Band Development Weekend 2012

Every couple of years or so we organise a weekend away for the Band where we have two days of intensive rehearsal coached by a couple of top class guest conductors, playing music more difficult than our usual repertoire. This year we were led by Duncan Stubbs (Principal Director of Music of the Royal Air Force) and Rob Wiffin (a previous PDM, now professor of conducting at Kneller Hall) and needless to say it was quite an experience, hard work but very rewarding, and fun as well. Duncan of course is an old friend of ours, having been our conductor from 2006 to 2009.

This year we went to Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre near Marlow from 2nd to 4th March. The original building dates back to medieval times and has a large hall with a high ceiling ideal for the band to rehearse in. Add to that accommodation in modern buildings nearby, good food, a bar, and grounds stretching down to the banks of the River Thames and there is little more we could wish for in a venue.

During the weekend we worked on no less than 16 pieces for the full band, while for one session we divided into separate brass and woodwind groups. Claire Lawrence is a fine violinist, and she played the solo in Schindler's List and Danse Macabre, making a change from pure wind band music. There is more to the weekend than the music, however. It's a great opportunity to socialise and get to know each other better. When we gathered in the bar of an evening we indulged in such old fashioned pursuits as card games and board games, plus at one point tuba player John Dean led an impromptu sing-song.

Towards the end of Sunday afternoon we played 9 of the pieces in a concert for a few friends and relatives who had dropped by, and a few members of the staff (there is a list of most of the music we played here during the weekend here). All too soon the concert was finished and the weekend over. I think everyone went home tired but exhilarated, having achieved more than we might have thought possible.

Music Played at the Band Development Weekend 2012

Items Played in the Sunday Concert
Title Composer / Arranger
March Op 99 Prokofiev (Ed. Paul Yoder)
Chase the Sun Rob Wiffin
Greensleeves arr. Alfred Reed
Farandole Bizet, arr. Rob Wiffin
October Eric Whitacre
Suite of English Folk Dances (mvmts. 2 & 4) Ernest Tomlinson
Jerome Robbins' Broadway Arr. Warren Barker
Danse Macabre Saint Saens, arr. Duncan Stubbs
El Camino Real Alfred Reed
Other Items
Title Composer / Arranger
Canticle of the Creatures Jim Curnow
Dancing Round the Nursery Rob Wiffin
Four Colonial Country Dances James Curnow
Harlequin Bruce Broughton
Schindler's List John Williams, arr. Calvin Custer
Spirit of the Sequoia Philip Sparke
Suite for Winds Adam Gorb
Overtures for Woodwinds Philip Sparke
Music for brass (various)

Mary Spraggon Memorial Concert

On 26th February the Band was asked to perform a special concert in memory of Mary Spraggon, who died just before Christmas. Mary and her husband Bill have been regular members of our audience since the earliest days of the band over 15 years ago, indeed Bill recalled the very first concert of the reconstituted band at the Hazell’s club in Aylesbury, now long demolished and replaced by housing. So we were honoured when Bill asked us to perform in her memory for their many friends.

The concert took place at Aylesbury Methodist church, conducted by Claire Lawrence and Robert Wicks. Before each half Bill spoke movingly about his wife, how they met when he came to work in Watford as a pharmacist in 1960, when Mary sang with the Langley Singers; how they moved to Aylesbury and made many friends through the Aylesbury Round Table and the Ladies’ Circle, but most of all about Mary’s deep love of music. Mary had very wide musical tastes, which he illustrated through the choice of music for the concert. Though she came originally from Woburn she loved Yorkshire, so the opening work was appropriately A Yorkshire Overture by Philip Sparke. She loved musicals and light opera, so the programme included selections from Les Misérables, My Fair Lady and the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Gilbert and Sullivan was represented by three movements from the ballet Pineapple Poll arranged from Sullivan’s music by Charles Mackerras.

