Fairford Leys Summer Fayre

Saturday 11th July was the date for the Fairford Leys Summer Fayre, when the Band once again provided music for the occasion from the bandstand in Hampden Square. The day was warm and sunny, with passing clouds to temper the heat, though a gusty wind sometimes threatened to blow the music away.

The Band played a similar programme to the last engagement in Amersham, but including Caravan by Duke Ellington and The Stars and Stripes by John Philip Sousa. Meanwhile a large crowd enjoyed visiting the stalls and sideshows, eating ice creams, and cakes from the cake stall.

This was the only fête we played for this year, now it’s time to work hard preparing for the Vale Park Proms concert at the end of August.

A Sunday Afternoon in Amersham

Each summer Amersham Town Council run fortnightly concerts on Sunday afternoons in the Memorial Gardens in the old town, and Aylesbury Concert Band were invited to give the concert on 21st June. The day was a mixture of clouds and sun but was dry, which was fortunate as the gazebo provided for shelter was nowhere big enough for the whole band. Conductor Robert Wicks chose a varied programme of music from our current repertoire, as can be illustrated by the first four items alone: Trailblaze by Goff Richards, music from The Wizard of Oz, Mozart’s Overture The Marriage of Figaro and Puffin’ billy by Edward White. There was something for all ages, from Lady Gaga Dance Mix to a selection of songs by Abba, from Lord of the Dance to the musical Wicked, and from Looney Tunes to the Dambusters March.

It was a pleasant afternoon of music making for the band, let’s hope the people in the park enjoyed our efforts.

Spring Concert 2015

On Saturday 9th May the Band presented its Spring Concert at Holy Trinity Church, Walton Street, Aylesbury, to a respectably, if modestly sized audience. Naturally we’d prefer to play to a full house, but building a regular audience of any size is a long task.

Conductor Robert Wicks had assembled a mixed programme ranging from classic works for wind band to modern musicals, from film themes to opera and ballet. Here is the complete programme:–

Part 1

  • Trailblaze by Goff Richards, a lively work new to the Band.
  • Overture: The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart, arr. W J Duthoit.
  • Chaconne and March, the first and third movements of the First Suite in E by Gustav Holst.
  • Selections from the musical Wicked by Stephen Schwartz, arr. Jay Bocook.
  • The Flower Duet from the opera Lakmé by Léo Delibes, arranged by James Curnow, with soloists Alison Lovatt, flute, and Alison Swindles, oboe.
  • Music from the film Jurassic Park by John Williams, arr. Paul Lavender.

Part 2

  • Norwegian Rondo by Philip Sparke.
  • No. 1 from Three Dance Episodes from the ballet Spartacus by Aram Khachaturian, arr. Hunsberger.
  • Harlech Variants, an original work for band by Duncan Stubbs based on the traditional song Men of Harlech.
  • Lord Tullamore by Carl Wittrock.
  • And finally, in recognition of the 70th anniversary of VE Day celebrating the end of the war in Europe, The Dambusters by Eric Coates, arr. W J Duthoit.

Something there for all tastes, though perhaps not everything was to everyone’s taste. Nevertheless I think the audience enjoyed the concert on the whole and would have liked an encore, if we had prepared one.

Now summer is approaching, time to prepare for the usual engagements at fêtes and bandstands.

Our 2015 PlayDay

Almost every year we organise either a day or a weekend where we invite distinguished conductors to rehearse the band, often in music that is new to the band or is more difficult than our normal repertoire. This year we held a playday on Saturday 7th March at Buckingham Park Community Centre in Aylesbury, where we were honoured by the presence of Duncan Stubbs, a previous director of the band and currently Principal Director of Music for the Royal Air Force, and Rob Wiffin, Professor of Conducting at Kneller Hall who was also Principal Director of Music for the RAF from 1998 to 2003.

