It Rained On Our Parade

BBB-Bandstand1Last summer, as you may recall, I wrote about travelling with the Concert Band of Cobourg to Plattsburgh New York to take in some of the celebrations around the annual joint Canada-U.S. celebration of the Battle of Plattsburgh, which ended the War of 1812. For many years The Concert Band of Cobourg has been the featured band in these celebrations: in their role as The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Association, this band has royal permission to wear the uniform of the Royal Marines on parade and in concert.

Many years ago I had the privilege of serving, on exchange duty for some months, aboard a large ship in the Royal Navy. Since our ship was the admiral’s flagship in a squadron of ships, we had a band of the Royal Marines as part of our crew. It was during that time that I developed a strong affinity for the appearance and musicality of Royal Marine bands and their ceremonies. So it is a special pleasure for me to see and hear this Cobourg band emulate those characteristics.

While attending the festivities last year, it was suggested that we must not miss this year’s events. Since that battle ended in 1814, the 2014 events were to be the most extensive ever, commemorating its two hundredth anniversary. We committed ourselves to attend and made our reservations early to ensure accommodation at the same hotel as the Cobourg band and their friends. In short we became groupies for the weekend.

As promised, this was a much bigger celebration with more events, a longer parade with more floats, more bands and more battle re-enactments. Unfortunately, there also were far more umbrellas. Whether or not there was rain during that battle 200 years ago, I can’t recall, but we certainly had our share. Most of the participants in their elaborate period costumes were soggy to say the least, despite the occasional surrender to modern technology, as in the case of a beautifully outfitted fife and drum band with their drums neatly protected in the latest plastic drum covers.

Fortunately there was sufficient time between the end of the parade and the concert for the Cobourg Band members to dry their uniforms and appear on stage looking resplendent as usual. As might be expected, this concert had a theme emphasizing the strong bond now existing between the descendants of that conflict 200 years ago.

Numerology: The Oxford English Dictionary defines numerology as the “study of supposed occult significance of numbers.” Looking at the numbers evoked by the Plattsburgh event, one might be excused for thinking there might have numerological mischief at work. The battle being commemorated ended in 1814. World War One started in 1914, and we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of its end in 2014. Then there are 9 and 11. It was on the morning of September 11, 1814 when opposing troops battled at Plattsburgh, with opposing ships in battle on Lake Champlain. Here we were, 200 years later, on September 11, gathered to celebrate two centuries of peace and harmonious relations. At the same time, we were reminded that on that date only 13 years ago the World Trade towers and other targets were struck with far more casualties than the Battle of Plattsburgh.

CBA Community Band Weekend: Another CBA Community Band Weekend is imminent. This year it will be held in Newmarket October 3, 4 and 5, and will be hosted by none other than the Newmarket Citizens’ Band. Why participate? As the CBA promotional material states: a) to perform in a massed band setting, learn new repertoire and work with inspiring conductors; b) to perform at the Newmarket Theatre in Newmarket, Ontario; c) to meet many wonderful musicians who share the same passion for band music as you do. NCB artistic director Joseph Resendes is well known as director of three community concert bands in the GTA. Conducting duties will be shared with no fewer than seven other conductors.

While many have already registered, if you still wish to attend, it’s not too late. Online registration is still possible at
cba-ontario.ca (follow the links). In the worst case, you could register at the door on Saturday, but there might not still be parts available for all of the music.

On the Friday evening at 7:30pm there will be a Meet and Greet reception at one of the town’s favourite meeting places: The Lion and Firkin at the corner of Leslie and Gorham in Newmarket. All day Saturday there will be rehearsals at the Newmarket Theatre, 505 Pickering Cres. On Saturday evening there will be an optional formal dinner for those who wish to attend at 8pm. The final concert will be at 2pm Sunday afternoon in the Newmarket Theatre.

New Horizons: Regular readers of this column know my thoughts about the importance of lifelong musical involvement. By the time you read this, there will have been another New Horizons Instrument Exploration Workshop on Bloor St. W. in downtown Toronto, with over 20 members signed up for the new beginners’ band. The first class for the new beginners’ group will take place on Wednesday, October 8 at Long and McQuade, 935 Bloor St. W. in Toronto. In addition to this new beginners’ group, the Bloor New Horizons organization will now have the previous five concert bands plus the jazz band. Total membership of these groups is now estimated to be close to 180.

