Bandstand 1Often, this December column focuses on Christmas themes because as a rule the bands that we hear from are presenting seasonal concerts featuring various forms of Christmas music, from those with a definite sacred theme to Christmas melodies from the popular realm. That being said, we recently attended a Toronto Concert Band concert at the Glenn Gould Studio that was a clear exception to the rule. At their first concert, shortly after they formed a little over a year ago, the band performed very well. The year of practising and maturing together was very evident in this year’s concert. Now, with 70 members on their roster and a full instrumentation, they were more ambitious. The most challenging of their offerings was an excellent transcription of four movements from Carmina Burana, that monumental choral work by Carl Orff. As a teaser we were informed that they intend to perform some more movements from Carmina Burana at their next concert, scheduled for Saturday, February 20 at Islington United Church. We hope to be there.

(Speaking of challenges, I came upon a very unusual transcription of choral music for all-brass band recently of the Pie Jesu movement from the great requiem of Gabriel Fauré. Unlike most transcriptions of choral music, this was for a solo instrument, the E-flat soprano cornet. The recently formed York Brass Ensemble will present it with an E-flat tuba instead.)

Musicians and war. Another event that diverted my attention away from the upcoming seasonal musical tide came in the form of an offer to join and play with the local New Horizons Band in a performance at a local Salvation Army facility. With the title “A Night to Remember,” it was similar to a performance given by this band last year. Readings from letters during WWII and other material from the time were interspersed with appropriate musical selections to convey some of the many feelings of those so seriously affected by such conflicts. The letters from the soldier were all from One Family’s War: The Wartime Letters of Clarence Bourassa, 1940-1944, a collection of letters written by Private Clarence O. Bourassa, of the South Saskatchewan Regiment, to his wife, Hazel.

Interestingly, in a couple of his letters he mentions that he has been able to play, on a few occasions, with Salvation Army bands somewhere in France. Those mentions of Private Bourassa seeking out opportunities to play music, while so close to the battlefield, led me to wonder about the whole topic of musicians at war. How often did they hear music by military entertainment groups, local musicians, or even get to play in groups somewhere?

In this context an interesting document has come my way – Toronto author Joanne Culley’s recent book, Love in the Air: Second World War Letters. This book includes historical background, photos and dramatized scenes inspired by 600 letters exchanged by her parents during the Second World War. Her father, Harry, served overseas as a musician, playing clarinet and saxophone in Royal Canadian Air Force dance and concert bands. Prior to going overseas, Harry was playing at a YMCA Victory Drive dance in Ottawa where he met Helen, who was a volunteer hostess. They dated for close to a year and became engaged just before he was sent to England. Joanne discovered that the letters were not just declarations of love, but a detailed description of what was happening on both sides of the Atlantic.

Harry Culley endured bombings in London, the overall scarcity of food, and the exhaustion of travelling by trains, buses and army trucks with irregular schedules, to perform in concerts, parades and dances. However, he and the other band members knew that their music was keeping up the morale of soldiers and civilians alike. Unlike the book about Private Bourassa which only contains the letters which he wrote home, this volume contains the rarely seen both sides of a correspondence. Harry carried Helen’s letters all around during his travels, even though his band mates kept bugging him to toss them. He said that he couldn’t, when all of their love was wrapped up in those words. For more information on this book, go to

Personally, when I enlisted in the navy, I left my trombone behind and didn’t have any opportunity to play until after I was released. Shortly after the war I did go to sea in some large ships which had bands aboard. One of these, HMS Sheffield, had a very fine Royal Marine band aboard. When we were called to action stations all band members became members of gun crews. They did not sit idly by.

Three stories: On the topic of musicians in war time, three very different stories come to mind. The first is that of the famous guitarist Django Reinhardt. He was a gypsy of Belgian birth, and under Hitler’s orders gypsies were destined to be sent to the Nazi death camps. However, when the Nazis occupied France, off-duty officers went to places where Reinhardt performed. They were so impressed with his music that they managed to see that he was spared. After the war he was still a star in the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.

Another man with a strange wartime connection was famous composer and playwright Noël Coward. It wasn’t until many years after the war, and only with the permission of the highest authorities, that he revealed that he had been a spy working for the famous spy master Sir William Stephenson who was code-named Intrepid.

