Visit to Hadleigh Temple – 26 September 2015 – Rowland Little

Bram Chestney Memorial Concert at Hadleigh Temple

A large and appreciative audience welcomed the home corps Songster Brigade (Carl Carter) and the South London Fellowship Band (SLFB – Darrell Scholes) to Hadleigh Temple for a Memorial Concert celebrating the life of Bram Chestney. Bram served as the SLFB’s chaplain and solo euphonium and as Bandmaster and Songster Leader at Hadleigh with great distinction over a period of many years and the programme had regard to Bram’s service in all of these capacities.

Les Condon’s sparkling evergreen opener Celebration played in great style by SLFB set the scene for the feast of choral and brass music that was to follow. The Songsters featured pieces loved and conducted by Bram commencing with the bright up tempo Trevor Davis arrangement Where I love to be, followed by the contemplative contrast of George Marshall’s setting of Jesus Thou Joy. The Band switched  gear and mood immediately with James Wrights quirky  arrangement of five songs associated with young people, Fantasia for Children, with its harmonic and rhythmic surprises, assortment of percussion instruments, Eb bass funky obligato and big band trumpet call. A fine programme number, well played and well received by the congregation who were clearly remembering their yesteryears. Another upbeat number by the Songsters followed in Ivor Bosanko’s foot tapping arrangement Jesus saves me, again paired in contrast with RSA’s classic setting of the hymn by Isaac Watts, Remember Me.

The first of two tributes came from Robin Bryant who spoke of Bram and Ruth’s friendship when he moved to Hadleigh at the time when Bram was Bandmaster. Robin reminded us of Bram’s musicianship, tone, sensitivity and interpretative skills on the euphonium which he described as legendary. Robin noted that many had travelled long distances to be present, in particular Eiliv Herikstad.

Norman Bearcroft’s euphonium solo The Better World demands virtuoso playing and this is exactly what it got in the hands of Adrian Horwood. One of the highlights of the evening, Adrian displayed every art and facet of his instrument at the highest level. The Songsters responded with a marriage made in Heaven of truly great words (Albert Orsborn) and a magnificent setting (Norman Bearcroft), The well is deep, which as always made an emotional impact on those privileged to be listening. To complete the first half, SLFB gave a compelling account of what surely is one of Les Condon’s greatest compositions, Easter Glory. This is programme music in its truest sense, drawing heavily on Scripture in what the composer described as ‘the greatest message in the world’ to evoke the happenings on each of the three days of Easter. The Band was perhaps most at home in the first two highly contemplative movements whilst the faster tempi and rhythmic problems of the third movement, Day of Resurrection, posed challenges which were not always met. But these were small stitches on a large canvas. Graham Kinsley’s accompanying on-screen presentation greatly added to the understanding and appreciation of this and other items during the evening.

The second half commenced with the home corps Timbrels giving a lively presentation to the up-tempo march Goldcrest conducted by SLFB’s founder, Major George Whittingham. The Songsters then brought another item combining ‘old’ words (Fanny Crosby’s To God be the Glory) with the modern arrangement by Chris Mallet. This was followed in similar manner by Adoration, Tom Fettke’s arrangement of  words from the Psalms, ‘Worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness’.

The second tribute of the evening was given by Major George Whittingham, Bram’s Conductor for many years in the SLFB. George spoke of Bram’s contribution and his qualities to his leadership of the Band’s chaplaincy team and said Bram’s euphonium sound ‘was unique and the finest he had ever heard’, a truly remarkable accolade bearing in mind George’s experience and knowledge of the banding world at its highest levels going back over eight decades. George concluded by reminding us that Bram’s spirit is still alive. In keeping with George’s emotional tribute, Chris Carter played the euphonium solo much beloved by Bram, Eric Ball’s arrangement To a wild rose. As in Bram’s own portrayal of this music, his grandson displayed great sensitivity and sound in a performance that would have delighted Bram in every regard. Maintaining the atmosphere established by the two preceding items, SLFB presented Dean Goffin’s classic The Light of the World. Completely at home in this genre and with almost 2000 years of musical experience in the Band to draw on, SLFB’s interpretation was another highlight for many and perhaps the Band’s finest playing of the evening.

Major Noel Wright, a previous Commanding Officer at Hadleigh, presented the Scriptures and added his own thoughts and memories of Bram. Both humorous and thought provoking, Noel referred to Bram’s  loyalty to his Master, his influence, faithfulness, encouragement and his ‘partnership in the gospel’. Noel reminded us that ‘every contact leaves a trace’ and referred to ‘the gift of memory of Bram and his life’.

The Band and Songsters male voices combined to present another Orsborn/Bearcroft collaboration I know Thee who Thou art before the SLFB brought the evening to a conclusion with Martin Cordner’s march, Light-Bringer.

This was an evening of Tribute to one of God’s loyal servants. We pray that Ruth and the Family will have been truly blessed and rejoiced in Bram’s memory.

Rowland Little