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.

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.