Among the music we played was Bohemian Revelry by Adam Gorb, Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes from Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 by Philip Sparke, and Thames Journey by Nigel Hess. Both conductors also brought with them some of their new compositions, including Striding Edge by Duncan Stubbs (named after a famous ridge in the Lake District) and Chiltern Overture by Rob Wiffin, which he wrote for Chiltern Band in High Wycombe.

It’s a marvellous experience to be rehearsed by such eminent musicians, and the band members learn a lot from these occasions. It was a long day of music making and pretty exhausting, but exhilarating as well. We are grateful not only to Duncan and Rob, but also to the Community Centre staff who kept us well supplied with tea and coffee, and Hi-Tide Fish and Chips, who fortified us with an excellent lunch.

New Year Concert in Eaton Bray

The Band returned to Eaton Bray on Saturday afternoon 10th January for another New Year concert, the third time the Band has been invited to play there. The Church of St Mary was gratifyingly full, with an encouraging number of children come to enjoy the music, and specially for them the first half included music from Frozen. The concert had started with Fanfare and Flourishes by James Curnow, followed by Mozart’s overture The Marriage of Figaro, and the first half also included Satin Doll by Duke Ellington, played by the saxophones. Music from Miss Saigon, the show which has recently been revived in London, was followed by a nod to the Christmas season just past – the Hallelujah Chorus from The Messiah by Handel. The first half finished in celebratory mood with part of Jupiter from The Planets by Gustav Holst.

To open the second half conductor Robert Wicks had chosen another piece with children in mind, music from the film Pirates of the Caribbean. Then the band played three movements from the lively ballet Pineapple Poll based on music by Arthur Sullivan arranged by Charles Mackerras, followed by Swing, Swing, Swing as arranged by Rob Wiffin. The second half also included an instrumental version of the Flower Duet from Lakmé by Delibes, and the ever popular Wizard of Oz.

This being a New Year concert the Band couldn’t finish without something associated with the season, so the concert ended with the Blue Danube Waltz as arranged by Rob Wiffin. At least, that was last item planned, but the applause from the audience demanded an encore, and the Band played the Radetzky March by Johann Strauss.

With the New Year suitably celebrated the Band now has something of a lull until the spring. Time to start preparing new music for spring concerts and summer fêtes, and we also have an enjoyable day’s music making to look forward to at our Playday in March.

Christmas events 2014

On the 29th November Aylesbury Band had the gratifying experience of playing to a full house. The Band had once again been invited to play for the annual Let the Chilterns Sing concert, organised by Wendover Rotary Club at St Mary’s Church, Wendover, and all the tickets had been sold several weeks before the day. The concert also featured performances from the Great Missenden Gateway School Choir and the Military Wives Choir, Halton, both under the direction of Rebecca Izzard, and two soloists: young harpist Gabriella Alvarez and local soprano Helen Twomey. The aim of the concert is to raise funds for the charities supported by the Rotary Club, so it’s good that it should be so successful.

Then in the early evening of Saturday 6th December members of the Band played for the annual carol service in Hampden Square, Fairford Leys (a district of Aylesbury). The following day the Band fulfilled another regular engagement, the Mayor’s Carol Service at St Mary’s Church, Aylesbury. The service always features a variety of local organisations and schools, and this year as well as the Band there were contributions from the Aylesbury Choral Society, Aylesbury High School, and children from Haydon Abbey Combined School.

These were the last engagements for 2014, but that didn’t mean the band could have a rest. The next concert is early in January, so the Band has to make the most of the last two rehearsals in December to prepare for it.

Vale Park Proms 2014

The annual ParkLife Festival took place at the end of August again this year, and the Band played for the usual “Last Night of the Proms” concert in Vale Park, Aylesbury on the 30th. The day was cloudy with a chilly wind, and there were a few spots of rain as the band set up for the concert, but this cleared away and the rest of the evening was dry. By the time the concert was due to start a large crowd, perhaps as many as a thousand, filled the park in front of the stage, with their flags and glo-sticks ready to wave.

In his first concert as Director of Music, Robert Wicks opened the proceedings with the National Anthem, followed by Fanfare and Flourishes by James Curnow. This was followed by the overture Crazy for You by George Gershwin, and a selection of well-known songs from favourite Disney films, Disney at the Movies arranged by John Higgins.

