Friday, 24 January 2020

Melodicas - Favela Brass's Secret Weapon!

A big thank you to our UK donors, including long standing monthly donors, and all those who have been supporting New York Brass Band and Doncaster Youth Jazz Association's recent fundraising efforts for Favela Brass.

One of the things that the money is being used for is to buy melodicas in UK, where they are half the price that they are in Brazil. The ones we buy cost 20 pounds each, and each one means that an 8-10 year old child at one of our feeder schools can start learning to play an instrument and play in a group.

Over time we are gradually working out what works for getting kids excited about learning to play an instrument music and helping them to build their musical understanding on an intuitive and also theoretical level. The melodica is a fantastic instrument in both respects, for the following reasons:

1. Students can get a great sound on it straight away, and before long they are playing tunes with their friends and doing performances.
2. The keyboard layout is central to understanding the tonal and harmony side of music - even when they move on to brass instruments, they will have a better understanding.
3. Melodicas are relatively cheap so we can buy enough for whole classes of school students to experience the joy of learning an instrument.
4. Because they are cheap, light and robust, they are are suitable for lending to new students. Once students can practice at home, they will progress much faster than they do if they can only play in lessons.
5. Learning the melodica involves working on breathing and articulating notes with the tongue - skills which prepare students for playing brass instruments later on.
6. Melodicas are great for learning to improvise and explaining concepts like chords and scales - we use melodicas all the time even with our more advanced students.

For all these reasons and more, each melodica that we buy makes a huge difference in the musical and personal development of one of our students, and we are very grateful to be able to offer this opportunity to so many children now. Thank you!

Friday, 26 July 2019

Favela Brass in the Schools

In the first term of this year Favela Brass entered into partnership with 4 local state schools, taking on 72 new students between the ages of 8 and 10. We are pleased to report that the program has been extremely well received by the parents, students and school administrators and we anticipate further expansion of our activities within the 4 schools in the near future. Our students in the schools are learning either percussion or melodica, and next year the melodica students will all move on to either trumpet, cornet, trombone or alto saxophone. At the end of the first term of 2019 we brought together all of our students to create a "bloco" comprising more that 100 students (half on melodica/xylophone and half on percussion) in Praça São Salvador in Laranjeiras:

Our original students in the Favela are still going strong and the event also had separate shows by our intermediate and advanced brass bands, who play in green and purple, respectively:

To reach the point where we are able to provide instruments for so many children is fantastic and we'd like to say a big thank you to all of of those who have helped us to achieve this through donations of instruments and cash, and through organizing and participating in the many Favela Brass fundraising events that have benefitted us over the years.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Carnival 2019 with the New York Brass Band

Favela Brass received a very special visit during Rio Carnival this year. The New York Brass Band are a 7-piece brass band who are actually from "old" York in England. Those who have been following the project for a while may recognise some of the names on this list:

James Lancaster (tuba, leader)
Stuart MacDonald (tenor sax)
Dan Webster (trumpet)
Chris Williamson (trumpet)
Joe Epstein (guest trumpet)
Stuart Garside (trombone)
Charlie Lancaster (trombone)
John Settle (drums)

Before coming to visit the band raised £1,412.50 for the project through concerts and CD sales, and since their sax player, Stuart MacDonald, owns a music shop, they were then able to subsequently use that cash to buy 7 brand-new alto saxophones at trade price. Favela Brass is expanding into the local state schools this year, and this will be absolutely vital in allowing us to include saxophones as part of our program.

As well helping us with this amazing donation, the band also inspired our children musically, playing for and with them on various different occasions during the week. Here's Stuart MacDonald trading sax licks with Favela Brass student Andre at the community restaurant, ABCD:

Stuart also provided an immense service to the project by getting up early every morning to fix instruments. No less than 8 trumpets and 2 saxophones were brought back into action this way. And he fixed our tuba. And the euphonium. Not to mention the air conditioner and the front door...

The band were a huge hit with the locals when they joined in with the street festivities. So much so that they now have more followers on Instagram in Rio de Janeiro than in York, and even made it into Rio's main print newspaper, O Globo. Here they are in action during the parade of the Boitolo street band:

Another highlight was NYBB taking a leading role in Rio's first jazz Carnival parade, Bloco Mardi Gras, on Fat Tuesday:

The children themselves performed beautifully at their own parade in our favela, Pereira da Silva. This would almost certainly have been the only parade of its kind actually inside a favela during Carnival and was very well received indeed by the local residents. Nice to see the children singing the Carnival songs this year as well:

It really has been an amazing week and we are very grateful indeed to the New York Brass Band and all those who contributed to their fund raising efforts for the lift their visit has given us.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017


On May 13th there is going to be a music festival at Doncaster dome to raise money for Favela Brass and Doncaster Youth Jazz Association.

Lots of great local musicians and bands are donating their time and talent to help give the gift of music education to children in the U.K and Brazil.

PLEASE HELP US BY WATCHING THE FOLLOWING VIDEO AND BUYING TICKETS TO Favestival online, at Doncaster Tourist Office, Doncaster Dome or from the Doncaster Youth Jazz Association.

Those who can't make the Festival but would still like to donate can do so via the Favestival Crowdfunding page.

Thank you!!!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Two Appearances on the BBC in one week!

They say that lighting doesn't strike twice, but Favela Brass has just appeared on the BBC two times within the space of three days!

