IAN PAGE & DAVID WALKER
Throughout 2022, Eynsford Concert Band will be celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Eynsford Concert Band began its journey to become one of the UK’s leading symphonic wind ensembles back in 1972, with just a handful of schoolchildren guided by a passionate and dedicated schoolteacher, Robin O’Connell.
It is hard to believe that we’re now a band of 50+ members, drawn from across Southeast England. All of us are proud to have been part of the band’s growth and aspiration to achieve the highest standards of musicianship.
But, like all ensembles, we’re now recovering from a tough couple of years and are looking forward. If we are going to survive another 50 years, we won’t be able to sit on our laurels. It was already tough enough running a community band, even without a pandemic thrown in our path!
To help us navigate the future, we asked some of our members to think about the lessons they’ve learnt that have kept us going and growing. Here’s their feedback – we believe that if we, and bands like us, can focus on these, then maybe we have a chance of surviving another 50.
Lesson 1: Aim high but stay grounded
We push ourselves to high standards, work hard to achieve them, but refuse to take it so seriously that it becomes detrimental to what we are about. We are absent of Prima Donna’s or any sense of ‘music police’.
We know that not everyone can make every rehearsal and not everyone can be on their A-game after a day at work, but everyone knows what we’re trying to achieve, the role they play and what they need to do to prepare for the next concert, competition, or tour…it’s all part of the challenge.
Lesson 2: Keep the repertoire ‘fresh’
We’ve built an extensive library of music over the years, covering a multitude of genres and difficulty, but the real enjoyment for the band comes from getting away from the ‘staples’ and playing new and challenging music.
There is a great deal of excellent music out there but there is also a joy in ‘creating your own’. Our collaborations with renowned composers (such as Dr Nigel Clarke, Dr Jack Stamp and, more recently, David Hackbridge-Johnson) have been great experiences. To experience how they see the band and our capabilities is inspirational. It then, of course, becomes our challenge to do justice to their compositions!
Lesson 3: Set one new challenge every year
We love our traditional concert programme but, year in, year out, we want at least one ‘new thing’ in the diary. Whether it’s a new venue, a recording, an international tour, a competition or a collaboration with another group, we want something exciting to talk about and to work towards.
Collaborations with other bands and artists provide an insight to how others approach these challenges and the standards they have achieved. Over the years, we have been fortunate and thankful to have worked with and alongside a range of groups across the country and from abroad – with performance alongside The London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Band of the Grenadier Guards being particular highlights.
International tours have also been fundamental to bringing the band together socially and ‘upping our game’. We’ve toured in Austria, Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Czech Republic, Ireland, Netherlands, Malta, Spain and Belgium as well as providing entertainment on cruise ships in the Fjords of Norway and the Mediterranean.
Lesson 4: Nurture your younger members
We work hard to find, recruit and nurture younger members and spark enthusiasm and passion for our band within them. With many members being with us for twenty, thirty, or even more years, we must keep reminding ourselves that we’re not getting any younger!
We’ve established the ECB Young Musicians Academy to provide our young musicians with a safe and encouraging environment, building their experience of playing in a large ensemble while getting to know us and the music we play. We hope that this builds affiliation and loyalty to the band whilst they’re still at school, in order that they might then return to us once home from university/college.
Lesson 5: Invest in your Musical Director
The MD shapes the musical identity of the band and engages us week after week – so it’s critical to find the right fit and to look after them.
All of our MD’s have been inspiring, highly regarded, and have each stayed for a number of years, giving the band stability and allowing us to progress musically. They have all helped orchestrate or happily embraced the challenges the band has taken on, shaping them to their own style and ensuring their success.
But you need to look after your MD! The Musical Director cannot be responsible for running the band. We make sure we have a well organised management team in place to handle the admin, so our MD has the time and freedom to focus on their creative side.
Lesson 6: Respect your audience
Music is nothing without an audience and our concerts are not ‘just for us’. Developing programmes that have the audience in mind is critical. We aim to have a balance of musical ‘challenge’ and entertainment in every concert – with engagement that helps them understand and better appreciate our musical choices. Having a loyal audience and strong ticket sales is important – it allows us to book larger, high-end concert halls, enhancing the experience for everyone.
We work hard to maintain an ongoing relationship with our loyal following through a strong audience database and regular ongoing communication. We actively use social media and our YouTube channel to reach a wider audience around the world. This has been invaluable during the pandemic and will surely be more important going forward.
