Gold Award for Aylesbury Concert Band

Aylesbury Concert Band entered the Midlands Regional National Concert Band Festival in Northampton on November 18th and received a Gold Award in the Community Band class.

The festival gives bands the opportunity to have their performance assessed by eminent adjudicators, which on this occasion were Rob Wiffin, previously Principal Director of Music of the Royal Air Force, now Professor of Conducting at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, and John Greaves, advisor and conductor to the European Youth Summer Music School and acting Head of Service for Music Cornwall.

Bands can be awarded bronze, silver, gold, or platinum based on their performance of a short programme. Aylesbury Concert Band played three pieces: Shining Sword, by Rob Wiffin, October, by Eric Whitacre and Stephenson’s Rocket, by Nigel Hess.

The adjudicators were impressed with the standard and quality of the playing summarising their adjudication with “A well-contrasted programme with good colours, blends and dynamics, overall a very commendable effort”.

Conductor, Claire Lawrence, was particularly pleased “I’m delighted that all the band’s hard work in the weekly rehearsals has earned them a Gold Award. The festival performance contained a consistently high level of musicality, some accomplished solo and section playing and a great team effort to show the band at its very best.”

Martin Brown, Chairman of the band added “it is always great to see a band whose origins began in the Aylesbury community do so well in a festival such as this as it further reinforces our belief that Aylesbury Concert Band is one of the best in the area. Our band members come from in and around Aylesbury and we are hopeful following this result we will attract further players”.

This is the fifth time the Band has entered the festival, gaining bronze in 1999, silver in 2004, gold in 2006 and silver in 2008.

Proms in the Park 2012

Every year since 2000 the Band has been providing the popular ‘Proms’ concert in Vale Park, Aylesbury, as part of Park Life organised by Aylesbury Town Council. This year the event took place on Saturday 1st September; during the day there was a big screen relaying coverage of the Paralympic Games from London, music from the stage, and many activities for children, including a rock climbing wall. In the evening it was Aylesbury Band’s turn to take to the stage.

Some of the past Vale Park Proms were blighted by rain, and after this year’s dismal summer we were justifiably nervous that this concert would be too, but to everyone’s relief the day was sunny and warm, and stayed dry the whole evening.

One drawback of our conductor, Claire Lawrence, being a member of the armed forces is that the demands of the service must take priority. Having been sent off for over two weeks to work in security for the Olympics (where she spent the whole time in mind-numbing boredom on the night shift) followed by another period for the Paralympics meant she was unable to conduct this concert. Instead her place was ably filled by Robert Wicks. As this was not only the year of the London Olympics but also the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Robert chose a mainly English programme, opening with Concert Prelude by English composer Philip Sparke. Other English composeres featured included Guy Woolfenden, Rob Wiffin, Eric Coates, Edward Elgar, William Walton, and Sir Arthur Sullivan. You can read the complete programme here.

The Proms concerts always feature at least one star soloist, and this year we were joined by soprano Alison Langer. In the first half she sang O mio babbino caro by Puccini, and later she sang Poor Wandering One from The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan. She is a very fine singer, and the crowd showed their appreciation with enthusiastic applause. Members of the band often play solo items too, and this year principal trombone Jon Pyefinch played an arrangement for trombone of A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.

Of course the part of the concert many of the audience come to hear is the “Proms” finale, which as usual began with Jerusalem, with Alison Langer leading the singing. Then Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs with the rousing hornpipe, ending with Rule Britannia, again sung by Alison Langer, with the audience joining in the chorus. Finally the audience joined in singing Land of Hope and Glory to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1, and as always this had to be encored.

At the end of the concert the Mayor of Aylesbury, Cllr Mrs Ranjula Takodra, came onto the stage and thanked the audience for their contributions to the Mayor’s Charity, Home-Start Aylesbury. She also thanked the Band for a wonderful evening of music that made her proud to be British. We’re looking forward to providing an even better and more successful concert in 2013.

