Since this issue of The WholeNote is a double issue covering the periods before and after the Christmas holiday season, I expected to be flooded with information on concerts devoted to traditional Christmas music. I also expected a small smattering of information on what might be in store in the community band world in the new year. I was mistaken. In my ad hoc unscientific survey of band activities, the clear pattern was that there is no pattern. The key word is diversity. Where to start? How are they diverse? How do they differ from the traditional activities we think of when we use the phrase “Town Band”?
Traditionally most town bands performed regularly in parades. Now, most community bands restrict their activities to concerts. In the more extreme cases, the word parade is akin to blasphemy. In other words, to play in a parade would be beneath their artistic dignity. A special bouquet then goes to the Newmarket Citizens Band. In a three-week period before Christmas the members of that town band are scheduled to perform in no fewer than five Santa Claus Parades interspersed with some free concerts at retirement residences. That is community service. At the other end of the diversity spectrum, many community bands perform one concert of Christmas or seasonal music.
As for concert programming, that too has diversified greatly. Few of the groups that we have heard from restrict their programming to band music only. Most have guest soloists, choirs or both. For the Milton Concert Band their special guests are the Kingsway Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir under music director Karen Sexton and a very special secret guest vocalist. They’ll cover the spectrum from Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride to Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium. The Brampton Concert Band takes diversity further with both the Brampton Youth Concert Band and the Mayfield Singers from Mayfield Secondary School as guests. As an additional attraction, this year’s “Christmas at the Rose” will intertwine the music with story-telling presented by local Brampton actor Joe Rose. On the eastern front, out in Pickering, the Pickering Community Concert Band’s Christmas Concert will include theme music from Harry Potter films performed with synchronized video. To complete the mix, in addition to an audience carol sing-along they will be joined by the Pickering High School Jazz Band.
Plumbing the repertoire: Although their concerts will be past history by the time this issue is off the presses, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the creative efforts of professor Henry Meredith and his Plumbing Factory Brass Band in London. In their late November concerts they included a tasteful variety of Christmas melodies in original arrangements for brass band by band members. On the religious side, these included the Ukrainian folk chant Carol of the Bells, the 17th century French Canadian Huron Carol also known as Twas in the Moon of Wintertime and the premiere performance of A Christmas Carol Medley arranged by band member Ronald Morgan. On the lighter side there was The Parade of the Tin Soldiers (1897) by Leon Jessel and the March of the Toys (from Babes in Toyland) (1903) by Victor Herbert. Then, as frequently happens in their programs, there was the unknown Canadian gem most of us had never heard of. This time such a gem was The Mistletoe Galop (c. 1867–75, published by P. Grossman, Hamilton, ON)
Horizons past: From time to time I report on the happenings of the New Horizons bands. Now in their fourth season in Toronto, there are now five concert bands and one jazz class with another new group starting in February on Wednesday afternoons. A familiarization evening will be held for anyone interested in learning more about the New Horizons movement on Friday, January 31 from 7pm to 9pm at the Long and McQuade Bloor Street store in Toronto. The original intent of this movement, when it was started about 15 years ago, was to encourage older absolute beginners or those who hadn’t touched an instrument since school days to get into playing in a group. Having decided to look at diversity this month, I inquired about the musical backgrounds, if any, of the local New Horizons members. What I learned was surprising. Many had considerable experience in music, but on other instruments. Here again, an unscientific, informal survey was in order.
One of the dedicated members of the senior group, Alizon, who plays the oboe in the band, came to New Horizons with piano experience and as a singer. Maureen, new to the group this year, who picked up the French horn on her own, just happens to teach harp at the Royal Conservatory. Gail, on alto saxophone, with no previous musical experience, is one of the sort that I expected. Russell, a professional bassist, is now performing on tenor saxophone. Ken, a professional bassoonist and bass clarinetist, now embraces a tuba. He does admit though that carrying a tuba on public transit presents a challenge. Carol, with no prior experience, originally took up the flute and now plays that in the level two band. However, she had a long-suppressed urge to try drums. She now also plays drums in the level one band. One of the most interesting members is Randy. Having never played any instrument in his life, Randy, a seasoned member on flute in the level three band, is now trying his hand at composition. The members of the group hope to give his first effort a read through in the coming weeks.
Within that group there are two individuals who warrant special mention for their musical dealings with adversity. Lawrence, once an accomplished organist and choir director, was forced to relinquish his post when the arthritis in his hands reached the stage where he could no longer cope with a keyboard instrument. While the organ is no longer within his grasp, his musical talent is now expressed through the xylophone. Then there is Randall. Totally blind since birth, Randall is seen regularly carrying his euphonium at various band events around Toronto. He even performs frequently on euphonium at York University. I have grown accustomed to observing Randall’s proficiency on a valved instrument. To put it mildly, I was blown away when I spotted him holding forth on a large bass trombone during a recent visit to a New Horizons rehearsal. My exploration into diversity in the band world took me to places that I could not have imagined.
Readers write: Although there is a regular request in this column for readers to write, it rarely happens. What a joy this time to have two new responses to report, The first from reader John Ryerson offers a correction to my referral in the last issue to “a decision by the Toronto District School Board to cut the funding of some music programs in Toronto schools.” He states: “For the record, it was the Ministry of Education that wanted the ‘flex’ funding program removed but the TDSB wore it. Regards.”
Another reader response, with a twist of humour, came from “Suzanne.” Last month’s lesser known musical term was “basso continuo: when musicians are still fishing long after the legal season has ended.” Suzanne’s rejoinder requires careful pronunciation to fully comprehend.
“One of the more unsavory types out on the waters after the end of the legal season is the solitary and elusive bass angling for bass. I hope that this will change the tenor of the common belief that basso continuo is just a little harmless illegal fishy fun. One must also question Liona Boyd’s intentions. As you will note from her picture, (page 31, right next to your column), she appears to be just enjoying a little harmless R&R in a canoe. Or has she succumbed to this derelict basso continuo craze. After all let’s not forget that the guitar which she just ‘happens’ to have with her in the canoe is a popular choice for basso continuo illegal fishing types. I hope this clarifies things.”
This month’s lesser known musical term is ben sostenuto: First cousin of the second trombonist.
We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.
Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.