Composed by Steve Robson, the BEACH premiered in Ely Cathedral on 13 May during a wonderful musical evening of virtuoso singing and entertainment starring Waterbeach Brass Band in a joint concert with the London Welsh Male Voice Choir. The concert was held in aid of Ely Rotary Club’s chosen charity Arthur Rank Hospice.
Waterbeach Brass, whose home has been at Waterbeach Barracks for over three decades – first at the invitation of the Regiment of the Royal Engineers and now with the support of Urban& Civic.
Rebecca Britton, Director of Communities and Partnerships for UrbanCivic, said: “Waterbeach is a truly special place with a rich history that has been shaped by the people living and working here for centuries. This is reflected in the future vision for the development, which draws on this unique heritage and continues to be inspired by the stories shared by the community as well as through our ongoing research and archaeological investigations as part of transforming the former Barracks and Airfield.
“It was one of our heritage discussions that led to the commission of a new piece of music specifically to reflect the former Barracks and Airfield, to be played by Waterbeach Brass. We are thrilled the piece was premiered in Ely Cathedral so it could be heard in all its glory during this special fundraising night for Arthur Rank Hospice.”
Performance at Ely Cathedral
BEACH by Steve Robson
Commissioned by Urban&Civic for Waterbeach Brass
The composition uses a 5 note musical motif which spells out the word Beach: B flat, E, A ,C, H. Most of the themes or harmony in BEACH are derived from these notes, and the motif also links each of the sections of the story, acting like a musical time machine. A second rhythmic motif refers to the number 514, reflecting on 514 Squadron, one of the squadrons based at Waterbeach Barracks during the war years.
The story begins early one morning in the mid 15th Century at Denny Abbey. We imagine a group of pilgrims gathering outside the Abbey, listening to a “Plainchant” being sung within. The Pilgrims set off, walking along the Causeway to Waterbeach and singing the hymn “Stella Splendens”, written by Thomas Aquinas in 1399. The group break their journey at a well, and two musicians strike up a dance. More and more of the pilgrims join in the dance.
The BEACH motif interrupts the scene and transports us to the 1940s, and Waterbeach Barracks. The snare drum heralds the arrival of 514 Squadron. Fragments of a couple of well-known film tunes representing this era are heard, then a fanfare from cornets is answered by lower brass with a variation of the BEACH motif. Ascending runs and chromatic scales help us to reach for the sky.
The Waterbeach Barracks March tries to capture the positive feelings of young soldiers heading to war, with a central section capturing the nobility of serving one’s country. Then in marked contrast, the mood becomes more reflective as an off-stage cornet plays the bugle call that is played at the end of the day on military camps.
The BEACH motif is played quietly and plaintively by the Flugel Horn, leading to an “Elegy for all”, remembering the tragic losses on all sides of any conflict and keeping those who served at Waterbeach Barracks in our minds. We then hear a poignant verse of the hymn, “The Supreme Sacrifice”, written at the end of the first World War in 1919 by Charles Harris, which still plays a part in our remembrance services a century later. As the timpani plays the 514 Rhythm, the BEACH motif is passed as a lively bell effect through the band, transporting us to the near future.
We imagine Sunday in the Park, a walk around the lake at Waterbeach – for some a gentle stroll with their dog, for others an excited run. Echoes of the two earlier periods combine. The basses state the BEACH motif one more time as the echoes of the past build and lead to a final bright Major Chord, leaving us with a sense of optimism for the future of Waterbeach.
It was one of our heritage discussions that led to the commission of a new piece of music specifically to reflect the former Barracks and Airfield, to be played by Waterbeach Brass. We are thrilled the piece was premiered in Ely Cathedral so it could be heard in all its glory during this special fundraising night for Arthur Rank Hospice