A few months ago I mentioned a trip to Ukraine by Bob Gray, a local band conductor, teacher and trumpet player. What he learned on that trip inspired him to pay another visit, with two primary goals in mind. The first was to investigate the feasibility of start-up brass bands in Ukraine during his eight-week stay in Kiev. The second was to be there for the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Salvation Army’s ministry in Ukraine. In a recent email from Kiev, Bob reported on how things are going there, and unfortunately his first goal is not working out as easily as he had hoped. The idea was to investigate the feasibility of establishing new brass bands there. However, at present, there are no Salvation Army bands in Ukraine to use as models. Since there is no tradition upon which to build, there are no qualified leaders or instructors already active within the Salvation Army organization, making it difficult for some of the congregations to sustain and support the start and development of any band. Other setbacks: he has also learned that their music for worship in Salvation Army services differs greatly from the rest of the Salvation Army world. There are no brass band arrangements of the songs used there. Even for Christmas, the carols used in many places elsewhere differ from those familiar and popular in Ukrainian culture.

His second purpose for his extended trip will likely have a happier outcome. He will be there for the celebration of the 25th anniversary of The Salvation Army’s ministry in Ukraine. This event will take place on the weekend of June 8 to 10 in Victory Park and Hotel Bratislava. For this occasion, the Salvation Army band from Winton Corps, in Bournemouth, England will be participating. Bob has been asked to sit in with that band, as one of their cornet players is unable to make the journey to Kiev. It is the hope that the activities of this well-established band will stir some interest in resurrecting the brass band movement within the ranks of the Salvation Army in Ukraine. We wish him every success, and hope to hear of the establishment of new bands there in the near future.

Strings Attached

From messages about all-brass music thousands of miles away, we move to news about all-strings music right here in town. We have just heard from Ric Giorgi about the next concert of the Strings Attached Orchestra, their final concert for this year on June 3, again at the Isabel Bader Theatre. As usual, the program was designed to span a wide spectrum of music from such classics as Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.6 to Ashokan Farewell and the Best of ABBA.

The Plumbing Factory

Speaking of all-brass bands, we also just had a message from Henry Meredith of the Plumbing Factory Brass Band where he referred to the “devastating and relentless winter” we’ve all just been through. Rather than paraphrase what he said, here is his musical response to Mother Nature, verbatim: “Because of the ice storms only a week before our ‘spring’ concert, and the snowstorm on the night of our dress rehearsal, the PFBB has now decided to expand our concert season into the late spring and early summer. It is hoped that this will make it easier on both us and our audience, not to have to battle the weather to prepare and enjoy our brass band music. So we have decided to keep rehearsing, and to develop a brand new concert for you, to be performed on June 27.”

In typical Henry Meredith style, he outlines the program in one of his poems.

This little rhyme will explain the reason
Why we established a new summer season
It also provides a few hints about
The music which you will enjoy, without doubt.

The concert, “Summertime Musical Adventures” (June 27, 7:30pm at Byron United Church, 420 Boler Rd., London), will include such band favourites as Ringling Bros. Grand Entry, Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite, Bernstein’s Candide and The Whistler and his Dog by Arthur Pryor.

A Musical Movie

Something entirely new appeared on my radar screen recently: a Russian-Canadian film production company that is in the process of making a documentary about Benny Goodman’s historic tour of the USSR in 1962. Now, over 55 years later, this story is still alive in the minds of people who remember those concerts of the jazz orchestra of Benny Goodman, those “strange” but incredibly attractive American musicians. They remember the joy of buying scarce tickets and enjoying music, and screaming “encore” up to ten times. The whole world as we knew it was struck by the headline at the time. “The King of Swing Benny Goodman Plays Yankee Doodle Dandy on Red Square.” Certainly Russians had never seen anything like that before.

This full-length feature film, Trojan Jazz, will retell the events of the exchange of talented musicians between the US and the Soviet Union. The anticipated appeal is to jazz enthusiasts in both English- and Russian-speaking cultures. The concept of Trojan Jazz likens the Benny Goodman Orchestra to members of a Trojan horse that brought Western jazz culture into an isolated Eastern jazz culture. The impact was unpredictable. Jazz musicians of both cultures exchanged written ideas, which began a collaboration second to none.