Among other activities, it has been reported that, at times, he played piano in cocktail bars in neutral countries where he was in a position to eavesdrop on conversations of German officers. Author Stephen Koch’s recent book The Playboy Was a Spy describes some of Coward’s wartime activities.

The third story is that of Stephen H. Michell, a former trombone player with the Royal Regiment of Canada. He went overseas, not as a musician, but as a regular member of the regiment. At the Dieppe raid in 1942 the Royal Regiment landed on the beach at Puys. Of the 554 members of the regiment on that raid only 65 made it back to England. Michell was one of the 264 who were taken prisoner. The rest were killed. I knew that Michell had written the march, Men of Dieppe, but wasn’t sure of the details of how and when it was composed. During the intermission at the recent concert by the Toronto Concert Band, I was speaking with Bill Mighton, a former conductor of the Royal Regiment Band who happened to be sitting across from me in the audience. He told me that, during his three years as a prisoner, Michell worked over some themes that kept coming back in his head. When released he had with him a few notes of these melodies. On his return to Canada he took those melodies and from them composed Men of Dieppe, a very fine march worthy of inclusion in any band’s repertoire.

Gord Evans.It with deep sadness that I have to report on the passing of Gord Evans, one of the finest, most tasteful saxophone players I have ever known. He passed at the age of 96, after spending some years in the Veterans Wing of Sunnybrook Hospital. When I learned of this, I immediately felt that I had to play a CD with Gord playing the solo on Sammy Nestico’s Lonely Street. It brought back memories of the years when I had the privilege of playing in a big band where Gord was the lead alto sax player.

Concerts coming: All that being said, there are holiday performances that we have learned of:

Dec 2: The Plumbing Factory Brass Band presents the “Semiannual Convention of the Plumbers Union and Its Delegations” as reported in last month’s issue.

Dec 3 and Jan 7: The Encore Symphonic Concert Band presents “In Concert: Classics and Jazz” with John Edward Liddle, conductor.

Dec 6: Pickering Community Band’s “Christmas Concert” with guests Alejandra Ballon, vocals; and Ron Korb, world flutes.

Dec 7: Resa’s Pieces “Annual Holiday Concert” includes their strings, concert band and singers.

Dec 13: The Wychwood Clarinet Choir presents “Clarinet Bells Ring,” a lively afternoon of festive tunes featuring Victor Herbert’s March of the Toys, Leroy Anderson’s Christmas Festival, and Sleigh Ride. This last number should never be performed without the well-known horse whinny, which will be done on a clarinet. There will also be a preview movement of Gustav Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite arranged by Roy Greaves. Artistic director and clarinet soloist is Michele Jacot. clip_image001.png

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

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Plumbing Factory Brass BandAt this time of year the majority of bands we hear from are preparing for fall concerts, and only a few already have their sights set on Christmas. After attending the rehearsals of two different bands in mid-October, two weeks before Halloween, with nothing but Christmas music in their rehearsal folders, I was beginning to wonder if fall was going to be bypassed this year. Then we heard from the Wellington Wind Symphony. In their program November 1, “On the Road Again,” conductor Daniel Warren takes the audience on a trip, with a broad selection of works by Grainger, Reed, Hazo, Mahler and Koetsier. In a similar vein, Silverthorn Symphonic Winds’ November 28 concert, “Music that Tells a Story,” is built around music from such shows as Anne of Green Gables. So chalk a couple up for fall fare. One day later, though, the Markham Concert Band tilts the balance slightly the other way with a concert titled “A Seasonal Celebration” including Christmas and Hanukkah favourites. (Although, to be fair, it also includes music from all eight Harry Potter films.)

Plumbing the Depths: If as some suggest the pun is the lowest form of wit, then hats off once again to “Professor Hank,” Henry Meredith, for once again plumbing the depths of imaginative programming. For the London-based Plumbing Factory Brass Band’s December 2 concert, Meredith has pulled out all of the thematic stops and put them to practical effect. Many bands will frequently feature a small ensemble of band members for one selection, but this time every section of the band gets to display the talents of its members. Rather than attempt to paraphrase, here is a lengthy excerpt from the December 2 program announcement.

“The ‘agenda’ for the Semiannual Convention of The Plumbers Union includes small ensemble music by its offshoot subcommittees and delegations of like-instruments, as well as music for the entire membership.

1. The conference begins with two pieces heralding the bonds of comradeship typically found at such a conclave – ‘Emblem of Unity’ March by J.J. Richards and Overture ‘Fraternal’ by M. M. Snyder.

