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.

Aylesbury Mayor Making 2011

Friday 20th May was the annual Mayor Making when the new Town Mayor takes office for the coming year. Since last year Aylesbury Civic Centre has been demolished following the opening of the new Waterside Theatre in October, and ironically the new theatre is not only unsuitable for the Mayor Making, it’s probably too expensive for the Town Council to hire! So the Mayor Making was relocated to the refectory at Aylesbury College. The refectory is open plan with the high atrium which runs around the front of the building, and the band set up to one side to provide music for the guests as they dined.

This was a new era in other ways, too. This was the first public engagement for the Band with our new conductor Claire Lawrence. Also councillor Ray Ghent, our most enthusiastic supporter on the council and the Band’s president, lost his seat in the elections earlier this month. Thus it was important that the Band made a good impression on the new regime in the hope of continuing our good relationship with the council.

The venue proved a good acoustic to play in, but it was difficult to keep the volume down to a reasonable level. The Band played a variety of music, starting with Aces High from the music Ron Goodwin wrote for the film Battle of Britain. Some pieces brought applause, such as The Magic of Andrew Lloyd Webber, a medley of well know tunes from his shows. The programme also included some lesser known pieces, such as Yorkshire Overture by Philip Sparke, and Concert March from 1941 by John Williams, but everyone would have known Thunderbirds, and Can You Feel the Love Tonight from The Lion King. Here is the complete programme.

The band played well, let’s hope the guests went home with a good impression.

Concert Programme for Mayor Making 23rd May 2011

Conducted by Claire Lawrence and Robert Wicks*

Title Composer / Arranger
Aces High Ron Goodwin
Pineapple Poll, movements 2 and 3 Arranged from the music of Arthur Sullivan by Charles MacKerras, transcribed by W J Duthoit.
The Magic of Andrew Lloyd Webber arr. Warren Barker
Concert March from 1941 John Williams, arr. Steve Sykes
Thunderbirds Barry Gray, arr. Philip Sparke
Yorkshire Overture* Philip Sparke
Birdland Josef Zawinul, arr. Larry Norred
Can Your Feel the Love Tonight Elton John, arr. Jay Bocook
Selection from Les Misérables Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer, arr. Warren Barker

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.

Return to Penn Street

On 22nd January, exactly a year after our last visit, the Band returned to Penn Street, near Amersham, to give a New Year concert in Holy Trinity church. This was our third visit to Penn Street, such was the success of the first two it seems to be becoming a regular event. Conductor Neil Chapman had put together a mixed programme of old music and new. Some were pieces we had been working on last year, and some were freshly brought out for this concert. Some were new to the audience, such as Danceries by Kenneth Hesketh and Paris Sketches by Martin Ellerby, while others were well known through being used as signature tunes for programmes on radio 4. Neil shared the conducting with Robert Wicks, who actually opened the concert with Padstow Lifeboat by Malcolm Arnold. You can see the complete programme here.

Neil admitted rather ruefully that it was a hard blow for the band, as indeed it was, but we all pulled together, and the concert went remarkably well. We even saved some energy for an encore and played Roller Coaster by Otto M Schwarz.

In the interval we were served tea and coffee, and delicious home made cakes. In all an evening of entertainment and good cheer to lighten the gloom of a cold, wet January.

UPDATE 13th February 2011. Rod Wynne-Powell came to take photos of the concert, and you can see them here.

Concert Programme for Penn Street 23rd January 2011

Conducted by Neil Chapman and Robert Wicks*

Title Composer / Arranger
The Padstow Lifeboat* Malcolm Arnold, Arranged Ray Woodfield
Gaelforce Peter Graham
Paris Sketches* Martin Ellerby
By the Sleepy Lagoon (Desert Island Discs) Eric Coates
Barwick Green (The Archers) Arthur Wood, arr. Norman Richardson
Stephenson’s Rocket Nigel Hess
Puttin’ on the Ritz Irving Berlin, arr. Lorenzo Bocci
Florentiner March* Julius Fučík, ed. John R Bourgeois

3 movements from Danceries

  1. Lull me beyond thee
  2. Catching of Quails
  3. Quodling’s Delight
Kenneth Hesketh
The Irish Washerwoman Leroy Anderson
John Williams: The Symphonic Marches* John Williams, arr. John Higgins, Paul Lavender
Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang R M Sherman & R B Sherman
The Wizard of Oz* Harold Arlen & E.Y. Harburg, arr. James Barnes
Encore:
Roller Coaster Otto M Schwarz

Christmas 2010

Christmas for the Band began on 1st December playing Christmas carols in Wendover High Street to mark the turning on of the Christmas lights. The evening was bitterly cold, with lying snow, but that didn’t deter a large crowd gathering around the band to sing. However the weather was so cold that the organisers decided to finish a little early. There was little respite for the band, though, as being a Wednesday we still had to go on to a normal rehearsal afterwards to to prepare for the next concert two days later.

