Over the Easter weekend 2012, the Warsash Band was delighted to welcome the musicians of L'Harmonie du Conservatoire de Vannes.
'Harmonie' is the evocative French word for a wind ensemble or band and, similar to the Warsash Band, theirs is a community band with a mix of adults and older students.
The party arrived early on Easter Saturday morning having travelled on the overnight ferry and were soon paired up with the families who had so kindly offered to host one or more guests. Some hosts were not even closely associated with the band but willingly welcomed the visitors into their homes nonetheless and I should like to say a huge thank you to each and every one of the 20 hosts; without you the visit would simply not have been possible.
Of course the twin purposes of a visit like this are music and friendship so we launched straight into rehearsals on Saturday afternoon. With a total of some 80 or so British and French musicians available, what better than to put both bands together for some combined music making? We all learned a lot from listening to each other and adjusting our playing style to produce one harmonious whole.
On the social sides, we had a lot of fun when we went ten-pin bowling on Saturday evening; it was fascinating to watch normally placid individuals become highly competitive when faced with the challenge of skittling over those ten pins! But whatever the level of one's personal incompetence, everyone had a thoroughly good time.
We aimed for a relaxed start to Easter Sunday morning taking the ferry over to Hamble for a gentle wander round. After lunch Alan Webber kindly showed some of us round his extraordinary collection of vintage bicycles, motor bikes and cars before it was time for a final rehearsal of the evening concert. Because the Victory Hall was not open over this holiday weekend, we were most grateful to be able to use the Sarisbury Green Community Centre. Tucked away behind the green, the Centre has a good-sized hall and a number of other rooms which proved ideal. We were honoured that the concert was graced by the presence of His Worshipful the Mayor of Fareham, Cllr Trevor Cartwright, who gave the formal speech of welcome and the Mayoress, Mrs Ruth Cartwright.
The hall was packed but no one was turned away and the warmth of the audience's response delighted the French musicians who responded with some fine playing. Their programme included the Concerto d'Aranjuez by Rodrigo, music by Rimsky Korsakov and Grieg and two obvious crowd pleasers: Pirates of the Caribbean and Batman. A special festival band from the Warsash Band rose to the challenge and played with panache in a programme that included Shenandoah, Music from Cats and a Tribute to Ray Charles. But the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the combined bands of 80 musicians performing two pieces under the batons of the two conductors: Benjamin Arnoux (Vannes) and Jon Audain (Warsash). The sound was thrilling with an almost physical impact and everyone agreed that it had been a very special occasion. The musicians and hosts relaxed afterwards over a traditional fish and chip supper.
It had been a short but very happy visit and we said our fond farewells to the visitors on Monday morning. Before returning to France, the party visited Windsor on Monday and several of us went along too. The weather over the weekend had fortunately been better than the dismal forecasts and, although damp on Monday, the rain was much lighter than expected and the party had an interesting day exploring Windsor, Eton and the Thames before travelling back to catch the evening ferry.
But that was not the end of it. By Monday evening the weather had well and truly turned and, as we later heard, the trip to St. Malo was grim indeed with many of the party turning various shades of green, poor souls; what a miserable end to a joyous weekend of camaraderie and music making! The Warsash Band has been invited for a return visit to Vannes in 2013 and we will start planning this soon.
But none of this would have been possible without the generosity of the FVTA who kindly supported the visit. The Warsash Band and its members are truly grateful to the Association for their financial assistance. We look forward to continuing to deepen and strengthen our links with Vannes and wish that all nations shared a similar friendship through the universal language of music: wouldn't that make the world a better place? So thank you, FVTA, for your generous support, which is greatly appreciated.