4 Jun 2016

Practise makes perfect for top-flight musician

11:57 am on 4 June 2016

Walkers and cyclists using pathways around Nelson Airport are often surprised to hear a few brass notes coming from behind the trees and shrubs.

Nelson brass musician Mike Ford practises tenor horn near the airport walkway during his tea breaks at work.

Nelson brass musician Mike Ford practises tenor horn near the airport walkway during his tea breaks at work. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The tunes are courtesy of leading New Zealand brass musician Mike Ford, who enjoys getting out of his airport office for a blast during tea breaks.

The pilot standards manager at Air New Zealand's Nelson office plays tenor horn with the national brass band of New Zealand. He is also a member of Nelson's Hardy St Brass Council street band, the Tasman Brass Ensemble, and manages the national youth brass band of New Zealand, in which his son Logan plays the cornet.

Mr Ford said he had been playing brass since he was a youngster in Hawke's Bay, and was inspired by a trip to town one night.

"I've been playing brass since I was 11 years old. My parents were musical - Dad played the violin and double bass, and Mum was a piano teacher. We lived in Central Hawke's Bay and every Friday night we'd go into Waipukurau, which was the big smoke for me back then.

"One Friday night the Waipukurau Boys Band was playing outside in a car park, and I really liked the sound of it."

The young Mike listened while his parents did the grocery shopping, and by the time they had finished, he was hooked.

"I said, 'I want to do that', and I've been pretty much doing it ever since."

Mr Ford often drew on that early experience as a lesson for young musicians.

Mike Ford wears many hats including that of manager of the national youth brass band of New Zealand.

Mr Ford wears many hats, including that of manager of the national youth brass band of New Zealand. Photo: SUPPLIED

"Now that I'm reasonably established as a brass player, it pays to remember where I came from, and when I try and encourage little kids I remember that inspiration comes from being exposed to something that makes a person want to do that, or be like that."

Music had taken him around the world, and he was grateful for that.

He practised for a couple of hours each day, fitting around his job.

"At times I feel I just need a break from the office and so I grab my horn and disappear here down by the river."

The river is the creek that runs alongside the public walkway and cycleway next to Nelson Airport. Mr Ford said he sometimes got quite an audience.

"Quite a few people stop to listen. I think they enjoy it."

Inspiration and a good set of lungs were important ingredients to becoming a top brass musician, he said.

"You develop the lungs over time. I was on a leadership course a couple of months ago and out of the blue they held a breath-holding competition. Everybody had bunged out after about 30 seconds and after two minutes I was still going."

Mr Ford said there was a crossover between his job and his hobby.

"As the standards manager, it's my role to ensure all of our pilots meet all the regulatory requirements in terms of the training they have to do and the standards they have to meet. So when I'm mentoring some of these people I'm able to talk to them in terms of what I go through when I'm preparing for a musical performance.

"Indeed I use some of those techniques myself - it's to do with being in the moment and thinking about just the job at hand, and not worrying about the little man on your shoulder whispering in your ear saying, 'I hope you get this right - I hope you get this right'."

Mr Ford is also filling a part in the Wellington Brass Band and he will be joining them for a trip to the UK for the British Open brass band contest in September.