Joining West Bergholt Concert Band as a twelve year old
clarinettist turned out to be a life-changing moment
certainly never expected to be with the band 36 years later,
or to end up conducting it for the last 28 years, 24 of them as sole conductor.
I joined the band, as did most people in those days, via
the band's founder, the late Sid Cooper. As one of Essex's
principle peripatetic music teachers, Sid taught & inspired
a whole generation of young musicians, including me, my
brother, my sister, my wife, and innumerable past &
present members of the band. When he died suddenly at the
start of 1990, the loss to the band & its members was
immeasurable, but we all felt we owed it to Sid to keep
the band running, and to keep it true to his vision.
As lead clarinettist & occasional conductor during Sid's
reign, my brother Jeff was the natural choice to take over
the band. He guided it through an emotional memorial concert
at the Westcliff Theatre in Clacton, and continued as principle
conductor for five years until the pressures of work meant
he had to step down, and I had to step up from deputy conductor
to take the baton full time.
My initial challenge as conductor was to step up the band's
recruitment activities to ensure we replaced those members
that had played under Sid & Jeff but were about to leave
for University. As well as running the band, I was also
teaching at the Music School where Sid taught me, so I took
a leaf out of his book and dragged all the youngsters I
was teaching along to the band
as well as some old
friends of mine.
Having revitalised the band's membership, we took on the
challenge of doubling the number of concerts we performed
annually, and using the band's skills to raise money for
charity. The last 10 years have been the band's busiest
& most successful ever, with concerts in some of the
best local venues, and at a performance level that enthralls
audiences. We're continuing to raise literally thousands
of pounds for charities each year, and an ex-member who
heard the band at a recent concert commented "I've
never heard the band sound so good".
Writing this article has involved reminiscing on both the
happy & sad times I've had with the band, but it's also
made me realise how far the band has come, and what an exciting
future it has. The depth of enjoyment & energy within
the band makes it truly unique, and an honor to conduct.