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
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.

Christmas 2011

Christmas has become the busiest time of the year for the Band, and this year was no exception, as we had no less than 5 separate engagements plus our own Christmas concert. Responsibility for conducting most of these fell upon Robert Wicks, as our conductor Claire Lawrence was herself very busy playing with RAF Central Band.

Photo of Hampden Square

Hampden Square, Fairford Leys (photo © Copyright Chris Millard and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

The season started on 3rd December with the annual Carol Service at Fairford Leys, a district of Aylesbury. On a typical dark and damp December evening the band set up under an arcade at one side of Hampden Square to accompany the carols. Then the following afternoon we went to the Plant Center at Waddesdon Manor where they were holding a Christmas market. This was held in one of the Plant Centre buildings, so we were reasonably warm and dry. Robert Wicks conducted the Band in a mix of Christmas music, such as White Christmas, Mary’s Boy Child, Sleigh Ride and Christmas Festival, the latter two both by Leroy Anderson.

The next weekend, on Sunday 11th December, the Band played at the annual Mayor’s Carol Service in St Mary’s Church, Aylesbury. Again conducted by Robert Wicks, we played several pieces of Christmas music to entertain the congregation before the arrival of the Mayor’s procession from the town, and then shared the accompaniment of Christmas carols with the organist.

The following weekend we had been invited to play in Wendover twice. The first occasion was in the evening of Friday 17th December, when we accompanied carol singing on the Manor Waste in Wendover High Street. The weather wasn’t anywhere near as cold as last year, instead it rained gently for a lot of the time. The band was sheltered by a gazebo, but the chairs put out for us were soaking wet, so we played standing instead. A good sized crowd of hardy souls stood out in the rain and sang Christmas carols for nearly an hour accompanied by the band. The following day we returned to the same spot to play carols alongside the Saturday Christmas market, and add atmosphere to the occasion. The day was a little chilly, but at least it was dry, with some glimpses of blue sky and some sunshine to cheer everyone up.

The busy weekend wasn’t over though, because the next day we held our own Christmas concert, but I’ll save that for another post.

Bucks Railway Centre Steam Fair

Saturday 24th September was the first day of the annual Steam and Traction Engine Rally held at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre near Quainton, north west of Aylesbury. Told that we were playing on the station platform I expected to be in the open air, but instead we were placed in the visitor centre, a building which was once the Rewley Road station in Oxford, the terminus of the railway line to Cambridge. The station closed in 1951 and served a number of functions before falling into disrepair, despite being a listed building, until it was rescued by being transferred to the Railway Centre at Quainton and lovingly restored. Now there are glass screens at the end where the trains used to leave meaning the interior is warm and dry.

However the day was pleasantly warm and dry anyway, and there was no need for the glass doors to be closed. Some chairs had been set out for people to sit and listen, but the Band could be heard throughout the building, adding to the atmosphere of the day. Conductor Claire Lawrence opened the programme with the march Semper Fidelis, and continued with well known music from films, TV programmes and shows, such as Thunderbirds, Can You Feel the Love Tonight from The Lion King, music from the James Bond films, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Robert Wicks conducted several pieces, including music from the film The Incredibles. Music from shows included Les Miserables and My Fair Lady, and the afternoon concluded with a selection of classic hits from The Beatles.

The organisers were enthusiastic about the Band’s efforts, and there is talk of inviting us back to do a “Proms” concert. Which I’m sure we would be delighted to do. The building has a nice acoustic, and we enjoyed playing there.

Vale Park Proms 2011

We were lucky again with the weather for the Vale Park Proms on 3rd September. This is part of a weekend of free events organised by Aylesbury Town Council in Vale Park, Aylesbury, and it is the 11th year the concert has been held. After a week of showers and rain Saturday turned out to be a dry interlude, and reasonably warm as well, and in the evening a crowd estimated to be 600 people gathered in the park to hear the Band perform, together with singers Richard Stark and Jill Neenan. Unfortunately our conductor Claire Lawrence was unable to lead this concert due to her commitments with RAF Central Band, so her place was ably filled by deputy conductor Robert Wicks.

