A Mumping – to remember!
Carol playing for the Royal Family
22nd December 2007

Band finishes carols with a royal flourish
Eastern Daily Press, Thursday, December 27, 2007, p30
Sandringham date for East Anglia's oldest brass band
Great Yarmouth Mercury, Friday, December 28, 2007, p16
Mumping For Her Majesty
4 Bars Rest online news 29th December 2007
Night To Cherish Playing For The Queen
North Norfolk News, Thursday January 3rd 2008, pp 1 & 26
North Norfolk News 24, 2nd January 2008
Mumping Christmas for the Royal Family
North Norfolk Advertiser, Wednesday January 4th 2008, p8
British Bandsman No. 5490, 5th January 2008, p10
Royal Brass
Town & Country News, February 2008 

Over 130 years ago, the owner of Stalham Hall in Norfolk decided to form a brass band to keep his farm labourers occupied during the dark winter days. Today the Stalham Brass Band is still in existence as the oldest band in East Anglia.
During December the band carried out its yearly festive campaign of mumping, raising funds for the band and local charities.
Many bands go out carol playing, but Stalham has always gone mumping. The term’s origin seemed to have been lost in the past but it is now known that December 21st, St. Thomas’s Day, was also known as Mumping Day. Traditionally, the poor went begging to the homes of wealthy landowners, probably singing to increase their appeal and in Norwich, the Christmas Waits singing door-to-door, were known as Mumpers.

As Stalham Band’s mumping came to an end a couple of days before Christmas, the last household to be visited was something rather special. The band had been invited by Her Majesty The Queen, to play carols to the Royal Family at Sandringham House in West Norfolk. 

In the 2000 New Year Honours, Gerald Thirst - Stalham Band's Director of Music for 50 years - was awarded the MBE for services to brass bands, and in 2004 the Band was awarded the Queens Golden Jubilee Award for service to the community. Since then Buckingham Palace has kept in touch with the Band and taken a regular interest in its activities.

The invitation to play at Sandringham, arrived unexpectedly during the summer and once a date was confirmed, preparations began in earnest in the Autumn. 'Even when The Queen is officially on holiday' said Tim Thirst, Stalham's Director of Music, "her diary is still very full with engagements, and everything has to run exactly to schedule." During the intervening weeks, players made arrangements to change work arrangements, music was specially arranged for the occasion by Tim, and of course there was the security vetting to be gone through. On the day before the engagement, Tim and son Robert travelled to Sandringham to go through last minute details and timings with the Queen's Equerry. All the music had been timed to the second to fit exactly into the schedule. 

The Saturday started early at 6.30am with the Band's performance trailer bedecked with festive decorations, being prepared for its usual stint at the Stalham Tesco store. Mumping began at 9am and carried on through till 1pm. A notice thanked customers for their support and explained why the band would be leaving early.

Mumping outside Stalham's Tesco store

Just time to tow the trailer back to its garage, have a quick snack and to change into dress uniforms. At 2.45 the coach left Stalham and two hours later the band arrived at the Queen’s Norfolk residence at Sandringham House, West Norfolk. Once through the stringent security checks and the band was escorted into its rehearsal room. The journey had run to schedule so there was still an 1 hour left before the performance. Instruments were given a last polish, uniforms brushed, and a few quick rehearsals run through. As the clock ticked nearer to the allotted time there was a feeling of excitement mixed with intense trepidation. Even at this late stage it was still not certain that band members would actually see or meet any of The Royal Family. 

Last minute checks

The time to move off arrived and although the weather had deteriorated the band still decided to play outside the main front entrance - rather than in the dry of a reception room - to retain the traditional atmosphere. The Band had, exceptionally, been given permission by Her Majesty to bring along a photographer, and arrangements were in place for the Press Office at Buckingham Palace to approve the release of any photographs on the Sunday. 
Shimmering through the darkness and rain, Sandringham House looked ethereally magnificent, as the band approached it down the main driveway. Staff members from the Royal Household had huddled together by one of the side doors to listen to the performance. As to the Queen's favourite Christmas Carols? Well it would probably be dull to listen to the same ones always! Traditional Christmas music with a joyous lively rhythm was the order of the day and some of the special arrangements by Tim Thirst were based on Carols probably unheard for over 50 years. 
Her Majesty and Prince Philip with their guests were inside the salon immediately inside the front entrance to listen to the music, and once the doors were opened the Band struck up. The Band had been told that after the first 20 minute session the Royal Family might come out to meet them, but within seconds of the start, players became aware that The Queen and Prince Philip had come out to stand with the band while it played.

The Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and guests come out to join the band at the start of their performance.

Although it was raining, some shelter was provided by the archway and playing on a clay pamment floor meant the acoustics were excellent. The players rose to the occasion and presented a flawless performance. The music resonated around the buildings and staff on different parts of the estate later said how they were also able to enjoy the performance. 

 A seasonal view of Sandringham House with the band entertaining The Royal Family

During the interval, Her Majesty and Prince Philip chatted with members of the band for about 20 minutes - much longer than the schedule had allowed - about rehearsals, the time commitment that players gave and music training for young people. Her Majesty was concerned as to how cold the players’ fingers had got during playing. Both the guests and Royal Family complimented the players on their smart uniform turnout and excellent performance. The welcome received by the Band was relaxed and very warm.

Tim Thirst chats with HM The Queen and Prince Philip about the lack of music training for young people nowadays.

HRH Duke of Edinburgh chats with band members

Prince Philip chats with John Wellings, who - as foundation head teacher of Stalham Middle School in 1977 - set up 
a successful brass music training scheme for pupils in conjunction with Stalham Brass Band.

HM The Queen is introduced to band members by Director of Music, Tim Thirst

Beryl Banester shakes hands with The Queen. Like many music professionals who started out with Stalham Brass 
Band, Beryl joined when 11 years old. She is currently Head of a school's music department. Looking on are 
Robert and Tricia Thirst.

A technical discussion on brass playing with Tim Thirst

With a rousing rendition of ‘Hail Smiling Morn’ to end the second part of the performance, Prince Philip suggested that everyone come together for a group photograph in the front entrance, something that had never been envisaged by Band members! 

After exchanging more Christmas Greetings it was off to join guests in the house for traditional refreshments. 

Welcome refreshments with guests

Time to leave and reflect on an exceptional day

All in all, a somewhat dreamlike experience and without a doubt, a mumping to remember! 
In a letter sent from Her Majesty the next day, she thanked the Band for providing an "excellent start to Christmas in Norfolk" and added that everyone was "impressed by the Band's enthusiasm and dedication".
With the help of Buckingham Palace, the story appeared in publications around the world over Christmas. Letters, phone calls and emails soon flooded in with congratulations to the band.
From one band, the message:

"Thank you for continuing to be a shining example of all that's best in a British Brass Band" 

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