Harmonie 40th Anniversary Concert


2016 marks 40 years of the band making music in Essex, and to celebrate this important milestone in our history we recently presented a Gala Concert at Basildon’s Towngate Theatre.

The band was formed in 1976 as Basildon Concert Band and the passing years have seen us move to various rehearsal locations and a couple of changes to the name, but the core purpose has remained the same: bringing people together to enjoy music-making.

We have undertaken several major projects this anniversary year, including commissioning a brand new piece of music, our concert tour to Belgium in the summer, and culminating in the Gala Concert, as well as numerous other concerts and engagements in between.

The event took a lot of planning. Starting about a year ago, this included everything from choosing and hiring the venue, to selecting the repertoire, commissioning the new work and liaising with the composer (including a special weekend rehearsal workshop), publicising the concert, writing and designing the programme, inviting VIP guests, selling tickets, and lots of other details.

So we were delighted when on a Saturday evening in October we presented the concert to an enthusiastic and appreciative audience of about 250, and the whole event was a great success.

The concert featured a variety of our favourite music representing four decades of making music and drawing on programmes and themes from many of the memorable events from throughout the band’s history. We included music from the 2010 Bernstein Festival when we played at the Royal Festival Hall, 2012 Olympic year, right up to date with some of the music we played on our 2016 tour of Belgium, and much more in between.

We were particularly pleased to present the world premiere of a new composition entitled ‘Scenes of Essex’, composed specially for the occasion by internationally renowned composer of wind band music Colin Touchin.

We are also honoured to be performing alongside the talented dancers from the Julie Noble School of Performing Arts who added a tremendous additional dimension to the spectacle with their high quality and imaginative dance interpretations to accompany some of our musical items.

It certainly was an evening to remember, and grateful thanks go to everyone who helped to make it a success, especially the hardworking members of the Committee, and of course to the audience for turning up and supporting us!

You can see a full gallery here

Harmonie tour to Belgium!

2016 is the 40th Anniversary Year of Harmonie Concert band, a community band based in Rayleigh, and the band has chosen to mark the occasion in three ways: 1 – the commissioning of a new piece of music for windband, 2 – a gala concert to be held in Basildon on the 15th October and 3 – a tour to Belgium.

The tour took place during the summer holidays and is the second time this community band has travelled to the continent but the first time it has performed in Belgium. The beautiful, historic town of Ghent provided the accommodation for the band and offered sight-seeing opportunities for the band members before heading to Oostende for the first concert on the bandstand in the town square. The sun broke through the clouds at exactly the right moment and Harmonie Concert Band performed to those sat in the cafes that surrounded the square as well as those who came to sit and listen.

The next morning the band stopped at the Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest WW1 cemetery for British soldiers in Belgium. This was a very moving experience and brought home the scale of the atrocities and waste of life of this conflict. This theme continued for the rest of the day as the band headed for Ypres (decimated in the First World War) for its second concert. The weather was not as accommodating as it had been with the skies growing ominously dark but the rain held off for two hours and an appreciative audience gathered to listen to the band and requested the band play on beyond its two-hour performance slot. After dinner the band was able to witness the last post ceremony at the Menin Gate (dedicated to those fallen in WW1) before heading back to the hotel to relax, unwind and reflect on a very successful tour.

The band begins rehearsing again in September in preparation for its Gala Concert at the Towngate Theatre in Basildon, the town where the band was formed. The Concert takes place on the 15th October and tickets are available from the Box Office 01268 465 465.

You can see a photo gallery here

All day rehearsal for world premier!

If you travel the length and breadth of the country, you will not be far from a community band.  This might be a brass band or a wind / concert band.  But whatever their make-up, these bands have one thing in common: the bringing together of a disparate group of musicians to make music for the benefit of themselves and others.  The challenges faced by such groups are enormous, if the group is truly a community group then there should be few barriers to joining.


