Last month, you may recall, the Canadian Band Association, Ontario had just held its first "Community Brass Band" weekend, which got me going in this space, on the subject of the characteristics of the brass band, the British Brass Band Style, Company Bands and Brass Band Contests.

There’s a whole other story to tell about how brass bands in the British tradition, sometimes sponsored by employers, began to be established on this side of the Atlantic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But first let’s look at an upcoming event which encapsulates not only what the brass band community is all about but also how far the brass band genre has come.

BBB-Bandstand.jpgHannaford Street Silver Band’s Festival of Brass: Just as there are few, if any, professional concert bands in Canada there are few professional brass bands. The notable exception is the Hannaford Street Silver Band, established some 30 years ago by a group of Toronto professional musicians who wanted to give the full virtuosic range of brass band idiom a voice and showcase in Toronto. Their concerts have consequently explored a much wider range of music than would usually have been considered part of the brass band repertoire. A recent example: with guest artist Fergus McWilliam, they presented the Strauss Horn Concerto No.1 this past February 21. Here was a top musician from the Berlin Philharmonic performing with a brass band on the only major brass instrument that is not part of the usual brass band instrumentation. Also note, the HSSB commitment to broadening the repertoire has gone beyond  rearranging standard repertoire into a vigorous commitment to commissioning new Canadian works.

Another important outgrowth of the HSSB’s activities has been their youth program. In 1999 they launched the Hannaford Street Youth Band under the direction of Anita McAlister. In 2005, another youth band was created for beginning brass players known as the Hannaford Junior Band. Soon a third, intermediate, band known as the Hannaford Community Youth Band was also formed. All three bands, under the same director, provide musical growth opportunities for young musicians ranging in age from 11 to the early 20s.

So, for devotees of the Hannafords and brass band fans in general, the HSSB’s annual Festival of Brass (this year on the weekend of April 15 to 17) is a must. This festival will be packed with almost every form of brass music. Friday evening will feature “Rising Stars” where the finalists of the Hannaford Youth Solo Competition will be judged on their performances by Alain Trudel and Stéphane Beaulac. The winner will perform with the Hannaford Band in the Sunday afternoon concert. Saturday will be devoted to a master class in the morning followed by a series of performances by “Festival of Brass” participating bands. On Sunday there will be an open dress rehearsal in the morning and the “Entre Amis” concert in the afternoon. This year, Stéphane Beaulac, formerly principal trumpet with Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal, now with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, will be the featured soloist. He will perform Canadian composer Johnny Cowell’s Concerto in E Minor with the band, under the direction of another Hannaford distinguished visitor, Alain Trudel.

Crossing the Atlantic: Now back to our previous topic. Certainly the geography of Canada, with large distances between communities, made some aspects of the British Brass Band tradition, such as regular contests, impractical. On the other hand, relative isolation and lack of other recreational opportunity may have assisted with other aspects, such as the company band. Certainly, into the 20th century there were still a few distinguished company bands around, including the Taylor Safe Works Band, the Heintzman Piano Company Band, where the famous Herbert L. Clarke was featured, and the Anglo-Canadian Leather Company Band in Huntsville, Ontario where Clarke was the conductor from 1918 to 1923. Originally trained on the viola, Clarke was smitten by the cornet and began practising on his brother’s instrument. He then joined the band of the Queen’s Own Rifles in 1882 at age 14, in order to obtain his own government-issue cornet on which to practise.

Few, if any, company bands are still operating in Canada. There are still a number of Salvation Army bands, but the total number of British-style brass bands probably does not exceed 30. Most of these are in Ontario, operate as recreational or “community” bands and have long histories going back over a century in some cases. The most well-known include the Oshawa Civic Band, the Whitby Brass Band, the Weston Silver Band and the Metropolitan Silver Band of Toronto. Professor Henry Meredith’s Plumbing Factory Brass Band in London is one which has risen in stature in recent years.

South of the border: About the same time brass bands were springing up in Canada similar bands were forming in the US, principally in the New England States. It wasn’t long, though, before brass bands caught the attention of one John Sullivan Dwight in Boston. Ordained as a minister in 1840, Dwight had abandoned the ministry and developed a deep interest in music, in particular that of Beethoven. By the 1850s music was becoming a big business in America and Dwight was soon to become the country’s first music critic, launching frequent tirades against the popular music of the day, particularly the brass band. In one memorable instance he wrote: “All at once the idea of a Brass Band shot forth: and from this prolific germ sprang up a multitude of its kind in every part of the land, like the crop of iron men from the infernal seed of the dragon’s teeth.”