Bill had a selection of programmes they had kept as souvenirs of the many shows they had seen, including a concert by the modern Glenn Miller Band, so naturally the Band played In the Miller Mood, arranged by Warren Barker. This year Bill and Mary would have been married 50 years, so the programme included the Woody Herman version of Golden Wedding. Among other favourites were the Florentiner March by Julius Fučík, the Radetzky March by Johann Strauss, The Dambusters by Eric Coates, The Mazurka and Waltz from Coppélia by Delibes, and Nimrod from the Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar.

Director of Music Claire Lawrence spoke for the Band when she said how honoured we were to have been asked to celebrate Mary’s life in this way. Finally Bill sent his friends on their way with this poem by Joyce Grenfell:–

If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I’m gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known
Weep if you must
Parting is hell
But life goes on
So sing as well.

after which the audience joining in singing Jerusalem by Hubert Parry.

The Band Returns to Penn Street

Since 2009 the Band has travelled to Penn Street, near Amersham, each January to perform a concert in Holy Trinity church. It’s a fairly small church, but the audience that attended on that first occasion so enjoyed themselves that we’ve been invited back every year since. This year’s concert took place on 28th January. Conductor Claire Lawrence planned the programme around pieces reflecting the New Year’s Day concert in Vienna, and opened with the overture to Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II. Christmas is over, but it’s still winter, so then we played A Winter’s Tale by Philip Sparke, which depicts a still winter’s scene, with a horse-drawn sleigh passing by.

The oboe is an important member of the wind band, often playing prominent solos, but there are few works written specially for solo oboe and band. One of these is the rarely heard Variations on a Theme of Glinka for oboe and military band by Rimsky-Korsakov, which was skilfully performed by Alison Swindles. (Not only is Alison a fine oboist, but she is also a talented designer of handmade silver jewellery). Other works in the first half were Valdres, a march by Johannes Hanssen named after a region of Norway, Eine Kleine Yiddishe Ragmusik by Adam Gorb, and a selection from Les Misérables.

After the interval, when band and audience were again treated to delicious cakes home made by ladies of the congregation, the second half opened with Century Point by Robert Sheldon, followed by a portrait of New York by Nigel Hess. Then returning to the New Year theme, the Mazurka and Waltz from Coppélia by Delibes. John Dablin played the clarinet solo in Golden Wedding, which was heard at the first concert here in 2009. Two movements from Theatre Music by Philip Sparke were followed by Can Can from French Impressions by Guy Woolfenden, and the concert ended with a selection from the musical Barnum by Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart. The audience wouldn’t let the band go without an encore, though, so continuing the New Year theme the band played the Radetzky March.

Considering how little time there was to rehearse over the busy Christmas season, the whole concert went remarkably well. One lady emailed the band to say “how much I enjoyed the concert at Penn St church on Sat evening. I was taken straight back to Vienna. I had a few tears (well a lot) the music was wonderful, thank you”. Looks like we may be going back again next January.

Christmas Concert 2011

The Band’s Christmas concert nearly met with disaster. It was only by chance that we found out that the minister at Aylesbury Methodist Church had arranged a carol service immediately prior to our concert, leaving us virtually no time to set up. Fortunately with a little juggling of times we were able to do a run through in the hall before moving into the church in time for the concert.

The Band was once again joined by Lemon Tuesday ladies choir from Rickmansworth. The programme began with the Band playing Century Point by Robert Sheldon, conducted by Claire Lawrence, and this was followed by the first “Christmassy” piece, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. The band accompanied the audience singing Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, after which John Dablin played the clarinet solo in the Woody Herman version of Golden Wedding.

Now it was the turn of Lemon Tuesday to entertain, singing Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol, Hushabye Mountain by The Sherman Brothers and Ball and Chain by The Staves. The Band then rounded off the first half with A Fireside Christmas by Sammy Nestico.

