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.

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.

Our New Conductor

Wednesday 23rd March was Budget Day, when the government announces its tax and spending plans, but for the members of Aylesbury Concert Band it was also the crucial day when we chose our new conductor.

Once again we had the great good fortune of having four candidates to choose from to fill the vacancy caused by Neil Chapman’s unexpected move to Lincolnshire. During the previous weeks each one had come to rehearse the Band and answer questions, and on Wednesday it was time for the members to vote for the one they liked best. I am delighted to announce that the Band decided to ask Claire Lawrence to become our Director of Music, and she has accepted the post.

Like her predecessor, Claire is also a member of RAF Central Band, where she has played flute and violin since 2004. After studying violin at the Royal College of Music and Trinity College she spent 9 years as a professional freelance violinist before joining the RAF, where she learnt the flute to diploma level, and studied conducting with Mark Heron and Ian Lowes. Like Neil, she has ambitions to become a Director of Music in the Air Force, and make history as the first woman to fill that role. Until then we are honoured to have her as our conductor, and look forward to a new era for Aylesbury Band.

Derek Kirkby, 1939 – 2011

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Derek Kirkby. Having been diagnosed with leukaemia, Derek died of a heart attack before his treatment could be completed. Derek was a friendly, warm-hearted man who loved making music. He was adept at all the woodwind instruments, including the saxophones, revelling particularly in those instruments which were rarely scored (and even more rarely owned by others). He joined the band in order to play his alto clarinet, but willingly became itinerant, playing a variety of instruments wherever there was a gap which needed filling.

Although he had only been a member of Aylesbury Band for a couple of years, Derek was well known throughout Buckinghamshire musical circles, playing for shows, in bands and orchestras, and in jazz bands. Jazz was his particular enthusiasm, and he displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and jazz musicians. His other enthusiasm was cooking, and he loved trying out new dishes on friends and family.

Thank you, Derek, we will miss you.

Neil Chapman

Our conductor, Neil Chapman, is a serving member of the Royal Air Force, playing bassoon in RAF Central Band. I’m pleased to be able to congratulate Neil on gaining a promotion and advancing his career.

Unfortunately, along with the promotion he is being posted to another RAF band in Lincolnshire, and will no longer be able to be our Director of Music. This is a bitter disappointment both to us and to Neil. Although he has only been with us a year, he has grown in confidence and is popular with the members of Aylesbury Band. In that short time he has continued to help the Band develop and grow, and has proved to have an easy rapport with our audiences. Sadly, his further plans for the Band will now come to nought, and he will be sorely missed.

We wish Neil every success in his future career. He will surely find other outlets for his talents, and I’ve no doubt that he will make a name for himself in the wider musical world. When that time comes, we can say proudly that he was once our conductor before he became famous.

Welcome to our New Conductor

In the end we were extremely lucky to have no less than four applicants for the post of conductor, including two from within the band. Each was invited to rehearse the band for an evening and to answer questions from the members. Sadly one had to withdraw due to sudden ill health, but on 24th February in a secret ballot the band elected Neil Chapman. Neil plays bassoon in RAF Central Band, and is at the opposite end of the seniority scale to Duncan Stubbs, but he has extensive experience as a conductor and educator before joining the RAF, and has ambitions to become a Director of Music in the RAF himself. Neil was impressed by the ability of the band, and with the energy of youth on his side we are confident he will continue the good work of his predecessors Alan Mossford and Duncan Stubbs.

We have not seen the last of Duncan, though. He is keen to stay in touch with the band, and is coming to our Development Weekend, and of course, he will always be welcome as a guest conductor.

Duncan Stubbs

Congratulations are due to Duncan Stubbs on his promotion to the rank of Wing Commander and appointment as Principal Director of Music for the Royal Air Force. In the light of this news, we are deeply honoured that he still wishes to continue his association with Aylesbury Concert Band. How feasible this will be remains to be seen, but we will be very disappointed if he has to give up being our Director of Music as he has done so much for the development of the Band, and is popular with the players and audiences alike. We are keeping our fingers crossed.

UPDATE 22nd January 2010: Unfortunately it can now be announced that Duncan is going to have to step down as our Director of Music. The extent of his commitments in his new post mean that he will be unable to continue coming to Aylesbury. We will not be losing touch with him entirely though, he plans to come and coach the band on our development weekend in March, and of course he will always be welcome as a guest conductor. So, the search is now on for a new Director of Music.