Vale Park Proms 2018

This has been a glorious summer for holidaymakers, sun lovers and fête organisers, perhaps less so for farmers and growers, gardeners and water companies. For Aylesbury Band and conductor Robert Wicks, though, the question was would there be good weather for the Vale Park Proms on Sunday 26th August? Sadly the answer seemed to be no, by 10.00am that morning it was raining steadily, and it continued to rain for the next six hours. However, by the time we arrived to set up for a rehearsal at 5.00pm it had just about stopped. The concert started at 7.15, and by then, despite another shower of rain, a large crowd had gathered (official estimates say it was over 1000 people, perhaps nearer 1500). Many had brought picnics along with their umbrellas and raincoats, this is England after all!

So despite the clouds and damp, and the blustery breeze, the show must go on. The concert had a theme: “around the world in 80 minutes”, and began in the USA with The Stars and Stripes by John Philip Sousa, followed by music from the Disney film Frozen.

The Band was then joined by our first two soloists, tenor Lawrence Thackeray and soprano Alison Langer, who sang Tonight from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein. This was particularly fitting as the day before had been the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth.

Next stop on the world tour was Argentina, and the tango Por una Cabeza by Carlos Gardel (which was featured in a famous tango scene in the 1992 film Scent of a Woman). Then to Russia, and the 2nd waltz from Jazz Suite No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich (which was used in another film, Eyes Wide Shut). From there we travelled to India and Jai Ho, exuberant music from Slumdog Millionaire which featured the percussion. Time for a quieter interlude as we moved on to Africa to play the film theme Out of Africa by John Barry. To end the first half it was back to Asia and part of Armenian Dances, based on Armenian folk tunes by American composer Alfred Reed.

During the interval the audience were entertained by Hartbeats West African drummers. When the Band returned for part 2, we found ourselves in Spain with Malagueña by Ernesto Lecuona, and then Lawrence Thackeray returned to the stage to sing O Sole Mio by Eduardo di Capua and Giovanni Capurro. Cheekily he sang “just one Cornetto” to the last verse!

Then it was the turn of the incredibly talented young violinist Shona Beecham who played Czardas by Vittorio Monti accompanied by the band. Shona, who lives in Aylesbury, is just 15, but she’s been playing the violin since she was 7 and currently attends the Royal College of Music Junior Department. She made her her debut at 9 and played her first concerto publicly at 12. She has performed not only in the UK, but also in New York (at the Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall), Switzerland, France, Austria and Germany.

From Italy we hopped across the Alps to Austria as Alison Langer returned to sing the Laughing Song from Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II. Then to France and the Can Can from Orpheus in the Underworld by Offenbach. Next stop was Ireland, and Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, music by Ronan Hardiman. Finally it was back to England and another film theme, The Dam Busters by Eric Coates.

Now it was time for the audience to join in with the grand “last night of the proms” finale, beginning with Jerusalem by Hubert Parry, sung by Lawrence Thackeray. Then the Band played Fantasia on British Sea Songs by Henry Wood, joined by Alison Langer at the end to lead the audience in singing Rule Britannia. Finally it was time for Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1 with the audience and soloists joining in singing the refrain Land of Hope and Glory. Of course, this had to be repeated.

Before this the Mayor, Mark Willis, had come on stage to thank everyone who had taken part, and thank all the organisers of the ParkLife weekend. He also thanked the audience for contributing generously to the Mayor’s Charity this year, Carers Bucks, an independent charity established in 2004 to support the wellbeing of unpaid, family carers in Buckinghamshire.

Finally, after a countdown from the audience led by the evening’s compère, Carl Quaif, a fireworks display brought the weekend events to a sparkling end.

The local paper, The Bucks Herald, has a report with pictures of the weekend’s events, including the Vale Park Proms.