New Horizons Periodically, when their regular rehearsal space is unavailable, the Downtown Toronto New Horizons bands rehearse at the nearby Salvation Army Temple. As a token of appreciation, artistic director Dan Kapp will take the groups back for a special remembrance concert. Saturday, November 1 at 7:30 will be “A Night to Remember” at 789 Dovercourt Road in Toronto.

The Toronto Concert BandLast month I noted that the new Toronto Concert Band was scheduled to begin rehearsals for the fall. I am pleased to report that the band is now rehearsing regularly every Tuesday evening; they had over 20 members with all major sections covered. However, they are a bit short of trombones. If that is your instrument and you live in Toronto’s west end, they would love to hear from you. Check their website, torontoconcertband.com.

An instrument orphanage

In recent months I have been contacted by two different organizations that have band instruments, surplus to their requirements, and are looking for homes for them. These aren’t necessarily top of the line instruments, but are still in good playing condition. Their owners are either looking for a nominal sum or simply want to find homes where the instruments will be played and appreciated.

During a discussion with publisher David Perlman the idea arose for an “instrument orphanage” or some other way of linking those needing instruments with those who have instruments to offer. If you have any ideas for such an enterprise (or know of people already doing this facilitating work), please contact us.

More on music and aging from Baycrest

You may recollect that I have written in this column from time to time about participating in ground-breaking studies at The Baycrest Centre. For the most part, the experiments in which I have been involved have focussed on cognitive function and aging, in particular on differences in cognitive function between subjects active in music and those with little or no musical experience. These have all indicated significantly better cognitive function amongst older people who are musically active.

It was no surprise to me, therefore, to receive an update on one component of their research which indicates much broader benefits at all stages of life for musically active individuals.  The update came from Stefanie Hutka who is a Ph.D. Student in the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest. In addition to her work in this field, Ms. Hutka is an accomplished violinist with an ARCT. Rather than paraphrase the text of her message it is worth repeating verbatim here:

“Everyone can benefit from music training. A wealth of empirical, neuroscientific evidence supports the positive influence of music training on numerous non-musical brain functions, such as language, reading, and attention. Such benefits are seen in children and continue across the lifespan into older adulthood. Despite this evidence, music education is still often seen as a supplemental and expensive subject in schools, and often is the target of budget cuts. Increasing awareness of the real-world benefits associated with learning music, as well as making music training more accessible, are critical steps towards supporting the inclusion of this important subject in curricula.

“Our NeuroEducation Across the Lifespan laboratory is directly targeting an increase in awareness and accessibility of music training. On the awareness side, we are heavily involved in public outreach such as the Brain Power conference, which presents accessible information about neuroscience findings on music to scientists, educators and parents. On the accessibility side, we have studies supporting the benefits of music, including via short-term training on software ... In one 2011 study, school-aged children used music training software called Smarter Kids, developed by our Lead Scientist, Dr. Sylvain Moreno. After only 20 days of training, improvements on measures of verbal intelligence were observed. We are currently extending this theme of accessibility, creating software using music to train the aging brain, with very positive preliminary data.”

As I said, it’s no surprise! We’ll keep you updated.

Definition department: This month’s lesser-known musical term is espressivo: Used to indicate permission to take a coffee break. We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.

Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at bandstand@thewholenote.com.


Well Tattooed!

 

Here we are; it’s September, summer is either almost over or hasn’t started, depending on who you talk to. Summer and music mean different things to different community band members. Some bands close down for summer, some are busier than ever with various outdoor performances, and some, like the Uxbridge Community Concert Band, are summertime-only bands. As for band members, many are away on vacations or at cottages, but a few get more deeply involved with music by attending music camps or summer music schools. The latter is what happened in our household. We had been involved in the administration of music camps some years ago, but going to school was different. This year we decided to enroll as participants in a music summer school.

bbb - bandstandNAbbSS: If you have not previously heard of the North American Brass Band Summer School, that’s because it had never happened before. While the all-brass band movement has its devotees in Canada and the U.S.A., the devotion to that musical genre has nowhere the following in North America that it has in Britain and in parts of Western Europe. Several leading figures in the brass band movement decided that it was time to start a summer school of brass band music somewhere in North America, at least on a trial basis. So, what better time and place than Halifax during the 35th anniversary year of the world’s largest indoor music event?

