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.

Cublington Fête 2014

In contrast to recent years the day of Cublington Fête, 14th June, was pleasantly warm and dry, if overcast at times. As usual the fête was held in the large garden of The Old Rectory, where a small marquee was set up to protect the band should it rain. Unfotunately neither Claire Lawrence nor Rob Wicks were available to conduct, so we were lucky to be able to call upon the services of Harvey Baigent instead.

As usual the Band played a variety of light music to entertain the crowds, including Strike Up the Band, The Beatles (arranged by John Higgins), Puttin’ On the Ritz, The Muppet Show Theme, Can You Feel the Love Tonight from The Lion King, Dancing Round the Nursery by Rob Wiffin, and selections from My Fair Lady and Les Misérables.

A live band does much to add to the atmosphere of these events, and we are always pleased to come and play, expecially if the weather is nice.

Spring Concert 2014

On 3rd May the Band returned to St Mary’s parish church in Aylesbury for the first of our own concerts there since 2008. Entitled Swing into Spring the programme consisted of arrangements of swing and big band music from many decades of the 20th century. Robert Russell Bennett’s Suite of Old American Dances isn’t perhaps swing, but the first two movements (Cake Walk and schottische) served to illustrate some of the roots of the music that developed into swing. The 1920s were the era of Dixieland, and the band played Dixieland Festival a medley of tunes including I Found a New Baby, Baby Won’t You Please Come Home, Cornet Chop Suey and When the Saints Come Marching In.

No concert of music from this era would be complete without music by George Gershwin, and the programme included Strike up the Band and the Overture Crazy for You. A medley of songs by Cole Porter, including Night and Day and Begin the Beguine was followed by Birdland by Josef Zawinul. The score for the revue Sophisticated Ladies was woven from the music of Duke Ellington, and the band played an arrangement by John Cacavas including Caravan and Mood Indigo. Two items featured soloists from the Band. John Dablin, clarinet, played Golden Wedding arranged by Johnny Jones based on the Woody Herman number, and Erica Miller, alto saxophone, played Harlem Nocturne.

For something a little different the band also played a recent arrangement by Rob Wiffin called Swing, Swing, Swing, which cleverly combines Sing, Sing, Sing (written for Benny Goodman by Louis Prima) with It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t got that Swing by Duke Ellington. The programme also included St Louis Blues, Soul Bossa Nova by Quincy Jones, and Easy Does It by Rob Wiffin.

The music of Glenn Miller will always evoke the wartime era of the 1940s, and what better finale could there be than Warren Barker’s arrangement In the Miller Mood, which includes Moonlight Serenade, Little Brown Jug and Anvil Chorus, to bring the concert to a foot-tapping close.

But not quite. The small but appreciative audience demanded an encore, and the band obliged with Puttin’ on the Ritz by Irving Berlin. This was a long concert and hard work for the band, but enjoyable too.

2014 Band Development Weekend

Every year we organise a Band Development event, a day or weekend where the band members can get together for some intensive rehearsal with guest conductors. This year we spent a weekend away at Bicester Hotel, Golf and Spa on the 1st and 2nd March, where once again we were lucky to have as our conductors Duncan Stubbs, Principal Director of Music for the Royal Air Force, and Rob Wiffin, professor of conducting at Kneller Hall. Duncan was Director of Music of Aylesbury Concert Band for a few years, and Rob is an old friend of the Band. These weekends are always enjoyable. It’s not only the pleasure of a whole weekend of music making, but we also learn so much from being coached by two such expert musicians. And of course there’s the social side as well, there’s more time to get together and talk to each other than on a Wednesday evening.

Part of the fun is getting to play a lot of new music. We played too many pieces to enumerate here, but they included Harlech Variants by Duncan Stubbs himself, and Shalom! (Suite of Israeli Folk Songs) by Philip Sparke. We also played a new piece by Rob Wiffin, a five movement divertimento for band, with titles such as Ostinato, Water Garden, and Easy Does It. He said that when writing it he had bands like Aylesbury in mind, and that when it is published it will have a dedication to Aylesbury Concert Band, so we feel very honoured.

New Year Concerts

The Christmas season just past may have been less busy for the Band, but they made up for it by doing two New Year concerts in January. Following the successful Children’s concert in Eaton Bray last February the Band was invited back to play a New Year concert on 11th January. Eaton Bray is a village in Bedfordshire about 15 miles from Aylesbury and the concert took place in the parish church.