2. Following these opening ceremonies, the first delegation on the agenda, the Slush Pumps trombone ensemble, enters, sounding a ‘Royal Procession’ dedicated to their union boss.

3. Then the trombone section proceeds to discuss its regional interests in shipping with two familiar Newfoundland folk songs, ‘Jack was Every Inch a Sailor’ and ‘I’se the B’y that Builds the Boat.’ The entire ‘caulk us caucus’ responds with its rendition of a medley of several additional folk songs describing life on the ocean.

4. The Siphon Sirens are next to take the podium, playing two Austrian hunting tunes on valveless Parforce Horns. Their haunting Nocturne from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, follows, performed on traditional alto horns.

5. The names of each committee evoke plumbing terminology, so the Rusty Pipes cornet ensemble continues the serenade with the elegant aria ‘Leise, Leise’ from Weber’s Der Freischütz, followed by their Flanges and Flugelhorns contingent.

6. Subsequently, the Saucy Faucets of the cornet section become Hipster Hosers when they play Jimmie Lunceford’s ‘Count Me Out.’ After these detours ... the convention recesses for an intermission card game featuring ‘King of Diamonds,’ the seldom heard Overture by Calixa Lavallée, composer of O Canada.

7. The semiannual conference adjourns for the holidays with two versions by Georges Bizet of the familiar medieval Christmas carol, “March of the Kings,” both as a “Prelude” with variations, and also as a ‘Farandole’ folk dance.”

Other sectionals: While this program of the Plumbing Factory Band features separate performances by just about every section of the band, it is quite common for bands to include one or two numbers in a concert by a small ensemble of band members. In their concert this fall, the Wellington Wind Symphony will feature a section by their Slide by Slide Trombone Quartet.

Another smaller outgrowth of a concert band is the After Hours Big Band which consists almost exclusively of members of the Newmarket Citizens’ Band. Unlike other groups formed from within a concert band, this groups has never performed in a concert with the mother band. On the other hand, they do perform regularly quite independently from the concert band. For many years the Newmarket Citizens’ Band rehearsed in the local Lions Club hall. There the band had its own section for music storage and a refrigerator to store refreshments. It was common practice, after the regular rehearsal was over, for a few members to remain on “after hours” and play big band music. In time this group became more formalized and adopted the name The After Hours Big Band. In time they started playing engagements independent of the activities of the concert band.

Several years ago the Lions’ Club hall was destroyed by arsonists. Over the years the Citizen’s Band has moved from one temporary location to another. On the other hand, the After Hours Big Band has been able to settle into a regular rehearsal location which would not be suitable for the full concert band. While I don’t have any information on their future performances, I do know that they quite regularly entertain at retirement residences and long-term care facilities.

Instrumental Choirs: In past issues we have mentioned a few of the choirs, or ensembles, of like instruments including Flute Street and the Wychwood Clarinet Choir. We have just learned of another such group, the Flute Flight Community Flute Choir. Their concert on November 15, ”A Whole Lot of Treble,” will include works for flute ensembles of various sizes from trios to full flute choir. This will all take place at the Cosmopolitan Hall of Cosmo Music in Richmond Hill on November 15.

Handbells: Speaking of small ensembles, for several years I have thought about researching and writing about some of the lesser-known groups. In particular, I was interested in learning more about Handbell Ensembles. Then suddenly without any planning on my part I found myself listening to two different Handbell groups within one week. The first of these was at the 12th Annual Sandford Music Gala at Sandford United Church. For those not familiar with the geography, Sandford is a small hamlet north of Uxbridge. The last time I had been to one of these events was a couple of years ago when I was playing in a brass quintet. This year, not being a part of the show, I was attracted when I read that one of the groups performing would be a handbell ensemble known as Rhythm A’Peal.

Marilyn Meikle: Less than a week later I heard another handbell group, The Embellished Handbell Ensemble. However, this latter event was very different. The handbell ensemble was playing at a memorial service for one of its members, Marilyn Meikle. Marilyn was not only a member of this handbell group. She, along with her husband Tim, were long time members of the Newmarket Citizens’ Band. Her passing has significantly impacted our household. For years I have been sitting beside Tim in the tuba section and, when she was able to attend, my partner Joan sat beside Marilyn in the flute section. Less than two weeks before Marilyn’s passing, I was chatting with her at a rehearsal. She told me how much she had enjoyed their cruise around the British Isles just a few weeks earlier. She certainly will be missed. 

