With this first issue for the year, we are, in a way, wondering in what fresh directions 2018 might take the Bandstand beat. For over a year we have been hearing about and reporting on the many sesquicentennial events in the community band world. For almost all of the bands that we heard from, their repertoire seemed to focus on works which had some connection to that 150th anniversary for the country. To top that off, there was the usual festive season offerings ranging from medieval carols to Frosty the Snow Man and Rudolph. Now that these are all in the past, what are we going to be offered now? There were hopes that we would hear from the banding community all about their plans for the coming year. Alas: no news! Perhaps all of the bands are taking a rest after a busy season. Usually, prior to each issue, we receive a good number of notices from bands about upcoming events. So far, we have received little information.
In the meanwhile, how about we take the time to look past winter altogether, into the topic of park concerts and parades, their origins and evolution?
Welcome to the Bandshell
Since arriving in the Toronto area after WWII I have witnessed quite an evolution in the band world. During the war the Canadian National Exhibition did not operate because most of the buildings were used as barracks. In 1948, for the reopening of the CNE, the main Bandshell was updated with the finest theatre-quality sound system, and the first of a series of feature bands was booked to appear. The feature band that year was the Band of His Majesty’s Royal Marines, Plymouth Division under the direction of Major F. Vivian Dunn. I had the privilege of discussing the format of each concert with Major Dunn and operating the sound system for all concerts. In that and ensuing years band concerts were the prime form of entertainment at the CNE. There were two concerts per day by the feature band and two per day by local bands on the Bandshell. There were also at least two concerts each day on the North Bandstand. That practice continued for some years. Similarly, Toronto Parks and Recreation sponsored regular band concerts during the summer months at Kew Gardens, High Park on Sundays and in Allan Gardens in downtown Toronto on weekday evenings. They seemed to be at their height during Centennial Year in 1967. These did not all end suddenly, but within the next 20 years they had all disappeared. Will the end of Canada’s sesquicentennial year see a change in direction?
A Major Anniversary
As mentioned, we have not yet received any indication of significant band plans for the coming year from any band. However, on the bright side, we did receive some wonderful information on the activities of the Concert Band of Cobourg during the past year. Not only did they stage a variety of events for Canada’s 150th anniversary, but they channelled the bulk of their resources into the celebration of the band’s 175th anniversary.
The Cobourg Concert Band has a long and varied history, and has had quite a range of names over the 175-year period since the first town band appeared in Cobourg in 1842. During the late 1960s the band went through a period of gradual decline. By 1970 it was in a rather sad state. That was when Roly White appeared on the scene as director of music. Before immigrating to Canada, Roly had served for 12 years in bands of the Royal Marines under the same conductor whom I mentioned above, now bearing the title Colonel Sir Vivian Dunn. With his previous Royal Marine connections, Roly managed to have the Cobourg band officially designated as “The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Association, Ontario.” With that new designation, the band was outfitted with almost identical uniforms to those of the Royal Marines. Over the years, the band progressed in other ways to the point where they have their own building with fine space for rehearsal, storage and socializing. After many years at the helm, Roly turned the baton over to longtime band member Paul Storms 17 years ago.
As a part of the band’s anniversary celebration, longtime band member, Robert Irvine, authored an extensive history of the band called Journal of a Band. Mr. Irvine spent over ten years researching and documenting each of the entries that went into the Journal. This detailed history of over 700 pages, looks back to band activities since 1842. That made 2017 the 175th year that a community band has been part of the daily life experience in Cobourg. With this documentation, band members believe that theirs is the oldest community band in Canada. However, they may get some challenges on that. The Newmarket Citizens Band has some documented information indicating that their band was also active during that time period.
According the Cobourg band president, Brian Clarkson, “Irvine’s book is full of rich detail concerning the band and the members of the band, all set in the context of key world events that transpired over the last 175 years. Many pictures help bring into view what life must have been like, how important music has always been in Cobourg, and how some families had members spanning several generations – right up to and including the present day. From our early roots as offshoots of the local fire brigades, through independent membership, and all the way to our current affiliation with the Royal Marines Association - Ontario, you can see the band evolve and grow in importance both locally and internationally.” He tells me: “It is a great read for any musician, historian, or lover of small town Ontario.” The book sells for $35 plus any shipping charges that may apply and can be ordered from the same website as the CDs: firstname.lastname@example.org.
While on the subject of the Band’s new CD, I would like to add a few comments about it that are not in my review of the CD elsewhere in this issue. One comment would be on the talent in the band. There are several members with music degrees, including at least two Masters degrees, from the University of Toronto and the prestigious Berklee College of Music. How often are you liable to find such composing and arranging talent in a small town band? Another comment concerns the cover design. As part of the CD project, the band sponsored a contest at all of the local high schools for a piece of art work for the cover. The winners, Sarah McLoughlin and Annie Sawyer, produced a vibrant design depicting the band performing under the Canadian flag.
