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.

Christmas Concert 2012

The Band’s Christmas concert this year took place on Saturday 8th December in Aylesbury Methodist Church. It was mainly conducted by Robert Wicks, as Claire Lawrence didn’t know until the last moment whether she could be there or not. As it turned out she was able to attend, and to conduct some of the pieces.

The concert opened reflectively with A Vaughan Williams Christmas, a medley of three lesser known Christmas carols. Then Christmas carols featured again in modern guise in The Proclamation of Christmas by Stephen Bulla. The trumpet section were featured next in Trumpets Wild by Harold Waters, after which the woodwind played A Christmas Calypso accompanied by maracas shaken by the saxophone section. Then the whole band played Soul Bossa Nova by Quincy Jones. The Christmas theme returned with Troika by Prokofiev, then our guests for the concert, the Charles Pope Ladies Choir sang several pieces including Christmas carols. The first half finished with the audience singing O Come All Ye Faithful accompanied by the band.

After the audience had enjoyed refreshments, including mince pies, the second half began with two of Three Carols from Olde England by Duncan Stubbs, Ye Merry Gentlemen and Coventry Carol. Robert Wicks then handed the baton to Claire Lawrence to conduct the three pieces that the Band played to win a Gold award at the Midlands Concert Band Festival in November, Shining Sword, October, and Stephenson’s Rocket. After this came A Winter’s Tale by Philip Sparke. Five members of the brass came forward to play a In Dulci Jubilo, a brass quintet by Stephen Roberts based on the traditional Christmas carol, and then the whole Band played Fantasia on the ‘Dargason’, the fourth movement of Gustav Holst’s Second Suite in F. It was back to Christmas with the perennial favourite Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson, and the audience joined in singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

Robert Wicks then thanked the audience for coming, and thanked the members of the Band for all their hard work during the year. He also thanked the committee for their work running the band, and all the other people who help by selling tickets and organising refreshments. Finally the Band sent the audience away to the sound of We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

This was the Band’s last concert of the year, but there are still two more rehearsals before Christmas as we have to be ready for the concert at Penn Street in January.

Christmas is a-Coming!

The Band’s Christmas season began on the first weekend in December, starting on the 1st with Fairford Leys Carols. This is held every year in Hampden Square in the Fairford Leys district of Aylesbury. The Band entertained the gathering crowd with a couple of Christmas pieces, including Let it Snow, then the local church and school choirs combined to sing a couple of Christmas songs. After this the band accompanied the crowd singing carols, and then Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to let Father Christmas know where to come. Of course nobody sang loud enough, so they had to sing it again. This time Father Christmas did arrive, and handed out sweets and gifts for the children.

Then on the 2nd the Band went to St Mary’s Church to provide music for the Mayor’s Carol Service. Each year the Mayor invites local dignitaries, charity organisers and members of other civic organisations, as well as the public, to the carol service. As the Mayor arrived in procession from the town, some of the Band’s brass played a fanfare, then the Band and the organist accompanied the congregation is singing carols, interspersed with Christmas Bible readings. Broughton Junior School Choir sung a couple of items, including Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, with appropriate actions. One of the clergy read a version of the Christmas story which cleverly quoted the names of a lot of television programmes, while the Rector handed out sweets to any of the children (and adults too) who put up their hand when they recognised one. Then after the last carol, O come, all ye faithful, The Band played We Wish You a Merry Christmas and Sleigh Ride as members of Aylesbury Town Council handed out mulled wine and mince pies.

Gold Award for Aylesbury Concert Band

Aylesbury Concert Band entered the Midlands Regional National Concert Band Festival in Northampton on November 18th and received a Gold Award in the Community Band class.

The festival gives bands the opportunity to have their performance assessed by eminent adjudicators, which on this occasion were Rob Wiffin, previously Principal Director of Music of the Royal Air Force, now Professor of Conducting at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, and John Greaves, advisor and conductor to the European Youth Summer Music School and acting Head of Service for Music Cornwall.

