Here we are, it’s December already, but with many community ensembles still more focused on sesquicentennial projects as the year draws to a close than on events that could be described as special for the Christmas season. Let’s start with two band projects we have recently learned of that warrant mention, both of which have significant historical aspects.

Cobourg: The first of these is the announcement of a CD by the Cobourg Concert Band. Although this CD, Pride of Performance, was officially released on Canada Day at the band’s concert in the Cobourg Victoria Park Bandshell, it did not come to our attention until a few days ago. There are a number of ways in which this CD is special. Not only is it a sesquicentennial project, but it marks the 175th year that there has been a town band in Cobourg. That’s 25 years longer than Canada has been a country. Whether that sets a record for the establishment of a town band in Canada will be left for this Cobourg band to dispute with the Newmarket Citizens’ Band and any others that might claim such a title. Every track on this recording is either a new arrangement of an established work or a completely new composition. All are by local musicians, including some band members. Even the cover artwork was created by contest winners from the local St. Mary’s High School. I hope to see a review of this CD in a future issue of The WholeNote.

(A side note: this band also bears the title The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Association – Ontario, and is allowed, by royal assent, to wear the uniform of the Royal Marines. How could this be, you might ask. Some years ago a man named Roland White moved from England and took up residence in Cobourg. He just happened to have been an assistant bandmaster in the Royal Marines working under the renowned conductor Sir Vivian Dunn, and had studied conducting under Sir John Barbirolli. When the town band needed a new conductor, there was White to take over, get that royal assent and change the image of the town band to its present pride of Cobourg.)

London: Where else might we look for a sesquicentennial band project? The first place that comes to mind, of course, is Henry Meredith’s Plumbing Factory Brass Band in London. On Wednesday, December 13, 7:30pm at Byron United Church – 420 Boler Rd., London, Ontario – the PFBB will celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday with “The Golden Age of Brass,” featuring music from the 1800s on period instruments. Since Confederation-era music will be highlighted, von Suppé’s exuberant Jolly Robbers Overture, written exactly 150 years ago in 1867, will open the program. Then, band music by big name composers will include Beethoven’s Marsch des Yorck’schen Korps and Mendelssohn’s War March of the Priests. The centrepiece of the program will be the challenging Raymond Overture by Ambroise Thomas.

Last month I mentioned the importance of musicianship for ensembles to really tell their story. Well, in this program, Dr. Hank has selected a set of four up-tempo compositions to test the skill of his band’s musicians. One highly regarded composer of the 1800s, famed for his toe-tapping pieces based on popular dance forms of the mid-19th century, was Claudio Grafulla. To demonstrate their skills, the band will play a set of four of his works: Cape May Polka, Freischutz Quick Step, Skyrocket March, and Hurrah Storm Galop. Another seasonal favourite, Johann Strauss Sr.’s famous Radetzky March from 1848, will bring the concert to a rousing close. I’m sure that many instruments from Dr. Hank’s vast collection will be front and centre at this concert.

(Another sidenote: While brass bands have many loyal followers, particularly in England and much of North America, that has not always been the case. With the origin of the brass band movement coming largely from company “works bands” in England, there were often considerable derisive comments about them. Sir Thomas Beecham was famous (or infamous) for two of these comments. “The British Brass Band has its place – outdoors, and several miles away” is perhaps his most often quoted. But the one that drew the most ire was  when he referred to the brass band as “that superannuated, obsolete, beastly, disgusting, horrid method of making music.” However, attitudes gradually changed, and in 1947 Beecham even guest-conducted a mass band concert at Belle Vue.)

Ukraine: Speaking of brass bands, recent Salvation Army news caught my attention. The Salvation Army is represented and active in 127 countries around the world. In many of these countries, Salvation Army groups have brass bands. Ukraine, in particular, is a country where there is a will but not the required leadership to develop the brass band movement. Several attempts have been made over the last 25 years to stimulate interest. While some attempts have been successful, with the political unrest of recent years, these have been difficult to sustain.

Enter Bob Gray, a Toronto high school music teacher, trumpet player and conductor with whom I play regularly, who has been active in the Salvation Army for many years. About six years ago, at the Salvation Army’s music camp at Jackson’s Point, he met two young men from Kiev, a cornet player and a euphonium player. After they had returned to Kiev, Bob decided to look into the SA band situation in Ukraine. After the revolution of 2014, Salvation Army churches throughout Ukraine closed, and now there are only two remaining in Kiev. Having learned of the demise of that Salvation Army movement, Gray decided to try to do something to rectify the situation. Item one on his agenda was language study. For over a year he actively studied in preparation for visits to Ukraine for Salvation Army activities. He went to Kiev for the first time in June 2016, then in May 2017, and again in October 2017. Gray, along with the people he met at Jackson’s Point years ago, are trying to resurrect the brass band movement in the Ukraine and, in particular, Kiev. A survey showed that there were 25 instruments in working order and a few players who were willing to commit time and effort to form what would be a divisional band base in Kiev.