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

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Clarington Concert BandNow that fall is here, information is starting to come in about the seasonal offerings of several community bands, some of them quite enticing and unusual, such as the concert offered by Clarington Concert Band on October 2 at 7:30.

The concert in question is Clarington’s annual evening of classical music, this year featuring works by Felix Mendelssohn.
It isn’t often that concert bands have string instrumentalists appearing as guests, but the Clarington Band does so quite regularly. For the third time the sanctuary of the Rehoboth Christian Reformed Church in Bowmanville, noted for its well-designed seating and exceptional acoustics, will be the scene of this year’s concert. Featured will be American violinist Andrew Sords and Canadian collaborative pianist Cheryl Duvall. This duo will, on this occasion, be joined by the exciting young American virtuoso cellist Sawyer Thomson. Another unusual note: it isn’t often that bands or orchestras give feature billing to an instrument. However, they are doing so this year, noting that Mr. Thomson will be performing on a rare Italian cello crafted by Giovanni Grancino in 1690. For more information, visit the band’s website at

Fanfarones: Every once in a while we get invitations to concerts and are unable to attend. That was the case recently when we learned of a concert (September 18 at the 918 Bathurst Centre)by a group we had not heard of before. Fanfarones is a double wind quintet who advertize their programs as “quirky, elegant music.” With a double wind quintet it is possible to have such combinations as oboe and English horn, piccolo and flute or clarinet and bass clarinet playing at the same time to broaden the range of colours. Having not heard the term fanfarones before, it was time to learn its meaning. According to the Oxford Italian dictionary the word “fanfarones” is a term from Tuscany meaning braggarts or loud mouths. One would assume that they are proud and willing to show it. The major work on their program was Rocky Mountain Suite by Toronto composer and arranger Peter Coulman.

Cobourg: Last year and the year before, we had the pleasure of joining up with the Cobourg Concert Band on their annual visit to Plattsburgh, New York, and their participation in the ceremonies commemorating the final battle of the War of 1812. Last year’s Bandstand column (October 2014) lamented that it had “rained on our parade.” This year we stayed home, and we have just been informed  that the weather was absolutely perfect. Is there a hidden message in that news?

North Durham: Although we rarely here from them, we have just heard from The North Durham Concert Band. They have started another season with rehearsals in Port Perry and have the welcome mat out for new members. They rehearse 7pm to 9pm every Wednesday, September to May. For information go to

CBA: In recent years the Canadian Band Association’s  Ontario Chapter has sponsored the CBA Community Band Weekend. The next such weekend will take place October 16 to 18. The host band this year will be the Mississauga Pops Concert Band. For information go to or

Markham Concert Band: As part of the Markham Theatre’s 30th Anniversary Gala on Sunday, October 18, the Markham Concert Band will perform not one but two concerts at 2pm and 7 pm. For information go to Included in the program will be Haydn Wood’s Mannin Veen, a rarely heard classic of the concert band repertoire. Wood was an accomplished violinist and a prolific composer of a wide range of musical styles including some 180 songs. One of these was Roses of Picardy which he wrote for his wife, soprano Dorothy Court. Wood was born in a small English town and at age 3 his family moved to the Isle of Man. The tone poem Mannin Veen (Manx for Dear Isle of Man) is based on four Manx folk melodies. It is one of only two of his works which were written specifically for wind band. 

The early part of the twentieth century saw the evolution of the concert band into such groups as those of John Philip Sousa, Edwin Franko Goldman and Guiseppe Creatore which toured the world. With the advent of radio and television such major professional bands largely disappeared. Fortunately there are in many countries true “world class” military concert bands. The bands of the Royal Marines, the US Marines, the Garde Républicaine, the Belgian Guides, the Carabinieri da Roma and many others are in that category. Unfortunately few composers of note have turned their talents towards the writing of serious works for such instrumentation.

In Search of Repertoire: Although great bands existed in the early part of the twentieth century, few composers considered writing music for such instrumentation. When bands wanted to perform concert overtures, suites and such larger works they had to turn to transcriptions of orchestral music. This frequently resulted in the need to compromise because of the problems arising for wind instruments having to play music intended for string instruments. In the early 1920s, lamenting the dearth of such music for bands, the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall commissioned composer Gustav Holst to compose some music to fill the void. The Holst Suites in E-Flat and F were the result of that collaboration. Add to that a few works such as the Vaughan Williams Folk Song Suite and you have almost exhausted the repertoire.

