1904 bandstandSince 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 bandstand@thewholenote.com.

bandstand - condolezza riceSome months ago there was quite a fuss in the news over a decision by the Toronto District School Board to do away with the itinerant music teachers, as a cost-cutting measure. These itinerant teachers normally teach only music and travel between an assigned number of schools. The effect would have been to eliminate most music education at the elementary school level. Proponents of this action expressed the opinion that music education was a frill which could readily be eliminated in a time of budget constraint. Those on the pro-music side argued that music was an integral part of our lives, and that early music education had a positive role to play in the development of many skills in later life. After considerable debate, the board arrived at a compromise, and the itinerant teachers are back in their classrooms this year. Whether this decision is merely a stay of execution or a more permanent solution remains to be seen.

Personally I attended an excellent secondary school with very high academic standards, but with absolutely no formal music program. On the other hand, in my formative years I had the good fortune to have lived in a home filled with music. There were regular rehearsals in our living room and the radio always delivered symphony concerts and opera. I have lived a life filled with music. So this current debate on the merits of music education called out to me to try to get some factual information.

As luck would have it there was a recent article — “Is Music the Key to Success?” — by Joanne Lipman, which I read in the October 12, 2013 New York Times. In this article Lipman cites many prominent figures in diverse fields who were high achievers in music. Examples: Condoleezza Rice trained to be a concert pianist. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, was a professional clarinet and saxophone player. The hedge fund billionaire Bruce Kovner is a pianist who took classes at Juilliard.

Lipman asked the question: “What is it about serious music training that seems to correlate with outsize success in other fields?” It has been generally accepted in academic circles for some time that mathematical skills are considerably enhanced by proficiency in music. Parini goes further, however, stating that the music/success correlation extends beyond the math-music connection. Many high achievers told her that music opened up many pathways to creative thinking: qualities such as collaboration, the ability to listen, ways of thinking that weave together disparate ideas, and the power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously. Advertising executive Steve Hayden credits his background as a cellist for his famous work in producing commercials for Apple computers, stating that his cello performance background helps him work collaboratively and that ensemble playing trains you, quite literally, to play well with others, to know when to solo and when to follow.

These studies got me thinking of famous musicians who also made their mark in other fields. That took me back to my days in the navy when I appeared before my Officer Selection Board. The first question that I was asked by the officer in charge of the board: “You say that one of your major interests is music.” “Yes sir.” “Name a famous composer who was also a naval officer.” My immediate reply: “Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.” I passed; Rimsky-Korsakov had been an officer in the Imperial Russian Navy. Then there was the famous pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the first prime minister of Poland. Another Russian composer, Alexander Borodin, was a physician and professor of chemistry. Former British prime minister Edward Heath maintained an interest in orchestral music as an organist and conductor. Heath directed the London Symphony Orchestra, notably at a gala concert at the Royal Festival Hall in 1971. He also conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the English Chamber Orchestra, as well as orchestras in Germany and the United States. He also wrote a book called The Joy of Christmas: A Collection of Carols, published in 1978 by Oxford University Press.

When I first started collecting LP records, some of my favourite recordings were by the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under the direction of its founding director Ernest Ansermet. Originally he was a mathematics professor, teaching at the University of Lausanne, but music took over most of his life. Ansermet was one of the first in the field of classical music to take jazz seriously, and in 1919 he wrote an article praising jazz saxophonist Sidney Bechet.

Closer to home, former Canadian Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn was an accomplished bass clarinetist. Internationally renowned Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, noted as much for her stage presence as for her musicality, just happens to have an honours degree in Biomedical Engineering.

There certainly is considerable anecdotal evidence to support the belief that proficiency in music plays a role in the development of many other cognitive skills, but the evidence goes way beyond the anecdotal. I know of at least three ongoing university research efforts closely related to this subject. One researcher at McMaster University has been investigating a broad spectrum of society to investigate the role music plays in people’s lives. Another research project at Ryerson University is examining differences in people with musical expertise when it comes to auditory versus visual selective attention. The third, at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences is the most interesting to me in terms of making a case for the value of early musical training. Stefanie Hutka, a PhD student at the Rotman Institute (and a violinist) provided this information.