Thus was born the North American Brass Band Summer School (NAbbSS), established in association with the Buffet Group of British and European instrument manufacturers and with the Royal Nova Scotia Tattoo Society. Based on well-established and successful models in the United Kingdom, one very special additional element was added, described in the initial publicity thus: “In addition to receiving expert tuition from a team of Buffet soloists, led by the renowned Dr. Robert Childs, participants [will] also feature in the cast of the world’s largest annual indoor show, the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, performing to over 60,000 people alongside artists of the highest calibre from a variety of different nations.”

(An aside: when speaking with friends and acquaintances ahead of the event, I was shocked by the reactions of many. The vast majority thought that I was talking about going all the way to Halifax to have some form of visual “art” inscribed on my body. When I loftily suggested that they consult Mr. Google regarding “musical tattoos,” I was even more dismayed to only find dozens of websites describing body tattoos showing musical symbols. There was nothing to describe this type of event. So, for your information: Canada’s Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo is the largest annual indoor tattoo, each year featuring over 2000 performers from around the world. It is unique in that it is a full theatrical production, comprising costume designers, props designers, full wardrobe staff, and is presented as theatre-in-the-round. The show is intensely rehearsed over a two-week period and is a wholly combined military and civilian production. The Nova Scotia Tattoo was the first tattoo to receive royal designation on the occasion of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 80th Birthday in 2006.)

Two to tattoo? After some serious deliberation in our house, the decision was made to apply. Needless to say, there was some trepidation. I hadn’t played in an all-brass band in almost 30 years. As for Joan, her major instrument, the flute, has no place in a brass band. As an instrumental music teacher, she had taught all of the brass instruments, but a good solid working embouchure might be another matter. Her instrument choice soon narrowed down to either a baritone horn or an E flat horn (variously called an alto horn or tenor horn). After a few warm-up tests, the E flat horn was selected as the best choice to develop a suitable embouchure with minimum discomfort. That decided, off went our registrations along with the measurements for our uniform jackets. Yes, uniform – we were going be performers in the great tattoo.

With a tuba and a bass trombone included in our instrument inventory, flying to Halifax was not an option. Since I have a cousin living in Northern Vermont, we travelled through the northern U.S. states, and if it hadn’t been for heavy rainstorms and major highway construction, it would have been a pleasant picturesque trip. Arrangements were in place for all participants in the summer school to stay together in the modern student residence at Saint Mary’s University, a far cry from the two- or three-story residences that I lived in as a student. This was a modern 20-storey building with tidy Spartan rooms and a fine all-you-can-eat per meal cafeteria. Our check-in went like clockwork and we were soon mingling with others arriving from all over North America for the first of its kind, in Canada, brass band summer school.

The following day our bus took us from the residence to the Halifax Metro Centre, a large modern hockey arena. There, we learned of our schedule for the rehearsals, classes, concerts and ten days of the tattoo. Except for sleeping and playing in a couple of outdoor concerts, our rehearsal room in the Metro Centre was to be our home for the rest of our stay. From our location about two-thirds of the way between the waterfront and the top of Citadel Hill, any excursions out of the centre meant walking up or down the very steep hill.

Mornings began with rehearsals of two groups of music. First there was the music, all on small march-sized cards, which we would play in our carefully crafted segments of the tattoo. Then there was a collection of challenging brass band works, new to most of us, which we would be performing in our outdoor concerts. These included a number of solo works to be performed by our guest clinicians, a veritable who’s who of the brass band world, under the direction of Dr. Robert Childs (formerly principal euphonium and bandmaster with the Black Dyke Band). I cannot possibly do justice to the staff by trying to compress the information on their qualifications within space limitations here. Fortunately, detailed information on all of them may be found on the website nabbss.com.

The school part of our sojourn was quite straightforward: expert instruction, well-organized rehearsals and satisfying concerts. The real challenge for all of us participants was the integration of our contribution into the tattoo. The overall tattoo show consisted of many acts on the main floor of the arena augmented by musical contributions on the main floor and in a number of higher positions surrounding.

In the almost total darkness between scenes, we had to position ourselves for each of our different playing segments, climbing up the various parts of the sets and positioning ourselves in the dark, then, when the lights came up, rapidly shifting focus back and forth between a conductor a couple of hundred feet away and the music on an instrument lyre six inches away.

Our days all started at 7am. After breakfast in the residence, our bus took us to the Metro Centre at 8:30am, then brought us back to the residence shortly after 11pm. So fair warning, if you might be considering enrolling for the 2015 school; it is not for the faint of heart. Exhausting, but fulfilling.