NABBA: Dwight notwithstanding, by 1983 the desire for some form of umbrella organization to coordinate the activities of bands and to further the brass band movement had resulted in the establishment of the North American Brass Band Association (NABBA) with stated aims to “Foster, promote and otherwise encourage the establishment, growth and development of amateur and professional British-type brass bands throughout the United States and Canada.”

Cautionary note: if you decide to ask Mr. Google for information on this organization, type in the full name, not NABBA, or you will learn more than you ever wanted to know about the National Amateur Body-Builders’ Association. (Unless of course you are a tuba player and need some muscle toning.)

While some Canadian bands have participated in NABBA competitions over the years, the most recent highlight was in the summer of 2014 when the North American Brass Band Summer School (NABBSS) was first held in Halifax as an integral component of the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. We were participants in that first school and in the tattoo. We would not have missed it for the world. The 2015 event was equally successful and enrollments are well on the way for this coming summer.

Other Brass Band news from the GTA: I was very surprised and pleased recently to receive a copy of a new history of the Metropolitan Silver Band. As the title says, it covers “80 Years of Music-Making at Metropolitan United Church.” This history was written by the band’s longest-serving member, Ken Allen, who has been in the band for 71 of those 80 years, 43 of them as its manager. He was fortunate in having access to meticulously maintained records over the years by a fellow band member.

Elsewhere I have mentioned, on various occasions, those revolutionary times when a female musician was “permitted” to join a band. For the MSB, this occurred in January 1981, when Bill Martyn, a member of the cornet section and a high school English teacher, invited one of his students to join the band. Now, 35 years later, Michele McCall is still in the band and has been the band’s manager since 2005, when she took over from Ken Allen. Another milestone was in 2002 when the band appointed its first woman conductor. Fran Harvey is still the conductor after 14 years at the helm. The history includes a good selection of pictures, all with dates and identification of all band members. As I scanned these pictures, lo and behold, there I was during those years when I was a band member in the 1970s and 1980s. Late last year the band released a new CD to celebrate its 80-year association with Metropolitan United Church. Titled Amazing Grace-A Gospel Celebration, it is a compilation of  traditional hymns including one selection, My Lord What a Morning, featuring a solo by none other than 71-year veteran Ken Allen.

Salvation Army bands have long been a mainstay of the brass band movement, so it was good to hear of an SA concert coming up later in the month. Featured will be the Ontario Central East Divisional Singing Company (Junior Choir) conducted by Elizabeth Colley, Divisional Young Peoples’ Band – Blood and Fire Brass under bandleader Bob Gray, and Divisional Reservists’ Band – Heritage Brass also led by bandmaster Gray. The concert will take place Saturday, April 23 at 7pm, in the Agincourt Community Church of The Salvation Army, 3080 Birchmount Rd, Toronto. A freewill offering will be received during the concert.

Startups are always a good sign of the resurgence of interest in  brass band music, and here’s another one. They are inviting other brass players to join them. They rehearse Wednesday evenings in Newmarket and would particularly welcome cornet and tuba players. If you play a brass instrument, and are interested in exploring that genre, contact Peter Hussey by email at

New Horizons: From time to time I have reported on the activities of the many New Horizons groups since their introduction into Canada about six years ago. The number of groups in Toronto alone has grown to the extent that the original conductor, Dan Kapp, has relinquished his duties at the Long & McQuade main store to channel all of his energies into the many New Horizons groups. With the title of creative director, Dan will oversee the operations of all Toronto bands, as well as conduct two or more. While on the subject of New Horizons, a few days ago I learned of a New Horizons group now thriving in Sudbury. Where will the next NH group spring up?

Obituary: Unfortunately I must report on the passing of Alex MacDonald a long-serving member of the Metropolitan Silver Band. I first met Alex when he and I were living in the same residence at university many years ago. We played together in the U of T Varsity band. On one occasion Alex startled us all. We were rehearsing Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever, but we didn’t have anyone to play the piccolo part. Alex tucked his euphonium under his arm and pulled a slide whistle from his inner pocket. Suddenly we had a piccolo.

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

In last month’s issue I mentioned that, for the first time, Canadian Band Association, Ontario would be holding a Community Brass Band Weekend, February 19 to 21. Unlike previous Community Band Weekends this one was devoted to the music of the British brass band movement. For those not familiar with these weekends, this is not a gathering of bands. Rather it is a weekend of music-making by individuals who enjoy playing music of the type featured, in this case, the British Brass Band style. The host band for this weekend was the Oshawa Civic Band with conductor Rita Arendz.