“Our NeuroEducation Across the Lifespan laboratory is directly targeting an increase in awareness and accessibility of music training. On the awareness side, we are heavily involved in public outreach such as the Brain Power conference, which presents accessible information about neuroscience findings on music to scientists, educators, and parents. On the accessibility side, we have studies supporting the benefits of music, including via short-term training on software, which have been published in top scientific journals. In one 2011 study, school-aged children used music training software called Smarter Kids, developed by our lead scientist, Dr. Sylvain Moreno. After only 20 days of training, improvements on measures of verbal intelligence were observed. We are currently extending this theme of accessibility, creating software using music to train the aging brain, with very positive preliminary data.”

Her summary of the project’s findings to date?: “Everyone can benefit from music training. A wealth of empirical, neuroscientific evidence supports the positive influence of music training on numerous non-musical brain functions, such as language, reading and attention. Such benefits are seen in children, and continue across the lifespan into older adulthood. Despite this evidence, music education is still often seen as a supplemental and expensive subject in schools, and often is the target of budget cuts. Increasing awareness of the real-world benefits associated with learning music, as well as making music training more accessible, are critical steps towards supporting the inclusion of this important subject in curricula.”

As formal Liberal Leader Bob Rae (who has himself been known to lead a rousing sing-song from the piano) is reported to have stated some months ago in a debate on financing culture: “Culture is not a luxury.” Couldn’t have said it better myself!


This month’s lesser known musical term is basso continuo: When musicians are still fishing long after the legal season has ended.

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 bandstand@thewholenote.com.

In last month’s column I mentioned that the Concert Band of Cobourg would be making their annual trip to Plattsburgh New York once again this year. Having heard about this event many times over the years, and since a trip of that distance by a community band is rare, I decided to journey to Plattsburgh myself. What could be so special with this event that a large concert band would undertake a six-hour journey and stay for the weekend to perform in a parade and a concert? I wasn’t disappointed.

bandstandSpecifically, the many events were all part of the annual commemoration of the Battle of Plattsburgh, the final clash of the War of 1812. After a full week of battle re-enactments, encampments and similar events, the Saturday afternoon parade included many Canadian and American bands. The theme of this year’s event was “The Canadian Connection.” In their role as the official band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marine Association, the Concert Band of Cobourg, along with the Cobourg Legion Pipes and Drums of Branch 133, were the headliners of the parade. Also on parade were the Pipes and Drums of the RCMP from Montreal, and the Sailing Masters of 1812, a traditional fife and drum corps dressed in sailing masters’ uniforms of the era.

On the reviewing stand, from Montreal, the Grand Marshals for the parade were 92-year-old Okill Stuart and his wife, Sylvia. Mr. Stuart, resplendent in his tartan kilt, displayed an array of medals earned between the time he landed on Juno Beach on June 6, 1944, and his return to civilian life after WWII. Everywhere we turned we were greeted by enthusiastic men, women and children dressed as they might have been 200 years ago. Tradition was certainly on display everywhere, but with an occasional modern twist. When I see the pipes and drums on parade, I usually expect to see the traditional husky drum major and pipe major. Not so with the Cobourg Legion Pipes and Drums. Their pipe major is a petite woman named Mary Ito.

On Saturday evening the Concert Band of Cobourg was featured in a concert in the beautifully restored 1920s-vintage Strand Theater. It was a full house with a of mix of local residents, band members’ families and friends from Cobourg, Peterborough, Toronto, Montreal and elsewhere.

Conductor Paul Storms and his team did a wonderful job so that, as far as any spectator could tell, everything went off without a hitch. Personally I am indebted to Paul Storms for providing all the information I needed before the trip and even reserving a hotel room in Plattsburgh. We walked into the hotel, stated names and were immediately recognized as members of the Cobourg contingent. The town of Plattsburgh was fully involved with a wide variety of associated attractions. Among other things, to acquaint us with all that was planned for this commemorative week, we received a 74-page book detailing all events. Personal chats with the mayor of Plattsburgh near the reviewing stand and with the mayor of Cobourg in his hospitality suite at the hotel certainly made us feel right at home. Next year will be the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Plattsburgh and we are already making plans to be there.