As usual the Band played a mix of music, starting with Flashing Winds, a piece specially written for wind band by Jan Van der Roost, followed by Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, and A Yorkshire Overture by Philip Sparke. Then it was the turn of the soloists to sing two pieces from Carmen by Bizet. Jill Neenan sang Habanera and Richard Stark The Toreador Song, accompanied by the Band. Following this, Armenian Dances by Alfred Reed showed off the Band’s skills, and the first half ended with film music from The Incredibles and Pirates of the Caribbean.

The second half opened with The Dam Busters by Eric Coates. After the quirky Slava! (written by Leonard Bernstein as a tribute to his friend the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich – nicknamed Slava) soloists Richard Stark and Jill Neenan came together to sing Bess you is my woman now from Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin. Then, after the Toccata in D minor by Bach, arranged by Ray Farr and Kevin Lamb, the Band played The Sun will Rise Again, a work specially written by Philip Sparke to raise money for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March.

After James Bond 007, played in tribute to the composer John Barrie who died earlier this year, it was time for the traditional “Proms” finale. The audience joined Richard Stark in singing Jerusalem, then Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs was rounded off by Rule Britannia, with Jill Neenan leading the singing. Finally Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1, with its Land of Hope and Glory tune brought the evening to a triumphant close, after it had been repeated, of course!

In a speech the Mayor, Cllr Jenny Puddefoot, thanked the Band, saying we were playing better than ever, and later the Bucks Herald reported that the evening had raised over £500 for the Mayor’s charities. In these times of austerity and budget cuts there is an ever-present risk of the council being unable to afford to promote events like this, but the concert is always popular, and Aylesbury Band stands ready to provide the music again next year and in years to come whenever we are called upon to do so.

Here is more information about the music played.

Programme – Vale Park Proms Concert 2011

Conducted by Robert Wicks

Title Composer / Arranger
Flashing Winds Jan Van der Roost
Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang R.M. Sherman & R.B. Sherman
A Yorkshire Overture Philip Sparke
Habanera from Carmen, sung by Jill Neenan Georges Bizet, arr. Jos van de Braak
Toreador Song from Carmen, sung by Richard Stark Georges Bizet, arr. Antoon Haeck
Armenian Dances (excerpts) Alfred Reed
Music from The Incredibles Michael Giacchino, arr. Jay Bocook
Pirates of the Caribbean Klaus Badelt, arr. John Wasson
The Dam Busters Eric Coates
Slava! A Concert Overture Leonard Bernstein, transribed by Clare Grundman
Bess you is my woman from Porgy and Bess, sung by Richard Stark and Jill Neenan George Gershwin, arr. Roger Niese
Toccata in D Minor J.S. Bach, arr. Ray Farr and Kevin Lamb
The Sun Will Rise Again (written to commemorate the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, March 2011) Philip Sparke
James Bond 007 (themes from the James Bond films) John Barrie, arr. Johan de Mey
Jerusalem, sung by Richard Stark Parry, arr. Rob Wiffin
Fantasia on British Sea Songs, with Rule Britannia sung by Jill Neenan Henry Wood, arr. W.J. Duthoit
Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1 (Land of Hope and Glory) Edward Elgar

Children’s Concert

As part of the 2011 Aylesbury Festival, the Band put on a Children’s Concert at Aylesbury Methodist Church on 16th July. The programme contained a mix of music to appeal to children, with a few pieces for their Mums and Dads. The concert opened with A Children’s Overture by Roger Quilter, cleverly based on a number of nursery rhymes, and included such favourites as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as well as several pieces to illustrate different styles of music, such as an excerpt from Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks as an example of classical music.

Of course, such a concert has to include audience participation, so the children were given a variety of drums and rattles to accompany A Grand Day Out (the Wallace and Gromit Theme), while conductor Claire Lawrence lead them in a conga around the church. And for pure entertainment, Claire’s husband Geoff, who is a skilled trumpet player, played the Posthorn Galop by Koenig.

The children certainly seemed to enjoy the concert, one four year old said excitedly afterwards “I got to play a drum!”