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Wessex Band Summer School

Students join one of three bands appropriate to their standard and instrument. No auditions are necessary. The course is run by a committee, the chairman being Leonard Adams. Matthew, who plays in the Knottingley Silver Band (a championship section band in Yorkshire) is the vice-chairman.

I welcome similar reviews by participants in other band camps around the world.For any of you that may have been on the Wessex Summer School over the last 35 years, I’m sure you remember what a fantastic time you had. This year was no exception! The course was founded 35 years ago by John Grinnell and Andrew Pitts to promote music for youth. Over the years the course has developed and now includes a training band, wind band, and, of course, brass band.

The course draws people from all areas of the UK and even further afield, to meet for one week of the year to make music together. The course has a real family atmosphere and is really enjoyable, this year the course was based in Oakmead School, near Bournemouth, which meant that non playing members of a family could come down to the course and visit local sites of interest.

The Staff

This year was the first course organised by a new management committee, chaired by Leonard Adams. As well as the course celebrating its 35th year, this was also Derek Broadbent's 20th year as Musical Director. With two big milestones to be celebrated, the staff and students had to make sure this year was special. They didn’t disappoint!

This years conductors were Steve Chislett (Training Band) Mike Fowles (Wind Band), Stan Lippeat (Wind Band), Alan Pope (Training Band), Janet Roe (Training Band), Tony Whittaker (Brass Band) and of course Derek Broadbent (Training, Wind and Brass Band). The programs of all three bands were extremely varied and enjoyable.

The week started with a gathering of the bands, with almost 200 players’ assembled, all eager to get down to some playing! Rehearsals ran from 10am to 5pm everyday, these are interspersed with breaks and sectional rehearsals with tutors, who this year included Michael Dodds from Grimethorpe.

Repertoire

The course featured music to suit all tastes and abilities. This year's program included Festival Overture (Shostakovich), Suite Gothique (Boellman), Soul Bossa Nova (Quincy Jones), Winter (Vivaldi) and Windows of the World (Graham) in the brass band, New York (Hess), Gallimaufrey (Woolfenden) and Slaughter on tenth avenue (Rodgers) in the wind band as well as pieces such as theme from the Muppets and "Don’t Worry be Happy" in the training band.

The week started off with the students running through the pieces in the morning, with a lot of excited (or worried!) discussion during lunch. Then back to playing the pieces in more detail, where conductors decided to try and tell us they weren’t that hard really!

Accommodation

After the first days playing, students and staff alike went back to their accommodation. One of the great features about the course is the fact that people can all camp together on the school field. Here, friendships are always rekindled in a great atmosphere and it was rumoured that people stayed up late into the night talking about past courses, also looking to the future. Of course this is only rumour as no one can confirm being up that late!

The Week

On the Tuesday morning people sat around excitedly eating bacon butties (sandwiches). After all, it was only Tuesday and people’s lips weren’t too tired yet. The day got off to a cracking start in all the bands with some sense of ensemble being formed. As the day progressed pupils got to grips with some of the harder pieces and also had their first sectional of the week. This was where tutors straighten out some of the pieces, but also discuss other musical points such as balance, correct breathing, tonguing and instrumental maintenance.

As the day began to draw to a close people were already talking about their favourite pieces, and looking forward to the concert. The bands were also sounding much more together, with some real musicianship being shown. Everyone then went back to their tents, some having BBQ’s, some going to Bournemouth and Poole, or Tower Park, and some just catching up with each other…or with sleep!!

As Wednesday morning arrived, a few people were discussing whether someone had replaced their lips with rubber! No sooner was this thought about, then we were playing again. Both bands loosening up quickly and those rubber lips were soon ready to play again! The morning went swiftly, with everyone ready for another fantastic lunch (well done caterers!) and back to playing. By now the bands were playing as a unit and some musical features really were stunning! At the end of Wednesday’s session, Windows of the World was brought out for a run through. This was a real treat for the band, who obviously enjoyed the piece and sounded as refreshed as ever!

Wednesday’s session was followed with a big band rehearsal. This was a new venture introduced a couple of years ago to cater for peoples tastes and is proving to be a very popular addition to the course. This year Derek Broadbent took the band with his own arrangements and compositions. They made an excellent sound, gelling straight away. After some excellent playing from all concerned, and with music still in our ears, people once again dispersed to the field for evening activities of their choice. Among these activities talk of the talent show was rife.More about that later though!