Yes, you need to own and be able to play an instrument (some groups particularly youth groups might have instruments to loan and teaching programmes as well) but the entry standard should not exclude a large percentage of players.  So if community groups state they have an entry level of Grade 8 standard (to keep the quality of performance high) they are not truly representing their community.  But having a membership ranging from the enthusiastic but inexperienced amateur to the semi-professional or retired professional makes programming very difficult.  How do you find music that will not bore the experienced players whilst at the same time will not be so challenging to the novice that they are demotivated and leave?

So how does a community band like Harmonie manage to flourish when many other bands up and down the country struggle?  The key to this has to be ‘opportunity’.  Finding new and engaging experiences that will both inspire and motivate all band members.  This does not mean finding new performance venues and new but ‘safe’ repertoire, both important in their own way but not essential in the development of a band.

IMG_0010All band members have a fundamental desire to learn and improve, which is often why they join a band in the first place. So engaging with professional musicians who can bring their expertise and wealth of experiences to the band is an important (and arguably an essential) aspect of what a community band has to offer its members.  Finding someone who works at the highest levels of music-making around the world who is prepared to work with a community band and be both challenging and supportive is in itself a challenge but Harmonie has been fortunate to find several such people to work with over the years including the late Guy Woolfenden, Malcolm Binney and Philip Sparke.

IMG_0006The association with Colin Touchin began many years ago when the band participated in the National Concert Band Festival and Colin adjudicated the band.  A couple of the band members knew Colin from their days at Warwick University where Colin lectured in music and suggested that he would be an excellent workshop leader.  At the subsequent rehearsal day Colin’s ability to transform the sound of the band by focussing on balancing the sections, bringing the warmth of sound of the lower end of the band to the fore whilst calming the ‘enthusiasm’ of the shrill top end and high-lighting the challenges of tuning and intonation faced by sections was truly remarkable.

IMG_0009So for the band’s 40th Anniversary celebration it was not a hard decision to further the relationship with Colin and commission a new piece for band.  Scenes of Essex is a three movement piece based on the geographical / historical areas of relevance to the band, Hadleigh Castle (built during the reign of Henry 111) being a prominent landmark near to where the band rehearses, Basildon – the town where the band was formed and Rayleigh Mount the site of a Medieval Castle (and the only Essex Castle to be mentioned in the Doomesday book of 1086) near to where the band is now based.

As part of the commission Colin again spent a day with the band working on the new piece and again bringing his insights into developing the quality of sound.  Explaining the importance of using the diaphragm to support note production in the clarinet section produced instant improvements.  Thinking of dynamics numerically, tuning up from the bass end of the band were just some of the techniques employed to move the band forward.

Unfortunately, the concept of spending a whole day together as a band is a luxury that only happens once a year on average.  However, days of this nature are again essential for community bands to develop.  The level of detail that can be worked on and the depth of understanding that can be gained is far more than if the band spent the same time spread out over several rehearsals.

IMG_0005Our challenge now is to ensure that the time and investment is not wasted and we give an inspiring performance of Scenes of Essex at our 40th Anniversary concert in the 15th October in Basildon.

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Written by Roy Dignum.
Photos by Kevin Hale, used with permission. 


Harmonie’s First Trip Abroad

On 21st July 2012, 36 members of Harmonie Concert Band plus a few family members set sail bound for France and Harmonie’s first concert tour abroad.

The band were celebrating their Musical Director, Roy Dignum’s 10 years of conducting the band before he stepped down at the end of the tour.

As the band left Dover on a sunny Saturday morning they hoped that including ‘Titanic’ in the programme for the tour would not prove an omen. After a long but uneventful journey, the band arrived at their hotel in Rouen late Saturday afternoon, and, much to the bemusement of other hotel guests, commandeered the hotel dining room for a rehearsal before venturing out into the town for an evening meal.

On Sunday, following a morning visit to a nearby calvados distillery, and lunch at the very pleasant harbour town of Honfleur, the band played its first concert Le Havre Jardins Suspendus as part of the Festival de Musiques des Mondes MoZ’aÔque.