The Salvation Army will be celebrating their 25th anniversary of operations in Ukraine this coming June. It is hoped that the divisional band in Kiev will have its debut during that weekend of activities. The Winton Citadel Band from Bournemouth in the United Kingdom will be the featured band for the festivities. The city of Kiev hosted the Eastern block countries Eurovision Song Festival this past June. During the event many groups entertained in local parks and squares. The Salvation Army provided a musical presentation in Victory Park. Bob Gray was a featured cornet soloist as part of these outreach concerts.

A trip to Belgium: A couple of months ago I heard from longtime friend Colin Rowe that he would be travelling to Belgium. I first met Colin some time around 1984 when we were both playing in a swing band at the Newmarket Jazz Appreciation Society. After that, he played trombone in the Governor General’s Horse Guards Band and subsequently became their drum major. Having moved East some years ago, Colin now has the same duties with the Cobourg Concert Band.

Drum major Colin Rowe with the Cobourg Concert Band in Plattsburgh NY, 2013 - Photo by Jack MacQuarrieTo commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Passchendaele, Veterans Affairs Canada decided to mount a very different form of memorial. Specifically they identified nine recipients of the Victoria Cross from that era and the nine regiments in which they served. Then they selected a living representative of each regiment to go to Belgium, but that person could not be a currently serving member of the regiment. One of those VC recipients was Private Tommy Holmes VC from the 48th Canadian Mounted Rifles. At some time after WWI that unit’s name was changed to the Governor General’s Horse Guards. As the representative from the GGHG, Veterans Affairs selected Colin Rowe. All of regimental representatives, along with the band of the Royal 22nd Regiment, embarked on an RCAF transport for their trip to Belgium on November 5.

Another formerly local musician was Kevin Fleming, who was originally introduced to the GGHG by Colin as a trombone player. Later, like Colin, he continued to play trombone, but became Drum Major of the GGHG. Some time later Fleming transferred to the Regular Force, and a while ago to the Royal 22nd Regiment, nicknamed the Van Doos. Their band was selected as the lead band because Passchendaele was one of that regiment’s battle honours. While there were many ceremonies, the highlight for Fleming was at Passchendaele, with a torchlight parade from the WW1 monument to the town square followed by a concert.

Those who went on that trip commented that it had been meticulously organized by Veterans Affairs, and that on the flight over, they were presented with a six-page detailed itinerary for their ten-day visit to memorials and cemeteries, informing them of the time and place of their every move.

(Aside, again: speaking of Belgium, one significant recent event I attended was a concert by Toronto’s Wychwood Clarinet Choir on November 19. While most of the works performed at their concerts are special arrangements, the opening work, Claribel, was written by Belgian composer Guido Six specifically for his Claribel Clarinet Choir in Ostend. This was a wonderful rousing opening. The arranging talent of choir member Roy Greaves was certainly on display as the choir’s moods traversed from the Irish folk song The Lark in the Clear Air and a Mozart Serenade to three tangos by Astor Piazzolla. Harmonically the choir sounded better than I had ever heard it. Their harmonies were so well blended that one might think that their sounds were coming from a single source.)

Greenbank, Ontario: From the tiny Ontario hamlet of Greenbank, conductor and composer Stuart Beaudoin brought his Orpheus Symphonietta to the small town of Uxbridge for another memorable recent event – a concert featuring his new composition Elegy II: Lament and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5. This was the first performance of his composition which conveys, in musical terms, some of the spectrum of the composer’s emotions arising from world events during his lifetime. It’s an interesting work which bears more listening. This same man will be back two weeks later with his Greenbank Cantorei sine Nomine choir and the same orchestra for a three-hour performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in English.

Flute Street: That other local same-instrument-family group, Flute Street, unfortunately had their most recent concert on the same date as the aforementioned Wychwood Clarinet Choir. Their featured soloist was Christine Beard playing alto flute and piccolo. Those types of same-instrument ensembles would seem to be competing for the same audiences, and it is unfortunate that there is not a central registry to avoid such overlaps. Flute Street’s Nancy Nourse had hoped to have her new contra alto flute, but it wasn’t available on time. She says that it will be the first of its kind in Canada. She intends to unveil it in time for their next concert, possibly in March. It’s an unusual instrument made in Holland. She may even travel there to get it and bring it home.

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

What a way to kick off the fall music season. Although I had often heard of Quartetto Gelato since they first hit the Toronto music scene 25 years ago, I had never had the opportunity to hear them in person. Now, here they were almost on my doorstep, at the classic Uxbridge Music Hall, 15 minutes from home. If you have not heard of Quartetto Gelato, you have been missing out on first-rate entertainment provided by a very skilled, classically trained ensemble with the most unusual instrumentation of violin, oboe, accordion and cello. The group has had numerous personnel changes since 1992 with violinist and tenor singer Peter De Sotto being the only original member still in the group. Alexander Sevastian, who joined in 2002, was the winner of the renowned Coupe Mondiale International Accordion Competition in Washington in 2007. In 2009 they were joined by Colin Maier on a wide range of instruments including oboe, clarinet, violin, five-string banjo, electric/acoustic bass, flute, guitar and musical saw. In that year Elizabeth McLellan also joined the group on cello.

