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!

As the days drag on into weeks and the weeks drag on into months, with no live music, we are all suffering in some way or other. Finally I have learned from a local columnist that there is a name for our problem. He told me that we are all suffering from “pandemic fatigue.” 

While this column has a focus on instrumental music, we recently learned of a vocal number which sums up the feelings of almost all musicians at this time of isolation. There are a couple of choral versions of What Would I Do Without My Music. They can be found at youtube.com/watch?y=CC1HtFCaBys.

Staying In Touch

In many cases we have heard nothing from bands about how their members are coping. Most, though, are staying in touch with members at least by email. So I have two questions: 1) How are all the bands and their members coping with this situation while they cannot play together? 2) What are the plans for the bands when that distant day arrives, and how will the long absence have affected their morale and performance? 

Read more: How to Fight Pandemic Fatigue? Practise.
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