'Plugging away' brings sweet sound of success

Champion Dunedin cornet player John Lewis yesterday. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Champion Dunedin cornet player John Lewis yesterday. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.

He may have just won the world's most prestigious brass solo prize, but Otago Daily Times journalist John Lewis was reluctant to blow his trumpet yesterday.

The 37-year-old cornet player won the Ern Keller Memorial International Soloist of the Year on Sunday at the St Mary's Band Club in Sydney.

"I'd been working really hard for it. Just plugging away. I didn't take a Christmas break from playing because I was so intent on winning it," he said.

"It's the only international solo event left in the world, since the British Open ran out of funding last year."

Lewis topped a strong international field with his 10-minute rendition of Rustique, by Eugene Bozza.

"This prize was on my hit list, so it's nice to knock it off."

And while the win put some brass in his pocket (about $1200) and brought a huge trophy, that was not his motivation, he said.

"I do it for the music and the prestige; not the prizes. It's all about the music to me. It puts balance in my life," he said.

The 38th Ern Keller Memorial International Soloist of the Year was contested by world-class tuba, trombone, euphonium, baritone, tenor horn and cornet soloists.

Lewis was the only New Zealander vying for the title, among a dozen champion brass players representing Australia, the United Kingdom and Japan.

He qualified for the annual competition after winning the New Zealand cornet championship and champion of champion titles last year.

Lewis has been playing cornet since he was 9 and has won the New Zealand open championship cornet for the past two years and New Zealand's top solo brass music prize, the Festival of Brass champion of champions title, last year.

He also won the champion of champions title in 2001 before travelling to England to play with the Brighouse and Rastrick Band for five years.

"If I could go back, I'd still choose brass. It has the ability to turn the hairs on the back of the neck," he said.

Lewis plays principal cornet with two of the top brass bands in Australasia: Dalewool Auckland Brass and the New South Wales Gunnedah Shire Band.

He will perform in concerts in Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne, before the Australian national championships in Melbourne at Easter and the New Zealand national championships in Timaru in July.


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