another 6-hour journey to Iowa the following morning…

Tour stats:

Concerts: 3

Standing ovations: 3

Distance travelled: 5772 miles

Time on the bus: 12 hrs 15 mins

Time on planes: 11 hrs 31 mins

Road incident near-misses: 1

America: Day 2 (by Dan West)

Day 2 and we’ve already racked up some serious miles in the Septura battle bus. So far we’ve resisted the urge to stencil the group’s logo onto the side of the vehicle, and the only thing we’ve knocked over has been a very unfortunate traffic cone on the Interstate.

The Septura battle bus

We woke up this morning in Stillwater, Oklahoma, well rested & refreshed from our stay in the beautiful Atherton Hotel on the Oklahoma State University campus. The hospitality extended to us at OSU was genuinely extraordinary. We said our goodbyes to my very good friends Paul & Lanette Compton and then piled into the van. The other lads are starting to become acquainted with the Interstate freeway that dissects the continental USA, I35. We’ll be traveling hundreds of miles on this stretch of tarmac that spans from the US/Mexico border in the south all the way to Lake Superior in the north.

Our journey from Stillwater to Fort Worth

Matt Gee at the helm

Today we spent about 4 hours on I35, finally reaching Fort Worth in time for our rehearsal ahead of the concert at Texas Wesleyan University. The Texan border welcomed us with the sight of a familiar London landmark, which happens to adorn the front of a casino.

Feeling at home in Texas

In many ways this USA road trip is a trip down memory lane for me. I spent a few years in Texas, earning my Bachelors degree from the University of North Texas – a campus which is clearly visible from I35. I’ll spare our loyal readers the nostalgia trip of a nearly middle-aged bass trombonist, but I have to mention how nice it has been to catch up with friends who I haven’t seen since I finished my degree and moved to London in 2005. Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra bass trombonist Dennis Bubert taught me for a year at UNT, and I was excited (if not slightly nervous) to see him in attendance at our Texas Wesleyan University concert.

Good to see our name up in lights

Once again our hosts exhibited the friendly hospitality that is typical in this part of the world. After setting up in Martin Hall we were ready for our second concert of the Ravel/Debussy/Gershwin programme which we’ve debuted on this tour. The hall offered us a rich acoustic which especially suited the French music in the first half. The all-Gershwin 2nd half seems to get toes tapping and Coxy’s performance on the car horn was especially superlative. We were rewarded for our efforts with another standing ovation and a record number of CDs sold in the interval.

Celebrations ensued at, what is in my opinion, the finest drinking establishment in Fort Worth: the Flying Saucer. Our friends David Begnoche (trombone professor –Texas Christian University) and Michael Martin (trumpet – Boston Symphony Orchestra) joined us and my college buddies for a couple of jars (and evermore chicken wings). Hundreds of beers are featured on the menu at the Flying Saucer, and we managed to sample a few before the sensible members of the group retired to recharge batteries ahead of the long voyage in the morning.

Tomorrow we’re retracing our steps and heading north on I35, bypassing Oklahoma on the way to our 3rd concert of the tour, this time in Manhattan, Kansas. It should take about 7 hours, and I’ve baggsied the right to sleep for the first driving shift, having enthusiastically reminisced about the Good Ol’ Days with my Texan friends until the whee hours of the morning.

Old Friends – left to right: Dan, Cory, Stephen, Dennis, Trevor and Jonathan… all trombonists!

Tour stats:

Concerts: 2

Standing ovations: 2

Distance travelled: 5278 miles

Time on the bus: 5 hrs

Time on planes: 11 hrs 31 mins

America: Day 1 (by Matthew Gee)

Our debut USA tour opened at Oklahoma State University (OSU), home of the Cowboys (Go Pokes!).

The group met up in Dallas Fort Worth Airport, with Matt Knight and I having flown down from San Francisco on the back of a 3-week tour with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. We squeezed onto a tiny plane bound for Stillwater, Oklahoma: getting the tuba on board shocked a few of the locals, but where there’s a will there’s a way, and 40 minutes later we were disembarking into the smallest arrivals ‘lounge’ I’ve ever seen.

Disembarking at Stillwater Regional Airport

Not too hi-tech baggage reclaim

Our wonderful hosts for the first concert, Paul and Lanette Compton, met us at the airport and transferred us to the Atherton Hotel, OSU’s flagship hotel – comfy beds, great bar and restaurant. We were well looked after. By this point Huw – flying from Switzerland to the USA – had been up for twenty-seven hours, so it was high time for some kip.

Jet-lag dealt with, the next morning was spent at leisure, with a surprising number of people hitting the gym, before rehearsal started at 3pm. On arrival we picked up a large shipment of mutes courtesy of Denis Wick USA who have very kindly provided them for the tour (if you’ve ever been to one of our concerts you’ll know that we use a lot of mutes).

All the trombone mutes we need for this programme

Can you guess which is the tuba mute? Thanks to Denis Wick USA

As yet, the second half of this programme – Gershwin Preludes, Songbook and An American in Paris – had never been performed, apart from an informal run-through for our Friends and Supporters at the Wigmore Hall earlier in the month. There were a number of corners which required attention, including the first outing for Simon doubling on taxi-horn – which, being so loud, is going to assist in getting any late, lazy members out of their slumber in the mornings.

The standing ovation reflected on a concert which went down extremely well, attended by people from Oklahoma City and as far as Texas. A strong cohort of students were keen to take pictures and chat with us post-concert, and as well as the usual brass chat, we discussed the building of OSU’s fantastic new performance centre and the possibility of us returning in a couple of years.

The evening was rounded off in true American style in Buffalo Wild Wings, with most of us ordering chicken wings which were both too hot and too large for our appetite. When we’d finished sweating we headed to bed. Tomorrow we pick up our tour bus and begin our road-trip in earnest, as we travel to our second concert at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth.

Tour stats:

Concerts: 1

Standing ovations: 1

Distance travelled: 5015 miles

Time on planes: 11 hrs 31 mins

Septura in the USA

We’re looking forward to our first US tour in just a few weeks’ time. All of the info about where we’re going can be found on this page – it’s going to be quite a busy couple of weeks, with 10 concerts in 10 days in 8 different states.

We’re playing a brand new programme called “American in Paris”, which explores a great transatlantic relationship – between Ravel and Gershwin.

We’re very grateful to the Royal Academy of Music and Denis Wick London for supporting this tour.

Our first rehearsal of 2018 took place this week, polishing up the new arrangements for the tour. Perhaps the best rehearsal venue we’ve ever had – London’s Wigmore Hall.