Alan’s still hitting a high note

In a hall full of musicians a man sits unassumingly to the right, patiently waiting for the band master’s cue, his fingers shadowing the valves on his tuba.
Then the music starts.
The man is Alan Chatfield, he is 79 and has been playing with this band, the Cardinia Civic Concert Band, since it began in 1951.
The band has gone through many changes in its 59-year history; Alan remains the constant.
Alan was playing in a small band mostly playing sacred music, when the band master of that band joined the Pakenham Brass Band taking Alan and some of the other members along.
Then in the 1970s the brass band became the Pakenham Concert Band when woodwind instruments were added.
“It was pretty limited when it was only the brass when there were other musicians around,” Alan said.
Times have change for the concert band, they now have a permanent home in the Army Road Hall given to them by the Cardinia Shire Council, after years of borrowed locations – from school rooms to the racecourse – and they changed their name to the Cardinia Civic Concert Band.
Alan, a life-member and once the youngest member of the band, now plays with musicians 70 years his junior, and is that last of the original brass band to still be playing.
Though as the senior member of the band Alan still prefers not to teach music.
“I used to teach a few kids, years and years ago, but I can’t teach much. I’m still learning,” Alan said.
Having such a diverse range of ages can play havoc with members’ attendance at performances, ranging between 18 to 40 musicians.
“We have a pretty fair turn over, with the kids they come in and learn how to play and stop with the band for a while, well they go to university and leave the district … but we have a lot of fun really, it’s a good thing to be in music,” he said.
Music has always been the driving force in Alan’s life.
Alan came from a musical background, as a child his passion came from his mother who had always been quite musical and the family had a piano in the house.
Alan started small learning a few chords on the family piano when he was 14. By 16 he was playing in small brass bands, and then with brother Ian launched Chatfield’s Dance Band.
The band started from humble beginnings in 1948.
They played socials, broadcast balls, weddings, dances and then Saturday night dances at the Pakenham Hall.
“We played at the Pakenham Hall for years and years, the band averaged two nights a week for 50-odd years,”
The band also provided the platform for Alan to meet his wife.
After coming back from an around-the-world trip, Alan discovered the band had a new singer, Heather Livingston.
“I came back and she was singing with the band.”
It was instant love, though Heather might disagree.
“The band used to pick on me, one night I had enough and sat in the car and refused to go inside for the performance, until it got so cold I had to go in,” Heather Chatfield said, smiling at the memory.
“We didn’t really mean it,” Alan said.
Though they have an 11-year age gap, Alan being the elder, their marriage has remained strong and they have four children, one son and three daughters.
Though none of them continued their parents’ passion for music, their son Robert did play when he was younger.
For Alan music has always been his passion, that could easily have been a career.
He did not always intend to be a dairy farmer but when his father and grandfather died in 1943 he left school, dropped plans and started working the family farm.
He retired from the farm in 2000, and though he and Heather still live on the farm, they have since sold the surrounding land.
As age sets in Alan’s days with the concert band and playing music are drawing to a close.
Retirement will mark the end of an era for both the concert band and for Alan himself.
“I’m getting a bit past it now, the more I play now the worse I get, I used to hold up the rhythm section once but not any more, it is just old age. The muscles in your lips go, and the wind, instead of being able to blow eight bars like I used to I’d be lucky to do two.
“I’m hanging on to the band by the skin of my teeth,” Alan said.
Alan now plans to pursue his other passion, travel. He has seen most of the world in his lifetime, and now wants to see the rest of it.
The top of his list, New Zealand and the Polynesian Islands.
Though music will always be Alan’s greatest passion.
“I couldn’t imagine my life without out music.”