This took place at the St Mary’s Church, Haddenham, and was the final event in the 90th Anniversary celebrations of the Bucks Federation of Women’s Institutes. As we stepped gingerly across the ice and past the frozen pond to the church, we fervently hoped it would be warm inside. These hopes were soon to be dashed, however, when we discovered that repairs to the roof meant that upper parts of the tower were open to the elements, and an icy wind was blowing through the building. The audience sat huddled in their coats, but there was no such luxury for the band. But the show must go on! The programme opened with White Christmas, and included other Christmas favourites such as Troika by Prokofiev, and Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson. To leaven the mix, though, conductor Neil Chapman included items such as Gaelforce (an arrangement of three traditional Irish tunes by Peter Graham), and Robert Wicks conducted Les Halles from Paris Sketches by Martin Ellerby. Interspersed through the programme were readings and songs from some of the WI members, and the Haddenham Handbell Ringers showed off their skills. Despite the cold, the concert went well, and the audience appeared to enjoy it.

The following day it was the turn of Fairford Leys to stage their annual carol service in the village centre. Members of the band set up under the arcade at one side of the square and played carols to accompany the singing. Father Christmas arrived at the end with gifts for the children. Then on Sunday 5th the Band played for the Mayor’s Carol Service in St Mary’s Church, Aylesbury, conducted by deputy conductor Robert Wicks.

The following Sunday, 12th December, was the date for the Band’s own Christmas Concert, held like last year in Aylesbury Methodist Church. I’m delighted to report that this church was warm! The Band was joined again by the ladies’ choir from Rickmansworth Lemon Tuesday. The programme was similar to the Haddenham concert, interspersed by performances by the choir, and carols sung by the audience. It also included a first airing of Lull me Beyond Thee and Catching of Quails, two movements from Danceries by Kenneth Hesketh, which the Band had been working on for several months. Most of the concert was conducted by our Director of Music, Neil Chapman, but Robert Wicks again conducted Les Halles, The Wizard of Oz, and Good Swing Wenceslas.

The Band’s Christmas Dinner took place on 15th December, but that wasn’t the end of the season, as on the morning of Saturday 18th we returned to Wendover to play carols for the Christmas market. The day before had brought more heavy snow, and the Saturday dawned bitterly cold with further snow threatened. Nevertheless, the members turned out to fulfil the engagement. Or try to. The Band had played barely two carols before the valves of the brass instruments started freezing up. The rest of the band did their best to continue, but it soon became clear that the weather was making it impossible to play. At least we tried, and full marks to those in the band who turned out to perform in such awful conditions.

Now it’s time to put the Christmas music away, and start preparing for another year of concerts.

Playday 2010

Sunday 10th October was a special day, as the Band organised a Playday at Ellesborough village hall, Butlers Cross, near Wendover. We had arranged for Alison Cox of Findanote to bring nearly 50 pieces of music for us to play to see how we liked them, and whether we wanted to buy any. That makes it sound rather dull, but on the contrary we had a fun day playing through the music, practising our sight reading, and enjoying just making music.

The Band was augmented by a number of our friends, some of whom were ex-members of the band who have moved away but came back just for the day, it was good to see them again. We also welcomed Paul Speed who came for the day to assist Neil Chapman with the conducting. The weather that day was unusually warm and sunny for October, so that during breaks and at lunch time we could socialise outside in the sunshine. To fortify us for the hard work playing so much music there were ample supplies of cakes and pastries, plus a fish and chip lunch.

There were far too many pieces of music to list them all here, but among the pieces we played were America from West Side Story, Puttin’ on the Ritz, Breezin’ Down Broadway by Adam Gorb, Edwardiana by Adam Gout, and Stephenson’s Rocket by Nigel Hess. By the end of the day we were all pretty exhausted, but we’d happily do it again another day.