With the unique sounds of this instrumentation, and their years of classical training, the ensemble boasts an eclectic repertoire that ranges from Brahms, Bach and Weber to Argentinian tangos, gypsy music and much more. Initially, from my vantage point in the balcony, I assumed that the accordion was the fairly well-known large piano accordion. After watching the dazzling movement of the fingers of Sevastian’s right hand, I realized that this was not the instrument that I had assumed. It is a rare Bayan accordion where the right hand has an amazing array of buttons. (For those who might be curious about the Bayan accordion there is a 30-minute lecture on YouTube detailing its complexities.)

There was not a scrap of music in sight the entire evening. All of the shows musical and choreographic intricacies were performed by memory, with De Sotto switching routinely from violin to his fine tenor voice. Other than the cellist, who remained on her private podium, the others were often in movement. At one point, with De Sotto playing his violin while kneeling on centre stage, Maier put down his oboe, removed his shoes and socks and began a gymnastic routine flip-flopping back and forth over the violinist. It turns out that he is also a dancer and acrobat who spent a time in his career with Cirque du Soleil.

How does this musical group get away with such histrionic showmanship, and what does this all have to do with this column? The answer: first and foremost, is that, for community bands there is a lesson to be learned here. Quartetto Gelato displays outstanding musicianship. With the music under complete control, then a musical group can afford to indulge in showmanship. Unfortunately, in many community bands, either showmanship takes precedence or remains completely hidden. Either way, the end result can be a lacklustre show.

Musicianship

What’s the best way for a community band or orchestra to achieve their musicianship goals? I’m sure there are many ways, but we just heard of an interesting procedure used by Ric Giorgi, conductor of the Strings Attached Orchestra. Here’s the kind of email message he sends to members of his group after a rehearsal: “1. Keep working to make a difference in the sound of notes according to the staccatos, tenutos, caps or accents etc they have over or under them. The rhythm was starting to sound pretty classy once you started playing these. Check your accidentals and see how far into the section after letter E you can get. 2. After letter E the arranger throws the melody around in bits to different sections, so write in (in pencil) the beat numbers and sub-beat ‘and’s with vertical lines over them so it’s clear how much you have to rest between notes as well as how you play when you have notes. Remember that an accidental affects every note in a bar after the accidental and any note that’s tied into the next bar.”

This may all sound very elementary, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to honour the basics.

While on the subject of Strings Attached, we just received word of their Young Composers Initiative (YCI). In November they will be performing Cassiopeia with the 2016 YCI winner in Orangeville. Last year’s second-place winner (now 12 years old) has said that he’s determined to outdo his previous effort. More power to him.

A trip to London

Next recent musical journey for me was a trip to London, Ontario. The first part of this trip was to sit in as an observer of a class reunion of music graduates from Western University. While I did not attend this university, it was interesting to observe class mates of years gone by. Having not seen each other for years, they soon coalesced into a band and a choir in the morning and performed on stage in the afternoon. Again: musicianship at play.

Henry Meredith with part of his collection.The other part of my journey took me to the home of Professor Henry Meredith, also known as Dr. Hank, the conductor of the noted Plumbing Factory Brass Band. Having donated some of my older instruments to his collection of old brass instruments, I was expecting to see a large array of instruments including some obscure vintage items rarely seen in public these days. Astounding would be a better to describe what I saw. On the ground floor of his house there were a few instruments. Then, in the basement I saw rows of trumpets, cornets and bugles hanging six deep on pegs in one section, with larger instruments in nearby nooks. Then it was off to the two-car garage. There were two cars in the driveway, but no room for them in the garage. Hanging all over were framed pictures of town and military bands from years gone by. How many forms of tubas, sousaphones, ophicleides and other bass instruments could there be? Then we went up to the loft over the garage. More varieties of instruments, row on row, greeted us.

More about all this later, but, in short: I’d say all that Dr. Hank wants for Christmas is a museum to display his collection of 6.000-plus musical instruments.

Eddie Graf

It is with great sorrow that I report on the passing of Eddie Graf. Edwin John Graf was a composer, arranger, musician and bandleader. During WWII Eddie was a band leader in an army entertainment troop in Europe. It was there that he met his wife-to-be Bernice (Bunny), who was at his bedside when he passed away 73 years later. I first met Eddie in the late 1960s when I was acting as MC for many concerts in Toronto parks. Over the past few years Eddie had been gradually declining, but continued playing and writing music. He played in and wrote music for the Encore Band and his son Lenny’s band. He last played his clarinet at a band concert just a few days before his passing.