Julian Miklis (at left)Local concert clarinetist Julian Milkis, son of former TSO concertmaster Yasha Milkis, is cast as Benny Goodman. Milkis actually studied with Goodman while attending the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. He can be seen in a variety of ensembles recreating some of Goodman’s hit songs.

To illustrate the Goodman legacy of playing big band music continuing to this day in community groups around the world, the producers wanted to show such a group in rehearsal So, all of a sudden, one evening a few weeks ago, I and my bandmates found ourselves being bombarded by bright studio lighting and surrounded by at least a half-dozen cameras. The Toronto-based rehearsal band Swing Machine, of which I have been a member for many years, was chosen and filmed to exemplify this ongoing tradition. There we were many years later, still enjoying the performance of big band music. We haven’t heard anything of when or where this movie might be seen, but I am told a visit to https://firstjazztourinussr.com will provide more in-depth information as the project develops.

Mikhail Sherman

A few weeks ago, at a regular rehearsal of the Swing Machine Big Band, I looked across at the saxophone section. The usually very reliable baritone saxophone player, Mikhail Sherman, was missing. We later learned that he had decided to have a nap before leaving for the rehearsal, but never woke up.

Born in the USSR, Mikhail grew up with a love of music in a country famed for great classical musicians. After serving time in the army and playing in a military band, he went on to become the principal clarinet and saxophone player for the famed Moscow State Circus, City of Lviv, for seven years.

In 1979 he left and came to Toronto to pursue more opportunities. He started his life here as a refugee with nothing. He washed dishes and became a cook at the Windfields Restaurant. His love for music led him in another direction. It was here that he met Frank Fermosi and Rocco Nufrio, the owners of the then-successful Saxophone Shop. They quickly spotted Mikhail’s love for music. He, in turn, showed a keen ability to learn the trade of repairing instruments. They offered him a job and training, in which he quickly excelled!

In 1986, when the Sax Shop closed, Mikhail decided to would open his own shop in North Toronto. Still with little in his pocket, he started Mikhail Sherman Music Service, which was to become one of the most successful woodwind repair shops in Canada, servicing the educational system and many top professional musicians. Mikhail passed away peacefully and suddenly in his sleep on April 26, 2018. Many of the great musicians and music educators in the GTA will miss his quick response and expertise. A true rags-to-riches story.

Uxbridge Community Concert Band

After a year’s absence from the local band scene and some questions about the band’s rebirth, the Uxbridge Community Concert Band, with Steffan Brunette at the helm, has now had its first rehearsal. Steffan took a year off to study composition and to do some travelling. Rather than assume all of the many duties required to operate a band successfully, Steffan now has an executive team to help with the many details, but it is, once again, a superbly organized band. After their first rehearsal it became evident that a few more trumpets would be welcome. The band is a summertime-only group that rehearses in Uxbridge on Wednesday evenings. For information, email uccb@powergate.ca.

Toronto Summer Music Festival

On Sunday, July 29 at 2pm, the 2018 Toronto Summer Music Festival will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI with a concert titled “Reflections on Wartime” at The Bentway. This will include a full afternoon of events with a feature performance by theCanadian National Brass Project.” For those not familiar with it, The Canadian National Brass Project brings together many of the best brass players from professional symphony orchestras throughout North America, and each summer this all-star ensemble, led by conductor James Sommerville, joins forces and performs across the country. The program will include Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and Mars from Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Concertgoers can also take in the sights and sounds of the Fort York Guard, enjoy a demonstration of artillery firepower, and hear military music by the Fort York Drums. There will also be a “Musical Petting Zoo” for children to test out a variety of musical instruments. For those not familiar with it, The Bentway, 250 Fort York Boulevard adjacent to Old Fort York, is being described as Toronto’s most exciting new outdoor concert venue.

A few days later, on Thursday, August 2 at 7:30pm in Koerner Hall, TSM will present “A Big Band Celebration,” which will focus on music of World War II. During the darkest days of the war the big band music of Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Glenn Miller and others was a major source of entertainment for life on the home front. As the presenters suggest, these familiar tunes became a metaphor for the way of life soldiers were fighting to preserve. This promises to be a stimulating evening of the best of the big band era as interpreted by music director Gordon Foote and featuring JUNO Award-winning jazz singer Ranee Lee.