The first was playing own samba version of "Chariots of Fire right at the end of BBC One's primetime program "Countdown to Rio", which ran from 8:30pm to 10pm, before the opening ceremony of the Olympics:

And then the second was a piece specifically about our project this morning on BBC Breakfast, which is broadcast simultaneously on BBC One and BBC News:

It's an amazing moment for the project and we're all incredibly happy that the Olympics really did provide us with opportunity that we were all hoping for in terms of spreading the word about our project.

The task now is to find a way to convert all of this fantastic publicity into music lessons for our kids.

On that note, if anyone who hasn't done so already would like to contribute financially, our Just Giving page will remain open for the duration of the Olympics. All pounds/dollars/euros donated are much appreciated and will go a long way.

Thanks guys!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

An Olympic Dream Come True?

This time last year we had absolutely no links with the Olympics. No contacts, no shows, no nothing. Then our French percussion teacher Yann Vathelet had an idea:

"No, but wait, maybe the fact that you guys don't have anything IS your Olympic story, maybe it's all about the struggle of the kids and the teachers to get included in the Olympics over the next year."

So we set ourselves a concrete goal and shared it openly with the children: we were going to try to get Favela Brass involved in the opening ceremony of the Olympics. We shared videos about our objective, got out in streets playing shows and publicising it, and pestered all of our contacts mercilessly.

The idea was that either way the kids would hopefully gain a valuable life lesson from the experience: if we didn't get it, the kids would learn that having a dream and working hard towards it is worth it, even if it doesn't come about exactly as you had planned - because even without the opening ceremony all that training and playing in public had to take us somewhere. On the other hand if we did make it, it would teach the children that if you really go for stuff, there's a good chance you will make it.

As it happened, we didn't make the opening ceremony of the Olympics. So we regrouped and came up with a plan to take the project to the streets with an program of 16 shows in 16 days for Rio 2016. We didn't get the opening ceremony, but we weren't going to be left out.

Then on Tuesday I received a message from my friend, Curry Clube regular and top-flight journalist Donna Bowater:

"Beeb producer just got in touch asking for contacts for the "great Favela Brass" that I have on my Instagram." (referring, presumably to a short video that Donna posted of our recent unpaid public performance outside the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio's city centre)

Contact was indeed made, and today the BBC filmed a clip of our children playing the same tune in various locations. It was an extremely proud day for me. The kids played absolutely out of their skins and I think it's fair to say that the team from the beeb were suitably impressed.

Towards the end of the day I popped the question: "So, when and where exactly will this air?" - I was expecting something on the lines of "Well, we might need some standby material for BBC Alba between 4am and 5am next Monday morning..." so the actual answer took me aback:

"It's for the end of the BBC 1 show tomorrow night for the opening of the Olympics - because of the time difference, the opening ceremony starts at midnight in the UK so not that many people will watch it. Your bit will go on just before 10pm so you'll probably hit a much bigger audience."

Many are the slip between cup and lip. The material still has to be edited in time and it presumably has to be approved, but there is now a good chance that the BBC's prime time 8:30pm "Countdown to Rio" show tomorrow night will end with our kids playing a familiar Olympics-related tune to their own uniquely Brazilian beat. That for me would be even better than us participating in the opening ceremony.

Of course it may not happen. Even if it doesn't I'm still immensely proud of the kids, and we'll make our mark on the Olympics whatever.

...but wouldn't it be nice?

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Sandhouse Stompers Coast to Coast Mardi Gras 2016 - Thank You!!!

Great news! The The Sandhouse Stompers Coast to Coast Mardi Gras 2016 has raised £4385, smashing last year's total and making a HUGE contribution to our ability to sustain Favela Brass. This is an ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE boost to the project!

Not only that, the Stompers also managed to secure a donation of 3 plastic trumpets (pTrumpets) and 2 plastic trombones (pBones) from Warwick music - with a total UK value of £835. That means that all told a value of £5,220 was raised for the project - an amazing feat! (and donations are still trickling in)

Favela Brass has had quite a bit of media attention recently, and a variation of the same question generally comes up every time: "how does a Yorkshire man end up running a music school for kids in a favela in Rio de Janeiro?" It seems a bit bizarre at first glance, but there is a link.

I benefited from a great music education, courtesy of Doncaster Music Service and Doncaster Youth Jazz Association and have come to realize, even more with hindsight, the incredible value of music education for children, whatever their background - both for the children involved and for their local communities.

That is what eventually led me to start a music school in a favela and I have no doubt that it is exactly the same feeling that inspired the 8 professional musician friends that make up the Sandhouse Stompers to clear two weeks of their diary to walk and play their way across the UK to raise money for Favela Brass, and inspired such a generous response from our donors.

On behalf of the children, teachers and families of the Favela Brass, then, I would like to thank the walkers, the special guests, all who helped along the way, all those who kindly donated and came along to support the walkers during their shows, all who helped to arrange the pre and post-walk fundraisers, UK charity Volunteer in Brazil for their support, and especially Stuart Garside for creating and organizing the whole event. This really will make a HUGE difference!

Some debts of gratitude are impossible to repay, and this clearly falls under that category. The best I can do is run Favela Brass to the best of my ability and see that the money is used in the best possible way to provide the kind of opportunity that we had to a group of Brazilian children who sorely need it.

I only hope that the story of Favela Brass can one day justice to your generosity.

Thank you all,