On my return from London I headed straight to a service to celebrate Eddie’s life. Such services are frequently very sombre memories of a person’s life, but not this time. This was truly a celebration of Eddie by hundreds of fellow musicians and family members. Son Lenny spoke and showed a video which he had compiled about his father. This was followed by music from a small band of friends. I personally met up with many people with whom I had played as long as 50 years ago. Before we knew it, people were dancing to the band’s music. Why, I even had a dance with Resa Kochberg the founder and director of Resa’s Pieces Band. (By the way, Monday, December 4 at 7:30, Resa’s Pieces, which over the years has grown to four distinct ensembles, presents “Music from your Favourite Films” at York Mills Collegiate, 490 York Mills Rd.)

Missed

Too late to attend, we learned of an interesting evening in Richmond Hill called “Notes and Quotes” on October 22. There was a lecture and concert on the music history of York Region by professor Robin Elliott, Chalmers Chair, University of Toronto. This was a partnership with the Richmond Hill Historical Society and Richmond Hill Heritage. The Richmond Hill Concert Band performed a newly commissioned piece by Bobby Herriot.

A different kind of missed concert for me, will be the Northdale Concert band’s 50th anniversary concert which will take place on Saturday, November 4, 3pm, at the Salvation Army Citadel on Lawrence Ave. E., at Warden. Having been a member of the band for several years, I had hoped to be able to attend their special concert but a long-term prior commitment has to be given precedence. On a visit to one of their recent rehearsals, however, I did manage to hear Gary Kulesha’s new Dance Suite for Concert Band and guest trombone soloist Vanessa Fralick’s stunning performance of Arthur Pryor’s Thoughts of Love.

Upcoming

Nov 2 and Dec 7 at 12pm: The Encore Symphonic Concert Band presents their “Monthly Concert” of big band, swing, jazz and film scores. John Liddle, conductor. Wilmar Heights Centre, 963 Pharmacy Ave., Scarborough.

Nov 3 at 8pm: Etobicoke Community Concert Band presents “Movie Magic” featuring current and past motion picture box office hits; Hollywood blockbusters, Disney at the movies, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and more. Etobicoke Collegiate Auditorium, 86 Montgomery Rd., Etobicoke.

Nov 19 at 3:30pm: The Wychwood Clarinet Choir presents “Harvest Song” featuring Claribel by Roland Cardon, The Lark in the Clear Air (arr. Roy Greaves), and many others too numerous to mention; conductor and clarinet soloist, Michele Jacot. Church of St. Michael and All Angels, 611 St. Clair Ave, W.

Nov 25 at 7:30pm: Silverthorn Symphonic Winds open their 2017/2018 season with “Fall Festival” at the Wilmar Heights Event Centre Concert Hall, 963 Pharmacy Ave, Toronto (just north of Eglinton).

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

My calendar says that fall has begun, but the weatherman tells me that he has declared a “weather alert.” Whichever it is doesn’t make much difference for the community band scene. The summer events have passed and the events scheduled for this time of year will go ahead as planned unless our weather deteriorates to the kind we have seen in the Caribbean recently.

The Summer Scene

The Shimoda Family Consort - In the left hand of the performer at far right is a recorder even smaller than a piccolo.In some ways, from my perspective, the local community music scene has been a bit benign, with most groups emphasizing Canada 150 and the works of Canadian composers. Over the official summer period I heard many of the same works many times over with only minor variations. The one musical event which stood out for me was not by a community band, but by an excellent Baroque recorder consort. In the June issue I mentioned that I was looking forward to hearing the Shimoda Family Consort at the Foster Memorial. Well, on August 25 I was not disappointed. This is truly a family ensemble. Mother, father and two sons all move around playing an amazing array of recorders, from one somewhat smaller than a piccolo to the largest, which is taller than a contrabassoon. In this concert, in addition to playing a couple of different recorders, the mother also accompanied the others on harpsichord and played one harpsichord solo.

While I used the term “Baroque” to describe this group, most of their repertoire was from a period earlier than that usually referred to as Baroque. From such well-known names as Bach, Vivaldi and Telemann backward in time to such unknowns as Ludwig Senfl (1486-1543) and Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652), the music was all very enjoyable. Newest works on the program were two pieces from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Such music on a beautiful summer evening in this architecturally stunning venue has left its mark in my memory.

Coming soon

The most notable event on the community band horizon this fall – that we are aware of – is a “50th Anniversary Concert” and banquet for the Northdale Concert Band. Having played in this band for some years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, under the direction of conductors Carl Hammond and James McKay, this event is of particular personal interest.

The Northdale Concert Band had its beginnings in 1967, with a group of students who had originally met and first played instrumental music together at Willowdale Junior High School and later played together at Northview Heights Secondary School in Toronto. There, along with other interested music students, they formed the band. The name Northdale came from the names of these two schools. Music teachers Ted Graham and Wayne Moss took on the band, held rehearsals once a week, and gave concerts open to the public. As time passed, the band became an adult group.  None of its original members remain in the band today. However, the band has its roots in the community, and has developed into a skilled group of dedicated amateurs and many music professionals, with a number of the members having been with the group for several decades. Many members play and teach music professionally; others teach music in the elementary and secondary schools; and others are students in the music faculties of York University or the University of Toronto. Other members are in varied careers, but all turn out reliably to rehearse and perform in various community venues.