Ranee LeeComing Events

By the time this issue is available in print, some of the events mentioned below will have taken place, but for the record and for online users, they are included here. Now that summer is close at hand, Resa Kochberg’s three musical groups have announced their current concert plans:

On Sunday, May 27 at 7:30pm, Resa’s Pieces Concert Band will perform at the Flato Markham Theatre, 171 Town Centre Blvd., Markham.

On Sunday, June 3 at 7:30pm, Resa’s Pieces Strings Ensemble will be at St. Basil College School, 20 Starview Ln., North York.

On Monday, June 4 at 7:30pm, Resa’s Band will present another concert at Mel Lastman Square in Toronto.

On Monday, June 11 at 8pm, Resa’s Singers Ensemble will perform at Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue, 100 Elder St., North York.

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

Last month’s column began with some comments about the fact that spring had officially arrived, but that Mother Nature was not agreeing. Now, one month later, what do I see when I look out the window? I see my neighbour, large shovel in hand, trying to remove large quantities of some white material from his driveway. At the side of the house I see a delightful, but unusual sight. Yes, there was a beautiful bright purple crocus surrounded by glistening white crystals. The snow is still here. So it is with this month’s column that we stay with the same theme. Last month we were talking about bands in transition evolving one way or another. Here we are with more stories.

Uxbridge Community Concert Band

The Uxbridge Community Concert Band (UCCB) is another band in transition. This time, rather than some gradual change, we have a one-year interruption. Founded by Steffan Brunette in 1992, the UCCB has been silent for a year. Brunette, a high school music teacher, took a year off from his teaching to study composition and do some travelling.

Steffan BrunetteSince its founding in 1992, the Uxbridge Community Concert Band has been a volunteer organization from its director down to its youngest player. Its original intention was to allow school musicians to bridge the gap between their spring concert ending the school year and their first rehearsal at school in September. Over the years the UCCB became a band where adult musicians could rediscover their love of playing music as a member of an ensemble.

For most of the first 25 years of its existence, the UCCB was run solely through Brunette’s leadership. To encourage new growth and new directions, the band is rebuilding itself with the assistance of a new executive committee. Since the band only rehearses during the months of May through August, committee members are currently planning the recruitment drive, promotional strategies and laying out the performance plans for the coming summer season, all the while learning the processes which were normally overseen by only one. Brunette is no longer jack of all trades. He is now artistic director.

It is hoped that by bringing in additional people, the range of talents and skills for running a musical organization will also grow and allow the UCCB to grow as well. Committee members are taking over publicity, membership, logistics, venue booking, transportation, music folder preparation, uniform distribution and concert planning.

The UCCB is currently recruiting members for its 26th summer season, set to begin on Wednesday May 23 at 7pm in the music room of Uxbridge Secondary School. Rehearsals will continue every Wednesday until the end of August. The band performs two major concerts in Port Perry and Uxbridge at the end of the summer. The ensemble is non-auditioned and welcomes players who have had at least two years’ of playing experience, so students as young as Grade 9 and adults as old as 90-plus are encouraged to come out and join. For those interested, the band now has a Facebook page; it is simply Uxbridge Community Concert Band. For more information, contact Terry Christiansen at uccb@powergate.ca.

Resa’s Pieces Band

Resa’s Pieces first came together in the year 2000. The creation of what has evolved into a very special group was a dream born out of Resa Kochberg’s life experiences, and it was many years in the making. When she was growing, up there was nothing else that she ever wanted to do but study music. As a little girl she would watch her eldest brother wave his arms around as if he were a virtuoso conductor. She says that she could feel the music radiate and come alive visually through his passionate motions. Her very first album of recorded music was Peter and the Wolf. She says that she loved listening to the different instruments mimicking the sound of animals, Peter, the grandfather and the hunters. 

Resa Kochberg. Photo by Atira Frankel.At an early age her mother gave her some choices for after-school activities. She chose piano lessons. As it turned out, that decision determined her career. After studying piano and playing flute during her high school years, She knew that the only thing she wanted was to study music at university. After graduation with a bachelor of music degree from U of T, she taught music for the Scarborough Board of Education until she put her school teaching on hold to raise three children.