Most participants were members of such CBA-member bands as the Weston Silver Band, the Metropolitan Silver Band, the Whitby Brass Band, the Oshawa Civic Band and others. There were also some participants without any particular brass band affiliation. As in other such weekends, participation was open to any brass and percussion players. The rehearsal and public concert provided an opportunity for brass musicians not familiar with the genre to experience the unique sound and some of the repertoire of the brass band movement. Since there appears to be a resurgence of interest in brass bands and their music, this might be a suitable time to probe into the world of the brass band music, its performers and its devotees.

The Characteristics
: For starters, let’s look at the differences between the brass band and what is generally referred to as the modern day concert band. The principal difference is that a brass band has no woodwind instruments, i.e. no flutes, clarinets, saxophones, oboes or bassoons. As well, the brass band has no French horns. The early brass bands generally had only a single drummer. Nowadays, many have a larger percussion section including timpani and, in some cases, melodic percussion.

As for instrumentation, cornets are used rather than trumpets. Of those, the soprano cornet plays the sort of high register part which would be played by a flute in a concert band. The E-flat horns (sometimes called alto and sometimes called tenor) fill in between the cornets and the baritone horns and trombones. The bass section has both E-flat and B-flat instruments. Since all of these instruments except the trombones have a conical bore rather than cylindrical, the tone has a more mellow quality. The tone is even more mellow for the flugelhorn which has a much more conical bore.

So what is the difference between a brass band and a silver band? Silver instruments are brass instruments which have been silver plated. In the early days, silver instruments were considerably more expensive than the brass ones, and thus had some snob value for those bands which could afford them. Today the price difference is not significant.

Another major difference between brass bands and concert bands is the musical notation. With the exception of percussion, bass trombone and some tenor trombone music, all parts are transposed and written in the treble clef. This means that for every instrument, from the basses right up to the soprano cornet, the fingering is the same. So, for beginner classes, group instruction on all of the instruments is possible. My introduction to band music was in a boys’ brass band, and our instructional classes always had the range of instruments from cornets to basses in one class. With this system, if necessary, players are able to switch more easily between instruments. Thus it is easier to cover parts when a particular instrument is missing.

As I mentioned, my first band was a boys’ band. That was the norm then. Girls were usually not permitted in bands. In our band there was an exception. We actually had two girls. (Since their father happened to be the bandmaster, that might have made a difference.) It was as late as 1947 that the student council of the University of Toronto called a special debate to finally permit a girl to play in the university band. Fast forward to 2016 and this band weekend. Two of the most prominent brass bands in Southern Ontario have women as conductors. Rita Arendz leads the host Oshawa Civic Band and Fran Harvey has been leading the Metropolitan Silver Band since 2002.

Brass bands first appeared in Britain in the early part of the 19th century. With the Industrial Revolution and urbanization, employers were happy to finance ways to decrease political activity and minimize the amount of time the workers spent in the pubs. Along with that Industrial Revolution came a vast improvement in technology and mechanical skills. Fortuitously these factors coincided with the invention of valves for brass instruments. Now brass instruments, other than the trombone, could play chromatically.

It was now possible to produce, in quantity, brass instruments with good musical quality. There were some other reasons for the rapid growth in the popularity of brass instruments. Not only was it possible to mass produce these much more inexpensively than the woodwinds, but a three-valved, easy-to-hold instrument is much more user-friendly than a keyed instrument or a stringed instrument.

Company Bands: Employers were now willing and able to provide a recreational outlet for their workers. In particular, mining companies and mills fostered company bands. It has been estimated that by 1860 there were over 750 brass bands in England. It would be difficult to determine which bands still performing have been the longest running. However, no one is likely to match the claim that the Black Dyke Mills Band, founded by that name in 1855, has one of the longest traditions. It has been reported that there are now thousands of brass bands in the UK.

Since playing a musical instrument was deemed to be an acceptable social activity, if for no other reason than it kept people from the pubs and other corrupt activities, abstinence groups began forming temperance bands. Then in 1878, albeit only as a quartet, the first Salvation Army band was formed. Since the Salvation Army frequently took their message to the streets, the portability and weather resistance of brass instruments had considerable appeal. If a brass instrument is rained on, simply dry it off. That won’t do for a clarinet or a violin. While some Salvationist bands did manage to keep their activities separate from the general brass band movement, there was some cross-pollination. Long before it became acceptable in the general band movement, the Salvation Army actively recruited women for their bands.

