Cambridge University music student Sam Thackray has scooped first prize in the composition category of this year’s UniBrass competition with his original piece, ‘Emergence’.

Sam was one of around 30 students from Cambridge University’s thriving brass band (CUBB) who took part in the annual UniBrass event on February 17th, held at the University of Warwick.

An undergraduate music finalist at St Catharine’s College, Sam was acting as CUBB assistant Musical Director, playing in the band’s twenty-minute performance, as well as conducting the premiere of his winning composition.

Sam’s piece came top in the ‘Best Student Composition or Arrangement’ category, which is awarded to the best student composition from across the entire event, including both ‘Trophy’ and ‘Shield’ categories.

Commenting on the win, Sam said: “I’m delighted to have won the composition prize for ‘Emergence’. It was a real pleasure to conduct the band’s premiere of this piece, and witnessing it come together in the final rehearsals and performance was very exciting. It was also my first time conducting an official performance in any context, and so being able to experience this for the first time with one of my own compositions was a huge privilege.”

He added: “I had started composing it specifically for CUBB in Michaelmas term, to close our set in the 2024 UniBrass competition, and had only later thought to enter it for the prize, so winning was especially rewarding!”

According to Sam, the piece was derived from a series of sketches for an ensemble of six trumpets, which he started at the Junior Royal Academy of Music. He describes it as “a fragmented set of musical ideas, initially consisting of small individual phrases, which coalesce as the piece develops, until the end presents them in complex counterpoint”.

He explains that the title has a double-meaning, reflecting both the gradual emergence of a full set of melodies and their relationships to each other from a collection of smaller figures, while also providing a conclusion to CUBB’s UniBrass set, which was themed around ‘space’.

In the final tally, CUBB placed a commendable 6th in the Shield category. The band offered warm congratulations to Lancaster, which won the Shield section this year, and to Royal Birmingham Conservatoire which claimed the top spot overall as competition winners in the Trophy section.

CUBB is open to all brass players, without audition, and is very welcoming to new members. Commenting on his experiences, Sam said: “I only discovered the brass band in my second year, but quickly grew to love how it balanced being both non-auditioned, and attracting some of the best brass players in Cambridge.”

He added: “I think this prize represents an important message for the brass banding community here in Cambridge, as we are an open, non-auditioned band up against highly competitive audition-only bands. It makes it especially meaningful for us to take home a national prize – after all, the piece wouldn’t exist without the band’s diligent work each week.”