As a stay-at-home mom, after so many years of playing music and being surrounded by music every day, the only music she listened to was on the radio. For 23 years her flute never came out of its case. One day she realized that she missed the camaraderie and the excitement of playing music with other people, and the joy of musical expression. She knew that somehow she had to get music back into her life. So in 1998 she returned to teaching, and after that 23-year hiatus, she finally took her flute out of its case and joined the North York Concert Band.

Although quite rusty, after putting her daily routine behind, she would concentrate on the music. As she says, she was once again surrounded by like-minded people, all of whom wanted to create music together. She soon loved the challenge, the frustration and the sense of accomplishment, as she continued to improve with practice and support from new music friends.

With the resurfacing of her “musical urge” she thought of the many others in similar situations. In her words: “I realized that there were so many others who had also temporarily abandoned their instruments due to life circumstances, and I saw this as an opportunity to create a fun-filled, social atmosphere where people could return [as she had] to playing music. I hoped that by creating such an environment it would also give others the same joy and pleasure while also providing the opportunity for them to learn and then share their accomplishments with each other. My ultimate goal, which has been realized, was to have members of the band learn repertoire, perform to audiences and share their expression of music within the community.”

That’s how Resa’s Pieces was born. Then, as Resa put it, “one magical day” in late 1998, it actually began. Resa says that one day, she was talking to the music director at the Koffler Centre of the Arts about her idea for a band. The response that she received couldn’t have been more encouraging. “Resa,” she said, “I don’t like your idea – I love it!” Then and there Resa knew that it would happen. “When would you like to start?” the director asked. “How about next September?” That would give her enough time to spread the word and recruit. How many people would join? She was hoping for 18 as it’s a symbolic number for life, and music is so much part of everyone’s life. A few weeks later, while at a party, she took advantage of this great opportunity to announce her idea, and it became the buzz of the evening. Surprisingly, those interested didn’t want to wait until September. 

Shortly afterwards, with the 18 names gathered, and long before September, they held their first rehearsal at the Jewish Community Centre on Bathurst Street. They began with a basic review of the names and values of the notes. Then all of the fundamentals were reviewed, such simple facts as how to hold the instrument and make the first sound. Everyone left excited and eager to practise. In June 2000 they held their first concert. The band could now play eight notes and seven songs. Seventy-five people sat in the audience, the concert was 25 minutes long and the band got a rousing standing ovation at the end.

In Resa’s words: “Members are guided by the mantra, do your best and have FUN.” As for the band’s name, it was chosen by the band members.

Resa’s Pieces is now an active diverse group of amateur musicians who range in age from their 20s to their 90s, and who come from all over the GTA with the common goal: “Reawaken that Talent – Rediscover making Music.”

Then what? The birth of Resa’s Pieces Strings began. After one band concert a violinist approached her and asked to join the band. She felt terrible having to say “no” because stringed instruments require a different approach and, other than a double bass, there is simply no place for them in a concert band. As more and more string players approached, and walked away disappointed, she decided to start a string group. Thus, Resa’s Pieces Strings began in September 2010, not coincidentally also with 18 members.

A few years later Resa began wondering about all of those people who’ve never played an instrument but who love to sing? Is it fair that they should be left out of the FUN? No! She knew in her heart that a vocal group had to come next! So, after a successful trial run in the spring of 2013, Resa’s Pieces Singers began. Under the direction of Robert Graham, the ensemble is now in its third season of weekly rehearsals with growing membership and more smiling faces.

As is not uncommon for community bands, as they prepared for their “Spring Concert Band Gala,” they found themselves short of people in a couple of spots. Suddenly, I found myself joining Dan Kapp, of New Horizons renown, to play euphonium. If that wasn’t coincidental enough, as we looked over our shoulders, we saw our two spouses. (Or should that be spice?) There they were, two accomplished flute players, playing percussion.

So, on Sunday, May 27 at 7:30pm they will present their Concert Band Gala, featuring a wide range of music from rock ‘n’ roll, classical, jazz standards and marches. That’s at the Flato Markham Theatre, 171 Town Centre Blvd. in Markham. As for the String Ensemble Gala, it will take place on Sunday, June 3; the Singers Gala will be on Monday, June 11.