An early start on Monday morning allowed time for a visit to the picturesque gardens at Giverny made famous by the paintings of artist Claude Monet before returning to Rouen for a concert at Les Jardins Des Plantes Bandstand.

Although anxious about how the French crowd would react and how large the audiences would be, both concerts proved to be hugely popular, helped in part by the non stop sunshine. Concerns about how the band would suit the world music concert at Le Harve soon melted away as Harmonie played to their largest ever outdoor audience in a wonderfully festive and appreciative atmosphere. Some onlookers joined in by singing, dancing and clapping along to the music. Demands for encores on both days were met with enthusiasm from the band with ‘Candyman’ and ‘I Will Follow Him’ proving particular favourites.

Although there was an air of sadness as Roy’s baton fell for the last time in Rouen, Harmonie gave Roy a good send off and proved that the last 10 years of his commitment were not wasted.

On return to the UK Harmonie were excited to see press reports from local French newspapers. One commented that we had “br˚le les planches” which literally means burning the planks but is meant in the sense of playing with passion and being in the spotlight. Harmonie certainly did that!

“Two concerts at the bandstand in the Botanic Gardens”.

Today, Monday (23rd July), the bandstand in the Botanic Gardens will
resume its original purpose and welcome two bands from 15H30. The first to”burn the planks” come form Belgium; they are the Southern Brussels
Concert Band. The second, the Harmony Concert Band, are arriving from the UK, more specifically from Raleigh, Essex, in the south of the country.

In the programme, varied works taken from various repertoires including rock, pop, jazz and even classical music. In all, there are approximately one hundred musicians who will be sharing their passion for music with the people of Rouen. Concerts at 15H30 with the Southern Brussles Concert
Band, and at 17H30 with the Harmonie Concert Band. Entrance is free.

2012 Cultural Olympiad

Harmonie were privileged to have been selected to take part in the Music Nation event as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

Joined by 4 local groups to present a celebration of the Olympics, the music was connected with the Games. Some of it was composed specifically as theme tunes from particular years while other pieces embraced the spirit of the Games.

We were particularly proud and excited to be premiering “Olympic Hero”, a piece written specially for this event by a member of the band , Chris Holley, which proved to be a rousing success on the night and was greatly appreciated by the audience.

Harmonie have been part of Making Music’s “Adopt a Composer” scheme and our composer Aaron Parker wrote “Dancing Rings” for us. This was also successfully premiered on the night.

The fabulous dancing of the Julie Noble School of Dance provided great accompaniment to many of the pieces. The St. Joseph’s School Choir and St. Bernard’s Chamber Choir provided superb vocals as well as excellent virtuoso performances which the audience loved. Added to all this was the unique and entertaining performance by The Arthur Bugler School African Drum Group.

All in all it was a fantastic success for the band with a full house of around 450 people showing their appreciation with a standing ovation at the Grays Civic Hall at the conclusion.

We are delighted to announce that the concert raised £1200 for the charity Phab (physically handicapped and able bodied) whose aim is to promote and encourage people of all abilities to come together on equal terms, to achieve complete inclusion within the wider community.

Please follow this link to the Making Music video of the event. If you don’t have time to watch the whole video then skip to 3 minutes 16 seconds to see the band and an interview with our MD (we are then featured until the end).

Adopt a Composer

In 2010 Harmonie Concert Band successfully applied for a place in the Making Music Adopt a Composer programme which gives amateur music groups the opportunity to collaborate with an emerging composer over a 12 month period to produce a new piece of music, culminating in a premiere performance recorded by the BBC. To find out more visit the website

Applicants face stiff competition from across the country, and Harmonie was delighted to come through the selection process and win one of only 6 places on the programme, as well as being the only Wind Band taking part that year.

Harmonie Concert Band were paired with Aaron Parker, who at the time was in the second year of his studies at the Royal Northern College of Music. To find out more about Aaron visit his website

November 2010 saw Aaron’s first rehearsal with the band, for which Aaron had adapted one of his previous compositions, originally for a saxophone quartet, into a piece for a 50-strong wind band. This was subsequently premiered the BASBWE London Festival in March 2011.

