Banding Together at Christmas 2018

An altogether more relaxed, but just as much fun, concertina band weekend.


From Back : Nick Oliver, Chas Blacker, Hazel Hirst, Liz Ellison;  Andrew Stevens, Joc Blacker, Jackie Setter, Maggie Marks;  Helen Price, Rosemary Kavanagh, Elizabeth Brixton, Liz Millward, Sue Walsh; Esther Venn, Claire Wren, Ann Oliver; Beryl Whitehead, Sally George, Lynette Millward, Roger Cambell; Jan Usher, Otto Smith, Trish Nicklen

Some Reviews from the weekend :

I have just returned from the Banding Together Christmas Weekend and already have the date for the weekend in June firmly inked in my diary. It was a wonderful time filled with great music, fabulous people, lovely food and accommodation and lots of Christmas cheer.

This was my first Banding Together weekend. I was given a concertina as an unexpected gift and not knowing how to play it discovered the WCCP website and went along to one of their meetings. I was immediately welcomed into the world of concertina players and given tuition and lots of encouragement.  As soon as I heard a concertina band I knew that was the direction I wanted to go in. I was amazed at the full, expressive sound a group of these little boxes can produce. I have previously enjoyed playing the violin in community orchestras, but love the way that concertina players can swap between parts so easily - potentially playing the piccolo line in one piece and the bass line in the next - creating great ensemble players with a real understanding of the way all the parts fit together.

The Banding Together weekend was superbly organised by members of J25.The music was sent out a few weeks before the event together with mp3 files which made practicing really fun. There was a beautiful selection of seasonal music including Sleigh Ride, Pastorale from the Corelli Christmas Concerto and the Vaughan Williams English Folk Songs Suite, all expertly arranged by Claire Wren.

This was the first time J25 had organised a Banding Together weekend at Christmas and they were uncertain how it would be received but need not have worried as around 25 people travelled to Sidmouth from around the country and even from America.The Sidholme Hotel was a lovely venue and the music sessions took place under the chandeliers in the grand music room. There was a full programme of very enjoyable band sessions with Claire Wren conducting and coaxing some tight and expressive ensemble playing from us. I learnt a lot and thoroughly enjoyed all the music. 

We had a festive meal together on Saturday evening complete with specially made crackers with musical jokes and kazoos which we had great fun with. Christmas Day itself may struggle to compete!

It was a fantastic weekend and I hope it will become a regular Christmas event. I have definitely caught the concertina banding bug and can’t wait to be a bandit again at the next Banding Together weekend.  - Helen Price

I attended the winter “Banding Together” weekend at the Sidholme hotel in Sidmouth. The excellent conducting and musical leadership was by Claire Wren, as were most of the arrangements. It was advertised for advanced/fluent players only. The pieces were challenging pieces to put together over one weekend with a large group of 24 players. One of the pieces was a “surprise” piece that was not sent out in advance and required sight-reading. The event was well organized. Parts were assigned and sent out early. All pieces except one needed to be practiced in advance with the assumption that the players would know the notes and that time would be spent instead on perfecting the ensemble sound.

The weekend was intense with essentially no free time. Sessions were from noon to 9pm on Friday, from 9am to 9pm on Saturday and from 9am to noon on Sunday with breaks for meals. The weekend was attended by generous players who loaned instruments to Americans who were traveling light on budget flight's across the pond. The Venue was at the Sidholme hotel with all practices in the beautiful restored music room with its high ceiling, and large crystal chandeliers. The restored pipe organ had its pipes repainted in its original electric blue with silver contrasting floral pattern. It made a decorative backdrop for the group. We played in front of the stage area. The weekend was organized by the J25 concertina band and attended by twelve of their members. The room was a bit on the “live” side, but Clair did her best to acquaint the players with how to adjust their playing to a resonant environment.

Claire Wren managed the group with both skill and humor. My overall impression was an event that was friendly and welcoming and we were left feeling not only musically fulfilled but like we had just expanded our musical family. A stellar weekend. Claire’s conducting consisted not only of directing, but coaching and teaching as well in order to maximize the capabilities of the ensemble. Price included
high quality food as well.

Who should attend? What is an "advanced player"? The player needs facility in reading music. The player needs to tell the director in advance the concertina types/voices they are willing to play. It is probably best to bring your own instruments, but I was graciously loaned both a baritone and a bass for those parts where I was assigned that voicing. Music is provided in treble clef and in both bass clef and
transposed treble clef for those playing the bass instruments. There was never a need to do transposing on the fly. The tenor voice concertina was not used nor was an ability to read in alto clef needed. In addition there were no difficult keys and very few places where more than a single note line was needed. In the Von Williams English Folk Song Suite there was a single place that required playing a
1-5 two note chord, in another part it required octaves. The Jingle Bell Samba, our surprise piece, had some simultaneous third chords and some seconds. None of this was difficult and I presume this holds for the other parts that I did not see or play as well. If you can read both notes and rhythms, know your scales and have practiced articulation, you should be fine.

Most of the players, although advanced, were pretty much self taught and had little experience playing in a group that large. Playing in an orchestra or large band is quite different from playing in a small group with fewer than 10 players. We had 24 concertinas, not yet symphony orchestra size but a good start. This is the largest and most intensively rehearsed concertina band that I have ever experienced
with a well planned program and parts assigned and sent out in advance. Very similar to playing in a traditional symphony orchestra. I think this was a great weekend for any advanced player wishing to test, adjust and improve their ensemble sound. In addition it was attended by some of the nicest players in the concertina world. - Otto Smith