Bold as brass

By Sarah Lang
Photography by Victoria Birkenshaw

Featured in Capital #73
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Brass-band stalwart and lawyer Aaron Lloydd (yes, two Ls and two Ds) talks to Sarah Lang about his double life.

Aaron Lloydd, the Musical Director and conductor of the Upper Hutt Brass Band, catches up with his 70-something dad Clive Lloydd at the band’s rehearsals and performances. “He’s a great life-long cornet player.” They sometimes have a beer together after the two-hour Wednesday-night rehearsals. “We’ve been rehearsing at Level 2, being very careful with hand-washing, not sharing gear, and having a band-room QR code.”

Aaron, who is infectiously upbeat, is looking forward to the band’s centenary in October. “Very few brass bands last this long!” Its website displays photographs of the band in 1920, 1930, and every decade since – and tells the anecdote that a member long ago used to walk seven kilometres from Silverstream to Upper Hutt’s CBD for rehearsals.

The band, which currently has about 30 members, usually performs four concerts a year. There’s the Christmas concert, the ANZAC Dawn Parade performance followed by a family concert that afternoon, an outdoor summer concert, and a gala event on Labour Weekend. This Labour Weekend, the band plans to mark its 100th birthday with a concert (25 October) at the Wellington Area Sports Club in Trentham, and other catch-ups and festivities. Fingers crossed that Covid-19 Alerts remain at Level 2. Otherwise, could they perform via Zoom? “That would be an organisational disaster, and cause violence to the ears!”

He’s focused on conducting now, but occasionally subs in when other bands are suddenly short of a trombonist. “I’ve played most brass instruments, but I like the trombone most because of its versatility across orchestra, jazz, and brass, and you can wash it in the bath. It’s also one of the loudest acoustic instruments.”

Aaron played in the Wellington Brass Band for 22 years (for many, alongside his dad), mostly on bass trombone but sometimes on baritone horn and tuba. He became deputy musical director, and conducted its national-champion youth band. “But by the time my second child was born five years ago, the band was world class and I couldn’t keep up as a player and a parent. And it was difficult to practice at home. Don’t wake the baby!”

Then he landed the Upper Hutt Brass Band gig. Many members are local, but others come from Wellington City (Aaron lives in Karori) and even Masterton. “Although we serve the Upper Hutt community, we’re not just Upper Hutt residents. That’s partly because each brass band has its own character and grading. I thought, as Musical Director, I could bring value to a lower-grade brass band – and that’s not a negative thing. It means a band suited to people wanting both relaxed conviviality and musical merit.” He accepts “a very humble honorarium”.

What do people love about brass bands? Their ceremonial aspect? The stirring old-school music? The sheer loudness? “A bit of all that, and, for me, the way different instruments blend so well into a homogeneous sound.”

Aaron’s handy on the guitar too. After high school, he played for punk bands: guitar for Loosehead, trombone for The Offbeats, guitar and trombone for Mr Sterile, and guitar for Midwest Motor Parts Corral. “Punk music is forever.”

Aaron’s from a musical family. “My parents were very fine amateur musicians. They actually met playing in a brass band in Auckland’s North Shore.” The family of five also lived in the UK and Rotorua, and moved to Wellington when Aaron was 10. “At age 13, I was getting into punk music when I heard Dad play for what’s now the Wellington Brass Band. They performed a complex piece and I realised brass bands aren’t all about stirring wartime-march songs, and hymns. Yes, brass bands will always perform those things, but we’re catching up with modernity. Our band’s playing some new music.”

His own compositions have been performed by ensembles including the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, and the New Zealand String Quartet. He’s occasionally conducted his own compositions, but prefers not to. “When you’re nervous your perception of time changes and, as a conductor, timing is essential.”

Over the years, he hasn’t yearned to be a professional musician. “I sometimes thought, ‘have I got the talent to make a living from this?’ But, at 46, looking back, I’m happy with my decisions.”

After high school, he completed a Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Laws at Victoria University. He worked for a law firm for a few years before doing a Master’s Degree in Music Theory and Composition. This saw him write an opera, which was performed by the Wellington Brass Band (not your usual combo).

After working as a barrister/solicitor, he had various legal roles, including 11 years at the Ministry for Social Development. He’s now Principal Legal Counsel for Manatū Taonga Ministry of Culture and Heritage, working from the 111-year-old Public Trust Office Building on Lambton Quay, one of Wellington’s most ornate heritage buildings with its curved corner site.

“I really have one client: the Crown. A typical day boils down to reading, writing, and talking. My team provides legal advice on a broad range of things, from complying with the Official Information Act, to advising on the Ministry’s taonga tūturu law which protects precious objects relating to Māori culture, history, or society.” Working at MCH gives him a feeling of contributing to culture and society.

Do people sometimes spell his surname wrongly? “All the time! It’s an Americanised spelling. Many generations ago the Lloydd family came here from Connecticut.”

“There’s actually a quite well-known lawyer, Aaron Lloyd, and people mix us up. We’ve never met, but once someone at the Law Society said to me ‘Great submission on that Bill!’.’’ The other Aaron is sometimes interviewed as a legal pundit – “and one day my granddad told me he’d seen me on TV. That’s how I knew his eyesight had gone!”

Aaron has made close friends in the small Wellington brass-band scene. “If they leave Wellington, they’ll remain in touch. If I’m out of town for work, I’m welcome at their rehearsals.”

The band has vacated its long-time rehearsal room (“a tiny, freezing little shack”) and upgraded to a former Scout Hall, with “more natural light, better acoustics, and some elbow room.” They’re planning an opening ceremony on 24 October. Due to the pandemic the regional champs and the New Zealand Brass Band Championships have had to skip a year.

He coped okay during lockdown. “My workload was insane, and I had to look after my son [five] and daughter [eight]. But I was lucky given many people lost their jobs.” He shared child-minding with wife Lorena Gibson, a Victoria University anthropology lecturer who plays bass guitar in a band.

Aside from Lorena, what’s his greatest love – law or music? “Both. I don’t want to only do one. I think about giving legal advice the same way I think about writing music – the process of communicating complex ideas in the simplest way. When I’ve managed a team of lawyers, it was like conducting a band: not always telling them what to do, but supporting them to be the best they can. Both kinds of conducting are really satisfying.”

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