Through the years, there have been many fine Northdale conductors, too numerous to mention here. Stephen Chenette, professor emeritus, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, was the conductor from 1996 until 2010 when the present conductor, Joseph Resendes, took over the baton. Born in Toronto, Resendes has extensive professional credits as an active conductor, composer, performer and educator, and is currently in the process of completing his PhD in the field of musicology, ethnomusicology focusing on wind studies, conducting and the development of community music in Canada. As well as being the musical director and conductor of the Northdale Concert Band, he also currently holds positions as the music director of East York Concert Band, St. Mary’s Church Choir, VL Sax Quartet and as assistant music director of Ecos of Portugal.

A feature of this anniversary concert will be the world premiere of a newly commissioned piece, Dance Suite, by renowned Canadian composer Gary Kulesha, composer advisor to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra since 1995. Although principally a composer, Kulesha is active as both a pianist and conductor, and as a teacher. In 1986, he represented Canada at the International Rostrum of Composers in Paris, and has twice been nominated for JUNO awards, for his Third Chamber Concerto (in 1990) and again in 2000 for The Book of Mirrors.

Another feature of this Northdale anniversary program will be guest soloist Vanessa Fralick, associate principal trombone of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Prior to joining the TSO, she played three seasons as acting associate principal trombone of the St. Louis Symphony, after winning her first orchestral position with the San Antonio Symphony in 2009 while pursuing her master’s degree at The Juilliard School with Joseph Alessi of the New York Philharmonic. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, and is an alumna of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, National Youth Orchestra and the National Academy Orchestra of Canada. She occasionally plays alongside her brass-playing parents in the Niagara Symphony Orchestra in her hometown of St. Catharines, Ontario.

The concert and banquet take place on Saturday, November 4 at 3pm, at the Salvation Army Citadel, Lawrence and Warden Ave. (2021 Lawrence Ave. E.) in Toronto.

A unique aspect of Northdale Concert Band is their music publishing venture known as Northdale Music Press Limited. The project of issuing new works by Canadian composers for concert band began with Ontario Arts Council funding in 1985, when six new works were commissioned by Northdale Concert Band. The band travelled to Expo 86 in Vancouver and performed the world premiere of these compositions at the Canada and Ontario Pavilions. The scope of publication has increased, and today, Northdale Music Press publishes compositions for other ensembles, including brass band, stage band, and wind octet.

CBA Community Band Weekend

As if they didn’t have enough to plan for with their anniversary concert and banquet, the Northdale Concert Band is hosting the Canadian Band Association’s Fall Community Band Weekend, Friday October 13 to Sunday October 15 at the Church of St. Jude’s Wexford, 10 Howarth Avenue in Toronto. Visit either Northdale or CBA websites for details.

New Horizons Bands

As in past years the news from New Horizons Bands is great. The Toronto group’s annual “Instrument Exploration Night” was a huge success, with 22 participants and six instrument coaches honking, tooting and banging on all the instruments. Many signed up for beginner classes. With 45 new members this year, total membership now stands at well over 260, spread out over eight bands and two jazz groups. And it’s still not too late to join for this year.

Their annual Remembrance Day concert, “A Night to Remember,” is scheduled for November 10 at 7:30pm at Church of the Holy Trinity, 85 Livingston Rd., Scarborough; their annual band festival is set for January 27, 2018.

With this kind of growth it was decided that the organizational structure should be updated. So, New Horizons Toronto incorporated last year to facilitate adding stability to the group should Dan Kapp and his wife Lisa decide to move on to new challenges. The board is working to figure out how to cover all of the activities that need to be done to run such a large group.

Meanwhile, the York Region New Horizons group, which just started last year, held an event which they called “Test Drive a Band Instrument,” and will have started classes by now at Cosmo Music in Richmond Hill. Their classes are all on Mondays with morning, afternoon and evening sessions. For information contact Doug Robertson at 416-457-6316 or nhbyrdirector@gmail.com.

Hannaford Street Silver Band

As they enter their 34th season, the Hannaford Street Silver Band is adding even more colour and variety to their annual concert programming. Over the years they have gradually added other musical artists to broaden the taste and colour from the traditional all brass band repertoire. This year it is even broader. Every concert will have a unique flavour. Their opening concert “Tango!” will feature, as guests, the Payadora Tango Ensemble. This quartet of violin, accordion, piano and double bass with their traditional Argentine Tango music will certainly be a departure from what we have come to expect at an all brass band concert. That’s Sunday, October 22 at 3pm in the Jane Mallett Theatre.

 

As I sit down to put pen to paper (sit down to the keyboard; this is 2017!), and muse on where to start for this September issue, after our two-month hiatus, one question seems to be: What was significant in the summer in the band world? The answer which keeps coming up is just another question: What day was summer on this year? What with cancelled concerts and rained-out festivals I’m going to have to dig back all the way to June for some of my highlights.