In a recent personal search I decided to try to find some information on an excellent work that I knew of in this category but had not heard in years. I first heard composer Carl Friedemann’s Slavonic Rhapsody years ago on a double-sided 78 rpm recording. On this old record was a stunning performance of this work by the Massed Bands of the Aldershot and Eastern Commands of the British Army. All I could find was a performance on YouTube. If you hear of a work and would like to assess its suitability for your band, it’s now possible to get a good idea with a little Internet search. But be warned! The results will range anywhere from excellent to painful.

Royal Marine Bands: Earlier, I mentioned Royal Marine Bands as being top-notch. I have heard that a band of the Royal Marines will be coming to Toronto late this fall. Having served in the Navy aboard a British ship which just happened to be an admiral’s flagship, I regularly was treated to music of the Marine Band which we had on board. Some time later, back in Canada, I had the pleasure of operating the sound system for the Band of the Royal Marines Plymouth Division at the CNE Bandshell for two performances a day for two weeks. It’s safe to say that I happen to have a special affinity for Royal Marine bands and their music. So far there are no details, but I believe that this band may be performing in Roy Thomson Hall.

Setting the Bar Too High? Over the years I have often played with groups which have held their rehearsals in the music rooms of schools. In such cases it is not uncommon to read the notice boards to see what is being passed on to the future musicians of our country. These frequently have the rating systems by which the students are ranked. I have been accustomed to seeing bronze, silver and gold. In recent years some have added the category of platinum to indicate a level superior to gold. This summer I saw the latest extended ranking system. That school had band achievement awards: bronze, silver, gold, platinum, titanium and unobtainium.

What’s In a Name? In recent times it is increasingly common to hear of wind groups being called a variety of terms including “choir.” How did this come about? Having consulted The Oxford Companion to Music, the Oxford Dictionary and Webster’s Dictionary, I could not find any reference to any instrumental music. They all refer only to human voices. Wikipedia does refer to choirs of instruments, but only as a subset of a larger group. As an example they refer to “the woodwind choir of an orchestra.” If any readers have information on this trend please let us know. In a recent conversation with Michele Jacot, conductor of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir, she had no answer. In fact she expressed the possibility of a name change because she was getting questions as to the kind of ensemble she directs.

Bandstand_-_WholeNote_Cake.pngMusical jokes. A few days ago on September 25 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre this magazine held an amazing concert/reception to celebrate 20 completed years of The WholeNote. During the evening’s program Sophia Perlman talked about how the song she had written and was about to sing was a musical joke (as in making a sly reference to a previously composed piece of music). It put me in mind of that other kind of musical joke, namely the groaner, for which, as regular readers of this column can attest, I have a fondness. So here’s one:

A boy is about to start music lessons at school. His mother goes with him to meet with the music teacher. She insists that the boy must start his music training on the tuba. When the teacher asks why she is so insistent about the tuba, she says: “ I know he can be led astray and I don’t want him to get into any treble.”

Keep them coming: Whether it be musical jokes, daffynitions, or just interesting news about your band’s upcoming events and activities, keep them coming! We are always interested to hear from you. 

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

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(from left to right) Members of the Orono Cornet Band playing rotary valve trombone, bass saxhorn, ophicleide and helicon.Well summer, what there was of it this year, is almost over. What a difference from last summer in my musical life. Last summer we (Joan and I) drove  to Halifax for the very first North American Brass Band summer school, which included playing in all performances of the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. Even though that was a very rewarding experience, this year we decided to stay closer to home and explore some local musical offerings. This included playing in a few concerts, but the variety came from a few quite unexpected sources most of which wouldn’t really qualify as band events.

The first of these took place in early July when we were invited to attend a concert by students of the Durham Music Camp. This was not a band concert. Rather it was an end of year performance of children as young as six performing on violins and cellos. To see six year olds take up centre stage and perform, from memory, with all of the aplomb of someone four times their age certainly reassured us that we will have a good supply of musicians in years to come.