Contests: Over time, local contests involving a few neighbouring bands grew into larger events with more bands. Then, with the backing of Sir Arthur Sullivan, the first National Brass Band Championship took place at the Crystal Palace in 1900 with twenty-nine bands competing. The test piece was an arrangement of Sullivan’s compositions and Sullivan conducted the final massed band concert. Sullivan’s name certainly gave the event an element of respectability; calls for original music were soon answered by such composers as Sir Edward Elgar and Gustav Holst.

The NBBC remains the principal competition in the British brass band world. Generally speaking, the importance of contests has a been a major factor in the development of top-notch players throughout the entire brass band movement. Cornetist Herbert L. Clarke is one shining example of the talent spawned by such groups. Another that I had the pleasure of hearing at Massey Hall some years ago was French virtuoso Maurice André. He started in a company band in a coal mining town in France.

2106-Bandstand.pngA New Award: Every once in a while I stray a bit from the band world to either praise or vilify some event in the musical world which I have either been thrilled or appalled by. This month it’s the latter. In recent years, when major sports events are being televised, it has become the norm to have some musical celebrity sing the national anthem rather than play it so that the audience can sing it in the way that was intended. Some of these soloists have the intelligence to lead the singing in that spirit. Some of them have decided that their personal styling is far more important than authenticity. For me, the anthem sank to the bottom of a new crevasse recently at the beginning of the National Basketball Association’s All-Star Game in Toronto. The “guest artist,” whose facial contortions matched those of her voice, inflicted considerable pain on all of her victims from coast to coast. O Canada will never be the same.

Be it hereby proclaimed that henceforth, every February, this column will award the ABC (the Anthem Butchery Cup) for egotistical desecration of the national anthem. Nelly Furtado wins the inaugural award hands down. Nominations for next year’s award are now being accepted. Send video links to support your case. 

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


2105-Bandstand.jpgFor most of us the arrival of January heralds the beginning of a new year or the departure from an old year. For some it marks the beginning of a new decade in their lives. A few days ago I had the pleasure of attending the birthday party for one such person. It was trumpeter Johnny Cowell’s 90th birthday party. Johnny and Joan, his wife of 60-plus years, were the very special guests.

Johnny has been a prominent part of the Toronto music scene for 70 years. His trumpet playing in Toronto started at age 15 when he travelled from his home town of Tillsonburg, Ontario, and began playing in the Toronto Symphony Band. However, there was a war on, and as soon as he was old enough, he enlisted in the navy. Within weeks of his enlistment, Johnny was the trumpet soloist in the band of HMCS Naden, the principal Canadian Navy base in Esquimault, B.C.

As we chatted at his birthday party, I started to wonder if our paths might have crossed on more than one occasion over the years. After all, our birthdays are less than a month apart and we both started playing in bands at an early age. Actually Johnny started when, at age five, he was given a used trumpet by his uncle. I didn’t start until I was 13. I lived in a larger community than Tillsonburg and, in addition to adult bands, we had a boys’ band. His first band experience was with the Tillsonburg Citizens’ Band.

A few months ago I mentioned in this column how small-town summer-band tattoos were a significant part of a band member’s life. I had played in many such tattoos in Southwestern Ontario. As we chatted, it turned out Johnny had not only played in many of the same tattoos, he had played trumpet solos in these events. As for music festivals, such as those in Waterloo or the Stratford Music Festival with Professor Thiele, the answer was the same. We had both been at them.

As teenagers playing in community bands at the same tattoos and festivals, we never met. Even though we both joined the navy at the same age and at about the same time, our paths never crossed there. It was only years later that, in a musical situation reminiscent of our teenage years, we met, playing once again in a marching band. It may seem hard to believe today, but in the early 1960s the Toronto Argonauts had their own professional marching band which performed fancy routines on the field at all home games. Some may have thought that this was below one’s dignity or not in keeping with professional musical standards. However, why not get well paid to go to see the hometown team play football? So that is where we met.

While Johnny is best known for his trumpet virtuosity, he has won considerable acclaim as a writer and arranger. In fact, on more than one occasion he turned down attractive offers which might have brought him fame by writing for stage productions or getting involved in the Nashville scene. However, the trumpet, his all-abiding first musical love, second only to that for his wife Joan and their family, always won out. Offers which would inevitably have separated him from his trumpet were declined.