The second half opened with the well known Troika by Prokofiev. This was followed by A Winter’s Tale by Philip Sparke, which sets out to evoke a winter scene, with a horse-drawn sleigh passing by in the middle section. Lemon Tuesday then sang some more, including Rocking Carol (a traditional Czech carol), Silent Night and Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas. They rounded off their session with an encore – a spirited tango (whose title I didn’t catch) with added percussion played by Claire Lawrence, Robert Wicks, and other people dragged from the band!

The concert ended with three more Christmas pieces, Mary’s Boy Child (arr. Philip Sparke), and Sleigh Ride and A Christmas Festival by Leroy Anderson.

I’m pleased to report that the concert was well attended, the audience was larger than last year, and I’m sure they enjoyed the evening as we did our best to spread Christmas cheer. Many thanks are due to Lemon Tuesday and their conductor Martin Smith for their lively and fun performances.

Christmas 2011

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

Photo of Hampden Square

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

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

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

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

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

Bucks Railway Centre Steam Fair

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

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

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

Vale Park Proms 2011

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

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

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

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

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

Here is more information about the music played.

Programme – Vale Park Proms Concert 2011

Conducted by Robert Wicks

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

Children’s Concert

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

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

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

RAF Halton Summer Ball

On 1st July the Band joined forces with the RAF Halton Area Voluntary Band to provide music for the RAF Halton officer’s mess summer ball. The bands played on a large covered stage in the grounds of Halton House, and the guests dined in the shelter of marquees on the other side of the lawn, though luckily the weather was warm and dry. Following a flying display by a vintage Spitfire, the guests were led to dinner by the RAF Halton Pipe Band. Then the Aylesbury and Halton bands played a variety of music including, appropriately, 633 Squadron by Ron Goodwin, and The Dambusters by Eric Coates, which drew enthusiastic applause.

Prior to the inevitable “Last Night of the Proms” finale, there was to be a firework display, accompanied by a recording of the 1812 Overture. The music started, but hardly had the fireworks begun when all the power went off, the music stopped and the lights went out! It took a while for power to be restored, though only a few of the lights came on so it was lucky that each band had brought some battery operated lights. The band then played the finale, Jerusalem, Henry Wood’s Sea Songs and Elgar Land of Hope and Glory with enthusiastic participation by the guests, then the firework display restarted, this time without a hitch.

An eventful evening, rather different from the usual sort of events we play for.

Summer Fêtes in 2011

On a nice day, playing for a fête can be an enjoyable way of spending an afternoon. So what is a nice day? Comfortably warm, but not too hot, hazy sunshine (low risk of sunburn), and little or no wind, that would be perfect.
Photo of the bandstand at Watermead, Aylesbury

Watermead Bandstand, Aylesbury (photo © Copyright Rob Farrow and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

Sadly this is England. Perfect summer days like that are few and far between, and none of the ones the Band played for this summer were blessed with such weather. On Sunday 29th May the problem was wind. The Band was playing for Larks by the Lake at Watermead, a housing development to the north of Aylesbury beside a large lake set in parkland. There is a bandstand built out over the edge of the lake where the band played, battling against the wind threatening to blow music away and making page turns very difficult. Then on 18th June at Cublington fête the problem was rain. The Band is a regular visitor to this event, and set up in the usual place under a spreading tree. All went well during the first session, but during the interval it rained heavily, and even though it had stopped by the start of the second session, too much water continued to drip off the tree. So the band moved to the arena in the centre, out in the open. After a little while, unfortunately, another torrential shower began, and the band had to run for cover before instruments and music were damaged by the rain. That was the end of the music for the day, but the organisers were pleased and impressed with how well the Band had coped with the difficult conditions. Finally on 9th July the Band provided music for Fairford Leys Summer Fayre. Here it was another showery day, but fortunately the Band stayed fairly dry under the roof of the bandstand. Although it poured while the band were waiting to play the first session, it soon eased off to give way to hazy sunshine. The band played three sessions, and although there were further odd showers, this was by far the least difficult of the three engagements. People enjoy a live band at a fête, and once again Aylesbury Concert Band did their best to add atmosphere to these occasions.