This weekend I had the immense pleasure of attending the 50th reunion of the Auckland Youth Symphonic Band. I hasten to add, I was not a founding member of this institution, but it did play an enormous part in my musical development, and subsequent career choice.
I remember being a young 13 year old with a passion for music, a little bit lost in a new school across town from home, and spending inordinate amounts of time lurking in the music block – my refuge. I was a diligent clarinet student, but a little underwhelmed with what was offered for clarinet students in the way of orchestral opportunities. For starters, most of the youth orchestras only had spaces for one or two clarinet players, so that was always going to be somewhat limiting.
One day, while browsing the noticeboard in the music department, an invitation to audition for the junior band of the Auckland Youth Symphonic Band (or AYSB) caught my eye. I had no idea what a symphonic band was, but it appeared to offer a bit more interest for an aspiring clarinet player.
My auditiion was successful and early in my 4th form year I rolled up to Epsom Girls’ Grammar School on the appointed Thursday after school, clarinet in hand, and the rest is history.
By 5th form I was playing saxophone in the junior band, and travelling on to Kings’ College when that rehearsal concluded with a pack of other enthusiasts who played in both bands, and playing clarinet for the senior band til late evening. By 7th form, AYSB was my musical outlet and my social one as well. The friendships formed all those years ago endure today, in the way I described in my previous blog on the rehearsal band I still play with. We toured together several times, we played together every week, and we partied together every weekend. We came from all the corners of Auckland, and the band was our hub. It was, in many ways, our family.
Out of the AYSB came a fun trad. band that we formed and we would play small gigs and public performances around Auckland. This was my first foray into gigging, and it was fun for a teenager with an ever increasing passion for music.
Then out of that band came the Queen City Big Band – still an Auckland institution today. It was founded out of the playing roster of the AYSB in 1979, coming together after a band rehearsal to try out a few charts on the stage at Epsom Girls’, just to see how it felt. This band was pulled together by the passion and organisational skills of two of my oldest friends, Phil Hickman and Ross Sinclair. They saw the possibilities and had the imagination to take our collective musical journey to the next level, and for that I will always be grateful.
On Saturday at the reunion I re-connected with many people I had not seen for 30 odd years, and more importantly, I had the opportunity to talk to our former musical director, High Dixon (now 89) and thank him for the part he played in forming my musical self.
Under the courageous baton of the extraordinarily talented David Adlam, we also formed a combined band for one last blow through some of our favourite concert band tunes of days gone by.
The first piece I ever played with the band back as a shy 14 year old was the then immensely popular Hogan’s Heroes march. It was also the last piece I ever played with the massed band for past and current players at the reunion last weekend.