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.

National Concert Band Festival in Birmingham

Following our success in winning a gold award at the Midlands Regional Festival, Aylesbury Concert Band was invited to take part in the National Concert Band Festival at the Birmingham Conservatoire on 14th April. The Band was scheduled to be the last band in the Community Bands class, which was the last class of the two day event, so it fell to us to play the very last notes of the Festival.

The Band members met at Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School for a brief rehearsal at midday, before boarding a bus and setting off for Birmingham. After a brief warm-up and rehearsal it was our turn to walk on stage before an audience comprising mainly the other bands who had been taking part. We played three pieces, St Clement’s Prelude by Rob Wiffin, and two movements from East Coast Pictures by Nigel Hess, The Catskills and New York.

The adjudicators had some nice things to say about the band, such as “Well paced, lovely sense of phrasing from everyone”, “Very beautiful control, growth of sound, shape of crescendo is very well paced in all parts” and “Really tremendous life in the spirit of the way you play. Very interesting the way you swap sounds across the stage. You listen to each other very well. You’re creating a good sense of sonority and playing a lively programme of very good music which comes across very well. I particularly enjoyed the beautiful playing in the 2nd piece, The Catskills which I thought you did with tremendous sensitivity in both solo playing and in the ensemble”. For all that, it was a little hard to reconcile such praise with their decision to award us Silver. However considering that the only rehearsal we’d had with everyone there who played on the day was the one before we left at 12 o’clock, we can be proud of doing as well as we did.

It was an honour to be invited to the National Final, and we still have something to aim for in another year. Thanks to everyone who worked so hard in the weeks beforehand to prepare for the event, and special thanks to our guests and past members who came to play on the day, in one case travelling from Wiltshire just to support us.

Another Memorable Playday for Aylesbury Band

On Saturday 2nd March the Band, together with some friends and guests, crowded into Ellesborough Village Hall, Butlers Cross, for another Playday. This is where we spend a whole day working on some different, challenging music under the guidance of two eminent guest conductors. We were lucky once again to be joined by Rob Wiffin, Professor of Conducting at Kneller Hall, and Duncan Stubbs, Principal Director of Music of the Royal Air Force. Many of us are veterans of these Playdays and weekends, but for Peter, who has only recently joined the Band, this was his first. Here are his impressions:–

I have a number of good musical memories where I’ve been lucky enough to experience “thrilling days of playing music”. Until last Saturday the benchmark was one that I truly thought would never be surpassed. This was when a group of pupils and teachers from the school where I taught played a concert of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians to a packed school hall, with the composer himself present, in honour of his 75th birthday. This really was, for many reasons, a truly thrilling occasion. Last Saturday however, in terms of sheer fun, variety of insight and verve of music making, certainly challenged and probably transcended it.

I had no idea what to expect of the Playday. The precursors – apologies from Claire about an unforeseen clash of jobs with RAF Central Band which would remove her and someone called Duncan Stubbs from the proceedings until after lunch – were not promising. And the chap who was going to “stand in ’til then”, Rob Wiffin, was, to me, only the composer’s name on a couple of very good pieces that we had played in rehearsal over the last few months.

The actual day was a revelation. A litany of terrific pieces, imaginative, atmospheric and technically challenging, followed one after the other. When Duncan Stubbs made his entrance towards the end of Rob Wiffin’s fantastically rumbustious High Spirits and was invited to “carry on from there”, his slightly wide eyed, tentative and heartfelt response was, “I can’t follow that!!”. But follow that he did, and in no uncertain terms at all; with an irresistible movement from Alfred Reed’s Suite for Band in South American Style.

The quality of the conducting throughout the day was, for me, simply amazing. Their apparently effortless musical and technical insight, coupled with their amazing instinct about which things to stop and work on, and which to ignore, was exceptional. And their very different, but equally effective and infectious good humour set the day off with a zing. In Millenium Bridge by Nigel Hess We “flowed down the river”, and “gambolled over the bridge”, the analogies may have been predictable, but they were tellingly used with endless gentle humour; and the pieces were, on top of all the qualities noted above, just wonderful fun to play (or for some of us, try to play) – and to learn from.

The playing of every member of the Band present must have benefited tremendously from it all. We are incredibly fortunate to have conductors of this quality, ready and willing to take us on. Thank you to all concerned for such a wonderful, exhausting, instructive and exhilarating day.

Children’s Concert at Eaton Bray

Saturday 9th February was a cold day, with snow still lying on the fields as the band members set out for Eaton Bray, a village some 15 miles from Aylesbury just over the county border in Bedfordshire. The occasion was an afternoon Children’s Concert in the parish church of St Mary, a fine church which dates back to the 13th century. With temperatures outside hovering just above freezing the heaters were struggling to warm the air in the building, but we’ve played in worse!

Cover of concert Programme

Less than 10 minutes before the concert was due to start the audience seemed very small, with very few children, but then a lot more people started arriving bringing their families with them. Being a children’s concert, conductor Claire Lawrence had designed a programme to appeal to youngsters, including The Muppets theme, Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang, and Pirates of the Carribbean. To show off the different sections of the band, each played a piece on their own: the woodwind played Nellie the Elephant, the brass played Pastime with Good Company, arranged by principal trumpet Norman Bartlett, and the saxes played Return to Sender. To illustrate the percussion, Claire handed out lots of percussion instruments to the children for them to bang, shake and rattle along to A Grand Day Out (the Wallace and Gromit theme), leading them in a conga around the church. That wasn’t the only audience participation, to the sound of a some German style oom-pah music she had the audience lean forwards, lean backwards, left and right, stand up and sit down, to much hilarity.

Other items in the concert included Stephenson’s Rocket, which draws a picture of the early railway engine, and Rob Wiffin’s medley of nursery rhymes Dancing Round the Nursery. There was more music from films and shows, such as Can You Feel the Love Tonight, James Bond, Jungle Book, Aladdin, and Harry Potter. The organisers had asked for a bit of the “Last Night of the Proms”, so the concert finished with the Hornpipe from Henry Wood’s Sea Songs and Land of Hope and Glory. The audience demanded an encore, so the band played Amazonia from Windows of the World by Peter Graham.

One toddler said he enjoyed the concert because “it made me happy”, we can’t ask for more than that. The band will be returning to Eaton Bray next January to play a New Year’s concert and, we hope, make people happy.

Not the Penn Street Concert

On Saturday 19th January Aylesbury Concert Band should have been performing a New Year concert in Holy Trinity Church, Penn Street, a village near Amersham. Unfortunately the day before, as is usual in this country, two or three inches of snow led to transport chaos, and on Saturday the roads around Amersham and in the village were still difficult to negotiate. So the organisers decided they had to cancel the concert.

This was disappointing for all concerned, we always enjoy playing there and the audiences enjoy our music. It is hoped that between us we can arrange another date in the spring. so let’s hope we can find one soon with more favourable weather.