As if the looming Christmas Concert season wasn’t enough to deal with, this is a combined December/January issue, so I have twice as much activity as usual to contemplate. Even so, before looking at the weeks that lie ahead, there have been a few musical events in my life over the past few weeks that warrant more than passing notice, so indulge me, dear reader.
The first of these was the collaboration of the Hannaford Street Silver Band and the Amadeus Choir in a performance of The Armed Man: a Mass for Peace by the contemporary Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. Having heard this work before in its original form for chorus and orchestra, I was anxious to hear how it might fare with a transcription for brass band. This arrangement exceeded any expectations I might have had; I enjoyed it much more than the original. For this work, the band and chorus seemed made for each other. From the fiendishly difficult parts for every section of the band to the haunting solo passages for the flugelhorn and euphonium the instrumentalists and vocalists were as one. If I had any concern, it would be that there was far more to this work than I could absorb in a single performance. I hope that this arrangement will be recorded so that I may hear it again.
The other noteworthy musical event was totally unexpected. As an alumnus of the University of Toronto and former participant in various alumni functions over the years, I was invited to the launch of a massive fund raising campaign for the university. I had expected a few inspirational speeches followed by a distribution of pledge cards, but the university’s Convocation Hall was filled to capacity, and every aspect of the evening was as overwhelming as the fund raising goal for the next year of $2 billion (yes that’s a “b”) dollars. But it was the music that I found most inspiring. While we were being seated, we were treated to a vocal octet of students from the faculty of music. Then the spotlight shifted to the two upper galleries on either side of the organ where two brass choirs, under the direction of the Faculty of Music’s Gillian MacKay, performed an amazing work by graduate music student Aaron Tsang. While it was referred to in the programme as the Opening Fanfare, with four french horns, five trombones, four tubas and trumpets too numerous to count, it was much more than that, and warrants more performances in the future. After the various addresses, we were treated to a massive video presentation with a musical score by another Faculty of Music student Kevin Lau and after all being awarded “Doctorates in Boundless Opportunity” left Convocation Hall for the reception in a massive marquee tent, in the corners of which there were four small stages where there were alternating performances of a small jazz group, vocalists singing operatic arias and a brass quintet among others. With our honorary degrees in hand, we all left with the assurance that the future of music in this part of the world is certainly going to be in good hands.
Now on to December. What’s in store in the band world? Needless to say, Christmas music and other seasonal works dominate all programmes. Most bands have guests, with various types of choirs dominating the scene. Here’s a condensed list, from those bands whose listings we received, featuring choirs. Needless to say you will have to consult the concert listings for details:
City of Brampton Concert Band has the Mayfield Singers at the Rose Theatre (Dec 10); Etobicoke Community Band presents “You’d Better Watch Out: Holiday Favourites,” with the Toronto Police Services Men’s Chorus (Dec 16); Milton Concert Band performs for the very first time in the newly constructed Milton Centre for the Arts with St. Paul’s United Church Choir (Dec 10); Pickering Community Concert Band offers “Celebrate with the Sounds of Christmas” with the William Dunbar School Choir as guest (Dec 11); Wellington Winds will have “A Christmas with the Wind and Young Voices,” with the Inter-Mennonite Children’s Choir (Dec 18); Whitby Brass Band offers “A Christmas Celebration,” with classics, Salvation Army and pop arrangements, and guests, the O’Neill Chamber Choir (Dec 9). On the professional side, Hannaford Street Silver Band presents “Yuletide Celebration” with Ariana Chris, mezzo, and the Canadian Children’s Opera Company Youth and Principal chorus (Dec 13).
With guests other than choirs, Chinguacousy Concert Band presents “Brampton Christmas Pops” featuring the Chinguacousy Swing Orchestra (Dec 11); East York Concert Band’s “Christmas Festival” will be a holiday sing-along (Dec 12); Markham Concert Band will have “A Seasonal Celebration” featuring Christmas and Chanukah songs with guest Lisa Kallasmaa-Bavis on vocals (Dec 4). Of the bands with December concerts that we heard from, only two did not include guests in their programs. Scarborough Concert Band will be presenting a “Community Concert Series” at three locations over the holiday season (Dec 7, x and y). And Wilfrid Laurier University Wind Orchestra has a single performance (Dec 3). For details of time and place of these events, consult the listings sections.
Of all of the bands that we were made aware of, one stood out as having no public Christmas concerts. That does not mean that the Newmarket Citizens’ Band will not be busy. On the contrary, a visit to their website told a very different story. Unlike all of the other community bands, this band marches and plays in parades. In the six week period between November 6 and December 20, this band was booked to play in no fewer than 11 parades, including six Santa Claus parades in surrounding communities. They also had scheduled five concerts at retirement residences and long term care facilities. This is a band that takes community service seriously. All of their activity will be topped off with an annual banquet to present various awards to members.
Recently, I was asked to write some programme notes for a concert discussing the evolution of Christmas music from the earliest day to the present. That project is still in its infancy. However, there is certainly no question that the programme of a modern band concert would bear little resemblance to that of a concert a century ago. Of the repertoire being performed by the bands of today, there seems to be a common theme: diversify. No longer do they stick to the traditional Christmas carols and such shopping mall favourites as Sleigh Ride or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Increasingly we are seeing a wide spectrum of medleys of seasonal and/or Christmas melodies along with such humorous spoofs as Good Swing Wenceslas or How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And many bands are now including some excellent arrangements of Chanukah music.
As in other years, the period from Christmas to mid-January appears to be one for rest and reflection, with little thought of public performance. For the rest of January, traditionally community ensembles will now have filed away all of the seasonal music and have begun sampling a broad spectrum of music to challenge band members and hopefully please audiences in the coming months. So far we have not heard of any plans for band concerts in January except for the Hannaford Street Silver Band’s presentation of “A Latin Celebration” with guests the Boston Brass on January 22. Can’t think of a better start.
This month’s lesser known musical term is Gelatinissimo: to play with a bouncing style that sticks to a well defined mould.
We invite submissions from readers.
Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at email@example.com.