Strings Attached

After not hearing from him for some time, we just received information from Ricardo Giorgi, conductor of the Strings Attached Orchestra, about their final concert of the year, scheduled for Sunday, June 3 at 7pm, again at Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre. With an impressive and varied program planned, they intend to show how they have grown bigger and better over the past year. With that, of course, they are anticipating that they will attract a larger audience. They may have sprung up as a small fish in a very big pond, but it’s time to support them and attend this concert. It’s not possible to list their complete program here, but it varies from Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba and Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5 to The Best of ABBA and Pirates of the Caribbean. For more information go to www.stringsattachedorchestra.com

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

Looking out my window, Old Man Winter is still with us, but according to my calendar, spring has officially arrived. However, the fact is that this is the time of year when community bands frequently experience transition, if not evolution. Organizations, just like humans, age, and have growing pains or other disruptions which require timely attention. With the passage of time every band will have changes in membership, leadership, sponsorship, rehearsal locations and performance venues. Similarly, some new groups will arise while a few may not survive another season. In some cases, if a group prospers and grows, much of the administrative workload must be delegated to a broader crew. So it is with that in mind that I decided to see how some such transitions are in progress this spring. If you are a member of a musical group and have not gone through the problems of some sort of transition, be patient. Your day will come.

New Horizons

Currently the most dramatic of these is New Horizons Band of Toronto. When Dan Kapp first started the New Horizons Band of Toronto, little did he know how many adults were looking for places to learn and play music. They started their first year with only 25 people of varying degrees of musical experience, and a small executive of five people. Through Kapp’s dedication, expertise and enthusiasm for music, the program has grown to seven concert bands and two jazz bands, with six music directors, as well as a number of other New Horizons Bands in surrounding communities.

I remember well their very first concert in the Glenn Gould Studio. When I first heard that this startup amateur band, with many who had never played a concert in their lives, was scheduled to present their very first offering in this prestigious venue, I questioned the sanity of leader Dan Kapp. As would be the case with any such startup group, a few vacancies had to be filled with ringers. In retrospect I can now say that I am proud to have been one of those ringers. How did it go over? To my surprise the hall was packed.

Almost immediately the year-end showcase concerts became a major goal to work for. The next performance step other than full band concerts was the establishment of small ensembles which provide an excellent practice mode for developing musical skills, particularly the skill of listening to the other members of the group. Soon came the Chamber Sweets program, which features ensembles from all band levels playing in concert for family and friends. These have become great social gatherings around the GTA, particularly at holiday times, and include a large array of tasty treats in addition to the music, hence the name.

As is the case with any organization, growth comes with its challenges. One man, now with nine bands and six music directors, can’t be expected to assume the multitude of responsibilities. To ensure their future success, last year the entire association was registered as a not-for-profit organization and established a formal board of directors. Randy Kligerman, one of the original band members, was named as president and Dave Barnes, another early member, as secretary. Soon after, Donna Dupuy, conductor of the most senior band, was contracted to be head of education for NH Bands in Toronto. 

Next year they are planning to offer sectional masterclasses to members, thereby providing further support to enhance their learning and playing experience. This appears to be the first time that this type of program will be will be offered in a community band environment. As the numbers grew they required larger, reliable rehearsal space; they were fortunate to get a long-term commitment for the use of the Salvation Army Hall in Toronto at Dovercourt Rd. and Bloor St. W. in central Toronto. They have been able to lease space to store their equipment and hold practice five days per week. They would never be able to run such a program without this help.

As for Kapp, director since the band’s inception, he is moving on. During a vacation trip to Nova Scotia last summer he and his wife Lisa fell in love with the town of Wolfville. They purchased a home there and will be moving this summer. Consequently, he announced his retirement from New Horizons Band of Toronto, as he and Lisa prepare for their big move. I understand that their reputation precedes them, as the New Horizons Band and local theatre/music groups in Wolfville have already been in contact with them. They may well be busier than ever. As they leave, their legacy will continue, as NHB Toronto starts preparing for next year’s registration. Toronto’s loss will be Wolfville’s gain.

