A Life Divine - Funding For Welsh Brass Band Heritage Project

By Caroline Lewis | 01 March 2007
black and white photo of a brass band standing in front of a building

The brass band in 1903. Courtesy Parc and Dare Band

One of Wales’s oldest and most eminent brass bands is to have its story celebrated thanks to a £49,900 Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant.

Parc and Dare Band from the Rhondda Valley has been playing with passion for 114 years, and now the music and its links to mining heritage is going to reach an even wider audience with a book, DVD and multimedia exhibition.

The project, entitled A Life Divine, has been developed by local authors and members of the band, along with contributions from local schools and community organisations. The title comes from a landmark early work for brass band by Welsh composer Cyril Jenkins.

The aim is to pay tribute to the place the Parc and Dare Band has earned in Welsh musical heritage, and increase awareness of the industrial history it is tied to – brass bands were an integral part of the mining communities of Rhondda following the discovery of coal.

Some notable facts about Parc and Dare include that it is the only Welsh brass band to have performed at the Royal Academy of Music; it was named League Champion Band of Wales 2006; and has twice won the BBC Radio Wales Band of the Year, clocking up more than 300 radio broadcasts in the UK and Wales.

The story behind A Life Divine is described as a triumph over adversity – a community’s endeavour to breathe life into the harsh living and working conditions experienced in the mining towns and villages.

Chairman of the band Malcolm Pickin has been involved with the group for 46 years and devised the project.

“Music was at the heart of our community at the height of the mining era and even more so during its decline,” he said. “It kept spirits alive and as a result the Parc and Dare story has become synonymous with the story of the Rhondda.”

“We have always had in mind bringing back to life this history and paying tribute to the people who put the Rhondda on the map, socially, economically and culturally,” he continued.

contemporary photo of a brass band wearing uniforms standing on the steps of a smart old building

The band today. Courtesy Parc and Dare Band

The project will entail a specially commissioned DVD, 240-page historical account of the band by local authors Avril Evans and Elaine Hawkins, and a multimedia touring exhibition following Parc and Dare’s illustrious history from 1893 to the present day (the band originally formed as the Cwmparc Temperance Drum and Fife Band). All of these will draw on generations of music, mining artefacts and personal accounts.

“We are hopeful that this will act as a motivation for other people to join us in making sure the people and places that went before are deservedly celebrated,” said Malcolm, “and tell a story that shows how, out of a bleak, black existence something can flourish, a musical ‘Life Divine’. This Heritage Lottery Fund money means we can now realise our ambitions.”

The Life Divine project is advised and supported by the What’s Your Story initiative from HERIAN (Heritage in Action).

“I was really impressed with the idea for the story,” commented Gareth Kiddie, project manager for HERIAN What’s Your Story. “The band has a distinguished history in its own right but it was a desire by the Rhondda mining communities to address the social issues of the day that has really driven this project forward.”

“HLF funding will mean that the book, DVD and exhibition will create substantially better opportunities to communicate their industrial heritage story to a much wider audience and re-ignite a sense of pride among local people.”

HERIAN is a partnership of 13 South Wales local authorities, the National Museum and Galleries of Wales and several other heritage and environmental organisations (see www.herian.org for more information). Its aim is to encourage community groups to interpret important aspects of local heritage and become part of a network of projects presenting the big picture of the people, places and events that shaped the industrial valleys.

The What’s Your Story programme is now known as This is Our Heritage. Find out more about the support on offer by calling Ruth Taylor-Davies on 01685 723968, or email herian.organisation@herian.org.

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