Even though he elected to stay home and play trumpet, Johnny certainly did not turn his back on writing. I couldn’t hope to count how many of his tunes could be heard on the radio in the 60s. His 1956 ballad Walk Hand in Hand could be heard on every radio station in those days. His writing wasn’t limited to that genre. He has been equally at home writing for trumpet and brass ensembles. Playing a few selections from the Johnny Cowell CDs in my collection, I am amazed at the broad gamut of his trumpet works. 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. While he is officially retired, he still practises on his trumpet regularly and is expecting to be a guest soon with the Hannaford Junior Band playing his composition Roller Coaster with members of that group.

As I sat down for a brief chat with Johnny and 94-year-old Eddie Graf, who is still playing and writing arrangements, I was humbled to say the least.

A weekend of special programs: The weekend of February 27 and 28 stands out as a special one for aficionados of the music of wind ensembles. First, on Saturday we have the Silverthorn Symphonic Winds continuing their 2015/2016 season with a program called “Musician’s Choice,” where those planning the program have consulted band members to determine what music they would like to perform. They have chosen a broad spectrum from Howard Cable’s The Banks of Newfoundland to Shostakovich’s Festive Overture. Within that spectrum they take their audience all the way from Percy Grainger’s Irish Tune from County Derry to Norman Dello Joio’s Satiric Dances and Steven Reineke’s The Witch and the Saint. This latter number is a tone poem depicting the lives of twin sisters Helena and Sibylla, born in Germany in 1588 at a time when twin children were considered a very evil omen. As the story unfolds, instruments in the band which seldom get solos have an opportunity to employ their special sounds to tell the story of the twins during their lives. If that isn’t enough, the band might just be able to squeeze in some excerpts from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. It all takes place Saturday, February 27, at 7:30pm at Wilmar Heights Event Centre.

The following evening the Wychwood Clarinet Choir will present their “Midwinter Sweets.” Exploiting the unique sounds of a clarinet ensemble to the full, they will feature Red Rosey Bush by composer and conductor laureate Howard Cable. The composing and arranging talents of choir member Roy Greaves come to the fore in his composition Trois Chansons Québécoises and his arrangement of Gustav Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite. That’s Sunday, February 28, at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels.

Elsewhere in the band world

 February 4 and March 3. The Encore Symphonic Concert Band presents their monthly noon-hour concert of “Classics and Jazz,” with John Edward Liddle conducting at Wilmar Heights Centre.

February 5 at 7:30, as part of the U of T Faculty of Music New Music Festival, you can hear Rosauro’s Concerto for Marimba performed by Danielle Sum.

February 7 at 3pm at Knox Presbyterian Church in Waterloo (and repeated on February 21 at 3pm at Grandview Baptist Church in Kitchener) the Wellington Wind Symphony offers “Remembering” with works by Brahms, Erwazen, Woolfenden and Alford. Also on the program will be Morawetz’s In Memoriam for Martin Luther King, Jr.

February 21 at 3pm The Hannaford Street Silver Band will present “German Brass” with Fergus McWilliam, French horn, and James Gourlay, conductor.

February 23 at 7:30 The Metropolitan Silver Band will present “Jubilee Order of Good Cheer,” a blend of classics, marches, sacred, popular and contemporary works at Jubilee United Church.

For details on all these consult The WholeNote concert listings.

Calling all brassFor a number of years, the Canadian Band Association, Ontario has held Community Band Weekends sponsored by a number of community bands in various communities across the province. This year there is a new twist. For the first time, CBA-Ontario will host a Community Brass Band Weekend from Friday evening February 19 to Sunday, February 21. Hosted by the Oshawa Civic Band, the event should not only offer a meeting ground for dedicated brass band devotees but introduce brass players from concert bands to the style and repertoire of the All Brass culture. All musical events will take place at Trulls Road Free Methodist Church, 2301 Trulls Road S., Courtice. Details on registration were spotty at time of writing: consult for updates.