Programme – Vale Park Proms 2012

Conducted by Robert Wicks

Title Composer / Arranger
Concert Prelude Philip Sparke
Theme from the film The Longest Day Maurice Jarre
The Magic of Andrew Lloyd Webber Arr. Warren Barker
O mio babbino caro (sung by Alison Langer, soprano) Puccini, arr. David Richards
Gigue (3rd mvt. of Illyrian Dances) Guy Woolfenden
What Child is This (Greensleeves) Trad. arr. Michael Pegram
Amazonia (1st mvt. of Windows of the World Peter Graham
Dancing Round the Nursery (written for a Children’s party at Buckingham Palace in 2006 to celebrate the Queen’s 80th birthday) Rob Wiffin
The Dambusters Eric Coates
Trombone Solo: A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (Soloist Jon Pyefinch) Eric Maschwitz
Nimrod from Enigma Variations Edward Elgar, arr. Geoffrey Brand
Caravan Duke Ellington, arr. Richard Saucedo
Poor Wandering One (Pirates of Penzance, sung by Alison Langer, soprano) W S Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
Coronation March Crown Imperial William Walton, arr. W J Duthoit
Jerusalem Hubert Parry, arr. Rob Wiffin
Fantasia on British Sea Songs Henry Wood, arr. W J Duthoit
Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1 Edward Elgar

Fairford Leys Summer Fayre 2012

On the 14th July the Band made its summer visit to the Fairford Leys district of Aylesbury to play at the Fairford Leys Summer Fayre. After the drenchings of recent weeks the weather was much kinder, it did rain a little as the band was setting up on the bandstand, but it soon stopped and brightened up. Netting and spikes fitted under the roof of the bandstand helped to discourage the pigeons who were a hazard in previous years, but instead a children’s entertainer set up in front of the bandstand provided a hazard of a different kind. Amplified through the PA loudspeakers next to the bandstand he was encouraging the children to scream and holler as loud as they could, and being children they were only too eager to oblige, between them making enough noise to threaten our hearing!

Other than that the day was almost routine. Claire Lawrence conducted the Band in a mixture of music suitable for a fête, the band played well, there were no disasters, and we did our best to add to the atmosphere of the occasion.

This was the last engagement before the summer lull, but in between holidays we must get ready for our next big event, the Vale Park Proms on 1st September.

Quainton Children’s Prom

On the evening of 7th July the Band travelled to Quainton for a Children’s Concert at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre. Quainton Road station was once a junction on the Metropolitan and Great Central joint line, but passenger trains ceased running there nearly 50 years ago, though the line is still open for occasional freight trains. The station is now the site of a railway museum, and is a popular tourist attraction. The concert took place on the platform of the Rewley Road station, which was reconstructed here after being saved from demolition and moved from Oxford. The Band played here for the Steam Fair in September 2011.

The cheerful tone of the concert was set from the start as conductor Claire Lawrence led the band in the Muppet Show theme. The first half included Stephenson’s Rocket, a portrait of the famous early steam locomotive by Nigel Hess, music from the James Bond films, Jungle Book, and Aladdin, and Harry Potter. Appropriately for a children’s concert the Band played Dancing Round the Nursery, a clever medley of nursery rhymes written by Rob Wiffin, and in the second half, Cartoon by Paul Hart captured all the fun of cartoons with inventive music in the style of cartoon sound tracks.

To illustrate the various sections of the Band, the woodwind played an arrangement of Nelly the Elephant and the brass opened the second half with a fanfare written by Claire Lawrence herself. The sax section played Return to Sender, the Elvis Presley hit arranged for saxophone quartet. The children in the audience got the chance to participate as Claire Lawrence handed out lots of percussion instruments for them to shake, bang and rattle to accompany A Grand Day Out, the Wallace and Gromit theme. Also the tubas got a rare spot in the limelight when they played Tyrolean Tubas.

The concert finished in “Last Night of the Proms” style with Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1, but the enthusiastic audience wouldn’t let the band go without an encore, and the band obliged with a couple of Abba numbers: Waterloo and Thank You for the Music. It’s a shame the audience wasn’t a little larger, but those there certainly enjoyed themselves, and we enjoyed playing there. Let’s hope the organisers won’t be discouraged from inviting us back on another occasion.

