I must admit I hadn’t heard of Bytom before I was invited to spend a few days at the Bytom Music School as part of English Brass Academy’s international collaborations. Situated in Upper Silesia, Poland, Bytom is one of the oldest towns in the region and its beginnings can be traced back to the 11th century so we’re talking about a place with history.

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The town’s prosperity was founded on trade and mining (silver, lead) which peaked around the middle of the 14th century but things turned nasty throughout the 16th century when it was plagued by fires and religious unrest. Throw in an ongoing 30-year war into the mix and things weren’t looking so good.

To compound the problems Bytom fell into the hands of a private owner (UK take note…) and became part of the Henckel von Donnenrsmarck family estate which effectively sealed the town’s decline. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th Century that life started to improve and, incredibly, it took until 1908 for Bytom to be taken out of private ownership and fully restored to its municipal status.

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During the second half of the 19th century and through until the 1920s the town boomed due to the rapid development of the mining industry of coal, zinc, lead, iron, steel, coke, ceramics and lime. Sadly, in the last few years, five of Bytom’s mines and two of its steelworks – major local employers – have been closed down along with a number of other industries associated with mining. There is some good news, however, as job openings in the last few years have increased in the commercial and services sector and have virtually replaced the town’s former industrial character.

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But when it comes to culture Bytom is a class act. The town is well known in Poland for its cultural excellence, particularly in dance, music and singing. Silesian Opera has its home in Bytom and has given about 200 premieres of operas and ballets, championing works by Polish composers such as Karol Szymanowski (1882 – 1937), Ludomir Różycki (1883 – 1953) and Witold Rudziński (1913 – 2004). It’s repertoire also includes the operas of Mozart, Verdi and Puccini and contemporary operas.

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In addition to Silesian Opera, Bytom hosts the Museum of Upper Silesia, the Bytom Cultural Centre, the Municipal Library, many art galleries and one of the finest music schools in Poland, Bytom Music School.

 

The School was founded in 1954 and places an emphasis on instrumental tuition as part of the curriculum. Pupils have the opportunity to study a full range of instruments with plenty of opportunity to develop their skills in a variety of ensembles and choirs. It is rated as one of the finest schools in Poland not least due to its wonderful ethos that music stimulates intellectual development, encourages a greater sensitivity to the arts and impacts positively on academic achievement. Nicky Morgan please take note….

image I was invited by the school to bring some of the work we do with English Brass Academy to collaborate in a 3-day course at Bytom Music School with a focus towards cultivating ensemble skills. The enthusiastic young brass players at the school had formed themselves into quartets and quintets and worked on a selection of repertoire to be performed in the final concert in the school’s beautiful concert hall.

In addition to the existing chamber groups, we created a very energetic trumpet ensemble that catered for all the trumpeters and an excellent advanced trumpet group consisting of tutors and students. The tour-de-force was a fabulous rendition of Charpentier Fantastique for symphonic brass, percussion and piano. Memorably, the concert began with a solo performance by 6 year old Bartosz Gizicki who made the most beautiful sound even though he had lost most of his milk teeth!

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During my time at the school there was plenty of work to do for the principal trumpet tutors, Arkadiusz Garus, Artur Kulka and me. Arkadiusz and Artur had organised the schedule brilliantly so we achieved results quickly and efficiently as all the children were keen to make this performance very special. We were fortunate to be joined by Thomas Slusarczyk, trumpeter and authority on baroque style and pedagogy. His superb playing and knowledge of the early music repertoire was inspirational for both tutors and students! The final programme that we put together was an incredible achievement with a rich variety of repertoire

Concert Programme
Szymon Laskowski (trumpet)

Amazing Grace
Bartosz Gizicki (cornet)
Aura Lee
Junior Trumpet Ensemble
Super Trouper
All Night, All Day
Theme from Titanic
Easy Winners

Thomas Slusarzcyk (trumpet), Barbara Pakura (piano)
Torelli Trumpet Concerto in D
Henryk Frankowski Brass
Handel March from Judas Maccabeus
Handel Allemande
Tchaikovsky Theme from Swan Lake
Paul Archibald (trumpet), Barabara Pakura (piano)
Henri Busser Andante et Scherzo
Mirek Kuchlewski Brass
Bach Aria
Telemann Generosité
Thomas Slusarzcyk (trumpet), Barbara Pakura (piano)
Handel Suite for Trumpet
BBQ Brass
John Williams Theme from Superman
arr P Molton That’s a Plenty
Paul Archibald (trumpet), Barabara Pakura (piano)
George Bizet Suite from Carmen
Tutor / Student Trumpet Octet
Edward Chance Requiscite Alternis
Full ensemble
arr Paul Archibald Charpentier Fantastique

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The hospitality shown to me by the tutors, administrative team and students at the school was wonderful and a reminder how welcoming and friendly Polish people are towards visitors. The success of the programme was such that we’re already thinking about next year to continue the work that we have begun this year. Congratulations to a great team at Bytom Music School and I’m looking forward to seeing you again next year!