We have another new all-brass band to report on. The York Region Brass began rehearsals in Newmarket a few months ago and are inviting brass players to join them. They rehearse on Wednesday evenings and would particularly welcome cornet, trombone and tuba players. If you play a brass instrument and are interested in exploring that genre contact Peter Hussey by email at

Another special musical event: Although it has nothing whatsoever to do with band music, I can’t end without reporting on a recent outstanding musical event in Toronto. The Amadeus Choir, the Elmer Iseler Singers and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Bernard Labadie, performed a special “semi-staged” version of Mozart’s Requiem K626. The combined choirs, soloists and conductor, all performing the entire work from memory, gave this monumental work new meaning. Through movements and gestures, conceived by stage director Joel Ivany, choir members and soloists conveyed the concept of loss and redemption that is the heart of the requiem mass. To set the mood for the choral work, as a prelude, the TSO Chamber Soloists performed the Largetto movement from Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K581

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

Bandstand 1Often, this December column focuses on Christmas themes because as a rule the bands that we hear from are presenting seasonal concerts featuring various forms of Christmas music, from those with a definite sacred theme to Christmas melodies from the popular realm. That being said, we recently attended a Toronto Concert Band concert at the Glenn Gould Studio that was a clear exception to the rule. At their first concert, shortly after they formed a little over a year ago, the band performed very well. The year of practising and maturing together was very evident in this year’s concert. Now, with 70 members on their roster and a full instrumentation, they were more ambitious. The most challenging of their offerings was an excellent transcription of four movements from Carmina Burana, that monumental choral work by Carl Orff. As a teaser we were informed that they intend to perform some more movements from Carmina Burana at their next concert, scheduled for Saturday, February 20 at Islington United Church. We hope to be there.

(Speaking of challenges, I came upon a very unusual transcription of choral music for all-brass band recently of the Pie Jesu movement from the great requiem of Gabriel Fauré. Unlike most transcriptions of choral music, this was for a solo instrument, the E-flat soprano cornet. The recently formed York Brass Ensemble will present it with an E-flat tuba instead.)

Musicians and war. Another event that diverted my attention away from the upcoming seasonal musical tide came in the form of an offer to join and play with the local New Horizons Band in a performance at a local Salvation Army facility. With the title “A Night to Remember,” it was similar to a performance given by this band last year. Readings from letters during WWII and other material from the time were interspersed with appropriate musical selections to convey some of the many feelings of those so seriously affected by such conflicts. The letters from the soldier were all from One Family’s War: The Wartime Letters of Clarence Bourassa, 1940-1944, a collection of letters written by Private Clarence O. Bourassa, of the South Saskatchewan Regiment, to his wife, Hazel.

Interestingly, in a couple of his letters he mentions that he has been able to play, on a few occasions, with Salvation Army bands somewhere in France. Those mentions of Private Bourassa seeking out opportunities to play music, while so close to the battlefield, led me to wonder about the whole topic of musicians at war. How often did they hear music by military entertainment groups, local musicians, or even get to play in groups somewhere?

In this context an interesting document has come my way – Toronto author Joanne Culley’s recent book, Love in the Air: Second World War Letters. This book includes historical background, photos and dramatized scenes inspired by 600 letters exchanged by her parents during the Second World War. Her father, Harry, served overseas as a musician, playing clarinet and saxophone in Royal Canadian Air Force dance and concert bands. Prior to going overseas, Harry was playing at a YMCA Victory Drive dance in Ottawa where he met Helen, who was a volunteer hostess. They dated for close to a year and became engaged just before he was sent to England. Joanne discovered that the letters were not just declarations of love, but a detailed description of what was happening on both sides of the Atlantic.

Harry Culley endured bombings in London, the overall scarcity of food, and the exhaustion of travelling by trains, buses and army trucks with irregular schedules, to perform in concerts, parades and dances. However, he and the other band members knew that their music was keeping up the morale of soldiers and civilians alike. Unlike the book about Private Bourassa which only contains the letters which he wrote home, this volume contains the rarely seen both sides of a correspondence. Harry carried Helen’s letters all around during his travels, even though his band mates kept bugging him to toss them. He said that he couldn’t, when all of their love was wrapped up in those words. For more information on this book, go to

Personally, when I enlisted in the navy, I left my trombone behind and didn’t have any opportunity to play until after I was released. Shortly after the war I did go to sea in some large ships which had bands aboard. One of these, HMS Sheffield, had a very fine Royal Marine band aboard. When we were called to action stations all band members became members of gun crews. They did not sit idly by.

Three stories: On the topic of musicians in war time, three very different stories come to mind. The first is that of the famous guitarist Django Reinhardt. He was a gypsy of Belgian birth, and under Hitler’s orders gypsies were destined to be sent to the Nazi death camps. However, when the Nazis occupied France, off-duty officers went to places where Reinhardt performed. They were so impressed with his music that they managed to see that he was spared. After the war he was still a star in the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.

Another man with a strange wartime connection was famous composer and playwright Noël Coward. It wasn’t until many years after the war, and only with the permission of the highest authorities, that he revealed that he had been a spy working for the famous spy master Sir William Stephenson who was code-named Intrepid.

