Armagh Old Boys Summer School Review

Posted by Mark Wilkinson on 31 August 2017

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Review of the Armagh Old Boys Brass Band Summer School 2017

armagh summer school 2017

The 17th annual Armagh Old Boys Brass Band Summer School was staged from 7th – 12th August at the City of Armagh High School. The Armagh Old Boys Silver Band has organised the course in conjunction with Foden’s Band since the event started in 2001. The course is one of two annual events which celebrates the special partnership between the two ensembles, the other being Foden’s visit to Armagh in February of every year.

Foden’s provide the musical direction and input for the course. Nine of the band once again travelled to Northern Ireland for a week which has long been considered one of the highlights of the year for those involved. The 2017 Foden’s team consisted of Michael Fowles (Musical Director of the Sovereign Band), Mark Bousie (Musical Director of the Sterling Band), Mark Wilkinson and Richard Poole (cornets), Lesley Poole (horns), Shaun Farrington (trombones), Sarah Lenton (baritones and euphoniums), Stewart Baglin (tubas) and Anthony Mann (percussion).

This year over 80 brass and percussions musicians of all ages, standard and experience from across Northern Ireland attended the course – a very healthy number indeed! As in previous years, to suit their ability and experience levels, the musicians were split into two bands; Sterling Band is designed for the younger and/or less experienced players and Sovereign Band for the older and/or more experienced players. In addition to this, both bands formed a massed ensemble to perform pieces for a grand finale. Encouragingly, for the future of banding in Northern Ireland, a coach load of over 30 young musicians arrived each day to take part in the course.

As has become custom, the course commenced on the Monday evening with a ‘meet the music’ rehearsal where the participants had their first opportunity to begin to get to grips with the repertoire that had been chosen for this year’s Sovereign Band and the massed ensemble. 2017’s programme was wide ranging and included Samuel Hazo’s ‘Olympiada’ in an arrangement by Jonathan Bates, ‘The Journal of Phileas Fogg’, an original work by Peter Graham, Goff Richards’ setting of the hymn tune ‘Crimond’, Matthew Eden’s cornet solo ‘Spring Song’ (featuring Mark Wilkinson) and the encore ‘Defying Gravity’ from the hit musical ‘Wicked’. One of themusical highlights was almost certainly ‘The Loughnashade Horns’, an exciting, programmatic piece commissioned especially for the 2017 course from ex Foden’s cornet player Andrew Stevenson (presently Composer in Residence of the Foden's Youth Band). Andrew is now a musician in the RAF, but is also continuing to make quite a name for himself as a composer. The massed bands’ programme consisted of Alan Fernie’s ‘Prismatic Light’, Gordon Langford’s classic arrangement of ‘All Through the Night’ and John Miles’ ‘Music’.

Tuesday morning saw the first rehearsal of the Sterling Band and they were challenged by a programme which included arrangements of well-known pop songs and film music and more traditional marches and hymn tunes. In terms of numbers, this year’s Sterling Band was one of the largest there’s been since the decision was made to form two bands from the course participants in 2012.

As the week progressed, time was split between full and sectional rehearsals with the aim of preparing for the Final Concert, but also giving the musicians tips and advice to take forward with them and make them better players.
The Young Soloists concert was held at the Armagh Old Boys band hall on the Thursday night. It is always one of the highlights of the course and this year was no exception. Course participants were giving the opportunity to perform as soloists or in small ensembles to an encouraging audience of fellow musicians, parents, friends and supporters of the course. Accompaniment was provided by an ensemble created by the Foden’s tutors and the expert piano accompaniment of Shaun Farrington.

Friday saw the final touches to both bands’ programmes being made and also the eagerly barbeque and ‘Tutors’ Treat’ concert, where the Foden’s nonet performed an informal concert to the course participants. Before a final run through of the programme, the musicians on the course had the opportunity to quiz all of the Foden’s tutors about (almost!) any subject in a ‘question and answer’ session.

Saturday evening’s ‘Grand Finale’ concert in the wonderful acoustic of the First Presbyterian Church in Armagh provided a fantastic summing up of everything the course stands for – ‘Music, Fun and Friendship’. Both bands played brilliantly. Prior to the massed band’s performance various awards and presentations were made to individuals for their outstanding contributions to the course.

This year’s massed encore was a clever re-working by Richard Poole of the Jacksons’ hit ‘I Want You Back’. The Armagh Summer School version was re-titled ‘We Want You Back’ alluding to the hope that we would see all this year’s musicians again at the 18th Summer School in August 2018.

The Armagh Old Boys Brass Band Summer School is a truly special event. It wouldn’t be able to happen without the amazing contribution of Ivor Stevenson OBE, a vice-president of Foden’s Band, his wife, Heather and daughters, Julie Anne and Sarah-Jane. In addition to organising the course, they provide wonderful hospitality for the Foden’s tutors for the whole week and we all see the Stevensons as like a second family. A big thank you to all the other adult helpers on the course too.

Roll on the 2018 Summer School!
Mark Bousie

For any conductor and every audience, Foden’s Band is a musical Magic Carpet. It continually takes the listener to places that few other ensembles rarely even approach Howard Snell