We were then joined by soprano soloist Alison Langer, who is currently studying a two year Opera Course at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Accompanied by the band, she sang Chi il Bel Sogno (La Canzone di Doretta) from La Rondine by Puccini. After this we went to Ireland, as the band played Lord Tullamore, an impression of music and dancing in an Irish village by the Dutch composer Carl Wittrock.

To mark the anniversary of the start of the first World War, the band played the march Colonel Bogey by Kenneth Alford, which was written in 1914, followed by a new work by Duncan Stubbs, Principal Director of Music of the Royal Air Force. This was written to accompany a rendition of the poem “We Will Keep the Faith” by Moina Michael for performance as part of the 100th Anniversary of the start of World War 1. On this occasion the performance was preceded by the poem recited by a group of schoolchildren in period clothes. The first half of the concert then ended with part of Jupiter from The Planets by Holst.

During the interval the audience were entertained by The LuLaLas, who sang a number of songs from the First World War era. Then the band returned to play Farandole by Bizet arranged by Rob Wiffin, music from the film The Great Escape by Elmer Bernstein, and a depiction of a ride on a Roller Coaster by Otto Schwarz. Alison Langer returned to sing The Laughing Song from die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II. The band then played music from the film Frozen arranged by Stephen Bulla and Swing, Swing, Swing arranged by Rob Wiffin.

Now it was time for the grand “Proms” finale as Alison Langer led the audience singing Jerusalem. The Henry Wood Sea Songs ended with Alison singing Rule Britannia, and she again led the audience in singing Land of Hope and Glory during Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1. As usual this had to be encored.

At the end, deputy mayor Allison Harrison came on stage to thank all the participants for a wonderful evening, and the staff of Aylesbury Town Council who had worked hard to organise the event. Judging by the enthusiastic cheers and applause from the crowd they enjoyed the evening too. The band played well, and can be proud of their part in what is now a fixture in the Aylesbury calendar.

Now to start preparing for an autumn concert and Christmas!

Suddenly We Have a New Director of Music!

Barely a month ago we were very sorry to learn that Claire Lawrence, our Director of Music for the last three years, was going to have to resign at short notice. We always knew that, as a member of the RAF Music Services she would one day have to leave owing to promotion and/or being posted elsewhere in the country, but we little thought she would leave through quite such a dramatic career move. She is transferring to the army, where she will go straight to Kneller Hall on a Bandmasters Course. After one year she will pass out as a Staff Sergeant Bandmaster, with good prospects of promotion, and the chance of being commissioned as a Director of Music one day.

Naturally we are very pleased for Claire and wish her every success in her future career. She has worked hard to develop our band, with an ear for detail and balance that is second to none, and I think everone in the Band has learnt much from her in the past three years. Her efforts were especially rewarded by our winning a Gold award at the November 2012 Concert Band Festival which led to us being invited to perform at the final in Birmingham the following year.

The good news for the Band is that we already have a new Director of Music. Normally we would hope to audition several candidates for the role, but this time we have agreed to appoint Robert Wicks with immediate effect. Robert first joined the Band as a clarinet player, but his extensive experience conducting musical shows for several amateur groups led to him becoming our Deputy Conductor. Initially this meant just taking the occasional rehearsal when our Director of Music was away, but the role has expanded so that recently he would be better described as Assistant Director of Music, sharing the conducting of concerts, and conducting the whole concert at major events like the Vale Park Proms. He is well known and liked by the Band members, and is the obvious candidate to take over from Claire, we are very pleased that he was willing to fill the vacancy.

Robert was already due to conduct the Vale Park Proms on 30th August because of Claire’s service commitments, instead the evening turned into his début as Director of Music of the Band. But more of that in another post.

We haven’t seen the last of Claire, though. She is keen to come back and take part whenever we hold another PlayDay or a Band Weekend, and she will always be welcome. Meanwhile we wish her every good fortune in her new career, and good luck to Robert too in his new role, we look forward to a long and happy collaboration.