As for the participants, it was an amazing cross-section. Just about 50/50 men and women, they ranged from students, to retired professors, lawyers, accountants and just about any occupation you care to mention. Canadians came from Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta. The U.S. was represented by people from Washington, California, Texas, Kansas, South Carolina, New Jersey, Michigan, Massachusetts and others. There certainly weren’t any beginners on their instruments. In fact, many of them were top flight performers.

The day after the final performance, as we were all saying our good-byes to our new friends, one somewhat large gentleman was asked if he would come back with his tuba next year. His reply: “Yes, I would, but I would want to lose about 100 pounds.” This year was a first time trial for this summer school. The organizers had to ask the question: was the idea of a music school in conjunction with a tattoo a good one? Like any new venture it had teething problems, but overall it was excellent. It will be back, and they are already accepting registrations. If interested visit their website.

Something New: It isn’t often that we get the opportunity to report on something very unusual in a community band concert. That happened just days ago in the season’s final concert of the summertime-only Uxbridge Community Concert Band. The concert featured the premiere of a work for veena and concert band. The work, Arria, written by conductor Steffan Brunette and played by Ryerson University student Arrabi Gugathasan, layers the plucking sounds of the veena onto the subtle chords of the concert band. The title is a bit of a play on words with the musical term aria and the name of the performer. This particular instrument, a Saraswati veena, is one of several variations of the veena, a traditional Indian member of the lute family.

CBA Community Band Weekend

Each year, in early October, the Canadian Band Association (Ontario) holds its annual Community Band Weekend, where community band members from across the province get together to share ideas and make music. This year the weekend will be hosted by the Newmarket Citizens Band on October 3, 4 and 5. The final day will feature an evening concert by the “massed” band, directed by a number of top-rated conductors. For details and to register visit the website: cba-ontario.ca.

A New Band

Earlier this year I mentioned the possibility of a new start-up band for the west end of Toronto. We now have more details on the new Toronto Concert Band. Over the summer, members have been signing up, and with all sections covered, rehearsals will begin Tuesday September 9, 7:00 pm in the strings room at John G. Althouse Middle School, 130 Lloyd Manor Road, Etobicoke (near Kipling and Eglinton). Carolyn McGee informs me that more new members will be welcome. For information visit their website,
torontoconcertband.com.

Hannaford Youth Bands

The Hannaford Youth Bands have announced that their auditions will take place Saturday, September 13. For youths between the ages of 10 and 24, these bands provide excellent opportunities to develop musical skills in the brass band world. Visit their website at hannafordyouth.ca.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is con sordino: An indication to string players to bow in a slashing, rapier motion.We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.

Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at bandstand@thewholenote.com.

 

Band Forays, Past & Ahead

1909 BandStandAs most readers will have observed by now, summer has finally arrived. I’m torn between duty and the desire for pleasure. The editor tells me that my deadline was yesterday, but my brain tells me that the vista of a cloudless sky has more appeal than the computer screen in front of me. However, it is time to reflect on a few of the musical happenings of the past month. For many in the band world it has been spring concert season, time to display to their audiences the fruits of their musical labours over the past dreary months. This year, for me it has been more as an audience member than as a band member.

The first of my visiting forays took me to Oshawa and a concert by the Clarington Concert Band and their guests, the County Town Singers. After an absence of a few years, this band is once again in the capable hands of Mr. Barrie Hodgins as director. The feature of the evening was a performance of a work composed and conducted by renowned Canadian composer Howard Cable. As an introduction to this work, Howard explained to the audience how he came to write it. During a visit to Alberta, he had been challenged by a rancher about many of his works with an “Eastern Canada” theme. Too much about Quebec, Newfoundland and other aspects of the East. Where were his compositions about the ranches and other features of the West? The result was McIntyre Ranch Country. For our pleasure it was conducted by the composer himself. As for other Canadian content, the band played an excellent arrangement by Eddie Graf of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, and the County Town Singers gave us Lydia Adams’ arrangement of We Rise Again.

 My next outing couldn’t have been more different. After a visit to a rehearsal of The East York Concert Band, I attended their Spring concert. What a contrast to any other band concert that I have ever attended. The concert was in the large, beautifully appointed hall of Saint Clement of Ohrid Macedonian Orthodox Cathedral in Toronto. When we arrived there were already a large number of people seated at tables at the rear of the hall enjoying food and drink prior to the concert. We sat near the front in a section without tables. Apparently, as part of the cooperation between the band and the cathedral, the ladies’ auxiliary of the cathedral do the catering for a broad spectrum of delicacies for the audience to enjoy with the music. In case you were wondering, there was a wide selection of drinks available with the food. Yes, beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages were being served and consumed in a church on Sunday. It certainly did not detract in any way from the imaginative program, titled “Once Upon a Tune.”

