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.

A New Look for the Band

If you’ve attended any of our concerts in the past, you will have seen our uniforms, which consist of green blazers with the Aylesbury Duck badge on the top pocket, and green ties. Starting with the Vale Park Proms on 4th September we will be sporting a different look. In the future the men will be wearing black dinner suits with green bow ties, and the ladies black blouses with black trousers or skirt, and a green sash.

Why are we doing this? First, the jackets are not universally popular, especially with the ladies as the style is very masculine. Secondly the jackets were made to measure some 14 years ago for the members of the band at that time. Since then many people have left and new players have arrived, who all have to make do with a jacket that may or may not fit very well. Thirdly many of the jackets are beginning to wear, especially those which have had several owners. Finally there are insufficient spare jackets to fit out new players and deps, and they are very expensive to have made (approx £150 each).

The decision to change the uniform was not made lightly, so we hope that people will embrace the change and look forward to seeing an elegant and more formal look for the band in the future.

Summer Fêtes 2010

Each summer the Band is called upon to provide music for several village fêtes and similar events, whose success depends very much on the vagaries of the English weather. In previous years, Cublington Fête took place on beautiful sunny days, but this year’s on 19th June was spoilt by a chilly north easterly wind which took some members of the Band by surprise. Anyone wearing just a polo shirt and shorts got cold very quickly! But the show must go on. Despite the cooler weather a good crowd had come to enjoy the occasion, and conductor Neil Chapman and the Band provided a mix of music ranging from Mancini Magic and My Fair Lady to Thunderbirds and The Beatles.

The following day the Band went to Doddershall Park, Quainton, to play for a garden party celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Girl Guides. The day was a little warmer and less windy, and the Band set up beside the refreshment tent to provide a similar programme to Cublington.

Then on 10th July the Band returned to Fairford Leys in Aylesbury for the Summer Fair, and this time the weather was very warm and sunny, though quite breezy. There is a bandstand in the square, but it’s quite small and it can be a bit of a squeeze to get even a small band on it. The Band was directed by deputy conductor Robert Wicks, who entertained the crowd with a similar programme to the other fêtes.

That was the last event like this for the Summer, the Band rarely takes jobs in August as at any one time many of the players are on holiday. Now though it’€™s time to start preparing for the next concert, which is the major event of the year, the Vale Park Proms on 4th September.

Mayor Making 2010

On Friday 21st May the Band once again performed at the annual “Mayor Making”€™ ceremony. This is the occasion each year when the Mayor of Aylesbury hands over to his or her successor for the following year, before an audience of the town councillors and other invited guests representing the community. As in previous years this took place in the Civic Centre, but this was for the last time as the Centre is due to close next month to make way for the new theatre over the road, which opens in October.

The day of the Mayor Making always seems to be warm, and this year was no exception. On stage the lights magnify the heat, so the whole experience for the band was quite uncomfortable, even though we were playing in shirt sleeves. Nevertheless it is to everyone’s credit that the Band still put in an excellent performance. Fortunately we didn’€™t have to arrive and set up until most of the ceremony and the speeches were over, as the band was required to play to accompany the dinner which rounds off the evening.

The band was conducted on this occasion by Robert Wicks, and the programme included a selection from My Fair Lady, The Beatles, A Victorian Kitchen Garden, two movements from Pineapple Poll, a selection of music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, English Folk Song Suite by Vaughan Williams, Serenade by Derek Bourgeois, and a selection of themes from the James Bond films. Despite only being background music, the guests applauded many of the pieces, which was gratifying. While this may not be the most enjoyable of gigs, it does give the band an opportunity to be heard by many influential people from around Aylesbury who otherwise might not come to our concerts, and this must help to enhance our reputation among the wider community.

Spring Concert 2010

The Band’s spring concert on 24th April this year was in aid of Scannappeal, a charity which aims to raise money for extra equipment for our local hospitals. The concert was held in Aylesbury High School, and was the first public appearance of our new conductor, Neil Chapman.

As it was the day after St George’s Day, all the music in the concert was either by English composers, or had English connections. The concert opened with Kenneth Alford’s march The Standard of St George. Neil quickly established an easy rapport with the audience as he introduced the second item, which was conducted by the Band’s deputy conductor Robert Wicks. This was the English Folk Song Suite by Ralph Vaughan Williams, a much loved classic of the wind band repertoire. Neil then returned to conduct a selection from My Fair Lady, which though written by Americans is based on the quintessentially English play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. After this John Dablin played the Prelude from The Victorian Kitchen Garden by Paul Reade, arranged for clarinet and band by Alan Mossford, the Band’s conductor for its first ten years. The first half ended with a selection of music from the films about that fictional English hero James Bond.

George Frederick Handel may have been born in Germany, but he came to England as a young man, took English nationality, and soon became a great favourite of the English. Among his works still popular today is the Royal Fireworks Music, written for King George II to accompany fireworks in 1749 celebrating the end of the War of Austrian Succession. A suite from this music opened the second half. This was followed by an arrangement of Nimrod from the Enigma Variations by the great English composer Edward Elgar. After this Robert Wicks returned to conduct The Beatles, Echoes of an Era.

Derek Bourgeois (b. 1941) is a prolific English composer. He wrote his quirky Serenade in 1965 to be played at his own wedding, and it makes an entertaining piece arranged for wind band. After this the concert ended with the second set of English Dances by Malcolm Arnold. Every tune in the Dances sounds like it is an English folk tune, but in fact they are all original and were written by Malcolm Arnold himself.

The audience seemed to have enjoyed the concert, their applause was sufficient to justify an encore so the band repeated Nimrod by Elgar. Let’s hope the concert was successful in raising funds for Scannappeal.

2010 Band Development Weekend

The weekend of 5th to 7th March was the occasion for another highly successful Band Development weekend. We first held one in February 2008, and one was scheduled for February 2009 but was cancelled at the last minute because of the weather, so this year we decided to hold it in March instead. The idea is not only to have a weekend of intensive rehearsal under a guest conductor, but also a chance to socialise and get to know one another better.

On the Friday evening members of the Band arrived at The Lambert Arms in Aston Rowant. Following an excellent dinner we set up in the ‘Oxford’ conference room and played a few pieces, not easy when you’€™ve just dined well! Our guest conductor this year was James Marshall from the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, assisted by Duncan Stubbs, who has just had to step down from being Director of Music for the Band, but was nevertheless keen to come for part of the weekend.

Then on Saturday morning we played through more pieces (a total of 12 in all) and James and Duncan selected six for us to work on for a “concert” on Sunday afternoon. These included music in a wide variety of styles, such as a selection from The Wizard of Oz, and Thames Journey by Nigel Hess, which is a vivid picture in music of the Thames from its source to the North Sea.

The social aspect came to the fore after Saturday evening dinner, as Martin Brown organised entertainment with quizzes and karaoke on a PlayStation 3, displayed on the big screen by the conference room projector.

Sunday was another day of hard work trying to perfect the chosen pieces, then in the afternoon we performed them in a concert to an audience of a couple and their two young children, presumably guests in the hotel who were curious about what we were doing. They did seem to appreciate it, especially Roller Coaster, a vivid description of a ride on a roller coaster written by Otto M. Schwarz, complete with screams!

And so, all too soon, it was time to return home, tired because we had been working hard, but exhilarated because we had achieved so much under James and Duncan’s expert guidance. The 12 hours of rehearsal over the weekend is the equivalent of nearly 6 weekly rehearsals, but without the gaps in between to forget things. I’m sure the results will be clearly evident in the Band’s performances over the coming year.

Here is a complete list of all the music we played.

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.