How does one get started in banding? Nowadays, the most common way is through school music programs. Almost every secondary school in this part of the world has a music program, and many elementary schools do as well. It hasn’t always been that way though. When I went to school in Windsor, Ontario, we had no formal music program, nor did any other school in the city. The school had an excellent fully equipped auditorium with a balcony. It was the best auditorium in the city. When world renowned groups like the Russian Don Cossack Chorus came to town, that is where they performed. It was also home to many amateur productions like the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas where my parents first met.
Things have changed. Most secondary schools have bands as well as choirs, and many have large string ensembles as well. As for my old school, it is now the major school for the performing arts in the region. How did young people get introduced to music performance back then? For boys there were a few boys’ bands, and girls were more or less left out. A recent short excerpt on CBC Radio triggered my thoughts on this subject. In the program B is for Brass Dave Pell, bass trombonist with the Hannaford Street Silver Band, related how he started. As a boy, Pell’s introduction began when he was given a euphonium in the Salvation Army band. He was soon in love with the instrument and its sound. However, it’s only used in bands. So when it was time to buy his own instrument, he wanted an instrument which would be found in a broader spectrum of ensembles. He chose the trombone.
My own case was very similar. My two best friends, Keith and Jimmy, played in a boys’ band sponsored by a local service club. I decided to try to join the band with them. I thought that I would like to play drums. There were no “openings” for drummers, so I was handed a euphonium and shown how to made a semi-musical sound. When that band ceased to operate, I was without an instrument. I liked the euphonium, but realized that there were many kinds of musical groups where the euphonium was not used. I wanted the option of being able to play in dance orchestras or symphony orchestras. Would it be trumpet with the same fingering or trombone with the same mouthpiece? Like Pell, I chose trombone. Also like Pell, I have retained my love affair with the sound of the euphonium and the counter melodies often written for it. When I meet young people who have embraced their particular instruments, a frequent question which I ask is: “Did you choose the instrument or did the instrument choose you”? In Dave Pell’s case and mine the euphonium chose us, then we chose the trombone.
Bands, their repertoire, their audiences and their performance venues have certainly evolved over the years. From the works bands of Britain and Europe to the early town bands in North America, much of the programming was military music or transcriptions of classical works. Prior to and throughout WWII the major events for bands were tattoos, with most groups parading before a reviewing stand. On the platform would be one featured band playing such works as concert overtures between various parts of the marching groups. But gradually, over the years the perception of bands and band music has evolved. The concert band has finally gained the respectability of performing in concert halls. The concert band that also participates in parades is a rarity today.
Not so splendid isolation: Before looking at what the bands in this area are offering this spring and summer, there is another evolving trend in the band world which is receiving mixed reactions in the banding community. I’m referring to the use of mp3 files for learning new works. Many bands are now posting recordings of their current repertoire on their bands’ websites or asking their members to sign on to their internet groups, to listen to a recording and follow it on their printed music. In some cases it is suggested that the members should play along with this at home. Is this a good idea?
Proponents are all in favour of using any means to achieve a better performance. But the first flaw is the assumption that all band members have ready access to a high speed internet connection with suitable sound reproduction capabilities. It also assumes that members are comfortable using all of this technology. Even if this unlikely situation were possible, and that there were no distractions in the home, is this the best way to learn a new work? There certainly would be no interaction with other band members. Those opposed to the idea consider it to be the community band equivalent of “paint by numbers” games for children. There is an output. But is it art? What will happen to the all important sight reading skills which are so valued? We would love to hear from readers on this subject. Have you tried it? Did it work for you and/or your band, or was it more of a distraction? Are there other aspects of modern technology having an influence in your band experience?
Upcoming: As for programming, so far we have heard from two bands with details of what they will be performing in the coming months. In both cases, in keeping with a popular trend, they are “theme” programs. The first is that of Henry Meredith’s Plumbing Factory Brass Band in London, Ontario, which always has imaginative programs. Titled “Our Home and Native Land – A Celebration of Canada,” the April 17 program will open and close with two different marches both called Bravura, a word which conjures up our national spirit of energy, pride and glory. Included will be Handel’s Coronation Anthem “Zadok the Priest” which was performed 60 years ago at our Queen’s coronation in 1953. The band will then take the audience on a musical tour of Canada with such numbers as Howard Cable’s The Banks of Newfoundland, an arrangement of several folk songs from our oldest, yet newest, province. Canada’s waterways will be portrayed by Herbert L. Clarke’s cornet solo The Maid of the Mist, named for the famous Niagara Falls tour boat.
The Uxbridge Community Concert Band has taken a different approach to its theme programming. Last year band members were asked to vote on a single number from previous years that they would like to perform again. Their choice of previously performed music was a suite from The Firebird. From that evolved the theme of “The Elements” for an upcoming concert. It will all be music about earth, wind, air and fire. From the fast-moving Dancing in the Wind, the power of the sacred volcano Mazama and the gospel stylings of Wade in the Water, through the tumultuous Ritual Fire Dance to the grand finale of The Firebird, it should be quite a musical journey.
Down the road: The University of Toronto, Scarborough (UTSC) and the Ontario Band Association (OBA), are inviting interested groups to participate in the 2013 UTSC & OBA Chamber Music Festival. This is a three-day music festival that will take place from April 16 to 18, 2013, at the UTSC campus. Further information will soon be available at onband.ca/cmf.
We have not heard any more on the York University band workshop in May, mentioned in last month’s column, but expect to have more details well before the date.
Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Retraction: In the March 2010 issue of this publication I referred to a collection of early wax cylinder recordings in my possession (picked up at a sale in a barn in Prince Edward County, by the way). Amongst them, I said, there was, to the best of my recollection, a conversation reputed to be between Thomas Edison and Johannes Brahms. Challenged repeatedly by a reader to substantiate my claim or retract it (since there is no evidence that Brahms and Edison ever met), I have stalled on doing so, in the hope that I’d get round to rummaging through more than half a century of “stuff.” Since, three years later,
I seem to be no closer to getting around to doing so, I hereby retract any claims made in this column as to the existence of such a cylinder.