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.

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.

 

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