Sun, 27 Dec 2020
St Nicholas Church Prague
American funk, soul and jazz composer, vibraphone player and music producer Roy Ayers said: “The true beauty of music is that it connects people. It carries a message, and we, the musicians, are the messengers”. BRONWEN DAVIES says it’s a pleasure and a privilege to belong to Newbury’s Town Band.
"CONNECTION is something that we have all craved and have had to seek creative ways to achieve safely in this extraordinary year, these times of Covid. 2020 is a year that has not gone to plan for anyone and that includes Watership Brass, the Newbury Town Band, which intended to mark its 40th year of music-making this year, with a special summer event and other events planned that had to be cancelled.
As a band made up of people of all ages and walks of life, we enjoy meeting up and making music together, connecting with each other and communicating our love of music to our audience, seeking to fulfil our motto of “Serving the community musically”. In a year when it has not been possible for the whole band to meet together to play, and therefore no engagements with audiences to play for, this motto has been hard to fulfil, but, nevertheless, individual members have been able to step up to represent the band on a few occasions over the year – during the NHS claps, the VE Day anniversary and on Remembrance Day.
This has been appreciated, as have the efforts made to keep band members connected with each other over the last few months – Zoom quiz nights, a summer lockdown video, groups of six playing together when restrictions were eased between the two lockdowns and current plans for a Christmas lockdown video.
Like the author of this article, Watership Brass started life in 1980. The band was originally called The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Band and was based in Basingstoke, with a move a few years later to Kingsclere near Watership Down, inspiring the change of name. When we are not subject to Covid restrictions we now meet every Tuesday in the Newbury Sea Cadets Hall, in Craven Dene, off London Road in Newbury to indulge our love of music-making.
Our motto of ‘serving the community musically’ as mentioned above means we regularly play at local events. Past venues have included fetes, wedding receptions, church recitals, charity events and bandstand concerts and we are always proud to lead the Remembrance Day Parade. In recent years we have even been privileged to play at Downton Abbey, aka Highclere Castle, a few times and at this time of year we regularly play carols at local supermarkets, a rehab centre, a primary school, in the market place and other venues to give a bit of Christmas cheer. Last year we were even on the local radio on Christmas Day.
We have also entertained audiences further afield on music tours – Holland (1991), Germany (1996), Canada (1998), South Africa (2001), Italy (2007), and, since I have been in the band, Belgium (2012), a tri-state European tour to Holland, Luxembourg and Germany (2015) and most recently Prague (2018). These are always very enjoyable and allow band members to get to know each other better and to share our love of music with other cultures, making us realise that music can transcend language and cultural boundaries.
We are always very thankful for our musical director Mark Picken. Our success as a band is a great tribute to his hard work at inspiring us, keeping our standards high and making sure we have a wide variety of music to play. We regularly play the traditional hymns and marches typical of brass bands, but also music from popular shows and pieces arranged by our MD and other talented arrangers in the band.
We are blessed with very talented and dedicated soloists – very evident in the programme that Mark thought up to showcase this at last year’s Remembrance concert. We also regularly start the new year off with band workshops where we invite an expert well-known in the banding world to come and take us through some music, some of it familiar, some of it new, as part of our commitment to improve. I have been in the band for more than a decade and have found it to be very welcoming and supportive. We are very much a family – there are several from the same biological family, for example three instances of a father and son, but the family feeling also extends beyond the ties of blood, as others would testify.
We are a band that supports each other in good times and bad. We have seen all of life – marriages, births and deaths, the latter sadly touching us this year when we lost Ron Howell, our longest-serving member, having been with the band for more than three decades. He was a respected and dedicated bandsman, a true gentleman and a dearly loved friend and band life definitely won’t be the same without his gentle, friendly presence. His wife Sylvia said this about the band: “Watership Brass is an amazing true family of dedicated musicians”, adding that Ron was always so proud to be part of that family. As a band family we look out for each other and encourage each other in playing better and better. I know I have grown in confidence throughout my time with the band. Meeting each week to play together is a good way of chasing away the stresses of the day and to just enjoy being with other musicians and working together to achieve something good - much missed at the moment.
We have very good support from relatives of band members, very much a part of the band family, and also from our audience members who give lots of positive feedback, many of them attending our concerts regularly. I include a quote from one lady who has regularly supported us over many years: “Watership Brass is an excellent band – they perform to a high standard and are very supportive of the local community.
“The Poppy Season in Thatcham would not be the same without their annual concert to launch the Poppy Appeal. The event is always a sell-out and the programme is very varied.
“Congratulations on 40 years of playing – and best wishes for another 40 years!”
Indeed. Thank you to everyone for your tremendous support of the band and our music-making these last 40 years.
It’s a pleasure and a privilege to belong to the band and play music with my band family and I am looking forward to many more years of joining with the band to communicate our message to our audiences – a message of love for music."
Prague 2018 and below Podebrady Czech Republic
RBL Concert Nov 2019