Christmas 2011

Christmas has become the busiest time of the year for the Band, and this year was no exception, as we had no less than 5 separate engagements plus our own Christmas concert. Responsibility for conducting most of these fell upon Robert Wicks, as our conductor Claire Lawrence was herself very busy playing with RAF Central Band.

Photo of Hampden Square
Hampden Square, Fairford Leys (photo © Copyright Chris Millard and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

The season started on 3rd December with the annual Carol Service at Fairford Leys, a district of Aylesbury. On a typical dark and damp December evening the band set up under an arcade at one side of Hampden Square to accompany the carols. Then the following afternoon we went to the Plant Center at Waddesdon Manor where they were holding a Christmas market. This was held in one of the Plant Centre buildings, so we were reasonably warm and dry. Robert Wicks conducted the Band in a mix of Christmas music, such as White Christmas, Mary’s Boy Child, Sleigh Ride and Christmas Festival, the latter two both by Leroy Anderson.

The next weekend, on Sunday 11th December, the Band played at the annual Mayor’s Carol Service in St Mary’s Church, Aylesbury. Again conducted by Robert Wicks, we played several pieces of Christmas music to entertain the congregation before the arrival of the Mayor’s procession from the town, and then shared the accompaniment of Christmas carols with the organist.

The following weekend we had been invited to play in Wendover twice. The first occasion was in the evening of Friday 17th December, when we accompanied carol singing on the Manor Waste in Wendover High Street. The weather wasn’t anywhere near as cold as last year, instead it rained gently for a lot of the time. The band was sheltered by a gazebo, but the chairs put out for us were soaking wet, so we played standing instead. A good sized crowd of hardy souls stood out in the rain and sang Christmas carols for nearly an hour accompanied by the band. The following day we returned to the same spot to play carols alongside the Saturday Christmas market, and add atmosphere to the occasion. The day was a little chilly, but at least it was dry, with some glimpses of blue sky and some sunshine to cheer everyone up.

The busy weekend wasn’t over though, because the next day we held our own Christmas concert, but I’ll save that for another post.

Bucks Railway Centre Steam Fair

Saturday 24th September was the first day of the annual Steam and Traction Engine Rally held at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre near Quainton, north west of Aylesbury. Told that we were playing on the station platform I expected to be in the open air, but instead we were placed in the visitor centre, a building which was once the Rewley Road station in Oxford, the terminus of the railway line to Cambridge. The station closed in 1951 and served a number of functions before falling into disrepair, despite being a listed building, until it was rescued by being transferred to the Railway Centre at Quainton and lovingly restored. Now there are glass screens at the end where the trains used to leave meaning the interior is warm and dry.

However the day was pleasantly warm and dry anyway, and there was no need for the glass doors to be closed. Some chairs had been set out for people to sit and listen, but the Band could be heard throughout the building, adding to the atmosphere of the day. Conductor Claire Lawrence opened the programme with the march Semper Fidelis, and continued with well known music from films, TV programmes and shows, such as Thunderbirds, Can You Feel the Love Tonight from The Lion King, music from the James Bond films, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Robert Wicks conducted several pieces, including music from the film The Incredibles. Music from shows included Les Miserables and My Fair Lady, and the afternoon concluded with a selection of classic hits from The Beatles.

The organisers were enthusiastic about the Band’s efforts, and there is talk of inviting us back to do a “Proms” concert. Which I’m sure we would be delighted to do. The building has a nice acoustic, and we enjoyed playing there.

Vale Park Proms 2011

We were lucky again with the weather for the Vale Park Proms on 3rd September. This is part of a weekend of free events organised by Aylesbury Town Council in Vale Park, Aylesbury, and it is the 11th year the concert has been held. After a week of showers and rain Saturday turned out to be a dry interlude, and reasonably warm as well, and in the evening a crowd estimated to be 600 people gathered in the park to hear the Band perform, together with singers Richard Stark and Jill Neenan. Unfortunately our conductor Claire Lawrence was unable to lead this concert due to her commitments with RAF Central Band, so her place was ably filled by deputy conductor Robert Wicks.

As usual the Band played a mix of music, starting with Flashing Winds, a piece specially written for wind band by Jan Van der Roost, followed by Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, and A Yorkshire Overture by Philip Sparke. Then it was the turn of the soloists to sing two pieces from Carmen by Bizet. Jill Neenan sang Habanera and Richard Stark The Toreador Song, accompanied by the Band. Following this, Armenian Dances by Alfred Reed showed off the Band’s skills, and the first half ended with film music from The Incredibles and Pirates of the Caribbean.