Once again it was quite chilly in the church, but by the time the concert was due to start at 2.00pm a gratifyingly large audience had arrived, nearly filling the church. The Band, conducted by Claire Lawrence, opened the concert with Heralds for an Occasion, a rousing piece by Stephen Bulla. The Bohemian composer Julius Fučík is almost forgotten today, but before the First World War he was famed as “the Bohemian Sousa” for the quality of the marches he wrote as an army bandmaster in the Austrian Empire. His Florentiner March came to popular attention when it was played in the 1996 film Brassed Off, and this was the second item in the programme.

Of course musical celebrations of the New Year are strongly associated with Vienna, and it was but a short journey from Bohemia to Vienna for the next item, the Tritsch Tratsch Polka by Johnn Strauss II.

In complete contrast, this was followed by Pie Jesu from the Requiem by Andrew Lloyd Webber, arranged as a duet for clarinet and alto saxophone with band accompaniment, and beautifully played by Julie-Marie James and Erica Miller. After The Barber of Seville goes to the Devil by Gordon Jacob the woodwind played two movements from the Suite for Winds by Adam Gorb, then it was back to Vienna for the Blue Danube Waltz in a new arrangement by Rob Wiffin. The first half finished with the overture to Crazy for You by George Gershwin.

The second half opened with the music from the film The Big Country, followed by the stillness of winter as depicted by Philip Sparke in A Winter’s Tale. Next the Band played The Dargason from the 2nd Suite in F for Military Band by Gustav Holst. Next a brass quintet from the Band led by Norman Bartlett played Norman’s arrangement of the Finale from Gounod’s Faust, which some of the Band feared would bring the house down – literally. Next was Disney at the Movies, which features a number of foot-tapping tunes from Disney films from the past 70+ years. Then back to Vienna again for the ever popular Radetzky March by Johann Strauss. The concert came to a rousing end with Rob Wiffin’s arrangement of the Farandole from L’Arlésienne suite no. 2 by Bizet. At least that was the official end, but the enthusiastic audience demanded an encore, and the Band played the Can-can from Orpheus in the Underworld by Offenbach.

In an email the organiser of the concert said “Please convey my thanks to the Concert band, for a splendid concert on Saturday afternoon. I was delighted by the programme you elected to play and I’ve had tremendous positive feedback from audience members”, and he has already booked the Band to do another New Year’s concert next year!

Then just two weeks later the Band repeated the programme for an Aylesbury audience in Holy Trinity Church, Aylesbury. This time the church was much warmer, although the audience was smaller, but this in no way diminished their appreciation of the concert. There was one change to the programme: the brass section played Pastime with Good Company, attributed to King Henry VIII, and also arranged by Norman Bartlett.

So with January nearly over it’s time to put that programme away and, in a complete change of mood, prepare for the next two concerts in March and May, which will feature swing music from the Big Band era.

Christmas Events

Christmas this year has been less busy for the Band than some previous years. For a number of reasons it proved impossible to hold our usual Christmas concert, but the Band was again invited to provide music for the Mayor’s Carol Service, and for the carol service in Fairford Leys.

The Mayor’s Carol Service took place at St Mary’s Church, Aylesbury, on 1st December. Unfortunately our conductor, Claire Lawrence, was extremely busy with RAF Central Band and wasn’t able to be there, and Robert Wicks wasn’t able to be there either, so Claire’s husband Geoff nobly stepped into the breach. The Band played a couple of pieces of Christmas music as the congregation waited for the Mayor, then the brass played a fanfare as the Mayor’s procession arrived. The Band and organist accompanied the congregation singing Christmas carols, and the Mayor and other dignitaries read Bible readings from the Christmas story. The service also included a performance by Turnfurlong Junior School choir. At the end of the service the Band played, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and then Sleigh Ride as the Mayor’s party handed out mince pies and mulled wine.

Subsequently the Mayor of Aylesbury, Tom Hunter-Watts, wrote to the Band to thank “all the musicians who contributed so wonderfully well to the Carol Service at St Mary’s on Sunday. It is very much appreciated… I spoke to members of the public that evening who told me how much they enjoyed the Band’s contribution to the service”.