Among other activities, it has been reported that, at times, he played piano in cocktail bars in neutral countries where he was in a position to eavesdrop on conversations of German officers. Author Stephen Koch’s recent book The Playboy Was a Spy describes some of Coward’s wartime activities.

The third story is that of Stephen H. Michell, a former trombone player with the Royal Regiment of Canada. He went overseas, not as a musician, but as a regular member of the regiment. At the Dieppe raid in 1942 the Royal Regiment landed on the beach at Puys. Of the 554 members of the regiment on that raid only 65 made it back to England. Michell was one of the 264 who were taken prisoner. The rest were killed. I knew that Michell had written the march, Men of Dieppe, but wasn’t sure of the details of how and when it was composed. During the intermission at the recent concert by the Toronto Concert Band, I was speaking with Bill Mighton, a former conductor of the Royal Regiment Band who happened to be sitting across from me in the audience. He told me that, during his three years as a prisoner, Michell worked over some themes that kept coming back in his head. When released he had with him a few notes of these melodies. On his return to Canada he took those melodies and from them composed Men of Dieppe, a very fine march worthy of inclusion in any band’s repertoire.

Gord Evans.It with deep sadness that I have to report on the passing of Gord Evans, one of the finest, most tasteful saxophone players I have ever known. He passed at the age of 96, after spending some years in the Veterans Wing of Sunnybrook Hospital. When I learned of this, I immediately felt that I had to play a CD with Gord playing the solo on Sammy Nestico’s Lonely Street. It brought back memories of the years when I had the privilege of playing in a big band where Gord was the lead alto sax player.

Concerts coming: All that being said, there are holiday performances that we have learned of:

Dec 2: The Plumbing Factory Brass Band presents the “Semiannual Convention of the Plumbers Union and Its Delegations” as reported in last month’s issue.

Dec 3 and Jan 7: The Encore Symphonic Concert Band presents “In Concert: Classics and Jazz” with John Edward Liddle, conductor.

Dec 6: Pickering Community Band’s “Christmas Concert” with guests Alejandra Ballon, vocals; and Ron Korb, world flutes.

Dec 7: Resa’s Pieces “Annual Holiday Concert” includes their strings, concert band and singers.

Dec 13: The Wychwood Clarinet Choir presents “Clarinet Bells Ring,” a lively afternoon of festive tunes featuring Victor Herbert’s March of the Toys, Leroy Anderson’s Christmas Festival, and Sleigh Ride. This last number should never be performed without the well-known horse whinny, which will be done on a clarinet. There will also be a preview movement of Gustav Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite arranged by Roy Greaves. Artistic director and clarinet soloist is Michele Jacot. clip_image001.png

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

Plumbing Factory Brass BandAt this time of year the majority of bands we hear from are preparing for fall concerts, and only a few already have their sights set on Christmas. After attending the rehearsals of two different bands in mid-October, two weeks before Halloween, with nothing but Christmas music in their rehearsal folders, I was beginning to wonder if fall was going to be bypassed this year. Then we heard from the Wellington Wind Symphony. In their program November 1, “On the Road Again,” conductor Daniel Warren takes the audience on a trip, with a broad selection of works by Grainger, Reed, Hazo, Mahler and Koetsier. In a similar vein, Silverthorn Symphonic Winds’ November 28 concert, “Music that Tells a Story,” is built around music from such shows as Anne of Green Gables. So chalk a couple up for fall fare. One day later, though, the Markham Concert Band tilts the balance slightly the other way with a concert titled “A Seasonal Celebration” including Christmas and Hanukkah favourites. (Although, to be fair, it also includes music from all eight Harry Potter films.)

Plumbing the Depths: If as some suggest the pun is the lowest form of wit, then hats off once again to “Professor Hank,” Henry Meredith, for once again plumbing the depths of imaginative programming. For the London-based Plumbing Factory Brass Band’s December 2 concert, Meredith has pulled out all of the thematic stops and put them to practical effect. Many bands will frequently feature a small ensemble of band members for one selection, but this time every section of the band gets to display the talents of its members. Rather than attempt to paraphrase, here is a lengthy excerpt from the December 2 program announcement.

“The ‘agenda’ for the Semiannual Convention of The Plumbers Union includes small ensemble music by its offshoot subcommittees and delegations of like-instruments, as well as music for the entire membership.

1. The conference begins with two pieces heralding the bonds of comradeship typically found at such a conclave – ‘Emblem of Unity’ March by J.J. Richards and Overture ‘Fraternal’ by M. M. Snyder.

