I have a number of good musical memories where I’ve been lucky enough to experience “thrilling days of playing music”. Until last Saturday the benchmark was one that I truly thought would never be surpassed. This was when a group of pupils and teachers from the school where I taught played a concert of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians to a packed school hall, with the composer himself present, in honour of his 75th birthday. This really was, for many reasons, a truly thrilling occasion. Last Saturday however, in terms of sheer fun, variety of insight and verve of music making, certainly challenged and probably transcended it. I had no idea what to expect of the Playday. The precursors – apologies from Claire about an unforeseen clash of jobs with RAF Central Band which would remove her and someone called Duncan Stubbs from the proceedings until after lunch – were not promising. And the chap who was going to “stand in ’til then”, Rob Wiffin, was, to me, only the composer’s name on a couple of very good pieces that we had played in rehearsal over the last few months. The actual day was a revelation. A litany of terrific pieces, imaginative, atmospheric and technically challenging, followed one after the other. When Duncan Stubbs made his entrance towards the end of Rob Wiffin’s fantastically rumbustious High Spirits and was invited to “carry on from there”, his slightly wide eyed, tentative and heartfelt response was, “I can’t follow that!!”. But follow that he did, and in no uncertain terms at all; with an irresistible movement from Alfred Reed’s Suite for Band in South American Style. The quality of the conducting throughout the day was, for me, simply amazing. Their apparently effortless musical and technical insight, coupled with their amazing instinct about which things to stop and work on, and which to ignore, was exceptional. And their very different, but equally effective and infectious good humour set the day off with a zing. In Millenium Bridge by Nigel Hess We “flowed down the river”, and “gambolled over the bridge”, the analogies may have been predictable, but they were tellingly used with endless gentle humour; and the pieces were, on top of all the qualities noted above, just wonderful fun to play (or for some of us, try to play) – and to learn from. The playing of every member of the Band present must have benefited tremendously from it all. We are incredibly fortunate to have conductors of this quality, ready and willing to take us on. Thank you to all concerned for such a wonderful, exhausting, instructive and exhilarating day.
On Saturday 2nd March the Band, together with some friends and guests, crowded into Ellesborough Village Hall, Butlers Cross, for another Playday. This is where we spend a whole day working on some different, challenging music under the guidance of two eminent guest conductors. We were lucky once again to be joined by Rob Wiffin, Professor of Conducting at Kneller Hall, and Duncan Stubbs, Principal Director of Music of the Royal Air Force. Many of us are veterans of these Playdays and weekends, but for Peter, who has only recently joined the Band, this was his first. Here are his impressions:–