The atmosphere of the evening reminded me very much of cabaret-style concerts offered many years ago by the York Regional Symphony under the direction of the late Clifford Poole. These, billed as “Wine and Cheese Concerts,” were performed in several small communities throughout the York Region. Admission for a couple included a bottle of wine. There were cheese and crackers on each table. At each large round table, two seats were to be left vacant. There were a number of intermissions where orchestra members would go into the audience and occupy these empty chairs. The inevitable “what instrument do you play” was frequently followed by such comments as “what does it look like.” After each intermission these audience members would locate the instruments in the orchestra, and be more aware of the role each played. It was a great way to get the audience and players involved.

New Horizons: During the past month I had the opportunity to learn more of New Horizons’ activities in this part of the country. First it was off to Peterborough to experience a day in their lives. What a day, even as an observer without playing a note, it was almost non-stop. In the morning there were two large distinct bands preparing for concerts in two parts of the building. After an hour lunch break it was back observing two different, more senior, groups in rehearsal. Every once in a while, someone would get up from a seat in the band and move to the other room, pick up a baton and conduct that other band. All of this was in preparation for their final concert on May 30.

My hat, which I rarely wear, must go off to Dan Kapp of the Toronto group for his energy and commitment. From that beginning single small group, he has guided the organization, taught and conducted to the present situation with 160 members in seven band classes. He is looking forward to the next group of prospective members with this year’s “Instrument Exploration Workshop” scheduled for the evening of Friday, September 12.

One of the most impressive aspects of both of these New Horizons groups that I visited was the open door inclusion of many who would never ordinarily have the opportunity to play music in a group. Canes, walkers and wheelchairs are a common sight. Two people in particular are worthy of special mention. Randal Pilson of the Toronto band and Devon Wilkins in Peterborough are totally blind. Of all of the instruments that he might have chosen, Randal plays the bass trombone, while Devon plays flute. In Devon’s case, her guide dog, Vestor, lies quietly by her side throughout the performance. Devon also serves on the board of the band. When you see that in a musical group, you know that there is complete inclusion and acceptance. 

Just down the road: Then there is the NABBSS. The North American Brass Band Summer School is a new venture jointly supported by the Royal Nova Scotia Tattoo Society and the Buffet Group. The summer school is based on well-established models in Britain. Participants will receive tuition from a team of Buffet soloists on the traditional British all-brass band style, and will explore some of the newest brass band repertoire in a series of workshops and rehearsals. Although participants will not be doing any marching, they will be dressed in uniform and perform on the tattoo stage together with the massed bands. For those not familiar with it, the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo has been an annual event in Halifax for 35 years and is billed as the “World’s Largest Annual Indoor Show.”

The camp will be under the direction of noted conductor Dr. Robert Childs, supported by a group of clinicians on all of the instruments of a traditional brass band. Among the instructors will be euphonium soloist David Childs, son of Dr. Childs, who was the featured soloist with the Hannaford Street Silver band a couple of years ago. It all takes place in Halifax from June 28 to July 8. Our household is already signed up and plans are well developed to get ourselves and our instruments ready for what promises to be an interesting new approach to our music making.

Looking ahead: Toronto is to have a new community band. To be located in the west end of the city, the Toronto Concert Band will rehearse Tuesday evenings in John G. Althouse Middle School, starting in September. With its tag line, “We Love to Play,” the Toronto Concert Band’s stated mission is “to create a positive and supportive environment in which to cultivate musicianship.” In short, TCB promises an enriched musical experience for its members. Everyone is welcome to join, including amateur community players, post-secondary students and professionals who want to play in the community. The founding conductors are Ken Hazlett and Les Dobbin, both with long careers in music education. For more information visit their website:
torontoconcertband.com.

Steve Fuller: It is with sadness and a sense of loss that we announce the passing of Steve Fuller, another longtime member of the band community in Toronto. A retired high school biology teacher, Steve’s life was focused around music. After open heart surgery some years ago, he worked hard at recovery and began active playing again. Then, about a year ago, he was back in hospital for some weeks. Shortly after his release, I was speaking with him and he was back playing and talking about reactivating his beloved saxophone quartet. I hadn’t heard from him for a while and was going to call when I received the news of his passing.

