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

Vale Park Proms 2013

Saturday 31st August dawned overcast, but the weather soon brightened into a pleasantly warm day, though less warm than of late. That evening the Band was once more due to play for the Vale Park Proms, part of the ParkLife Festival organised by Aylesbury Town Council in Vale Park, Aylesbury. This year the band was joined by two singers, soprano Alison Langer (who sang with us before in 2012) and tenor Lawrence Thackeray.

Much to her annoyance, our Musical Director Claire Lawrence was due to be playing in a concert with RAF Central Band that evening, so it fell to Robert Wicks to conduct Aylesbury Band. Even more annoying for Claire she was told just 10 days before that she wasn't needed after all! So she was able to come to Aylesbury to cheer the band on, and persuade Robert to let her conduct two of her favourite pieces.

As always on these occasions we have to augment the band with a few players to fill gaps where we have no members who play that instrument. Some of them were unable to come to any rehearsals, nor had the singers, so it was necessary to "top and tail" much of the programme before the concert, and early arrivals in the audience got a sneak preview of some of the pieces.

At 7.15 the concert got under way properly. After the National Anthem, the concert opened with the music from the film Back to the Future, then the singers joined the Band in a selection from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein. Claire Lawrence conducted the Band in A Marvin Hamlisch Showcase, a selection of music written by the great American composer, who died last year, and the trumpet section was featured in Bugler's Holiday by Leroy Anderson. Other items in the first half included Quando m'en vo (Musetta's Waltz) from La bohème by Puccini, featuring Soprano Alison Langer, and The Cowboys, film music by John Williams.

By the time the second half began night had fallen and the temperature was starting to fall rapidly, making it quite chilly for audience and band alike. The opening piece was the Can-can from Orpheus in the Underworld by Offenbach, followed by a selection from Jungle Book. Alison Langer and Lawrence Thackeray sang If I Loved You from Carousel by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The trombone section performed Bones in the Store, written by Rob Wiffin based on the song The Quartermaster's Store, then Alison Langer returned to sing Summertime from Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin.

Soon it was time for the "Proms" Finale, starting with Jerusalem, followed by the Fantasia on British Sea Songs by Henry Wood, in which Alison Langer joined the Band to sing Rule Britannia. Finally the audience joined in singing Land of Hope and Glory to Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1, which of course had to be encored.

Or not quite finally. This year the Band played the closing section of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture to accompany a firework display. At least that was the intention, but the fireworks didn't start before the Band had nearly finished playing. (UPDATE: I've since found out that the fireworks were actually meant to start at the end of 1812, so apologies to the organisers.)

Thanks to the good weather there was a large audience for this concert, variously estimated to be between 500 and 1000 people, who cheered and clapped enthusiastically, and contributed generously to a collection for the Mayor's charity. It's always a pleasure to entertain so many people, and we're looking forward to doing it again next year. Let's hope the weather will be dry again in 2014.

You can see a complete list of the music played.

Title Composer / Arranger
Back to the Future Alan Silvestri, arr. Juri Briat
West Side Story Leonard Bernstein, arr. W.J. Duthoit
Marvin Hamlisch Showcase Arr. Warren Barker
Bugler's Holiday Leroy Anderson, transcribed Michael Edwards
Out of Africa John Barry, arr. Johan de Maij
Soul Bossa Nova Quincy Jones, arr. Denis Burton
Quando me'n vo ("Mussetta's Waltz" from La bohème) G. Puccini, arr. M. Armstrong
The Cowboys John Williams, arr. Jim Curnow
Can Can from Orpheus in the Underworld Jacques Offenbach, arr. Lawrence Odom
Jungle Book Sherman/Sherman/Gilkyson, arr. Marcel Peeters
If I Loved You Rodgers and Hammerstein
Bones in the Store Rob Wiffin
Summer Time George Gershwin
Barber of Seville Goes to the Devil Gordon Jacob, arr. Robert O'Brien
Pirates of the Carribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl Klaus Badelt, arr. John Wasson
Jerusalem C. Hubert Parry, arr. Rob Wiffin
Fantasia on British Seas Songs Henry J. Wood, arr. W.J. Duthoit
Pomp & Circumstance March no. 1 (inc. Land of Hope and Glory) Edward Elgar
1812 Overture (part) Tchaikovsky, arr. C.H. Jaeger

Fairford Leys 2013

Oh, how the gods do mock us! Even as I was writing about English weather and Cublington Fête we had begun what turned out to be the longest spell of warm dry weather since 2006. So it was that Fairford Leys Fair in the Square on 13th July was blessed with clear blue skies and bright sunshine. Fortunately the Band plays on a small bandstand, which helps to provide some shade, but not for those sitting on the sunny side, so sun cream and hats were the order of the day.

As usual the Band played two sessions, conducted this year by Robert Wicks. We played a variety of well known pieces, including Thunderbirds. Can You Feel the Love Tonight, the march Semper Fidelis, Soul Bossa Nova, and music from the James Bond films.

After playing the first half we were grateful for the nearby ice cream van and stalls selling drinks. It’s hard work playing in the heat, but it was a nice change not to be threatened with rain.

Let’s hope for warm, dry weather for our next outing, the Vale Park Proms on 31st August.

Cublington Fête

June and July are the season for summer fêtes when, in a triumph of hope over experience, the English set forth into the open air to set up stalls and entertainments to raise money for local causes. This is despite the fact that this is England, where even two or three days before the event the best you can predict about the weather is a 50-50 chance that it will rain. Each year the Band is asked to play at two or three such events, such as the one in Cublington on 15th June. This takes place in the garden of a large house in the village, and it can be a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon playing music on a nice day.

This year the forecast was showers, but the sun was shining as the band arrived, though there were some dark clouds in the distance. A gazebo had been erected to protect the band from rain, but it was too small and another was found from somewhere so that most, though not all of the chairs were protected. Both our conductors (Claire Lawrence and Robert Wicks) were there, and they took turns playing while the other conducted. The first session went well, playing several pieces including the march Semper Fidelis, Soul Bossa Nova, and selections from My Fair Lady and Pirates of the Caribbean. But before the second session could begin a torrential downpour started, causing mayhem as the band deperately tried to protect music and instruments, and themselves, from the rain. Soon there was nothing for it but to admit defeat and trudge soggily back to the car park.

It’s such a shame for the organisers, they work for weeks to prepare for the event, and then have their efforts spoiled by the weather. Let’s hope they have better luck next year, certainly the Band will be ready to play again if we’re asked.