This was a precursor to the main collaboration on a major original work based on the theme of the Olympic Games, with the goal of integrating this into Harmonie?s participation in the prestigious Music Nation project, part of the Cultural Olympiad project for London 2012.

The project proved to be both exciting and challenging, with Aaron visiting the band several times over the subsequent months, producing an evolving series of drafts of his piece, responding to feedback from the band, and developing his knowledge and skills in relation to wind band music.

The result was a major work entitled Dancing Rings, consisting of five movements which drew on inspiration from a sculpture designed for the Bejing Olympics.

Three of the movements were showcased at a concert in July 2011 which was recorded by the BBC, with excerpts subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 1st March 2012.  The full five movement piece was premiered at Harmonie’s gala concert on 3rd March 2012, which was officially sanctioned as part of the Cultural Olympiad Making Music weekend.

BASBWE London Festival 2011

On 27th March 2011 Harmonie Concert Band crossed the River Thames heading for Bromley and the first London Festival hosted by BASBWE (the British Association of Symphonic and Wind Ensembles) in nearly two decades. We were honoured to be invited by BASBWE to play at such a prestigious event.

The day began with a massed band event, with 150+ players from all the bands represented on the day rehearsing two pieces: ‘Towards the Western Horizon’ conducted by its composer, Philip Sparke, ‘Sentinel’ composed by Peter Meechan conducted on this occasion by Guy Woolfenden. This was followed by a full performance of these two works (which were their UK and World Premieres, respectively) marking the formal opening of the Festival. Harmonie have in the past had the privilege of spending a day with both Philip and Guy (see here).

The opening massed bands performance was followed by concert presentations by each of the bands who had been invited to the Festival. Harmonie was first on stage presenting three pieces.
‘Tatarian Dances’ by the Russian pianist-composer Elena Roussanova Lucas, was a four-movement suite incorporating music from Tatar culture. With a slightly unfamiliar musical language and the unusual sound of solo recorder in the slow movement, this accessible work offers a good alternative to the well-worn dance suites bands know so well.

‘Tango’ by Aaron Parker, a student at the Royal Northern College of Music who was working with the band as part of the Making Music’s ‘Adopt a Composer’ scheme, is a short and highly character piece specially composed for Harmonie.

Finally, Harmonie presented another world premiere, ‘Heroes and Villains’, which was specially commissioned for the Festival from composer Rob Davies. The composer describes this as ‘a story of a superhero and his nemesis’, and the piece certainly seems cram a full film score into 10 minutes, eliciting a dynamic performance from the band.

The day continued with performances from the other invited bands, and each benefited from critique and feedback from one of the professional composers and conductors attending the event.

As the band packed up and headed home back across the River Thames we all agreed that it was a wonderful experience and were looking forward to returning in the future.



Royal Festival Hall 2010

During 2009 Making Music offered its members the opportunity to take part in the Bernstein Project, a nine month long festival at the Royal Festival Hall celebrating the life and works of the great man through concerts, talks and workshops, all produced under the curatorship of Marin Alsop, internationally renowned conductor and student of Leonard Bernstein himself (see here). Both professional and amateur organisations from choirs and string quartets to symphony orchestras were part of the series highlighting his most well known works as well as those which are lesser well known.

Harmonie Concert Band applied to be part of this and were delighted to be invited to present a joint concert with Lewisham Concert Band in the Clore Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall on 10th April 2010. Harmonie kept very much to the repertoire of Bernstein himself with Lewisham Concert Band including music of associated composers such as Don Gillis and Morton Gould.

The concert opened with the two bands of over 100 musicians giving a rousing rendition of Don Gillis’ The January February March. The bands then presented individual pieces, Harmonie’s programme including selections from West Side Story, Slava and Wrong Note Rag. The performance finished with a joint performance of West Side Story Selection.

As Harmonie members boarded the coach to head back to Rayleigh we reflected on the experience of having played at such a prestigious venue as the Royal Festival Hall, and in a festival of such significance.