Definition Department

 This month’s lesser known musical term is: col legno: An indication to cellists to hold on tight with their lower extremities. We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.

Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at bandstand@thewholenote.com.

What Do You Call Two Didgeridoos?

1908-BandstandFor the past two issues I have speculated on just when spring might arrive. It is now mid-April and, at time of writing, there is lots of that white stuff on the ground once again, so rather than jinxing things once again, let’s just say my seasonal optimism is being fuelled by the information arriving from readers. One such announcement is the annual rebirth of the Uxbridge Community Concert Band for its 23rd season. Unlike most town bands, this group only gets together every summer starting in late May  and ceases operation after their final summer concert in late August. That was not always the way in the town of Uxbridge, as I shall explain.

Today Uxbridge is noted for its broad spectrum of arts activities. From such events as Art in the Park, the Celebration of the Arts and concerts by three choirs to a constant stream of productions of plays and musicals in the town’s 100-plus-year-old music hall, there is no shortage of arts activities. For many years the town had a well-organized town band, but that disappeared. I am deeply indebted to Mr. Walter Taylor, former Town Clerk of Uxbridge for supplying the photograph here. Taken in 1925, it shows the Uxbridge Citizens Band in uniform on the steps of one of the local churches. It is particularly interesting because it shows a band in the very era when there was a gradual transition of many town bands from all brass band to concert band.

In the early part of the 19th century throughout Britain and much of Western Europe, brass bands began to be formed. While many of these were town bands, many were sponsored by employers as a form of recreation for employees. These bands adopted the same instrumentation as the Salvation Army bands which began to appear about the same time. Brass instruments were particularly suitable for outdoor performance since their sound could project well out of doors and they were not prone to damage should a rainstorm interrupt a performance. There was another great advantage for instruction. By transposing various parts into appropriate keys it was feasible to conduct group instruction on the various instruments of the band. When I joined my first boys band the instruction was in a group. From cornet to tuba the spectrum of instruments, with the exception of the trombone, all learned the same fingering.

This 1925 photo shows a band in transition. The E-Flat horns and B-Flat baritones are still there, but the cornets are dwindling. The back row has only two cornets, as is common in a brass band, but the rest of the back row has trumpets. As for woodwinds, three clarinets have managed to sneak in, an early harbinger of the modern concert band’s woodwind section with lots of saxophones, clarinets, flutes and perhaps an oboe and a bassoon. It was certainly too early for French horns; they hadn’t made it yet.

I wonder what happened to that particular Uxbridge band? It was probably the victim of the great depression. There are some remnants of that band’s music library in the town’s museum; I can tell you, the titles of some of the works listed would no longer be “politically correct.”

On the subject of correctness, when speaking about the smallest of the brass instruments, many people mispronounce the word “cornet.” All too often one hears the word pronounced with the accent on the second  “net” syllable rather than on the first “cor” syllable. That pronunciation is reserved for the “cornett,” a very different instrument. The cornet is a brass instrument similar to the trumpet, whereas the cornett is an instrument made of wood or ivory. It is a long tapered instrument with finger holes, similar in appearance to a recorder, with a cup mouthpiece similar to that of a trumpet. It was commonly used in orchestras of the 16th and 17th centuries. Its much bigger brother (up to seven feet in length in an S shape) was the serpent which was still in use in bands in the 19th century. Many years ago I had the pleasure of playing briefly on both such instruments. Anyone interested in seeing a cornett may view one in the splendid display case in the entrance to Koerner Hall in Toronto.

Recent Happenings: Now for a bit about what has been happening about town. Last year at the annual small ensemble concert of the band of HMCS York at the Naval Club of Toronto we had a photo of trombonist Leading Seaman James Chilton performing on his didgeridoo. At the time he mentioned that he was playing on a factory-made instrument, but was hoping to own a genuine native Australian instrument made from the trunk of  a eucalyptus tree, the core of which is hollowed out by termites. While he was back this year with his trombones, including a soprano trombone (sometimes referred to as slide trumpet), he was there with didgeridoos in hand. His wish has been realized. The factory-made instrument was there along with his prized original native instrument. With his wife Denise at his side, playing the factory instrument, we were treated to a new experience. This time we heard a didgeridooet!