Two weeks later we were treated, by the older generation of musicians, to an unusual big band jazz event. Organized by French horn player James MacDonald, a former member of the very first Boss Brass, we attended a concert by “Amis du Jazz - Encore,” as they styled themselves that day. The 20 member Rex Hotel Orchestra, led by John MacLeod, performed on the back deck of James MacDonald’s house in Port Perry as members of the audience relaxed under the trees in the back yard. There were a few members of the group (clarinetist Bob DeAngelis and trombonist Alastair Kay in particular)  whom I remembered from the days, more than thirty years ago, when they were star performers in high school band festivals.

Adding a bit of variety to the summer’s offerings, we also took in an amazing amateur performance of the musical A Chorus Line, followed a few days later with a block “Birthday Bash” for a neighbour celebrating a milestone. Although not exactly to my taste, there was lots of folksong playing by the guest of honour and friends.

(As you will see, it was a chance encounter at the second of these summer musical forays that led to the main story in this month’s column. But first a roundup of other band news.)

New bands: I am in the fortunate position of being able to announce the establishment of two new bands in the Toronto area. The first is a new concert band which is forming for seniors in Oakville. As yet we haven’t heard of a name for this band, but they say that they are looking for beginner/intermediate musicians who have played in their youth or new musicians who need a concert band setting to hone their craft. They meet every Monday evening(except holiday Mondays) year round. Unlike some other bands, they will not be going on break during the summer. For information contact Russ Abbott at 905-465-3352

The other new group is an all brass band called The York Brass Ensemble. They are scheduled to start rehearsals in September on Wednesdays from 7:00 to 9:00 pm at the Alexander Muir Residence in Newmarket. For details contact Peter Hussey at

Open Rehearsal: About to begin their second full season, The Toronto Concert Band is inviting  adult musicians from across Toronto to sit in with them as they kick off rehearsals for their second concert season. Amateur community players, post-secondary students and professionals who want to play in the community are all welcome. Under the musical direction of Ken Hazlett and Les Dobbin, the Toronto Concert Band has local roots in Etobicoke but far-reaching musical goals. Anyone interested is asked to pre-register by phoning 647-479-2941 or visiting their website:, The first rehearsal is September 22 from 7:00 to 9:00 pm at Lambton Kingsway Junior Middle School, 525 Prince Edward Drive.

Returns: The summertime only group, the Uxbridge Community Concert Band wound up this season with another of their theme concerts on August 29. This year’s theme was Music of the Night with selections ranging from Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria and selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera.

The Toronto New Horizons group will be establishing yet another new band termed Beginner Level II for people joining who want a more challenging level. Anyone interested is invited to attend their Instrument Explorations night on Friday, September 25 from 7 to 9pm at the Long and McQuade main store 925 Bloor St. W in Toronto. For anyone who has thought about playing in a band, here’s a chance to check out any instruments that have interested you and decide which would be the one for you. All classes beginning the week of September 14. Scheduled dates and times are on their website: and classes will be held at the Salvation Army Hall, 789 Dovercourt Rd., until further notice.

Herb Poole, artistic director of the band; “I love to play an instrument I can wear,” says Herb.The Orono Cornet Band: While I was at the aforementioned Amis du Jazz concert in Port Perry I bumped into two friends that I hadn’t seen for some time. I first met Dave Climenhage about twenty years ago in the Clarington Concert Band. I first met Herb Poole over thirty years ago while playing in the Metropolitan Silver Band. They invited me to a concert by the Orono Cornet Band in the town of Orono, where Dave Climenhage had organized the Great Canadian Town Band Festival (GCTBF) in Orono from the year 2000 to the year 2005.

For six consecutive years this festival brought together some of the finest brass and woodwind ensembles in Canada and the U.S. such as The Boss Brass, The Hannaford Street Silver Band, The True North Brass, The Spitfire Band and The Central Band of the Canadian Armed Forces. It also hosted guest artists like conductor and trombone virtuoso Alain Trudel.

After the annual festival was discontinued, the Great Canadian Town Band Festival still existed as an entity in name. Dave  was looking for a project that would bring alive Canada’s musical heritage and further the objectives of the GCTBF. He still had the charter for the GCTBF and the desire to continue in some fashion. He was a long time collector of brass and woodwind instruments and eventually linked up with fellow collector Herb Poole, bass trombonist with the Canadian Opera Company.