The second half opened with The Dam Busters by Eric Coates. After the quirky Slava! (written by Leonard Bernstein as a tribute to his friend the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich – nicknamed Slava) soloists Richard Stark and Jill Neenan came together to sing Bess you is my woman now from Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin. Then, after the Toccata in D minor by Bach, arranged by Ray Farr and Kevin Lamb, the Band played The Sun will Rise Again, a work specially written by Philip Sparke to raise money for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March.

After James Bond 007, played in tribute to the composer John Barrie who died earlier this year, it was time for the traditional “Proms” finale. The audience joined Richard Stark in singing Jerusalem, then Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs was rounded off by Rule Britannia, with Jill Neenan leading the singing. Finally Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1, with its Land of Hope and Glory tune brought the evening to a triumphant close, after it had been repeated, of course!

In a speech the Mayor, Cllr Jenny Puddefoot, thanked the Band, saying we were playing better than ever, and later the Bucks Herald reported that the evening had raised over £500 for the Mayor’s charities. In these times of austerity and budget cuts there is an ever-present risk of the council being unable to afford to promote events like this, but the concert is always popular, and Aylesbury Band stands ready to provide the music again next year and in years to come whenever we are called upon to do so.

Here is more information about the music played:–

Programme – Vale Park Proms Concert 2011

Conducted by Robert Wicks

Title Composer / Arranger
Flashing Winds Jan Van der Roost
Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang R.M. Sherman & R.B. Sherman
A Yorkshire Overture Philip Sparke
Habanera from Carmen, sung by Jill Neenan Georges Bizet, arr. Jos van de Braak
Toreador Song from Carmen, sung by Richard Stark Georges Bizet, arr. Antoon Haeck
Armenian Dances (excerpts) Alfred Reed
Music from The Incredibles Michael Giacchino, arr. Jay Bocook
Pirates of the Caribbean Klaus Badelt, arr. John Wasson
The Dam Busters Eric Coates
Slava! A Concert Overture Leonard Bernstein, transribed by Clare Grundman
Bess you is my woman from Porgy and Bess, sung by Richard Stark and Jill Neenan George Gershwin, arr. Roger Niese
Toccata in D Minor J.S. Bach, arr. Ray Farr and Kevin Lamb
The Sun Will Rise Again (written to commemorate the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, March 2011) Philip Sparke
James Bond 007 (themes from the James Bond films) John Barrie, arr. Johan de Mey
Jerusalem, sung by Richard Stark Parry, arr. Rob Wiffin
Fantasia on British Sea Songs, with Rule Britannia sung by Jill Neenan Henry Wood, arr. W.J. Duthoit
Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1 (Land of Hope and Glory) Edward Elgar

Children’s Concert

As part of the 2011 Aylesbury Festival, the Band put on a Children’s Concert at Aylesbury Methodist Church on 16th July. The programme contained a mix of music to appeal to children, with a few pieces for their Mums and Dads. The concert opened with A Children’s Overture by Roger Quilter, cleverly based on a number of nursery rhymes, and included such favourites as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as well as several pieces to illustrate different styles of music, such as an excerpt from Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks as an example of classical music.

Of course, such a concert has to include audience participation, so the children were given a variety of drums and rattles to accompany A Grand Day Out (the Wallace and Gromit Theme), while conductor Claire Lawrence lead them in a conga around the church. And for pure entertainment, Claire’s husband Geoff, who is a skilled trumpet player, played the Posthorn Galop by Koenig.

The children certainly seemed to enjoy the concert, one four year old said excitedly afterwards “I got to play a drum!”

RAF Halton Summer Ball

On 1st July the Band joined forces with the RAF Halton Area Voluntary Band to provide music for the RAF Halton officer’s mess summer ball. The bands played on a large covered stage in the grounds of Halton House, and the guests dined in the shelter of marquees on the other side of the lawn, though luckily the weather was warm and dry. Following a flying display by a vintage Spitfire, the guests were led to dinner by the RAF Halton Pipe Band. Then the Aylesbury and Halton bands played a variety of music including, appropriately, 633 Squadron by Ron Goodwin, and The Dambusters by Eric Coates, which drew enthusiastic applause.

Prior to the inevitable “Last Night of the Proms” finale, there was to be a firework display, accompanied by a recording of the 1812 Overture. The music started, but hardly had the fireworks begun when all the power went off, the music stopped and the lights went out! It took a while for power to be restored, though only a few of the lights came on so it was lucky that each band had brought some battery operated lights. The band then played the finale, Jerusalem, Henry Wood’s Sea Songs and Elgar Land of Hope and Glory with enthusiastic participation by the guests, then the firework display restarted, this time without a hitch.

An eventful evening, rather different from the usual sort of events we play for.

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.

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

Here is the complete programme:–

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.