Speaking of the HMCS York Band, conductor Lieutenant Jack t’Mannetje is hoping to gradually build up a history of the bands of HMCS York since WWII. If any readers have recollections of these bands over the past 70 years, please let us hear from you.

While it was not in the community band sphere, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a recent “Spring Fling Concert” celebrating 25 years of teaching by Jane Plewman. Jane teaches string instruments at her home at Chalk Lake northeast of Toronto. The delightful evening featured performances by players at all levels, from beginner to advanced, performing in a variety of ensembles. What was inspiring was to see toddlers performing with confidence alongside white-haired grandparents; the joy of making music together. From basic Suzuki melodies to works of Handel, Bach, Boccherini and Telemann, the enthusiasm was always there.

On the Horizon: On May 3 the York University Community Band Festival will take place all afternoon and evening. Each year four bands are invited to participate. This year’s contingent might well be described as the North Yonge Street group. The bands are from Thornhill, Richmond Hill, Aurora and Newmarket. During the afternoon there will be a massed band session followed by woodwind and brass tuning sessions and a percussion clinic. In the evening the bands will perform individually for adjudication. The following day, on May 4, I will have the pleasure of attending a concert titled “Once Upon A Tune,” the final event of the East York Concert Band’s 61st season. (I first met and wrote about their current conductor, Joseph Resendes, a few years ago when, as a graduate student in music, he assumed direction of the then new Milton Concert Band.)

Usually the Wychwood Clarinet Choir can be counted on to have an unusual treat in their offerings. This year is no exception. Their concert on May 25 at 3:30, titled “Spring Vibrations,” will feature guest vibraphonist Arnold Faber performing an original work which he wrote for the choir. The program will also include the first public performance of Canadian Folk Song Suite written by the choir’s assistant director Roy Greaves.

On May 30 the various New Horizons bands of Toronto will present their final concert of the season at St. Michael’s College School at 7:30. There will be a film crew there to complete the filming for the documentary planned for broadcast on TVO this coming fall. As for the New Horizons Bands in Peterborough, if the snow has finally stopped for a while, a visit soon with the prospect of clear roads seems imminent.

Down the road: We have recently learned that a new concert band is in the works in Toronto’s west end this fall. So far there is no information on location, rehearsal days, etc.

Resa’s Pieces groups all have concerts scheduled for dates in June. We have received an interesting account of how these groups came into being, but it is too long for inclusion in this issue. We hope to have it posted on TheWholenote website soon.

Elsewhere in this issue there is an interesting classified advertisement by Emily Benedictis for the sale of many scores of band music owned by her late father, Mariano De Benedictis. Unfortunately this information arrived too late for me to find out more about the music and life of a Hamilton man who by all accounts had a rich community musical life.  More next time perhaps?

Definition Department: This month’s lesser known musical term is: Cantabile: To achieve a complaining sound, as if you have a sour stomach.

We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.

Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at bandstand@thewholenote.com

Less Than Springlike Still

paris ayr"Beware the Ides of March,” quoth the soothsayer. We all know what happened to Caesar when he ignored that warning. I didn’t really ignore that cautionary pronouncement, but was a bit cavalier when I ventured out on one of our less than springlike days just prior to the Ides of March and ended up in a thrilling battle to control a fishtailing car. Fortunately for all, the driver of a rapidly approaching vehicle chose to hit the ditch rather than hit my car. What has all of that to do with this month’s column? I began last month’s column with the plea “When will it end?” One month later, and officially into spring, it hasn’t ended. Winter is still here, but the music scene is warming up.

Clarinet Choir?: When I mentioned to my editor that I had the pleasure of attending a concert by the U of T Clarinet Ensemble and the Wychwood Clarinet Choir at “Clarinet Day,” he asked about the practice of using the term choir when referring to ensembles of like instruments. I embarked on a quest to determine how and when the practice evolved. Wikipedia was no help. The Oxford Companion to Music didn’t shed any light either. Nancy Nourse, whose Flute Street group uses both choir and ensemble as terms, told me that the first use of that terminology, to her knowledge, was the clarinet choir at the University of Illinois. If you have any knowledge of how this term came to be so used, please tell us; my editor would really like to know.