Together they began to work on the idea of a Heritage Brass band that would recreate the 19th century Brass Band movement in Canada. From the early 1850s on, the saxhorn band concept (12 brass instruments) had spread to almost every town and village in Canada. This movement began in France and England in the 1840s and quickly spread all over Europe and North America. These newly developed valved brass instruments were relatively easy to learn to play and could play any notes on the chromatic scale. They became the mainstay of musical performance in Canada, which did not have a classical orchestral tradition at the time. These bands performed at local dances, in parades and at all civic events including July 1 which later became Canada Day. In short it was the music that was most accessible to Canadians from 1850 to the end of the century.

Herb and Dave decided that they would hire professional brass players from the GTA who were interested in taking up the challenge of performing on 150-year-old instruments and who were willing to work with them as they  tried to establish an audience for the brass music of  19th century Canada. Herb recruited musicians from the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and a number of top level freelance brass players from other GTA ensembles.

The aim of the Orono Cornet Band is to recreate a 12 piece brass band of the Confederation period in Canada to perform on period instruments and to play music composed in Canada or known to be regularly performed in Canada. Gathering Canadian  music of the period took time. As they looked at brass band music collections from the period, it was clear that most of the music they performed came from American publishing companies. They worked hard to glean from these sources important works by Canadian composers such as Calixa Lavallee (Marche Indienne). They have also found music originating outside Canada but performed regularly here, such as popular marching songs like The Girl I Left Behind Me.

Herb Poole is the band’s artistic director and has sourced music with very distinct Canadian period content. The instruments the band performs on come from Herb’s and Dave’s collections and were built in the period 1850 to 1870. Many of these were restored by Herb. They are both constantly researching historic events for important music. The Battle of Ridgeway in 1866 is one such event, for example. It resulted in the composition of The Maple Leaf Forever and the words to the Canadian Militia Fenian Marching Song. They hope to perform these at a re-enactment of the Battle of Ridgeway in June next year.

The band has been performing now for over five years. They have performed at heritage events each of those five years, including the V-Brass festival at Toronto’s Harbourfront, Clarington’s Heritage Festival and the RCMP Musical Ride. For the RCMP Musical Ride they performed music of the Band of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police at Fort MacLeod, Alberta, first performed in 1876.

They are currently working on getting people to know about the Orono Cornet Band and have completed their first recording. They also have a new website at with videos and soundtracks. It’s worth checking out that website.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is stringendo: An unpleasant effect produced by the violin section when it doesn’t use vibrato. 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

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It would appear that, after a few false starts, summer may have arrived. As we view the news of band activities for the next few months, there are all manner of concerts planned by bands throughout Southern Ontario, but they are almost without exception by individual bands.

This is in stark contrast to when I first started in boys’ bands. Our summer was filled with parades and many local multiple-band tattoos in surrounding communities. Outdoor band festivals are now few and far between in this part of the world. The most recent such event that I can recall in this part of the country was the Great Canadian Town Band Festival which was held for a number of years, ten years ago or more, in the small town of Orono. Throughout its existence, I was active in this festival. Its demise was not due to lack of interest on the part of participants or audiences. Rather, after a few years the organization and operation became too much for the small cadre of volunteers. Although there was consideration given to moving the festival to another larger community, this never materialized. Whether they are called band tattoos or band festivals, these kinds of outdoor events involving a number of community bands haven’t even been relegated to history books. They just seem to have passed into oblivion.

Not only were there tattoos in former days, but there was a wide variety of other outdoor band events, both amateur and professional. I can still remember the fascination of a circus band with a diverse array of performers parading down a city’s main street. In fact, for a time, one of my boyhood ambitions was to play in a circus band. It seems that the only large outdoor events with bands to be seen now are those overwhelming halftime shows of American football games with all of the extra non-musical hoopla.

NABBSS: You may recall that at this time last year our household was gearing up for a trip to Halifax and participation in the very first North American Brass Band Summer School (NABBSS). As part of this summer school we were also participants in the 35th Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. With many hundreds of professional-level participants from Canada, the United States and several European countries performing for ten days in a packed arena, this event is a far cry from the local amateur tattoos referred to earlier. Even these large-scale events are increasingly few and far between. I have not heard of single such event in Ontario for some years. While we are not able to participate in this year’s NABBSS, I am sure that it will be as rewarding as last year’s was. The school will run from June 26 to July 8. When I last checked, there were still openings. Inquiries should be addressed to

Further Reminiscences: For years a major attraction at the CNE was the featured guest band at the main bandshell. For a few summers I had the pleasure of operating the sound system on that main bandshell. In particular, I had the privilege of working for two weeks with Major F. Vivian Dunn, later Sir Vivian Dunn. Prior to every concert of the Band of the Royal Marines Plymouth Division, he would discuss all of the music to be performed and just which instruments were to be given proper microphone pickup.