On Thursday morning some tired looking people turned up to their seats. Lips were a little tired, and it was rumoured that heads were even more tired! That was until Derek came in with boundless energy to get us all going again. Music was quickly being made from all corners of the school, the wind band making an amazing sound with Gallimaufry, and the brass band playing the Elegy from The Downland Suite with maturity well beyond their years. Pupils and staff alike were really enjoying the music, each others company and the comments made by some of the conductors (Just how do you play Flight of the Penguins Tony?!). As quickly as it had begun, the day was coming to a close.

Thursday night saw Mike Fowles give an introduction into conducting, which looked at stick technique, giving cues, dynamics and many other tasks that conductors take upon themselves. It's not just wagging a stick after all! As the group of 30 students stood in a semi circle trying to figure out the intricacies of 7/4, one onlooker remarked that auditions for Harry Potter were last week! This session was really appreciated by all who attended and hopefully will be built upon next year.

By Friday the concert was almost upon us. Conductors were somehow getting music from places unimaginable and players were always stepping up a gear for them. The afternoon saw the training band give their concert. Parents and players from the senior bands gathered in the hall before a hush of excitement fell over everyone. The Training band came out smiling and the happiness spread throughout the hall. The playing was of a high standard, everyone enjoyed the playing so much that the band got a standing ovation and were asked for an encore!

When people had calmed a little from the concert all players went to gather for the first massed band rehearsal. The sound the band made was stunning, playing the fantastic ‘Wessex Youth March’ (Broadbent), the immensely moving ‘Music ‘(Miles arr. Broadbent), a new and exciting composition commissioned for this year's course, ‘Blues for Band’ (Broadbent) and of course, our favourite, ‘The Floral Dance’ (Moss arr. Broadbent).

Talent Show

After the rehearsal came what for many people was the highlight of the course, the talent show!! The show was originally the result of a competition between two members of staff, the loser having to perform a forfeit in front of everyone. Over time this has developed into a competition in which people make others laugh, cry, scream and thoroughly enjoy themselves, for the coveted grey caravan trophy and is adjudicated by the esteemed Mr Derek Broadbent! This year drew 8 entries, ranging from the highly amusing ‘A history of Wessex - The musical’, in which the story of the course was depicted with pupils playing the parts of conductors and staff, with amazing likeness it must be said, to the absolutely spell binding Adiemus, which was the eventual winner. As people once again dispersed into the night there were mutterings about early draws, relative difficulty of pieces, the use of mutes on stage and how on earth two Stan Lippeats’ were at the contest. A good night had been had by all. After an early (or not so early) night pupils turned their thoughts to the concert.

The concert

On the Saturday morning conductors get a quick run through of pieces, before the final massed band rehearsal and some final words of wisdom. Pupils then disperse for lunch, before returning in the sweltering heat for the concert.

What a concert it was! Both bands’ performances were magical, with the wind band entertaining us with ‘New York’ and the wonderful ‘Gallimaufry’ as well as Stan trying to get the audience to guess the 3425 pieces in ‘Instant concert’! The brass band also had magical moments, overcoming the technical difficulties of ‘Suite Gothique’, ‘Festival overture’, and ‘Windows of the World’, as well as some highly evocative playing in ‘Winter’ and ‘Elegy’. The concert finished with the massed band playing the exciting ‘Wessex Youth March’, John Miles ‘Music’ with some extremely emotional playing in the slow movements, before moving onto the stunning ‘Blues for Band’ and finishing with ‘The Floral Dance’. The concert finished with a standing ovation and a rousing cry for more! The concert was a superb end to a fantastic week of playing before one last night out on the field.

The course was a resounding success, and was certainly enjoyed by all. A big thank you has to go to all the staff, the management committee for organising a highly successful course, and to Derek Broadbent for his dedication, skill and passion.

What sets Wessex apart from other courses is the atmosphere. Pupils and staff are extremely friendly, have a great time with each other and enjoy their music. The course is now going from strength to strength and is always looking to recruit new members. If you want to be part of the course then look on www.wbss.net for information of next years dates! We look forward to seeing you, and please bring a friend!!

Matthew Stimpson

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