RAF Summer Dinner

The band had an unscheduled outing on Thursday 26th July when we were engaged to play for the Officers’ Mess Summer Dinner at RAF High Wycombe. Whatever the reason, with less than three weeks to go the organisers had found themselves without a band to provide music for the occasion. This was when they contacted Aylesbury Concert Band. Fortunately we were able to oblige, though not without the help of a number of deps. At this time of year we have a lot of light music in the pad from playing at fêtes, which are ideal for accompanying a dinner like this, so conductor Rob Wicks was able to put together and rehearse a programme very quickly.

The dinner was planned to be held on the lawn outside the Officers’ Mess, which might have been risky given British weather, but the 2018 heatwave was still going strong and it was another sweltering hot day. As the band set up ready to play from 7.00pm the temperature was still nearly 30°C so we began the evening in shirtsleeves. We played for a while as the diners were enjoying aperitifs, and then played two sessions during the dinner with a break between. It was actually quite enjoyable to be playing outside on such a warm evening.

An evening such as this always ends with a loyal toast, to which the band plays the National Anthem. On this occasion one of the guests was from Holland, so a second toast to the king of the Netherlands was called for, requiring the Band to play the Dutch National Anthem.

The whole evening was a little outside the band’s normal experience, so all credit to the members for coming out at such short notice and playing well. One of the organisers emailed the next day to say Thanks from the Officers’ Mess at RAF High Wycombe to … the whole of the band for a superb performance last night. The music was outstanding and was commented on by so many people last night and this morning.

Summer Fêtes 2018

June this year was the driest on record, and as the days passed the weather grew warmer and warmer, staying hot and sunny as June faded into July. As I write, some places in south east England have had no rain for 7 weeks, and the forecasters see very little change on the horizon. So on Saturday 7th July we plastered on sun cream and dug out our summer hats ready for our annual visit to Fairford Leys Summer Fair. We play on the bandstand in Hampden square, which affords some of the band some shade, but not for everyone.

This year was a little different from normal, as the date coincided with the England / Sweden football match in the 2018 World Cup, due to begin at 3.00pm. Our second session was brought forward to finish then, as the organisers had organised a large screen TV in the community centre to show the match. To get into the spirit of things conductor Rob Wicks had added Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home) and Rule Britannia to the programme.

In other respects this was a normal fête. In the first session we played West Side Story, A Grand Day Out, a selection from South Pacific, Caravan and music from the film Frozen. The second half opened with Strike Up the Band, then Disney at the Movies, A Walk in the Black Forest, the Muppet theme, and a selection from My Fair Lady, as well as Three Lions and Rule Britannia already mentioned.

One week later, on 14th July, the band was asked to play for a street party in Kingsbrook, a very new housing estate being built to the south east of Aylesbury. The builders were putting this on for the first new residents, and although intended to be a street party, for whatever reason it was moved to the car park of the nearby pub The Dog House. The gravel car park wasn’t the ideal place for the event, but they had laid on a burger bar, free soft drinks and ice creams (the pub was open for anything stronger), and face painting and a balloon modeller to entertain the children. And Aylesbury Concert Band to provide music!

Again the day was hot and sunny, but we were sheltered by a wide gazebo. We played a very similar programme to Fairford Leys the week before. England were involved in a World Cup match again, but this time it was the third-place play-off against Belgium so there was considerably less excitement (unfortunately England lost as well, but at least something is normal this summer).

The organizers were impressed by the Band’s performance, and if it’s not too presumptuous to say so, it would have been a very dull event without us.

This was our last engagement before the Vale Park Proms on 26th August, now it’s time to start rehearsing for that.

Stone Fête 2018

The morning of the Spring Bank holiday on 28th May was overcast and showery, which wasn’t promising for the fête that afternoon in Stone (a large village outside Aylesbury). However the day brightened, and just as the fête was officially opened the sun began to shine, and the weather stayed pleasantly warm and sunny for the rest of the afternoon. The band was shaded by a marquee, as playing in the direct heat of the sun can be as difficult as playing in wind or cold.

The Band played two sets. The first opened with a selection from My Fair Lady, followed by A Grand Day Out (the Wallace & Gromit theme). After music from South Pacific came Caravan by Duke Ellington, and the set finished with music from the Disney film Frozen.