Little Missenden Little Proms

Saturday 23rd June was the date for the third and final concert of the “Little Missenden Little Proms”. The Band had been asked to step in at short notice after the initial plans for the evening hadn’t worked out, and it was held in the gardens of Little Missenden Manor House near Amersham. On a warm summer evening it would have been a beautiful location for a concert, but once again in this soggy June the occasion was blighted by rain. The rain started during the pre-concert rehearsal, it rained before the concert, it rained during the concert, and continued to pour as everyone went home afterwards. Undaunted, the band squeezed onto the small stage sheltered by a barely adequate canvas roof with some holes, which from time to time dumped water onto some of the clarinet players. Then as the evening progressed the roof began to bulge and sag under the weight of a pool of water growing ever larger, but despite the gleeful anticipation of the trumpet section it held, and the saxophones were spared a drenching.

Flyer for the Little Missenden Little Proms

Amazingly, by the time the concert was due to start a sizeable audience had gathered, sheltering under a sea of umbrellas, while some well organised people put up gazebos. They were obviously determined to enjoy themselves, and enjoy it they did, especially the traditional “Proms” finale, Jerusalem, Henry Wood’s Sea Songs with Rule Britannia, and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1 including Land of Hope and Glory. The Band were joined in this by mezzo soprano Christine Rice, a professional singer who is more usually to be found at the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, or Glyndebourne, or even at the real Proms in the Albert Hall! On this occasion she wisely eschewed the glamorous frock and instead wore jeans and a coat, not that this affected her glorious singing in any way.

But thanks to 12 year old Marnie Shutter, here is an account of the concert and the music from the audience’s point of view…

The Little Missenden Proms started with a light shower, which progressed into a full torrent of rain. However, despite the fact that the rain leaked through the top of the stage cover (and that most of the woodwind section spent the evening dodging the leaks) the concert still progressed. With great flourish, Claire Lawrence welcomed the audience and the band began to play a classic – and given the rain very appropriate – English piece by Philip Sparke, Yorkshire Overture. That warmed the audience up and got the night off to a great start. The band continued with many more glorious pieces in their first set. Highlights of the first set were a Beatles Medley, and Greensleeves with every section in top form! (My personal highlights of the night included Claire’s outstanding piccolo solo in the Beatles medley and the beef-burgers!)

The Second set began, with the cold June weather forcing all the audience and a few band members to wrap up warm. Stephenson’s Rocket by Nigel Hess was warmly applauded, as was Nimrod and the James Bond medley. However, it was The Dambusters which really got the audience clapping wildly! The soloist of the night, mezzo soprano Christine Rice was welcomed on stage. With a brilliant start, Jerusalem was played to begin the Grand Finale! Her voice with the band was a classy combination. Afterwards, Land Of Hope And Glory was played, followed by the National Anthem. Christine’s wonderful voice captivated the audience, a lot of flags were waved, and then to finish this already amazing night off, a grand display of fireworks were set off, producing a spectacular show.

Overall, the Little Missenden Proms proved a brilliant night and a perfect way to finish the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Cublington Fête 2012

June this year is shaping up to be the wettest since records began, and as the date for Cublington fête approached, the weather forecasts suggested that heavy rain on the day might prevent the event happening at all. Fortunately although the day was overcast and windy, the rain held off for most of the afternoon, which must have been a great relief for the organisers.

Photo of the band playing at Cublington

The Band playing at Cublington (Photo Copyright © 2012 Bill Brassington)

After last year’s experience the Band set up in a fair sized marquee, which helped to shelter us from the wind. Before our first session the Master of Ceremonies announced that we were going to play, and remarked that one of the players was “local celebrity” Ali Lovatt, much to her and our amusement. Conductor Claire Lawrence led the band in the march Trafalgar, and other popular pieces such as Birdland and Chitty-chitty-bang-bang.

There was meant to be an inordinately long gap of an hour and a half before our second session, but a display of “Street Dancing” ran into trouble getting their sound system to work (hint: use live music!) so the Band was asked to play instead. As we left, half an hour earlier than expected, a few drops of the inevitable rain began to fall as we walked to the car park.

This was the Band’s first engagement since February. In previous years we played at the annual Mayor Making in May, but now this has moved to Aylesbury College following the closure of the Civic Centre, the council decided not to have us play this year. Instead we have been making use of the time to work on improving the Band, and rehearsing some harder pieces which we can perform later in the year.