Three of the Best

In the June column I mentioned that I was looking forward to attending the final concert of the season of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir. I certainly was not disappointed. In particular, the arrangement of Calixa Lavallée’s Bridal Rose Overture by Richard Moore and Roy Greaves surpassed my expectations. In a previous column I had also mentioned that I hoped to meet Wynne Krangle, the clarinet player from Whitehorse who rehearses with the choir over the internet. There she was in the choir, and we managed to have a brief chat after the concert.

Another concert I mentioned in the June issue as one I hoped to attend was that of the Strings Attached Orchestra. Here again the concert exceeded my expectations. The orchestra has developed their Young Composers Initiative (YCI) where they “hope to encourage the writing of contemporary works for strings by composers 16 years of age and younger.” In this concert they performed Viaggio delle Farfalle by Damiano Perrella, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student from Port Credit Secondary School. In simple terms, one might say that it describes the evolution of a caterpillar to a butterfly. The title, translated from the Italian, means “the voyage of flight of the butterflies.” The composer states that he was inspired to write this during a stroll where he came across a butterfly flying away, and was immediately curious as to how he could translate this grace into music. In his words: “I wanted to convey the emotions related with flight starting from a caterpillar.” As Franz Liszt once said: “The musician who is inspired by nature exhales in tones nature’s most tender secrets without copying it. He thinks, he feels, he speaks through nature.” This young composer did just that.

Dan and Lisa Kapp (with Alphorn)The third musical event of the summer which stands out in my memory was by the Resa’s Pieces Concert Band. Not only were they joined for some numbers by Resa’s choir and strings, but they had a featured alphorn solo by none other than Dan Kapp of New Horizons fame. This was Dan’s arrangement for band of Ballad for Alphorn and Frustrated Percussionist by composer Dennis Armitage. He was aided by his wife Lisa who, as the frustrated percussionist, displayed her virtuosity on the triangle, cow bell, small and large cymbal, slide whistle, police whistle, bird call etc. Having never heard of this composer, I checked and learned that he was born in England, but lived most of his life in Switzerland. Hence the interest in the alphorn. We have learned that Dan and Lisa will be performing this work in Lindsay on October 28 with piano and organ accompaniment. Hopefully, we’ll have details of that event in time for the October issue.

Other

For those concerts which were not cancelled because of weather conditions, the common theme was the Canada 150/sesquicentennial. For most that meant a major component of the programs had to be Canadian content. In most of the programs this Canadian content was largely by lesser-known contemporary Canadians. As a form of memorial, almost every concert that I was aware of featured something by Howard Cable. Unfortunately I saw little, if any, 19th-century or early 20th-century Canadian works. Although there are several fine concert band arrangements of his work, the only work by Calixa Lavallée in any concert program which came to my attention was O Canada (other than, as mentioned, Calixa Lavallée’s Bridal Rose Overture at Wychwood).

Trivia

To lighten things up for the coming musical season it might be time for a bit of trivia. In the spring I had the pleasure of attending a fun-raising trivia night for the Amadeus Choir. Based on the popular Trivial Pursuit, attendees formed teams around tables and provided team answers to questions posed. Each team had to choose a team name. There were prizes for correct answers, but there was also a prize for the best team name. The name which struck the chord with me was “La Triviata.”

Anyone who plays a musical instrument knows only too well that one of the perils on the learning curve is learning the meaning of the multitude of stylistic markings which lie beneath the notes on any score telling us how that bit should be played. During a recent rehearsal, while sight reading a new work, I realized that I had never seen a warning of an impending awkward, difficult or tricky passage. Ergo, it is time to add to the lexicon. How about jp or justo pretendo as a recognized warning for such situations?

Hail (and Farewell?)

On a recent TV news broadcast there was a brief showing of US President Trump arriving at some ceremonial function. He was greeted by a military band in full dress regalia with ceremonial trumpeters at the fore. After suitable trumpet flourishes and fanfare, the president stepped down to the tune of the traditional Hail to the Chief. Having heard of a controversy about this particular music, I dug into some notes which I had made some years ago. The first question might be why this music, written by an Englishman? Based on a Scottish Gaelic melody, it was written around 1812 by James Sanderson who added words from Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake. It seems that Chester Arthur, US President in the late 1880s questioned why important ceremonial occasions would require music by anyone but an American composer. Based on this, a call went out for an American composition. While there may have been other submissions, John Philip Sousa submitted his new Presidential Polonaise. It never caught on, and Hail to the Chief is still the choice. But with his emphasis on buy American, will the current president reconsider? Several renditions of Presidential Polonaise are available on YouTube.

Coming

The Toronto New Horizons bands will be starting back soon with their annual Instrument Exploration Workshop to be held Friday, September 8 at 7:30pm at the Long and McQuade store on Bloor Street. As in the past, this will be an excellent opportunity for anyone, considering taking up music or getting back after an absence, to consider which instrument might appeal to them. Just a few years ago the first New Horizons band was formed in Toronto with modest hopes. This year there will be a second beginner band bringing the total number of NH bands in Toronto to ten. Classes begin September 11.