By a somewhat strangely routed train of thought (but bear with me), this reminds me of a famous but rarely seen ceremony, called Beat the Retreat, the origins of which date back to the reign of James II of England (James VII of Scotland) in the late 1600s, a time when drums were a major means of communicating with troops. It was a time when wars were mostly carried out in daylight hours, and the beating of drums was the signal to retreat at the end of a day’s fighting. Over time, beating the retreat became a more elaborate ceremony, where the Captain of the Main Guard would have his drummers beat the signal which would then be repeated by drummers of each regiment. Many years later, of course, armies obtained more sophisticated means of communicating, but by then Beating the Retreat had been established as an important ceremonial event.

The Royal Marines in particular have retained the ceremony, along with saluting their ceremonial head who is bestowed with the title of Captain General. Most recently that has been His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. Every three years the Massed Bands of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, with some 200 musicians on parade, perform their Beat the Retreat ceremony at London’s Horse Guards Parade in celebration of the birthday of their Captain General.

That is where Major Dunn comes in again! The year after he and his band performed at the CNE bandshell, he wrote The Captain General march to honour then Captain General, His Majesty King George VI. Three years ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Saeculum Aureum, a 2CD set, performed by The Band of The Royal Regiment of Canada. The Captain General, a stirring march with amazing counter-melodies, was one of the finest selections on that recording.

Bandstand-Mario.jpgMario Canonico: The community band world has lost another of its most dedicated members. Mario Canonico, a longtime member of the Newmarket Citizens Band, passed away May 16. Born in the Aosta Valley in the northwestern part of Italy, Mario started his musical adventure on violin at the age of nine. He began playing saxophone in his early 20s and soon added the clarinet. From Italy the family moved to Ecuador for a few years before coming to Canada in 1967. Settling in Montreal, he worked as a barber during the week and spent his weekends as a jobbing musician playing a wide variety of events including weddings and bar mitzvahs. Moving to Newmarket in 2000, he soon had a regular spot in the clarinet section of the Newmarket band. Until about three months ago he was playing regularly in three other musical groups besides the Newmarket band, including a small ensemble called North of Dixie. In addition to music and family he had a passion for cycling, averaging 50km per day. His last bicycle ride was on a warm sunny day last October at age 82. Just a few weeks ago the members of North of Dixie went to his house to entertain him. Although gravely ill, Mario danced up a storm with his wife, Delfina, and with his daughter and granddaughter. This photograph was taken on that day by John De Fusco.

Coming Concerts:

June 4 at noon the Encore Symphonic Concert Band will present “In Concert: Classics and Jazz” at the Wilmar Heights Centre, 963 Pharmacy Ave., Scarborough.

June 6 at 7:30 the Barrie Concert Band will present “Let’s Celebrate Barrie!” a multimedia concert celebrating Barrie’s history at Hi-Way Pentecostal Church, 50 Anne St. N., Barrie.

June 12: A few months ago I had the pleasure of attending the premiere concert of the Toronto Concert Band. To wind up their inaugural season they will be returning to the excellent performance venue of the Glenn Gould Studio on Friday, June 12, at 7:30pm. Since their very first rehearsal less than nine months ago, founding conductors Ken Hazlett and Les Dobbin have set a high standard. This season-ending concert will feature an eclectic mix, from Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals to Warren Barker’s Selections from Les Miserables with many challenging numbers filling out the program. The band’s tag line “We Love to Play!” should be spelled out musically at this concert.

June 14 at 7pm the Strings Attached Orchestra will be presenting their year-end concert at the George Ignatieff Theatre, 15 Devonshire Place (just southwest of Koerner Hall). Among other things, they will be performing the orchestral premiere of Montreal a short work by former OECD head and Pierre Trudeau-era cabinet minister Donald Johnston. Also on the program will be Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso Op. 3 No.11 with soloists from within the group.

These are a few community ensemble events where we received some program details. There are too many more than can be mentioned here. Please see the listings section for the times and locations of these many other events.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is: rubato: a cross between a rhubarb and a tomato. 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

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