Before leaving the subject, I would like to share a story from a conversation I had with Roly White some years before he joined the Concert Band of Cobourg. He told me about an incident, at some point while he was serving as assistant under Sir Vivian Dunn. He was chastised for conducting with his left hand and told to change over to using his right hand as this was the norm. After some time away from the band to study conducting with Sir John Barbirolli, he returned to the band. Once again he was conducting with his left hand. When queried by Dunn about reverting to his left hand, Roly simply stated “Sir John conducts left-handed.” That ended the discussion and Roly was still conducting left-handed in Cobourg when he retired.
We have just learned of two significant changes in local bands. The Whitby Brass Band, which will celebrate 155 years this year, is looking for a new conductor. The band rehearses on Thursday evenings, and like other bands, has performances at various times throughout the year. Preference will be given to someone with previous brass band conducting experience. Applications will be accepted until March 2. Information is available at whitbybrassband.com.
The other change is the possible return of the Uxbridge Community Concert Band. After 25 seasons, conductor Steffan Brunette took a year off last year to pursue some other interests. He is now back in town, and with the assistance of other interested musicians, hopes to have something to report on possible future directions for another season of summer music.
As is so often the case in relationships in the world of music, I can’t recall where or when I first met Sam Caruana. All I know is that I played alongside Sam in many groups over many years. Having chatted with Sam just a few weeks before, I was shocked to learn of his passing on December 16, 2017. Sam served in the King’s Own Royal Malta Regiment during WWII, then moved to England after the war for a job in music. While touring with the Benny Daniels Dance Band in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sam met Kay and they married in 1952.
After a musical career in Britain, Sam moved to Toronto in 1974, initially staying with his sister in the Junction (Little Malta) neighbourhood of Toronto. He was joined by Kay and son Paul shortly thereafter. Sam is survived by his wife Kay, sons Benny and Paul and their families. Sam will certainly be missed by his many musical friends, including those in the Metropolitan Silver Band, The Encore Symphonic Concert Band and the Malta Club Band. He played in all of them until very recently.
In a recent email his daughter-in-law Joanna told me that she had “forgotten to say that in addition to the Benny Daniels band in Britain, Sam also played with the BBC and for a circus band, where his paper-bag lunch got stolen daily, until he discovered that an elephant was stealing it from under his chair on the raised stage! In Toronto he played for too many bands to mention, including a Schwaben Oompah band, and more recently, the Toronto Mambo Project.”
Feb 1 at 12pm the Encore Symphonic Concert Band presents “In Concert.” Big band swing, jazz, film scores and marches. Wilmar Heights Centre, 963 Pharmacy Ave., Scarborough.
Feb 25 starting at 10am, this year’s York University Community Band Festival will begin. The four bands participating will be the Newmarket Citizens Band, the Aurora Community Band, the Thornhill Community Band and the Richmond Hill Concert Band. In the morning each band will rehearse their selections in separate rooms. After lunch, each band will have 15 minutes to perform their own numbers and then the massed band will perform the finale for the afternoon.
Feb 25 at 3pm, the Guelph Concert Band presents “Broadway Showstoppers,” selections from Frozen, Hamilton, Wicked, 42nd Street, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables and others; Patrick Stiles, vocals/piano; Bridget Walsh, violin; guests: Kelly Holiff and Jeigh Madjus, vocals. River Run Centre, 35 Woolwich St., Guelph. 519-763-3000.
Mar 4 at 3pm, the Weston Silver Band will present “Kaleidoscope,” including Blue Rondo a la Turk (Brubeck), Impressions (Kevin Lau), Pink Panther (Mancini), The Red Novae (Graham), David of the White Rock, and the march, The Thin Red Line, at Glenn Gould Studio, 250 Front St. W.
Mar 4 at 3:30pm, the Wychwood Clarinet Choir presents “Midwinter Sweets” featuring Five Bagatelles Op.23 by Gerald Finzi; Minuet from “A Downland Suite” by John Ireland; Georgia on my Mind by Hoagy Carmichael, Steve Macdonald tenor saxophone soloist; Rikudim, “Four Israeli Folk Dances” by Jan Van der Roost; Baby Elephant Walk by Henry Mancini. Artistic director and clarinet soloist Michele Jacot. Church of St. Michael and All Angels, 611 St. Clair Ave, W; wychwoodclarinetchoir.com.
Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at email@example.com.