Bands can be awarded bronze, silver, gold, or platinum based on their performance of a short programme. Aylesbury Concert Band played three pieces: Shining Sword, by Rob Wiffin, October, by Eric Whitacre and Stephenson’s Rocket, by Nigel Hess.

The adjudicators were impressed with the standard and quality of the playing summarising their adjudication with “A well-contrasted programme with good colours, blends and dynamics, overall a very commendable effort”.

Conductor, Claire Lawrence, was particularly pleased “I’m delighted that all the band’s hard work in the weekly rehearsals has earned them a Gold Award. The festival performance contained a consistently high level of musicality, some accomplished solo and section playing and a great team effort to show the band at its very best.”

Martin Brown, Chairman of the band added “it is always great to see a band whose origins began in the Aylesbury community do so well in a festival such as this as it further reinforces our belief that Aylesbury Concert Band is one of the best in the area. Our band members come from in and around Aylesbury and we are hopeful following this result we will attract further players”.

This is the fifth time the Band has entered the festival, gaining bronze in 1999, silver in 2004, gold in 2006 and silver in 2008.

Proms in the Park 2012

Every year since 2000 the Band has been providing the popular ‘Proms’ concert in Vale Park, Aylesbury, as part of Park Life organised by Aylesbury Town Council. This year the event took place on Saturday 1st September; during the day there was a big screen relaying coverage of the Paralympic Games from London, music from the stage, and many activities for children, including a rock climbing wall. In the evening it was Aylesbury Band’s turn to take to the stage.

Some of the past Vale Park Proms were blighted by rain, and after this year’s dismal summer we were justifiably nervous that this concert would be too, but to everyone’s relief the day was sunny and warm, and stayed dry the whole evening.

One drawback of our conductor, Claire Lawrence, being a member of the armed forces is that the demands of the service must take priority. Having been sent off for over two weeks to work in security for the Olympics (where she spent the whole time in mind-numbing boredom on the night shift) followed by another period for the Paralympics meant she was unable to conduct this concert. Instead her place was ably filled by Robert Wicks. As this was not only the year of the London Olympics but also the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Robert chose a mainly English programme, opening with Concert Prelude by English composer Philip Sparke. Other English composeres featured included Guy Woolfenden, Rob Wiffin, Eric Coates, Edward Elgar, William Walton, and Sir Arthur Sullivan. You can read the complete programme here.

The Proms concerts always feature at least one star soloist, and this year we were joined by soprano Alison Langer. In the first half she sang O mio babbino caro by Puccini, and later she sang Poor Wandering One from The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan. She is a very fine singer, and the crowd showed their appreciation with enthusiastic applause. Members of the band often play solo items too, and this year principal trombone Jon Pyefinch played an arrangement for trombone of A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.

Of course the part of the concert many of the audience come to hear is the “Proms” finale, which as usual began with Jerusalem, with Alison Langer leading the singing. Then Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs with the rousing hornpipe, ending with Rule Britannia, again sung by Alison Langer, with the audience joining in the chorus. Finally the audience joined in singing Land of Hope and Glory to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1, and as always this had to be encored.

At the end of the concert the Mayor of Aylesbury, Cllr Mrs Ranjula Takodra, came onto the stage and thanked the audience for their contributions to the Mayor’s Charity, Home-Start Aylesbury. She also thanked the Band for a wonderful evening of music that made her proud to be British. We’re looking forward to providing an even better and more successful concert in 2013.

