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End of an Era - Keith Leonard and Derwent Brass

End of an Era – Keith Leonard and Derwent Brass

Keith Leonard retires after 25 years of success with the Derbyshire based Derwent Brass.

Derwent Brass was formed in 1992 with the aim of producing a quality brass band based in Derby. However, after just one year in existence they already found themselves looking for a new conductor. Following a series of auditions, they appointed Keith Leonard to lead the future for the band and what a journey they have been on, with the same man in the middle from that moment on.

The Driving Force

From rehearsing in a room at the back of ‘The Great Northern’ with a hand painted drum kit, to selling out Derby Theatre with a series of new commissions for their 25th anniversary special concert, it is fair to say the band has grown from strength to strength with Keith as the driving force throughout. Whilst the band’s progression through the ranks went fairly unnoticed, Keith’s unique relaxed style and persistent energy has steered Derwent from the depths of the Third Section to an established and respected Championship Section Band. Derwent Brass combines this with a reputation for innovation, professionalism and high musical standards.

Nationals Finals 2010

 Strong Relationship

The key to this winning formula has proven to be the strong relationship between band, committee and MD, with Keith always striving for two key factors: committing to just one quality rehearsal per week and having a full and dedicated membership.

“Derwent Brass has been a massive part of my life for the past 25 years. There have been many occasions when work or domestic life should have taken precedence, but didn’t. As I have often announced from the stage at the end of concerts, I am hugely proud to have been the Musical Director of Derwent Brass. I think it is truly a wonderful band, both in terms of camaraderie and musical ability and I hope I have been instrumental in creating the band we have today.” (Keith Leonard)


 Behind the Scenes

For those who know the band, many will acknowledge that Keith Leonard was Derwent Brass. From producing printed programmes, arranging music, installing acoustic panels in the band room to building their first web site and the hardest job of them all - maintaining a happy band; there are few tasks he hasn’t taken on and his commitment to the job of being MD has been paramount throughout. In terms of effort it has to be up there with the very best.

“For 25 years now my ever-supportive wife Beverley has had to put up with all holidays and trips, even family activities being planned around the band’s schedule and now it’s time for that to change” (Keith Leonard)


Under Keith’s guidance the band have performed alongside an array of big names in brass banding and have performed with a variety of groups and artists. Pictured here during a joint concert with the Treorchy Male Choir in 2010.

 Moving Forward

With the bar well and truly set, what is next for Derwent Brass?

“We recognise we’re unlikely to find another Keith Leonard and, in a way, we wouldn’t want that. From those early days in the 3rd Section, he built a strong foundation of commitment and band values which was key to the bands stability and progress through to the challenges of top level banding in the Championship Section. In recent years Keith has been in his element working on major works such as St. Magnus or Spiriti. His passion for brass band music certainly wasn’t constrained by the normal boundaries of repertoire, as evidenced by his support for the music of contemporary composers Paul McGhee and Matt Eden, to whom the band has commissioned several new works.

25 years in front of any band is an amazing achievement and I cannot thank Keith enough for what he has done for us. Looking to the future, the committee is now working to appoint a talented Musical Director with a clear passion to continue the band’s development and hopefully to even greater heights. We won’t rest until we find the right man for the job.” (Graham Johnson, Chairman)


Going out with a bang! The finale to the band’s 25th anniversary concert at Derby Theatre. Keith engaged Paul Lovatt-Cooper to write a new commission: ‘Beyond Heaven’s Gates’. 

 Life and Soul

“I have been very clear that this is retirement, not resignation. Success is not just about winning contests, it is building a band, a popular concert attraction, a place to make quality music together and to build relationships. My only concern is the ongoing smooth running and success of a band that I love dearly and have put my life and soul into for the past 25 years.” (Keith Leonard)

There is no doubt that this is a loss to the band, but also a well-deserved retirement and one poised for an increasingly satisfying family life.


The Leonard family involvement continues with Keith’s son Chris staying in place as Band Manager.

 “Keith’s commitment and dedication to the band has been nothing short of outstanding. He has crafted so many wonderful concerts and we thank him for everything he has done. I hope that in retirement he will still find some time for the band and we will be announcing plans for a formal retirement concert in due course.” (Neville Eden, President)


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