The first School Band Festival was organised by the Band Association of NSW in 1962. Held at Chatswood Oval, eight brass bands initially took part and marching was compulsory. The following year the event moved to the Lane Cove Town Hall, the marching taking place in the car park with bands having to wheel around parked cars!
In 1964 the Festival was taken over by the Waverley Bondi Beach Band (now Bondi Brass), under the direction of Cliff Goodchild, then Principal Tuba player with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Under Cliff Goodchild’s guidance the Festival grew from a handful of bands to become the largest music event of its kind in Australia.
In 2009, NSW School Band Festival Ltd was formed as a company limited, to continue the work commenced by Cliff. With Richard Gill AO as Festival Patron we have continued to expand and diversify.
The Festival caters for bands of all ability levels, from beginner bands to Australia’s most accomplished school ensembles. Each event is named after a prominent composer or musician who has contributed to the band movement in Australia. The event level for which a band is entered is selected by the school’s Music Director. Since 2015 all bands playing in the Festival are required to play a work by an Australian composer or arranger.
The premier event for secondary schools is the Percy Grainger Event, named after the renowned Australian born composer whose best known works include Mock Morris and Country Gardens. The Grainger Event is typically held on the first Saturday evening of the Festival. This event features the top secondary school bands and always provides entertaining music of a very high standard. All bands are asked to perform a 25 minute program, including at least one major Australian composition.
As well as events for traditional concert/wind and brass bands, there are events for Big Bands. The Frank Coughlan Premier Big Band Event, named after Australia’s pioneering big band leader, features Australia’s top school big band ensembles, with well known Australian jazz musician and educator, John Morrison as the Artistic Director.
The Festival is a non-competitive event and, rather than being ranked, all bands receive a rating of Gold, Silver or Bronze which reflects their level of achievement for the particular event level in which they are performing. All events are adjudicated by professional music educators. Besides the rating, each band is provided with an audio commentary of their performance by the adjudicator.
The Festival is staffed on a voluntary basis by members of Bondi Brass and their friends and family. The volunteers recognise the importance of the Festival in maintaining a high standard of musicianship in New South Wales. In recent years school bands from Sydney, regional NSW, the ACT, Victoria, South Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Singapore have participated in the Festival.
The NSW School Band Festival is held each year at the University of NSW and other venues as required (see this year’s venues).
If you would like to be part of the Festival either as a performer, sponsor, volunteer or simply come along to listen, please feel free to contact the General Manager through this site.