Programme – Vale Park Proms 2012

Conducted by Robert Wicks

Title Composer / Arranger
Concert Prelude Philip Sparke
Theme from the film The Longest Day Maurice Jarre
The Magic of Andrew Lloyd Webber Arr. Warren Barker
O mio babbino caro (sung by Alison Langer, soprano) Puccini, arr. David Richards
Gigue (3rd mvt. of Illyrian Dances) Guy Woolfenden
What Child is This (Greensleeves) Trad. arr. Michael Pegram
Amazonia (1st mvt. of Windows of the World Peter Graham
Dancing Round the Nursery (written for a Children’s party at Buckingham Palace in 2006 to celebrate the Queen’s 80th birthday) Rob Wiffin
The Dambusters Eric Coates
Trombone Solo: A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (Soloist Jon Pyefinch) Eric Maschwitz
Nimrod from Enigma Variations Edward Elgar, arr. Geoffrey Brand
Caravan Duke Ellington, arr. Richard Saucedo
Poor Wandering One (Pirates of Penzance, sung by Alison Langer, soprano) W S Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
Coronation March Crown Imperial William Walton, arr. W J Duthoit
Jerusalem Hubert Parry, arr. Rob Wiffin
Fantasia on British Sea Songs Henry Wood, arr. W J Duthoit
Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1 Edward Elgar

Fairford Leys Summer Fayre 2012

On the 14th July the Band made its summer visit to the Fairford Leys district of Aylesbury to play at the Fairford Leys Summer Fayre. After the drenchings of recent weeks the weather was much kinder, it did rain a little as the band was setting up on the bandstand, but it soon stopped and brightened up. Netting and spikes fitted under the roof of the bandstand helped to discourage the pigeons who were a hazard in previous years, but instead a children’s entertainer set up in front of the bandstand provided a hazard of a different kind. Amplified through the PA loudspeakers next to the bandstand he was encouraging the children to scream and holler as loud as they could, and being children they were only too eager to oblige, between them making enough noise to threaten our hearing!

Other than that the day was almost routine. Claire Lawrence conducted the Band in a mixture of music suitable for a fête, the band played well, there were no disasters, and we did our best to add to the atmosphere of the occasion.

This was the last engagement before the summer lull, but in between holidays we must get ready for our next big event, the Vale Park Proms on 1st September.

Quainton Children’s Prom

On the evening of 7th July the Band travelled to Quainton for a Children’s Concert at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre. Quainton Road station was once a junction on the Metropolitan and Great Central joint line, but passenger trains ceased running there nearly 50 years ago, though the line is still open for occasional freight trains. The station is now the site of a railway museum, and is a popular tourist attraction. The concert took place on the platform of the Rewley Road station, which was reconstructed here after being saved from demolition and moved from Oxford. The Band played here for the Steam Fair in September 2011.

The cheerful tone of the concert was set from the start as conductor Claire Lawrence led the band in the Muppet Show theme. The first half included Stephenson’s Rocket, a portrait of the famous early steam locomotive by Nigel Hess, music from the James Bond films, Jungle Book, and Aladdin, and Harry Potter. Appropriately for a children’s concert the Band played Dancing Round the Nursery, a clever medley of nursery rhymes written by Rob Wiffin, and in the second half, Cartoon by Paul Hart captured all the fun of cartoons with inventive music in the style of cartoon sound tracks.

To illustrate the various sections of the Band, the woodwind played an arrangement of Nelly the Elephant and the brass opened the second half with a fanfare written by Claire Lawrence herself. The sax section played Return to Sender, the Elvis Presley hit arranged for saxophone quartet. The children in the audience got the chance to participate as Claire Lawrence handed out lots of percussion instruments for them to shake, bang and rattle to accompany A Grand Day Out, the Wallace and Gromit theme. Also the tubas got a rare spot in the limelight when they played Tyrolean Tubas.

The concert finished in “Last Night of the Proms” style with Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1, but the enthusiastic audience wouldn’t let the band go without an encore, and the band obliged with a couple of Abba numbers: Waterloo and Thank You for the Music. It’s a shame the audience wasn’t a little larger, but those there certainly enjoyed themselves, and we enjoyed playing there. Let’s hope the organisers won’t be discouraged from inviting us back on another occasion.