Now begins the task of choosing which pieces we would like to play in our concerts, and deciding how many we can afford!

Aylesbury Tattoo

On 19th September Aylesbury Town Council organised a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Army Cadet Force. In the morning there was a parade of the Combined Cadet Forces in Market Square, Aylesbury, which was attended by the Duchess of Gloucester, and in the evening Aylesbury Concert Band provided music for a tattoo in Kingsbury.

The tattoo was preceded by a rather chaotic rehearsal in the afternoon. The Band set up in a marquee at one end of Kingsbury, next to a marquee for the Civic guests, but it seemed almost every attempt to “top and tail” a piece was interrupted by a marching band rehearsing their display – again! However, despite the lack of organisation all was well in the end.

So at 6.30 the Band started playing to entertain the spectators as they arrived. Most of the music came from the Proms in the Park programme, and included Liberty Bell, Fiesta by Philip Sparke, Band of Brothers, and Pineapple Poll. Then at 7pm, compère Des Kay (from Stoke Mandeville Hospital Radio) opened the proceedings, and the Band played Fanfares and Flourishes by James Curnow. After this the Stedfast Association Bugle Band gave a marching display, and soprano Jill Neenan sang Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again by Andrew Lloyd Webber, followed by O Mio Babbino Caro by Puccini, both accompanied by Aylesbury Band. Then in the arena there was another marching display given by RAF Halton Pipes and Drums.

The finale began with Jill Neenan singing the evening hymn, The Day Thou Gavest followed by Sunset played by the Bugle Band. Then a lone piper played Killaloe on a mock battlement. Aylesbury Band played the National Anthem, and the other two bands marched off in turn.

This was the last engagement for Aylesbury Band in a busy summer. Now to start work on completely new programmes ready for the Christmas season, which will soon be upon us.

Proms in the Park 2010

This year’s “Proms in the Park” took place on 4th September, and was something of a special occasion, as it is 10 years since the first Aylesbury Proms concert. The event is now a popular fixture in the calendar, but in recent years it has been spoiled by poor weather. This year, however, the day was warm and dry, and though the temperature may have dropped as evening fell, it was not unpleasantly cold.

Cover of the programme for Proms in the ParkBy the start time of the concert, nearly 1000 people had gathered in Vale Park, with their flags and light sticks ready to join in the finale. Conductor Neil Chapman got the concert got off to a rousing start with Sousa’s March Liberty Bell, better known to many as the theme tune for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Then after the theme from The Great Escape, Neil introduced the first of the night’s soloists, baritone Richard Stark, who sang the well known Toreador’s Song from Carmen by Bizet.

Next 3 Mexicans came forward dressed in their sombreros and ponchos – actually the trombone section, who thrilled the audience with The Blades of Toledo by Trevor Sharpe. The thrills continued with a depiction of a ride on a Roller Coaster by Otto M. Schwarz, complete with screams!

Robert Wicks then took over the baton and conducted three movements from Pineapple Poll, a ballet with music arranged by Charles Mackerras from the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. After this soprano Jill Neenan sang The Laughing Song from Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss. The Band then ended the first half with Fiesta by Philip Sparke.

The second half opened dramatically with Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, which starts A Copland Tribute, a selection of his music arranged by Clare Grundman. After this, in tribute to the many British servicemen and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Band played the music from Band of Brothers. In complete contrast, this was followed by the second set of English Dances by Malcolm Arnold, and then Jill Neenan and Richard Stark came together to sing Somewhere Out There from American Tale. Robert Wicks returned to conduct John Williams: The Symphonic Marches, well known music from The Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, and the Olympics Theme.

Now it was time for the traditional “Proms” Finale, as the excited audience joined the Band and soloists to sing Jerusalem, and the Band played Henry Wood’s Sea Songs, ending with the audience joining Jill Neenan singing Rule Britannia. Last but not least, was Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1 with its Land of Hope and Glory chorus. Unsurprisingly the audience wouldn’t let the Band go without encoring it.

The whole concert was a great success, and councillor Ray Ghent, who organised the occasion, received many emails and letters saying how much people had enjoyed it, and thanking him for a great evening. The Band played well, and can be proud of having entertained so many people so well. Let’s hope the weather next year will be as kind, so we can make it an even better occasion.