On Tuesday, October 10, Silverthorn Symphonic Winds presents the first concert of their season in the series, 59 Minute Soiree. Wilmar Heights Event Centre – Concert Hall, 963 Pharmacy Ave, Toronto (just north of Eglinton). These informal musical entertainments feature a variety of lighter music.

The Hannaford Youth Band is preparing for an interesting season including a concert with the West Humber Steel Band in their “Rising Stars Brass and Steel” concert in the new year. For anyone interested in joining this great band, auditions are Saturday, September 16. Applications may be submitted online.

The York Regional Brass are preparing for another season of brass band music. They are looking for new members and would welcome inquiries. They rehearse in Aurora on Wednesday evenings. If interested, contact Peter Hussey at pnhussey@rogers.com.

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

2209 BBB BandstandIn last month’s column, while talking about the characteristics of various performance venues, I mentioned the Foster Memorial. You might ask: where and what is the Foster Memorial, and why should it be of interest to music lovers?

This architectural gem, little known to most people in the GTA, is less than an hour’s drive from Toronto and if you are not familiar with “The Foster,” this summer could be the ideal time. In their Ontario’s Choice Awards in November 2016, Attractions Ontario named the Thomas Foster Memorial as the Top Small Performing Arts Attraction in Ontario. In the words of Troy Young, CEO of Attractions Ontario, “These awards are unique because they were chosen exclusively by the consumers that visit these sites.”

So what exactly is the Foster Memorial? Located four kilometres north of the town of Uxbridge, it is actually a mausoleum built by Thomas Foster as a memorial to his wife. Thomas Foster was born and raised in Scott Township just north of Uxbridge where his father ran the Leaskdale Hotel. He became a butcher in Cabbagetown in Toronto, was elected as an MP, and served as mayor of Toronto from 1925 to 1927. He also made a large fortune from real estate.

In his late seventies, while on a visit to India, Foster was inspired by the Taj Mahal. On his return, he built this family memorial in the rolling countryside of Uxbridge Township. While the architecture was originally inspired by Foster’s trip, its design is greatly influenced by the architecture of the early Byzantine churches. Entering through the heavy bronze doors, one is struck by the beauty of the marble and terrazzo interior, flooded by the soft light coming through the stained glass windows. The Foster Memorial is truly a unique structure. Completed in 1936, it contains three crypts: for Mr. Foster, his wife and his daughter.

In recent years this “Diamond of the Durham Region” has been the venue for a wide spectrum of events, from weddings to concerts. As for musical performances, it’s “Fridays at The Foster” at 7:30pm all summer from the beginning of May until the end of September. For soloists and small groups, the acoustics are excellent, but the layout and acoustics do not work for large groups. As for repertoire, it ranges from Irish music, traditional folk ballads, bluegrass and Broadway hits to Diana Davis performing using quartz crystal singing bowls and flute. One group which really impressed me when they performed at The Foster a few years ago was the Shimoda Family recorder ensemble. I certainly intend to be in the audience when they return on August 25 with their rarely heard authentic Baroque music.

Another Uxbridge gem: While on the subject of lesser-known performance venues, the town of Uxbridge has another gem. Since its grand opening in December 1901, the Uxbridge Music Hall, with its excellent acoustics, has been blessed with a wide range of concerts and stage productions. In 2011, for its 110th anniversary, there was a reenactment of the hall’s very first concert. On that occasion I had the privilege of performing in the recreated “Town Orchestra” for that reenactment. I even had the honour of supplying the anvil and hammer for our rendition of the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore. (As for coming events, the only one that I am aware of at the moment in this significantly under-utilized venue is that of the small ensemble Quartetto Gelato, who will be performing there on September 30.)

 

Recent Events

Wellington Winds: When one looks at the scores of most works for concert bands, one finds that they frequently call for instruments that rarely get any consideration for even minuscule solos. One such instrument is the E-flat alto clarinet. If the band has an alto clarinet, it is rarely heard on its own. More often, it spends its time hidden and doubling the parts of other instruments. More often than not this instrument is the butt of uncomplimentary jokes. Rarely, if ever, is it the first choice for young players or their teachers. Now, enter Stephen Fox. A distinguished Canadian clarinetist and instrument historian, as well as a world-class clarinet builder, Fox has recently attracted attention for his new model of alto clarinet which has been receiving accolades for its warm compelling tone. Apparently, up till now, there was no known work for solo alto clarinet and wind ensemble. Enter Michael Purves-Smith: “Such a wonderful instrument deserves a significant solo voice,” he says and rose to the challenge. His concerto for alto clarinet and wind ensemble needed a name. When he asked his wife, Shannon, for a suggestion, possibly influenced by the common prejudices against the instrument she immediately responded, “Why not call it the Seven Deadly Sins”? The Seven Deadly Sins received its first performance by Stephen Fox, as soloist, and the Wellington Wind Symphony under the direction of Daniel Warren, April 30 in Kitchener and the following week in Waterloo.