Then the following Saturday, 7th December, the Band went once more to Fairford Leys, Aylesbury, to play for the carol service in Hampden Square, again conducted by Geoff Lawrence. The weather this year wasn’t so cold as it can be, and the rain stayed away, although the Band were sheltered anyway under the arcade outside the Fairford Leys Centre. Once again the Band played some Christmas music before the service, and then accompanied the carols. This service featured another school choir, from Bearbrook School. At the end everyone sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer accompanied by the Band to guide Father Christmas, who arrived with gifts and sweets for the children. Finally the Band played We Wish you a Merry Christmas. For most it was then time to go home, but the Saxophone Quartet stayed to play indoors for the rest of the Christmas celebrations.

And that was it for Christmas this year. Not that the Band can put their feet up, for we have to prepare for a New Year’s Concert in Eaton Bray on the 11th January.

Winter Wonderland in Wendover

On the afternoon of 30th November the Band went to the nearby town of Wendover to take part in Let the Chilterns Sing at St Mary’s Church. Subtitled Winter Wonderland Family Concert, this was a charity concert organised by the Wendover Rotary Club to raise funds for PACE, who transform the lives of children and young people with motor disorders, such as cerebral palsy, and School Aid, which recycles schoolbooks and other educational resources to send to schools in need in Africa. Gratifyingly the concert was a sellout, which was a credit to Wendover Rotary Club who obviously worked very work raising sponsorship and selling tickets.

Front cover of the concert programme

The concert opened with a bang, literally, as the John Colet School Samba Band played a rhythmic fanfare on a variety of drums, exuberant and complex rhythms executed from memory. Then Aylesbury Concert Band provided the first half, conducted by Claire Lawrence, opening with Heralds for an Occasion by Stephen Bulla. Several pieces featured various sections of the Band: the saxophones played Colonel Bogey, the tubas were the stars of Tyrolean Tubas, and the trumpets took the spotlight playing Bugler’s Holiday by Leroy Anderson. Tyrolean Tubas was the opportunity for audience participation, as Claire Lawrence encouraged them to sway, stand up and sit down in time to the Bavarian style waltz. There was more audience participation as Claire handed out a variety of percussion instruments to the children for them to bang, shake and rattle along to A Grand Day Out (the Wallace and Gromit theme).

The first half ended with Dancing Round the Nursery by Rob Wiffin. Then after the interval, when we were treated to delicious homemade cakes, the RAF Halton Military Wives Choir opened the second half under their conductor Rebecca Izard. They sang Stronger Together by Gareth Malone, Make You Feel my Love by Bob Dylan, and Wherever You Are by Paul Mealor. Later Claire Lawrence told the audience that, as a member of RAF Central Band she’s travelled round the country and played in several concerts with Military Wives Choirs, and the Halton Choir was by far the best she’d heard.

Next came the debut performance of Let the Children Sing, a newly formed choir consisting of children and grandchildren of the Military Wives. They sang Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, and Pure Imagination by Leslie Bricusse and Anthoney Newley. Then both choirs came together to sing Away in a Manger and Sing by Gary Barlow and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Now it was Aylesbury Band’s turn again. The Band played a selection Disney at the Movies, arranged by John Higgins, and A Fireside Christmas, favourite Christmas songs arranged by Sammy Nestico, after which everyone joined in to sing Winter Wonderland accompanied by the band. Following a farewell and Thank You from Rotary Club President Sandra Maizels the audience were sent on their way by another performance by the John Colet School Samba Band.

The organisers were pleased with the success of the concert, and made many complimentary remarks about Aylesbury Band’s contribution. So much so that they are thinking of inviting the Band back for a similar event next year.

Here is a list of the music played by the Band.

Title Composer / Arranger
Heralds for an Occasion Stephen Bulla
A Winter’s Tale Philip Sparke
Colonel Bogey (Saxophone feature) F.J. Ricketts
Tyrolean Tubas Maurice Clark
Bugler’s Holiday Leroy Anderson, transcribed Michael Edwards
Mary’s Boy Child Jester Hairston, arr. Philip Sparke
A Grand Day Out Julian Nott
Dancing Round the Nursery Rob Wiffin
Disney at the Movies Arr. John Higgins
A Fireside Christmas Arr. Sammy Nestico
Winter Wonderland Felix Bernard and Richard Smith, arr. Derek Ashmore