2. Following these opening ceremonies, the first delegation on the agenda, the Slush Pumps trombone ensemble, enters, sounding a ‘Royal Procession’ dedicated to their union boss.

3. Then the trombone section proceeds to discuss its regional interests in shipping with two familiar Newfoundland folk songs, ‘Jack was Every Inch a Sailor’ and ‘I’se the B’y that Builds the Boat.’ The entire ‘caulk us caucus’ responds with its rendition of a medley of several additional folk songs describing life on the ocean.

4. The Siphon Sirens are next to take the podium, playing two Austrian hunting tunes on valveless Parforce Horns. Their haunting Nocturne from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, follows, performed on traditional alto horns.

5. The names of each committee evoke plumbing terminology, so the Rusty Pipes cornet ensemble continues the serenade with the elegant aria ‘Leise, Leise’ from Weber’s Der Freischütz, followed by their Flanges and Flugelhorns contingent.

6. Subsequently, the Saucy Faucets of the cornet section become Hipster Hosers when they play Jimmie Lunceford’s ‘Count Me Out.’ After these detours ... the convention recesses for an intermission card game featuring ‘King of Diamonds,’ the seldom heard Overture by Calixa Lavallée, composer of O Canada.

7. The semiannual conference adjourns for the holidays with two versions by Georges Bizet of the familiar medieval Christmas carol, “March of the Kings,” both as a “Prelude” with variations, and also as a ‘Farandole’ folk dance.”

Other sectionals: While this program of the Plumbing Factory Band features separate performances by just about every section of the band, it is quite common for bands to include one or two numbers in a concert by a small ensemble of band members. In their concert this fall, the Wellington Wind Symphony will feature a section by their Slide by Slide Trombone Quartet.

Another smaller outgrowth of a concert band is the After Hours Big Band which consists almost exclusively of members of the Newmarket Citizens’ Band. Unlike other groups formed from within a concert band, this groups has never performed in a concert with the mother band. On the other hand, they do perform regularly quite independently from the concert band. For many years the Newmarket Citizens’ Band rehearsed in the local Lions Club hall. There the band had its own section for music storage and a refrigerator to store refreshments. It was common practice, after the regular rehearsal was over, for a few members to remain on “after hours” and play big band music. In time this group became more formalized and adopted the name The After Hours Big Band. In time they started playing engagements independent of the activities of the concert band.

Several years ago the Lions’ Club hall was destroyed by arsonists. Over the years the Citizen’s Band has moved from one temporary location to another. On the other hand, the After Hours Big Band has been able to settle into a regular rehearsal location which would not be suitable for the full concert band. While I don’t have any information on their future performances, I do know that they quite regularly entertain at retirement residences and long-term care facilities.

Instrumental Choirs: In past issues we have mentioned a few of the choirs, or ensembles, of like instruments including Flute Street and the Wychwood Clarinet Choir. We have just learned of another such group, the Flute Flight Community Flute Choir. Their concert on November 15, ”A Whole Lot of Treble,” will include works for flute ensembles of various sizes from trios to full flute choir. This will all take place at the Cosmopolitan Hall of Cosmo Music in Richmond Hill on November 15.

Handbells: Speaking of small ensembles, for several years I have thought about researching and writing about some of the lesser-known groups. In particular, I was interested in learning more about Handbell Ensembles. Then suddenly without any planning on my part I found myself listening to two different Handbell groups within one week. The first of these was at the 12th Annual Sandford Music Gala at Sandford United Church. For those not familiar with the geography, Sandford is a small hamlet north of Uxbridge. The last time I had been to one of these events was a couple of years ago when I was playing in a brass quintet. This year, not being a part of the show, I was attracted when I read that one of the groups performing would be a handbell ensemble known as Rhythm A’Peal.

Marilyn Meikle: Less than a week later I heard another handbell group, The Embellished Handbell Ensemble. However, this latter event was very different. The handbell ensemble was playing at a memorial service for one of its members, Marilyn Meikle. Marilyn was not only a member of this handbell group. She, along with her husband Tim, were long time members of the Newmarket Citizens’ Band. Her passing has significantly impacted our household. For years I have been sitting beside Tim in the tuba section and, when she was able to attend, my partner Joan sat beside Marilyn in the flute section. Less than two weeks before Marilyn’s passing, I was chatting with her at a rehearsal. She told me how much she had enjoyed their cruise around the British Isles just a few weeks earlier. She certainly will be missed. 

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

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