Band Development Weekend 2012

Every couple of years or so we organise a weekend away for the Band where we have two days of intensive rehearsal coached by a couple of top class guest conductors, playing music more difficult than our usual repertoire. This year we were led by Duncan Stubbs (Principal Director of Music of the Royal Air Force) and Rob Wiffin (a previous PDM, now professor of conducting at Kneller Hall) and needless to say it was quite an experience, hard work but very rewarding, and fun as well. Duncan of course is an old friend of ours, having been our conductor from 2006 to 2009.

This year we went to Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre near Marlow from 2nd to 4th March. The original building dates back to medieval times and has a large hall with a high ceiling ideal for the band to rehearse in. Add to that accommodation in modern buildings nearby, good food, a bar, and grounds stretching down to the banks of the River Thames and there is little more we could wish for in a venue.

During the weekend we worked on no less than 16 pieces for the full band, while for one session we divided into separate brass and woodwind groups. Claire Lawrence is a fine violinist, and she played the solo in Schindler's List and Danse Macabre, making a change from pure wind band music. There is more to the weekend than the music, however. It's a great opportunity to socialise and get to know each other better. When we gathered in the bar of an evening we indulged in such old fashioned pursuits as card games and board games, plus at one point tuba player John Dean led an impromptu sing-song.

Towards the end of Sunday afternoon we played 9 of the pieces in a concert for a few friends and relatives who had dropped by, and a few members of the staff (there is a list of most of the music we played here during the weekend here). All too soon the concert was finished and the weekend over. I think everyone went home tired but exhilarated, having achieved more than we might have thought possible.

Music Played at the Band Development Weekend 2012

Items Played in the Sunday Concert
Title Composer / Arranger
March Op 99 Prokofiev (Ed. Paul Yoder)
Chase the Sun Rob Wiffin
Greensleeves arr. Alfred Reed
Farandole Bizet, arr. Rob Wiffin
October Eric Whitacre
Suite of English Folk Dances (mvmts. 2 & 4) Ernest Tomlinson
Jerome Robbins' Broadway Arr. Warren Barker
Danse Macabre Saint Saens, arr. Duncan Stubbs
El Camino Real Alfred Reed
Other Items
Title Composer / Arranger
Canticle of the Creatures Jim Curnow
Dancing Round the Nursery Rob Wiffin
Four Colonial Country Dances James Curnow
Harlequin Bruce Broughton
Schindler's List John Williams, arr. Calvin Custer
Spirit of the Sequoia Philip Sparke
Suite for Winds Adam Gorb
Also…
Overtures for Woodwinds Philip Sparke
Music for brass (various)

Mary Spraggon Memorial Concert

On 26th February the Band was asked to perform a special concert in memory of Mary Spraggon, who died just before Christmas. Mary and her husband Bill have been regular members of our audience since the earliest days of the band over 15 years ago, indeed Bill recalled the very first concert of the reconstituted band at the Hazell’s club in Aylesbury, now long demolished and replaced by housing. So we were honoured when Bill asked us to perform in her memory for their many friends.

The concert took place at Aylesbury Methodist church, conducted by Claire Lawrence and Robert Wicks. Before each half Bill spoke movingly about his wife, how they met when he came to work in Watford as a pharmacist in 1960, when Mary sang with the Langley Singers; how they moved to Aylesbury and made many friends through the Aylesbury Round Table and the Ladies’ Circle, but most of all about Mary’s deep love of music. Mary had very wide musical tastes, which he illustrated through the choice of music for the concert. Though she came originally from Woburn she loved Yorkshire, so the opening work was appropriately A Yorkshire Overture by Philip Sparke. She loved musicals and light opera, so the programme included selections from Les Misérables, My Fair Lady and the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Gilbert and Sullivan was represented by three movements from the ballet Pineapple Poll arranged from Sullivan’s music by Charles Mackerras.

Bill had a selection of programmes they had kept as souvenirs of the many shows they had seen, including a concert by the modern Glenn Miller Band, so naturally the Band played In the Miller Mood, arranged by Warren Barker. This year Bill and Mary would have been married 50 years, so the programme included the Woody Herman version of Golden Wedding. Among other favourites were the Florentiner March by Julius Fučík, the Radetzky March by Johann Strauss, The Dambusters by Eric Coates, The Mazurka and Waltz from Coppélia by Delibes, and Nimrod from the Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar.