A Busy Saturday

It’s unusual for the Band to do two jobs on the same day, but we made an exception on 12th July. The first was Fairford Leys Summer Fayre, which takes place every year in the Fairford Leys district of Aylesbury, and where tha Band has been entertaining the crowds since at least 2007. The afternoon was pleasantly warm and partly sunny, and the Band played three half-hour sessions of light music, music from shows and films, and other well known tunes.

Then in the evening we returned to Little Missenden to play for the Last Night of the “Little Missenden Proms”. The Band had been invited back after having stepped in at short notice to play for the event in 2012, which was successful even though it had been spoilt by rain. This year the weather was dry and very warm, but the weather forecast promised rain later. The concert was held in the churchyard, with the band on a covered stage set up against the west door of the church, a stage which proved to be too small for the whole band so the woodwind had to sit in front of the stage without any shelter. Unsurprisingly after our earlier experience we were apprehensive about the weather, but luckily the rain held off until the end.

The concert was conducted by Robert Wicks, and much of the programme comprised music we had prepared for other recent concerts, including Strike Up the Band by Gershwin, music from the film Frozen, Easy Does It and Swing, Swing, Swing by Rob Wiffin, and the musical Miss Saigon. The second half opened with St Louis Blues followed by Disney at the Movies, Farandole by Bizet, arranged by Rob Wiffin, and Pirates of the Caribbean. It wouldn’t be a “proms” concert, of course, without the traditional finale, Jerusalem, Henry Wood’s Sea Songs, and Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1 by Elgar, where everyone joins in singing Land of Hope and Glory. This wasn’t quite the end, though, after the Band played the closing section of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture a magnificent firework display began in the grounds of the Manor House next door.

So ended a tiring day, at least for those who played both jobs, but it was a successful evening, we played to a good sized end enthusiastic audience, and the rain held off until we were on our way home!

Concert in Hazlemere

On Saturday 21st June the Band squeezed onto the relatively small stage of the Hazlemere Community Centre near High Wycombe for a concert in aid of the Grange Area Trust Widmer Fields appeal. This is a campaign to raise money to buy an area of land popular with dog walkers and nature lovers to preserve it from developers. This would seem to be a popular cause judging by the good sized audience it attracted. The concert was shared between the Band and The Royal Harmonics, but more about them in a moment.

The stage in the hall is fairly high, and the size of the band meant that our conductor, Claire Lawrence, and the frontmost players were uncomfortably close to the edge, but luckily there were no accidents. The Band opened the concert with Gershwin’s Strike Up the Band, followed by three movements from the new Divertimento by Rob Wiffin, Ostinato, Dreaming, and Easy Does It. This was followed by a selection from the musical Miss Saigon, which is currently playing in a revival in London.

After this the band shuffled back (and some left the stage) to make room for the Royal Harmonics, an a cappella male voice choir from Windsor. The full choir numbers over 50 members, but because of the small stage there were only around 16 of them that evening. They sang a variety of songs: ballads, love songs and humorous songs, all presented with expressive actions and gestures. This kind of unaccompanied close harmony singing is very difficult, but the quality of their singing proved they deserved the medals they have won in several competitions.

After the interval the Band opened the second half with Soul Bossa Nova by Quincy Jones, followed by Dixieland Festival arranged by Bernard Green, and Swing, Swing, Swing, which cleverly combines Sing, Sing, Sing by Louis Prima with It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t got that Swing by Duke Ellington. Then the choir came back on stage to sing again.

This year is the centenary of the start of the Great War. To mark the anniversary the Band played the march Great Little Army by Kenneth Alford, and Keep the Faith by Duncan Stubbs. They then brought the programme to a rousing conclusion with Farandole by Bizet, arranged by Rob Wiffin. Or not quite, as the audience were happy to have as an encore Puttin’ on the Ritz.

We’ve heard that the concert raised a fair amount of money for the appeal, so we’re glad to have helped.