For those not familiar with New Horizons, the Toronto band is a member of a much larger group, New Horizons International Music Association. (Their website is newhorizonsmusic.org.) Roy Ernst, a professor at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, founded the New Horizons movement in 1991, emphasizing entry and reentry points to music-making for older adults. His motto of “Your best is good enough – no auditions required” has inspired over 6000 people in approximately 200 bands across North America to get involved with music.

New president Kligerman says: “I felt very lucky to have met Dan seven years ago, as the band has been a truly enriching part of my life.” Three years ago Kligerman became a member of the NHIMA board, so that he could “further help spread the word of this amazing opportunity to learn music, to anyone looking to enrich their lives through music.”

Having not had much contact with the Toronto New Horizons groups for some time, I decided to visit the most senior group with which I have had contact over the years and also to visit their jazz band. After I introduced myself to the jazz band’s director Patricia Wheeler, I was invited to sit in. Since they did not have a bass trombone in their group and I had one in the car, I was soon holding my own at the bottom of the band. I was very impressed at how Wheeler helped instill the concepts of the jazz idiom into those new to that type of music. After that rehearsal I stayed to listen to the newest of the many groups. This was a woodwind choir with a difference; it consisted of three flutes, four clarinets and one bass clarinet but augmented by piano, bass and drums, similar to their jazz band. The key was to make a different form of music.

My next visit, a few days later, was to the rehearsal of the concert band. Still with several members of that original band, which began seven years ago, the band is now under the direction of Donna Dupuy. Here again, band members don’t just sit down and play the notes from the printed page. They are challenged to get comfortable with the finer aspects of the harmonies and rhythms to produce a distinctive quality performance.

(from left) Donna Dupuy (concert band conductor); holding euphonium, Randy Kligerman (president, NHB Toronto); Bill Condon, who gifted the euphoniumShortly before it was time to wind up that rehearsal there was a visit by Wheeler and her husband Bill Condon. In a brief ceremony Condon was there to present the surprise gift of a euphonium to the NH bands. My timing couldn’t have been better: a rehearsal, the most senior band, the president, two conductors and a generous friend of the band. What better instrument to receive as a gift! When prospective members attend a session to learn about band instruments, more often than not the euphonium is the one instrument they have never heard of. After this brief ceremony I was granted the honour of being the first to make sound on this euphonium. With great flair, the band members heard a B-flat major chord on their new instrument.

Anyone interested in learning more about New Horizons Band of Toronto can contact them at newhorizonstoronto.ca. Remember their motto: “It’s never too late!” Or you can contact Randy Kligerman directly, at randy@jaragroup.org.

Other news

Although I wrote quite a bit about Johnny Cowell last month, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the recent Celebration of the Life of Johnny Cowell, which took place on March 12 at Scarborough Bluffs United Church. With friend and colleague Stuart Laughton acting as MC, we heard not only reminiscences from many, but an amazing musical program. There were recordings of Johnny’s performances, as well as a wide spectrum of live performances of his compositions, from the song Walk Hand in Hand to a number of works for trumpet. The most stirring moment for me was a flugelhorn solo by Jens Lindemann, who came to Toronto specially for the occasion. Normally, the tune Amazing Grace is close to the top of my dislike list, but Lindemann’s rendition was so emotional that I was speechless. I have never heard that number or the flugelhorn sound so wonderful.

From time to time we hear of unusual instruments arriving on the local scene. A couple of years ago it was Jeff Densham with his subcontrabass flute from the Netherlands. He first saw such an instrument when a visitor from overseas played one with the Flute Street ensemble. Now, Nancy Nourse, director of Flute Street, is showing off her new contr’alto flute, also from the Netherlands. In her words: “It has such a rich, flutey baritone voice, capable of reaching well past the tenor range into the mezzo-soprano.”

This instrument’s very first outing with Flute Street will be on April 6 in Reston, VA in the Washington DC area, at the First International Low Flutes Festival (lowflutesfestival.org). Flute Street is one of a number of invited ensembles, amidst groups from Hungary, USA, England and Japan. Then on Sunday, April 15 at 7:30pm, Flute Street will present the same program, including a special contr’alto flute feature, at Christ Church Deer Park in Toronto.