New Horizons: The last time we heard from the New Horizons Band of York Region was some months ago. On a visit to one of their rehearsals in Richmond Hill there were fewer than 15 members. As with all New Horizons bands, this group is for active adults who want to learn music in a friendly, supportive atmosphere with other active adults. Now, with almost 30 members near the end of their first year of learning together, they had their first concert ever on May 25. If you have considered taking up a musical instrument, director Doug Robertson would love to hear from you. He can be reached at nhbyrdirector@gmail.com.

Silverthorn Symphonic Winds concluded their 2016/17 season on May 27 at the Wilmar Heights Event Centre with “Spring Celebration,” honouring Canada’s 150th. The repertoire featured works by Canadian composers and arrangers, including Morley Calvert, John Herberman and Howard Cable.

Wychwood: Finally, as I write this, I am looking forward to attending the final concert of the season of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir on May 28, so by the time this issue is on the streets the concert will be past history. At time of writing, I am looking forward to two matters. I hope to meet Wynne, the clarinet player from Whitehorse who rehearses with the choir over the Internet. I am also looking forward to hearing The Bridal Rose Overture by Calixa Lavallée, as arranged by Richard Moore and Roy Greaves.

Coming Events

Luminato: Fresh from their recent stunning victory at the Brass Band competition in the US, the Weston Silver Band is now taking on a very different role. This time they are onstage as part of a major musical event in this year’s Luminato Festival in Toronto. A hit of the 2015 Edinburgh International Festival, En avant, marche! is a genre-defying tragicomedy from acclaimed Belgium choreographer Alain Platel. It’s the story of a trombone player, no longer able to play his instrument due to illness, who is demoted to playing the cymbals. Throughout band practice, the larger-than-life protagonist terrorizes fellow band members, confides in the audience, sings arias and dances an unlikely ballet duet, all with exuberance and a riotous slapstick edge. Four actors and seven musicians are joined onstage by Toronto’s Weston Silver Band, playing marching band classics along with 19th- and 20th-century pieces ranging from Verdi to Beethoven and Schubert to Mahler. If there ever was a true, and truly unforgettable, celebration of the power of making music together, this sounds like it. Performances are from June 21 to 24 at the Bluma Appel Theatre.

Looking Ahead

One band which has been on the local concert scene for years will not be there this coming year. After 25 years, the Uxbridge Community Concert Band (UCCB) will be absent. Music director Steffan Brunette is taking a year off from the band and from his school, teaching and studying composition. In September he will take on new duties as Head of Music at a new high school in Markham. Hopefully, the UCCB will be back next year.

Saturday, June 3, at 2pm, the Festival Wind Orchestra will present their 2017 summer concert at North Toronto Collegiate (17 Broadway Ave., Toronto). Founded in 1996, the Festival Wind Orchestra is an adult community wind orchestra, which rehearses weekly under the direction of Keith Reid at Riverdale Collegiate in Toronto. Their concert will feature music by Canadian composers, including: Overture: St. John’s, 1828 by Ben Bolden; Sodbuster by Elizabeth Raum; Genesi by Vince Gassi; and Canadian Folk Song Fantasy by William McCauley. Also featured will be Jason Dallas performing Joseph Horovitz’s Euphonium Concerto. Since I am a dedicated euphonium aficionado, and having never heard of this composer, I decided to check for information on him. As professor of composition at the Royal College of Music since 1961, he is someone that we should have heard of before.

Sunday, June 4, at 7pm, Strings Attached Orchestra, under the direction of Ricardo Giorgi, will present their final concert of the season at the Isabel Bader Theatre. In the words of director Ric, “We have new, old and middle-aged music for you,” from Ravel’s Bolero and the last movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, to the rarely performed Concerto for 2 Recorders in B-flat by Telemann and a musical hoax by Samuel Dushkin. They will also give the first ever performance of the winning composition of Ric’s second annual Young Composers Initiative, called Viaggio delle Farfalle by Damiano Perrella.

Tuesday, June 6, at 8pm, Resa’s Pieces Concert Band will present their 18th annual gala at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

Tuesday, June 13, at 7:30pm, Silverthorn Symphonic Winds will present their final concert in their series of 59 Minute Soirees. These informal musical entertainments feature a variety of lighter music. Guests are invited to enjoy refreshments and conversation with the musicians after the concert. Wilmar Heights Event Centre – Concert Hall, 963 Pharmacy Ave., Toronto (just north of Eglinton).

Saturday, November 4, the Northdale Concert Band will present their 50th anniversary concert with the title “The Big 5-0h!” The program will include a newly commissioned work by Gary Kulesha. The concert will feature as trombone soloist Vanessa Fralick, associate principal trombone of the TSO.

Finally, in last month’s column I mentioned my belated introduction to the longtime Hart House Symphonic Band. The concert dates for their next academic year are: December 3, 2017 and April 8, 2018.

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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