Lesson 7: We’re not just musicians, we’re a family
At the end of the day, we are a group of friends who happen to enjoy playing music together.
We come from many walks of life, but music creates a bond that seems to transcend this. Everyone is treated with respect whether they’re in their teens or their 80s. While life-long friendships have been created amongst our older members, we also work to ensure newer members are embraced and looked after until they’re settled-in.
This sense of family became apparent and became key during the pandemic. It would have been easy for us to drift apart, but instead, the exact opposite happened. For ~16 months our regular Tuesday rehearsals were replaced by quiz nights and guest speakers and our concerts were replaced by virtual recordings and hilarious film making. For many, this became an important highlight in their locked-down week.
Quote from Stephen Bulla, arranger of ‘Bond, James Bond’:
“I absolutely loved every moment of this ECB video. The creative work that went into the planning and execution shows me that you have a band full of enthusiasm for everything it does. I did indeed find myself smiling as I watched your take on Bond.
Keep up the good work and let me know if in the future you might have any ideas for a newly commissioned work for ECB.
All best to you and the band members,
So bring on the next 50!
Pandemics withstanding, we’re positive about the future and excited about celebrating our 50th Anniversary.
We’re particularly proud to be introducing two new compositions created especially for the band:
- ‘Eynsford Invictus’ is a fanfare piece written by David Hackbridge Johnson that will be premiered during our Anniversary Celebration Concert in April.
- ‘Unseen Wings’ is a new work commemorating the life of Winston Churchill being written for by US composer Dr Jack Stamp and based on the book “Never Give In”, written by Dr Stephen Mansfield. We’re very excited that both Jack and Stephen will attend to conduct and narrate the piece at a special premiere concert in July at (we hope) the amazing new concert hall being built at Benenden School in Kent.
So, despite the rough times of the last two years, we are moving forward with optimism. In many ways (and judging by rehearsal attendance), the time away from rehearsals has awakened an even greater passion for our music making – we hope that community bands around the country feel the same way.
50th Anniversary dates for your diary
50th Anniversary Celebration Concert
7:00pm, Sunday 24th April 2022
The SPACE – Sevenoaks Performing Arts Centre
Tickets £12 available from: [email protected]
Reflections on Churchill – a commemoration Concert & Talk
7pm, Saturday 9th July 2022
Benenden School, Cranbrook, Kent.
1812 Fireworks Concert
From 6:00pm, Friday 26th August 2022
Summer Concert and Garden Party
Afternoon, Sunday 18th September 2022
Lullingstone Castle, Eynsford
EYNSFORD CONCERT BAND AT 50 – SELECTED HIGHLIGHTS
- August 1979: First band tour to Hanover, Germany (soon to be followed by Malta, Austria, Spain, Ireland and many more!)
- September 1980, The band performs on BBC’s Nationwide TV programme
- July 1981: First LP Record recorded at Roedean School, Brighton
- December 1984: First amateur wind ensemble to play at the Albert Hall in support of the London Philharmonic Orchestra
- August 2006: First asked by FredOlsen to provide entertainment on their cruise ships (and again in 2017 by Cruise and Maritime Voyages)
- November 2006: The band wins Gold at the BASBWE National Concert Band Festival
- April 2010: The band helps with ‘Promoting Music in Schools’ workshops for the new secondary intake and their parents at The Malling School, Kent and funds a brass teacher for a year
- November 2013: First of many performances alongside the Band of the Grenadier Guards, during which over £35,000 was raised for SSAFA and ABF-The Soldiers’ Charity
- July 2014: The band wins Best Band at the National Concert Band Symposium
- May 2016: First band to represent the UK at the European Championships for Wind Orchestras
- July 2016: The band performed a charity concert for Valence School, Kent that included a Spitfire fly-by to music
- November 2016: Young Musician’s Academy launched
- June 2019: First amateur band to play at the Household Division Music Festival.
Eynsford Concert Band is itself a Registered Charity (No. 277086), investing any revenue from performances back into the band, to fund the purchase of music, hire of the rehearsal and performance venues and obtaining instruments and lessons for those members who may need help to afford them. The band is also grateful for grants received from the Sevenoaks District Arts Council in support of the development of our young musicians.
Read more about Eynsford Concert Band and our Young Musicians’ Academy at: www.eynsfordconcertband.co.uk.
See us in action at: www.youtube.com/c/eynsfordconcertband
Also on Facebook: EynsfordBand and Instagram: @EynsfordBand