Five band members in front of a large gorilla

Some of the woodwind with a friend.

Later the second set began with Disney at the Movies, and the sixties easy listening hit A Walk in the Black Forest by Horst Jankowski. Then after Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the set finished with music from West Side Story.

It was quite a pleasant afternoon’s music making, let’s hope the weather is as kind for the other fêtes we’ll be playing at this summer.

Spring Concert 2018

On 28th April we tried a new venue for our Spring Concert, the church at Fairford Leys, Aylesbury. Being a relatively new housing estate this is a small church in a modern building, and at first sight seemed quite promising. Inside the building is divided into two, the church proper and an area with tables and chairs and a small kitchen behind a counter in the corner. This is separated from the church by a glass screen which folds and slides to the sides to open the two areas into one. The church itself is wider than it is long, with no pillars, so the audience has good views of the band, and being quite small it is ideal for the typical size of our audience. However the light was quite bright, and together with the white painted walls gave a rather harsh effect. Of more concern was the large dome built in the ceiling into the roof space. During the concert this had the effect of reflecting the sound and dampening any contrast between loud music and soft.

The concert began with the Olympic Fanfare and Theme written by John Williams for the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. This was followed by The Hounds of Spring by Alfred Reed, inspired by Swinburne’s line “When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces”, a magical picture of young love in springtime. A selection from the musical My Fair Lady came next, and The Girl with the Flaxen Hair by Debussy, arranged by Michael Brand. Then Robin Jarvis, euphonium, played Song of India by Rimsky-Korsakov in an arrangement by Eric Wilson. who is a friend of both Robin and our conductor, Rob wicks. For this the Band was conducted by Eric Wilson himself, who was our guest at the concert. The first half ended with Festive Overture by Shostakovich.

The second half began with A Copland Tribute, music by Aaron Copland adapted by Clare Grundman. Next we played Finnegan’s Wake, by A.J. Potter, and Disney at the Movies, an arrangement of well know songs from Disney films. This was followed by a moment of quiet reflection as we played The Sun Will Rise Again, written by Philip Sparke in response to the devastating tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. The concert ended with an arrangement of music from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein. As an encore the Band played A Walk in the Black Forest, the 60s hit by Horst Jankowski.

The concert was quite successful, the band played well and the audience seemed to enjoy it despite the problems with the acoustics. It’s a shame that we don’t seem to be able to attract a larger audience, but that is a perennial problem for us it seems.

New Year Concert 2018

On the afternoon of Saturday 13th January Aylesbury Band travelled again to St Mary’s Church, Eaton Bray for a New Year Concert. By the time the concert was due to start a gratifyingly large audience nearly filled the church, indeed the organiser had to put out extra seats for latecomers.

Conductor Robert Wicks had chosen Flourish for Wind Band to announce that the concert had begun, followed by the lively overture Light Cavalry by Franz von Suppé. Two items from films followed, Beauty and the Beast from the Disney cartoon version, and Hallelujah from Shrek by Leonard Cohen. Then the band played 5 movements from A Silent Movie Suite, an original work for band by Martin Ellerby which evokes the early days of the cinema. This was accompanied by suitable “subtitles” held up by a volunteer to announce the titles of each movement. The first half ended with a selection from the musical Les Misérables.

After the interval, the second half opened with Celtic Carol arranged by Robert W. Smith, and a selection of music from recent episodes of Dr Who, complete with the well known title theme. The slightly nostalgic Waltz no. 2 from a “Jazz” suite by Shostakovich was followed by the manic LOL (Laugh Out Loud) by Robert Buckley. To slow the pace, but staying with TV themes, Band of Brothers came next, followed by music from Mary Poppins.

This was a New Year concert, however, so we couldn’t finish without playing The Beautiful Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II, arranged by Rob Wiffin. The enthusiastic applause merited an encore, which was inevitably the Radetzky March by Johann Strauss I.

How nice it is to play to such an appreciative audience. It’s even nicer to know we’ve been invited back to play again next year.