Director of Music Claire Lawrence spoke for the Band when she said how honoured we were to have been asked to celebrate Mary’s life in this way. Finally Bill sent his friends on their way with this poem by Joyce Grenfell:–

If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I’m gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known
Weep if you must
Parting is hell
But life goes on
So sing as well.

after which the audience joining in singing Jerusalem by Hubert Parry.

The Band Returns to Penn Street

Since 2009 the Band has travelled to Penn Street, near Amersham, each January to perform a concert in Holy Trinity church. It’s a fairly small church, but the audience that attended on that first occasion so enjoyed themselves that we’ve been invited back every year since. This year’s concert took place on 28th January. Conductor Claire Lawrence planned the programme around pieces reflecting the New Year’s Day concert in Vienna, and opened with the overture to Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II. Christmas is over, but it’s still winter, so then we played A Winter’s Tale by Philip Sparke, which depicts a still winter’s scene, with a horse-drawn sleigh passing by.

The oboe is an important member of the wind band, often playing prominent solos, but there are few works written specially for solo oboe and band. One of these is the rarely heard Variations on a Theme of Glinka for oboe and military band by Rimsky-Korsakov, which was skilfully performed by Alison Swindles. (Not only is Alison a fine oboist, but she is also a talented designer of handmade silver jewellery). Other works in the first half were Valdres, a march by Johannes Hanssen named after a region of Norway, Eine Kleine Yiddishe Ragmusik by Adam Gorb, and a selection from Les Misérables.

After the interval, when band and audience were again treated to delicious cakes home made by ladies of the congregation, the second half opened with Century Point by Robert Sheldon, followed by a portrait of New York by Nigel Hess. Then returning to the New Year theme, the Mazurka and Waltz from Coppélia by Delibes. John Dablin played the clarinet solo in Golden Wedding, which was heard at the first concert here in 2009. Two movements from Theatre Music by Philip Sparke were followed by Can Can from French Impressions by Guy Woolfenden, and the concert ended with a selection from the musical Barnum by Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart. The audience wouldn’t let the band go without an encore, though, so continuing the New Year theme the band played the Radetzky March.

Considering how little time there was to rehearse over the busy Christmas season, the whole concert went remarkably well. One lady emailed the band to say “how much I enjoyed the concert at Penn St church on Sat evening. I was taken straight back to Vienna. I had a few tears (well a lot) the music was wonderful, thank you”. Looks like we may be going back again next January.

Christmas Concert 2011

The Band’s Christmas concert nearly met with disaster. It was only by chance that we found out that the minister at Aylesbury Methodist Church had arranged a carol service immediately prior to our concert, leaving us virtually no time to set up. Fortunately with a little juggling of times we were able to do a run through in the hall before moving into the church in time for the concert.

The Band was once again joined by Lemon Tuesday ladies choir from Rickmansworth. The programme began with the Band playing Century Point by Robert Sheldon, conducted by Claire Lawrence, and this was followed by the first “Christmassy” piece, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. The band accompanied the audience singing Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, after which John Dablin played the clarinet solo in the Woody Herman version of Golden Wedding.

Now it was the turn of Lemon Tuesday to entertain, singing Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol, Hushabye Mountain by The Sherman Brothers and Ball and Chain by The Staves. The Band then rounded off the first half with A Fireside Christmas by Sammy Nestico.

The second half opened with the well known Troika by Prokofiev. This was followed by A Winter’s Tale by Philip Sparke, which sets out to evoke a winter scene, with a horse-drawn sleigh passing by in the middle section. Lemon Tuesday then sang some more, including Rocking Carol (a traditional Czech carol), Silent Night and Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas. They rounded off their session with an encore – a spirited tango (whose title I didn’t catch) with added percussion played by Claire Lawrence, Robert Wicks, and other people dragged from the band!

The concert ended with three more Christmas pieces, Mary’s Boy Child (arr. Philip Sparke), and Sleigh Ride and A Christmas Festival by Leroy Anderson.

I’m pleased to report that the concert was well attended, the audience was larger than last year, and I’m sure they enjoyed the evening as we did our best to spread Christmas cheer. Many thanks are due to Lemon Tuesday and their conductor Martin Smith for their lively and fun performances.