Plumbing Factory: As some readers may be aware, Dr. Henry Meredith’s Plumbing Factory Brass Band is one of my favourites. This is not just because it is a very good all brass band, but because “Dr. Hank,” as he is known to his friends, always comes up with very stimulating programs. Some months ago, in this column, I talked about themed programs and the pitfalls of establishing a theme and then having to select some “less than desirable” music in order to adhere to the theme. Dr. Hank’s response? “My process is to pick great music first and put it into a logical sequence for presentation. Then, the unifying concept solidifies in my imagination, suggesting additional pieces which can then fill out the program. I don’t usually start with a ‘theme’ in mind, but often major works or a mood or a general idea formulates a theme.”

For example, Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is the centrepiece of their upcoming April 9 concert, so “A Little Night Music” seemed a logical choice for a “theme.” Other pieces by major composers serendipitously seemed to fit right in. These include Bach’s Arioso (as a serenade melody), Mendelssohn’s Nocturne, Karl King’s A Night in June, and Meredith’s own cornet solo, Stars in a Velvety Sky.

I certainly wish that I could attend that concert, but a prior commitment and the prospect of six hours of driving to and from London dissuaded me. The first thing that I did on reading the program was to rush to my CD collection and play a recording of Karl King’s A Night in June by The Great American Main Street Band.     

Medical misfortunes: In two completely disparate recent conversations I learned of two talented brass musicians who have been forced to stop playing for medical reasons. One was a case where an essential medication for a serious eye condition had a side effect of preventing the player’s producing a tone on the instrument. The obvious choice was to continue the treatment and cease playing. The other was a very different situation. The musician told me that his lips could no longer produce a tone due to a neurological condition known as focal dystonia. Dystonia refers to involuntary muscle contractions, and focal refers to the fact that the problem is localized in one part of the body. In this person’s case he is no longer able to control his lip muscles to produce a tone. In our conversation he mentioned several well-known musicians who developed this condition. One of the most notable cases is that of renowned concert pianist Leon Fleisher. In recent years Fleisher did regain some use of his right hand through botox injections, but he acknowledges that it is limited. There is no such treatment for brass players. I can’t imagine how someone could cope with the news that they could no longer continue their musical career. In this person’s case, he is now considering the clarinet as his instrument.

On the April horizon: First on my calendar is a return of the Band of HMCS York on April 9 at 8pm to the Naval Club of Toronto. This is the fourth year in a row where the multi-talented members of the HMCS York band will showcase their various small ensembles. I can’t promise novelties like last year’s  duet for alto trombone and harpsichord or another didgeridoo solo. However, I can guarantee a stimulating evening of music. The location is 1910 Gerrard St. E. and the price is right. Admission is free and light refreshments will be served.

On the weekend of April 11 to 13 The Hannaford Street Silver Band will present their annual “Festival of Brass.” At time of writing I had no details of this event, but a visit to their website should help.

The Clarington Concert Band will present their Spring Concert on April 26, 7pm at Trinity Pentecostal Church in Bowmanville. Also, on Sunday, May 4 at 2pm the Markham Concert Band and the Pickering Community Concert Band will join forces to present “The Final Frontier,” a musical interpretation of space featuring guest performer bagpiper Ian MacLellan. They don’t say whether or not they consider the bagpipes as the last frontier of music. It all takes place at the Flato Markham Theatre.

Blythwood Winds is a group I hadn’t heard of. It is a traditional wind quintet which had its roots about four years ago with students at the Glenn Gould School, although only two of the original members remain. Sunday, April 13 at 7pm they will be at the Array Space, 155 Walnut Avenue offering a broad selection from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide Overture arranged by their horn player Curtis Vander Hayden to a new work Extensions by local composer, Elisha Denburg. Personally, I hope to be there to hear one of my favourites: Darius Milhaud’s La cheminée du roi René. For advance reservations phone 416-999-6097.

Last year the group of New Horizons bands in Toronto spread their wings and formed a number of small ensembles. The finale of that initiative was an afternoon of short presentations by several of these ensembles. Another such afternoon of “Chamber Sweets” will be held in the Assembly Hall at Lakeshore Road and Kipling Avenue on Sunday, April 27 at 2:00 pm, with about 15 groups playing from the jazz and classics repertoire.

Finally, down the road we have two large scale events to announce now with details to follow: the annual York University Community Band Festival will take place Saturday May 3 from 1:00 to 9:00 pm; and from May 30 to June 1 the Canadian Band Association, Ontario Chapter (CBAO) will host the Ontario EAST Community Band Weekend in Ottawa.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is: Cadenza: Something that happens when you forget what the composer wrote. We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.

  Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at bandstand@thewholenote.com.


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