Speaking of new groups, Borealis Big Band, mentioned last month, has risen to local stardom, in a recent edition of snapd Aurora. For those interested visit https://aurora.snapd.com/events/view/1118828. 

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

It is with deep sadness that I have to report on the loss of another giant from our musical world. On January 22, just 11 days after his 92nd birthday, we lost Johnny Cowell, one of Canada’s most outstanding trumpet soloists. Rather than write some form of formal obituary, I would prefer to just recall a few situations over the years where our paths crossed. As is so often the case in the world of music, I cannot state with any certainty when or where I first heard the name Johnny Cowell or when I first met him. As I have mentioned in previous columns, there was a time when band tattoos were a significant part of summer festivities in many towns in southwestern Ontario. I know that his first band experience was with the Tillsonburg Citizens’ Band. At that time, I was a regular member of the Kiwanis Boys’ Band in Windsor. In a conversation with Johnny a few years ago I learned that we had both played in many of same tattoos. I know that he had played trumpet solos in some of these events. I may well have heard his solos then. However, the only young star trumpet player from those days that I remember was Ellis McClintock, later with the Toronto Symphony for many years.

Johnny CowellFast forward 20 or more years, and there I was playing in the same band as Johnny, with Ellis as the leader. It was a band, now long forgotten, for the Toronto Argonaut football club. Yes, even though the Argonaut head office appears to have no record of this band, from 1957 to 1967 the Argos had a 48-piece professional marching band which performed fancy routines on the field at all home games. Why would musicians of Johnny’s stature play in a football club band. Well, if you like football, why not get well paid union fees to watch a game? Since I was playing trombone in the front row and Johnny was playing trumpet in the back, we certainly had no contact with each other during rehearsals or performances. However, that is where we first met.

During the times between rehearsals and performances there were usually small groups chatting. Frequently, the topic would turn to Johnny’s many compositions, particularly those on the hit parade. His 1956 ballad Walk Hand in Hand, which was just one of his many hits, could be heard on every radio station in those days. Actually, it was reported that at one time Johnny had more numbers on the US hit list than any other writer of popular music. However, his writing wasn’t limited to that genre. He was equally at home writing for trumpet and brass ensembles. I frequently play selections from the Johnny Cowell CDs in my collection. I am amazed at the gamut his trumpet works run. At one end of the spectrum there is his dazzling Roller Coaster and on the other end, his Concerto in E Minor for Trumpet and Symphony Orchestra.

My contact with Johnny was limited over the years, but there are a few meetings that come back to me regularly. Shortly after I began writing this column, I arranged to meet Johnny to get an update on his musical activities. Our meeting was anything but formal. It wasn’t at his home or at The WholeNote office. It was on a park bench in the town of Stouffville, not far from my home and close to the home of a family member of his. A few years after that it was a chance meeting during a break in one of the Hannaford Silver Band’s weekend events. Along with Jack Long of Long & McQuade, we discussed a somewhat less-than-serious subject, i.e. whether or not the names that we were using were the names on our birth certificates. The name “Johnny” was, in fact, the name on his birth certificate. For the other two of us, “Jack” was not our given name.

Then there was the time two years ago when I had the privilege of attending Johnny’s 90th birthday party. During that event, for a short while, I was flanked by two great figures in the Canadian music scene, Johnny and Eddie Graf. Now we have lost them both. At times one wonders how things might have been if Johnny had not turned down attractive offers which might have brought him fame by writing for stage productions or getting involved in the Nashville scene. While the trumpet was his all-abiding first musical love, that for his wife Joan and their family always had precedence.

By the time this issue is released, the Encore Symphonic Concert Band will be presenting a “Tribute to Johnny Cowell” in their regular noon hour concert, playing many of Johnny’s arrangements, on Thursday March 1. I’m sure that similar tributes will be presented by many other bands in the area over the coming months. Tell me about them and I’ll pass the word along.

A public memorial/celebration of life for Johnny will be held on Monday, March 12 at 7:30pm. It will take place at Scarborough Bluffs United Church, 3739 Kingston Rd, near the intersection of Kingston Rd. and Scarborough Golf Club Rd.

