John Eric Gray (known as Eric) had a life-long passion for brass band music and for sharing his musical gift with others, by playing and teaching in his local community.
That generous spirit is reflected in his legacy gift to the NYBBGB bursary fund, helping to fund places for those children who might otherwise miss out on a life changing musical experience, and for that we thank Eric.
Here, his daughter Vivien Halstead, shares the story of her father and how the gift of music was woven into his life.
I can’t underestimate the importance that music played in my Dad’s life. He was a civil engineer by profession, but he was also an accomplished and committed brass instrument player. He played in brass bands and ensembles all his life, and enjoyed nothing better than spending his free time passing his enthusiasm and knowledge down to younger generations.
His love for all things brass started in his mid teens when it was thought that playing in a school orchestra might help Dad, an awkward, lanky teen, to be more settled emotionally. A trombone appeared from my Great Grandad’s attic, and the Huthwaite Prize Band was contacted. Lessons were just ‘learn as you go’ in the band, and Dad would play with the band in the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.
From thereon in, brass band was an integral part of life for Dad – Sunday performances in park band stands, festivals, and the next stage for Dad was with Bestwood Black Diamonds Colliery Band. Later, as an adult, he played in various brass bands, including Bulkington Silver Band and Bedworth Brass Band. He also played at local concerts and generously shared his musical talent with other groups – regularly accompanying the music in church as well as my Mum’s choir in a concert when they performed Carmina Burana.
Dad wasn’t just an enthusiastic player; he passed his love of music to younger generations, and others who were learning, and would think nothing of spending his time with the younger members of the bands and groups he was in, helping them with their playing. He and his fellow band member Maurice would attend the local primary school to encourage brass instrument playing, and helped set up a brass band too.
When my Mum sadly passed away at age 68, it was music and brass which once again provided my Dad with a lifeline – he was a member of the St Giles Church Band, and year after year I would hear stories of his playing at Remembrance Day parades, Christmas carolling around the local housing estates, entertaining visitors at the summer fete, and playing at care homes together with the other members of the band who became firm friends of his. They all looked out for each other.
When Dad passed away in 2021, we couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute than a contribution from Dad’s estate towards a NYBBGB bursary, given his love of all things brass, the way in which playing and listening enriched his life, and the importance he placed on making sure that this was passed down to younger generations. We hope that the bursary helps other young people to find as much enjoyment, pleasure, comfort and fulfilment in brass as Dad did.