bannerJack as a child (circa 1930) in Walkerville, now part of Windsor ON.During a very brief period of palliative care and shortly after celebrating his 95th birthday, Jack passed away this past January, at Markham Stouffville Hospital. His Bandstand column occupied this very spot in The WholeNote, right before the listings, for more than 14 years, and readers who regularly made their way here to find him, will feel the loss, as will I. Two days before his passing he asked me to make sure to tell WholeNote colleagues and you, his readers, how much you meant to him.

Right up until COVID-19 restrictions put paid to live community music making,  Jack was still playing regularly (tuba, trombone and bass trombone) as a 25+ year member in The Newmarket Citizen’s Band, Resa’s Pieces Concert Band and Swing Machine, a Toronto based big band. “Not bad for someone with COPD” he once told me, regaling me with a tale of how his doctor had said it was impossible, so he should keep it up.

Similarly, he stuck to his WholeNote duties to the last. His final completed column for The WholeNote (December/January) was an uncharacteristically “deep dive” into reminiscing about his early years in Windsor. To the last, we were chatting almost daily about the column that would have been in this spot, on the subject of circus bands. He shared with me each nugget of information he had gleaned from sources as divergent as his own unruly archives and “Mr. Google.”

His wife of 35 years, Joan Andrews, told me last week that the plan is to have “a celebration of his life at a future date, when it is possible to gather together and create live music once again.” And what a life it was.

Jack with his trombone. Photo by Joan AndrewsIn a 2014 interview in The WholeNote, MJBuell asked Jack if there had always been music in his home: “Always” was the reply. “Lots of radio music from Detroit stations.  My parents met in a Gilbert and Sullivan production. It was in the auditorium of the place I eventually went to high school. My mother, Nan, was a semi-professional singer, church soloist, and for a time, a member of the Detroit Light Opera Company. My father, Archie, was a dedicated opera fan, and the Metropolitan Opera was on our radio every Saturday afternoon. My mother organized a vocal quartet which practiced regularly in our living room for some years. Probably my earliest musical memory would be my mother singing the role of Buttercup from HMS Pinafore as she worked around the house.” 

Jack was bitten by the band bug in grade 11 when he joined The High Twelve Club Boys Band (sponsored by a service club), and then the local Kiwanis Boys Band. The Boys Band was “borrowed” by the commanding officer of the local naval training unit who’d been asked to recruit a reserve band. Boys as young as 12 through 17, whose parents gave permission, found themselves Probationary Boy Bandsman with a uniform and rehearsal pay – for Navy parades, concerts in the park and Navy events. 

It was the start of a lifelong Navy association, going on active service after high school; as he wryly described it in the April 2014 interview article, “learning some new instruments – radio and radar.” When WWII ended he completed his undergraduate degree at U of T where he played in the Varsity Band, the Conservatory Concert Band and the U of T Symphony. One memorable university summer, he recalled in that interview, he played trombone six nights a week in a dance band at the popular Erie Beach Pavilion – six days a week, from nine until midnight. And then Sundays they’d go to Detroit and hear all the touring big bands – Ellington, Kenton, Burnett, Herman, Dorsey.

Jack (centre) and some young Navy buddies, fresh out of high school  “We were high school friends with a common interest in jazz and big band music – the boy on the right played piano quite well.”Jack MacQuarrie returned to sea during the Korean War as a Navy Lieutenant Commander and diving officer, laying aside music during those seven years, but never since. With music fuelling his lungs, mind and spirit, he returned to university, acquired an MBA and then did four years of graduate studies in engineering – investigating human performance in hostile (underwater) environments. He received a Massey Fellowship under Robertson Davies. He worked for some time at marketing in the airborne electronics business. He was a past president of the Skywide Amateur Radio Club, was the first instructor for the Hart House Underwater Club and to the last remained active in the Naval Club of Toronto. In January 2013 MacQuarrie was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for contributions to Canada. 

In one episode he wrote about in The WholeNote, in 2014, he and Joan Andrews enrolled as volunteers in research on brain function and aging, comparing musicians with non-musicians, at the Baycrest Centre. It was one memorable story among hundreds over the years as he regaled readers with great anecdotes and dreadful puns – above all else spreading the word about all the people he was in touch with who were keeping community band music making alive. Readers so inclined can find his most recent column on our website and then scroll back in time, column after column, as I’ve been doing this last while. 

Curious as to what might have changed or not over the course of this pandemic year, I went to look at the February 2020 column (wondering for a moment if just reprinting it would serve here to give readers a taste of the man). It didn’t disappoint: from Groundhog Day to the Newmarket Citizens Band’s bright idea of building their Christmas party around an open rehearsal: “How often do tuba players chat with clarinet players, after all?”; and from Henry “Dr. Hank” Meredith’s collection of 300 bugles, to Jack’s latest musings (something he was passionate about) on what bands should and shouldn’t take into consideration when selecting repertoire. 

There’s one more snippet from that column that is a fitting place to end this – an exchange with a reader: “He [the reader, Bernie Lynch] recounted a bit about his personal band involvement, from Orono around 1946, to Weston in 1950, and Chinguacousy in 2012. ‘Never a very good performer but always a good participant,’ is how he describes himself. [Well] we need more good participants. Let us hear from more of you out in the community music world!”  

A fitting place to end except for one thing. Jack always tried to throw in something at the end – a quip, a “daffy definition,” a pun – that would get a smile.