Junior Bands

Speaking of junior bands, it has just come to our attention that the 2018 National Youth Band will be hosted this year in Montreal by the Quebec Band Association. The guest conductor will be Wendy McCallum from Brandon University. We understand that this will be taking place in May, but don’t yet have confirmation on precise dates or location. The Yamaha Guest Soloist, on clarinet, will be Simon Aldrich from McGill University.

Changes

Over the years new bands spring up, old ones disappear and some undergo a significant transition. One group undergoing a major transition is the several New Horizons Bands in the Toronto area. Since their beginning close to ten years ago, the man at the helm has been Dan Kapp. However, not only is Dan relinquishing his leadership on the Toronto New Horizons scene, he is moving to Wolfville, Nova Scotia, soon after his wife Lisa retires from her teaching post this coming June. Rather than have a single person at the helm, now with quite a number of New Horizons bands in the Toronto area, there is scheduled to be a governing committee made up from the membership of the various NH bands. I hope to have more details on New Horizons activities soon.

It is always refreshing to learn of new groups arising from scratch. We just learned of a new swing band which is starting to make its mark. A frequent dilemma is how to give a new band a distinct name for people to associate with them. So, last summer a group forming up in Aurora decided that they should have a name that was unique, but easily recognized as having an affiliation with the name Aurora. Their name: the Borealis Big Band. The band is under the musical direction of Gord Shephard, a longtime resident of Aurora. He is the music director of the Aurora Community Band, as well as an instructor and conductor at York University where he is a PhD Candidate studying community music.

I was invited to attend one of this band’s rehearsals on January 31 and was almost blown away by a group that had just had its first rehearsal in September 2017. I heard a real powerhouse with a repertoire unlike that of any group that I have known. I asked a couple of members to describe this, and I received a variety of answers. The answer from Shephard was: “The Borealis Big Band was set up to provide an opportunity for members to play a wide variety of big band jazz styles including swing, funk, smooth and Latin/Cuban, and to play it to the highest quality possible with lots of room for improvisation for all interested members.” Unlike most such groups, when the band was formed they had designated leaders for each section. Their Debut Concert” went amazingly well. In the words of bassist Carl Finkle: “It was so much fun playing to a sold-out house for our first ever gig.” Their next scheduled performance will be on Friday June 22 at 8pm at the Old Town Hall, Newmarket, 460 Botsford St. We’ll have more on that in a later column.

Coming

On Sunday, March 4 at 3:30pm, the Wychwood Clarinet Choir will present their “Midwinter Sweets” program featuring an assortment of selections arranged by Roy Greaves, Alan Witkin, Richard Moore, Maarten Jense and Frank J. Halferty. Featured will be Five Bagatelles, Op.23 by Gerald Finzi, with artistic director Michele Jacot as clarinet soloist. Steve MacDonald, as tenor saxophone soloist, will perform Hoagy Carmichael’s Georgia on my Mind. Also on the program will be Minuet from “A Downland Suiteby John Ireland, Rikudim, Four Israeli Folk Dances by Jan Van der Roost and Henry Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk. This concert will be held at The Church of Saint Michael and all Angels, 611 St. Clair Ave. W.

While it is a bit in the future, we might as well look ahead a bit to spring. The Clarington Concert Band’s annual spring concert will take place at 7:30pm on Saturday April 21 at Hope Fellowship Church in Courtice. As always, the program has something for everyone, with music from the band Chicago, to jazz and Broadway standards sung by their popular vocalist, Liza Heitzner. Clarinetist Katherine Carleton will perform Gordon Jenkins’ Blue Prelude and alto saxophonist Liz Jamischek will pay tribute to longtime Ellington soloist Johnny Hodges, with her rendition of Harlem Nocturne. The band’s regular conductor will be away and the band will be under the direction of Shawn Hills. Now retired after decades of heading the music program at Bowmanville High School, she is excited to direct her inaugural post-retirement concert with the Clarington Concert Band.

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

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

CNE Bandshell in the late 1950sSince 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: cbcrmab@cogeco.net.

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.

Changes coming

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.

Sam Caruana

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.

Sam CaruanaAfter 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.”

Coming Events

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 bandstand@thewholenote.com.

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