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Special homecoming in store for Ashburton's globetrotting musician

To say music has played a major role in Corporal Byron ‘Buzz’ Newton’s career would be putting it lightly, although he’s the first to admit it wasn’t his childhood dream.

27 February, 2024

“My passion was centred on cricket,” he said. “I aspired to make a career out of it. However the cricket path didn’t unfold as planned, leading me to pivot towards music.

“Fortunately, it was a fantastic Plan B that has since become a significant part of my life.”

Corporal Newton spent the first 13 years of his life in Ashburton, where he and his family have strong Canterbury roots. His father had spent his whole life as an apiarist in Mid-Canterbury, while his mother used to be a nurse at Ashburton Hospital.

He attended Ashburton Borough and Ashburton Intermediate schools, where his future musical career began with keyboard lessons at the Technics Music Academy.

“One of my early highlights was performing Beethoven’s Für Elise at the Ashburton Society of Performing Arts Annual Festival in the under 14 category,” Corporal Newton said.

A fateful visit by the New Zealand Army Band during his final year at Ashburton Borough School then sparked his interest in brass instruments.

He was initially drawn to the cornet.

“But I ended up learning the baritone horn due to my unique dental structure – I was informed that my teeth were too big”.

He went on to join the Ashburton Silver Band where he played alongside future RNZAF Band Bandmaster, Flight Sergeant Ben Robertson, and fellow Ashburton musician Simon O’Neill.

After moving to Christchurch Boys’ High School to finish his education, he crossed paths with the current RNZAF Director of Music, Squadron Leader David Gallaher, who introduced him to a new instrument.

“I was given a euphonium by David Gallaher after I accidentally damaged my baritone attempting to remove a stuck mouthpiece from the leadpipe,” he recalled.

With his cricketing aspirations relegated to the back benches, Corporal Newton committed to a musical career, obtaining a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Canterbury and a postgraduate diploma with distinction in euphonium performance from the New Zealand School of Music.

“Seeking further growth, I continued my studies at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. During this time I studied with euphonium legends David Childs and his father Robert Childs,” Corporal Newton said.

“I played euphonium with the Tredegar Town Band in Wales before returning to New Zealand to take on the role of Principal Euphonium with Wellington Brass, where we secured multiple Brass Band Championship titles.”

Never one to turn down a challenge, he has since expanded his musical repertoire by taking up the tuba and joining Orchestra Wellington.

“My passion for music continues to evolve, driving me to explore new instruments and genres, ensuring that my musical journey remains vibrant and fulfilling."

He’s now into his 12th year with the RNZAF Band and has performed around the world.

“I got to travel to Belgium and France to participate in First World War centennial commemorations, and had a sweet trip to China just before Covid-19 for a military tattoo.”

He said touring his home country is also a highlight, which this year includes a rare visit back to his Ashburton and Christchurch beginnings.  

“I’m looking forward to visiting some of my old stomping grounds.”

While he loves performing in front of friends and family, playing to a home crowd does come with certain reputational risk.

“If something goes wrong, they can remind you about it every time you see them. When I was at high school, I had an instrument malfunction on stage in front of the whole school assembly which led to the principal getting out of his chair and clapping me off stage. My school friends still remind me of this.”

When asked whether he had any advice for somebody considering joining the New Zealand Defence Force, Corporal Newton naturally weaved in a reference to one of the great brass band movie soundtracks of all time.

“I would quote Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars and just say, ‘do it’.”

Tickets for the RNZAF Band’s upcoming concerts are available here.

Concert venues and dates:

  • 28 February, 7pm - ASB Theatre Marlborough, Blenheim
  • 1 March, 7pm - Ashburton Events Centre
  • 2 March, 7pm - Mountainview High School, Timaru
  • 3 March, 1:30pm - James Hay Theatre, Christchurch