So here’s mine: the part of his February 2020 column that he got the biggest charge out of researching and writing, was of all things, a piece of music called “The Impeachment Polka”. Jack would have liked that. 

David Perlman, with files from MJ Buell

Here we are at December, with all of the closures and quarantines having pretty well confined most musical groups to such measures as Zoom sessions. We even hear that Christmas will be delayed until some time in January, so Santa can quarantine for two weeks. So, with time on my hands, and since December happens to be my birth month, I decided to do a bit of reminiscing instead. 

Early band days

My plan was to start by referring to a band photograph I’ve been looking at from time to time for the past many months. Of course when I actually went to get it to refer to it, Murphy’s Law prevailed. It has disappeared and is not likely to reappear until this column has arrived at the printer. Ergo, rely on memory.

My band days began in Windsor when two school pals told me about the band that they played in. Jimmy Rees (cornet) and Keith Finney (tuba) took me to a rehearsal and introduced me to Mr. Arthur Laley, bandmaster of the High Twelve Boys Band, an all-brass band in the British tradition. As the name implies, the band was sponsored by the local High Twelve Club – High Twelve being an organization of Master Masons placing a special emphasis on youth support, and so-named because, long ago, noon was known as “high twelve” and the time to call off from labour for lunch. 

The band owned all its the instruments, so there would be no significant financial problems for me. Having been given a small toy drum some years earlier, I mentioned that I would like to play drums. Mr. Laley diplomatically informed me that the band did not have an opening for a drummer at that time. He suggested that he could both provide a baritone horn and that he could teach me how to play it. Thus began a lifelong interest in brass instruments.

Most young bands at that time were “Boys Bands”. However, at High Twelve there was a difference. Two of Mr. Laley’s three children were girls. One was the lead cornet, the other was the lead trombone and the son was the lead euphonium. In addition to the weekly band rehearsals, there were sectional rehearsals in Mr. Laley’s basement on other nights. Our summer months were busy too  –. with parades, small tattoos and competitions in various towns in Southern Ontario, to which we were usually fortunate to have a sufficient number of interested parents to drive us. 

Read more: Time to Reminisce

As we sit in anticipation of small white crystals on our lawns, rather than those colourful bright leaves, we have to realize that our community music is going to be very different this year than the rehearsals and concerts we have been accustomed to. While the social aspects of community music have almost entirely disappeared, along with the leaves, with so many advances in digital technology we are seeing amazing adaptations across the musical spectrum.

Tech Talk

In last month’s issue of this column I mentioned that New Horizons Band of Toronto, in collaboration with Resa’s Pieces, would be working with Long and McQuade Music for a “Tech Talk Workshop.” Other than the fact that the venture was to consist of a few online Zoom sessions of advice from specialists at L & M, details were rather sketchy at the time. Since I was not able to participate in the first of these in order to find out more for myself, I asked Randy Kligerman from New Horizons what sparked the idea and how the first session worked out.

Read more: Music for Life

Here we are; fall has begun. Normally, by now we would have heard of all of the plans for the coming season including concerts, rehearsals and maybe some new member recruitment. This fall the focus is on closures. The most drastic one that we have heard of so far is the notice from the Toronto District School Board. Since the pandemic problems began, the board has locked the doors for all outside organizations. Now, the board has sent notices to outside organizations like bands, choirs and other renters of board facilities that they will remain locked out for the balance of the calendar year, and perhaps longer.

So how are community music groups coping? Most are actively seeking alternative rehearsal spaces; some have given up temporarily. A few are trying to maintain some form of Zoom rehearsal, or at least social gatherings. One of the more interesting activities I heard about is that Resa’s Pieces in cooperation with New Horizons Band Toronto (two ensembles I have written about frequently in the past) were in discussions with Long & McQuade Music to plan a few online Zoom sessions of advice from specialists at L & M. Stay tuned on that one!

Chris Lee and James Brown. Photo by Jack MacQuarrie

How are groups adapting?

While concert bands and similar large groups are basically shut down, smaller groups are adapting and new small groups are being formed. While most are simply rehearsing to maintain their skills and their social contacts, some are exploring small ensemble work for the first time. Rather than restrict their playing to in-house rehearsals, some have expanded their horizons and are performing on porches, on lawns, in driveways and even in cul-de-sacs where available. While some are simply impromptu events for the enjoyment of the players, others have been well organized to raise funds to assist professional musicians who have few, it any, paid gigs during the pandemic. In some cases, listeners are charged an admission fee, in others, donations are collected.

Read more: Fall Fare

September 1, 2020 is fast approaching, and that date has quite some significance for The WholeNote. It was 25 years ago on September 1, 1995 that the very first edition of The WholeNote was introduced to Ontario’s music lovers. As for my association with this magazine, it was 14 years ago, on September 1, 2006 that my first Bandstand column appeared. I asked myself: “What has changed?” The answer: “What hasn’t?”

In that very first column I started by mentioning: “The Canadian National Exhibition has just opened for another season.” It won’t be open this year. I also stated: “For most of us that event is the harbinger of changes soon to come; shorter days, cooler weather, vacations over, back to school, and for many, back to band rehearsals after a summer recess.” No band rehearsals any time soon. Then I stated: “For others in the band community, it heralds the end of a busy round of park concerts.” No park concerts this year. 

So that leaves us with two questions. What were our community bands able to do this summer? Where does it leave our bands for the months to come?

Read more: The more it changes, the more it changes!
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