The evenings in the hotel provided a great opportunity to renew acquaintances with at least eight Cobourg band members with whom I had played in various groups over the years. In those conversations, many reminisced about their former conductor Roly White and their former drum major Tom MacMillan who just passed away on July 31 of this year. Not only did I hear about the pleasures of playing in this band, but as is common at such events I also heard stories of why people had left other bands — tales of discontent with repertoire, parting of ways with conductors, and many other issues, some avoidable and some probably not. Hmm, I feel another column coming on! All in all a memorable weekend where I came away feeling like an honourary band member. If I lived closed to Cobourg, I would be knocking at their door to become a member.

Uxbridge Revisited: Speaking of well-organized happy bands, it’s time to revisit the Uxbridge Community Concert Band. This is a summertime-only band, operating at a time when many members are liable to have conflicting demands on their time. Nevertheless, this band has managed to overcome obstacles tby having all volunteer non-musical positions well filled without grumbling. Early in the season a list of jobs to be undertaken is posted and members are asked to select the job of their choice. These range from the mundane, such as carrying percussion equipment and stage setup, to producing art work and program notes. I have not heard of any other band that played a concert on a Saturday and had CDs of that concert complete with very attractive cover art available free for every band member four days later at their Wednesday “Music Sorting Party.” Yes, the band members have a party with refreshments to sort all of the music. It’s a party, not a dull tedious job left for the librarian. If you are a band member, do your members pitch in for that job?

Legend: The term legend is grossly overworked in the world of music. However, if there is anyone on the local musical scene that deserves such an epithet, it is certainly appropriate for Eddie Graf. At the age of 92, Eddie still loves to play his alto sax and clarinet and is still actively working as one of the most respected musicians and arrangers in his field. From his days as a band leader entertaining troops in Europe during WWII, through his half century of CBC work, Eddie has been a tireless player, composer, arranger and band leader. By his side since her days as a dancer with Eddie’s Army Show band, his wife, lovely Bunnie has been part of the team. Now we have learned that plans are in the works to produce a documentary for television on the life and music of Eddie Graf dating back to his days with the Canadian Forces where he met Bunnie, also 92 years young.

The fall musical season is certainly in full swing now. Last month we were grasping for information on band activities. Not so now. We have been inundated. The Brampton Concert Band, under the direction of music director, Vince Gassi, begin their season with “Lights, Camera, Action: The Music of Jerry Goldsmith and Friends,”with performances by the Brampton Youth Concert Band and special guests, the Pipes and Drums of the Lorne Scots. For those not familiar with the name Jerry Goldsmith, he’s the one responsible for the musical scores for such films as Star Trek, Papillon, Chinatown, King Solomon’s Mines, Basic Instinct, Alien and Planet of the Apes among others. That’s Saturday, October 19 at 8pm.

The Hannaford Street Silver Band launches their 30th anniversary season with “Strike Up the Band,” on Sunday afternoon, October 20. This will feature Gregson’s monumental piece Of Men and Mountains and a new “cutting edge” commission by Vivian Fung.

On Sunday, October 20 at 2pm, the Markham Concert Band, with conductor Doug Manning, will present “October Pops” at the Flato Markham Theatre. Get ready for marches, show tunes, jazz and light classical selections featuring special guest vocalist Sharon Smith.

We were very pleased to hear from the Mississauga Pops Concert Band, and hope to pay them a visit in the near future. Their first concert of the fall season will be their “Hallowe’en Concert” on October 26 at St. John’s Dixie Cemetery & Crematorium. With an interesting twist, this concert will be geared towards families and will have costume contests and games for kids before the show begins at 7pm and again during intermission.

We hadn’t heard from them for some time, but we’re pleased to hear that the Scarborough Society of Musicians has started up its fifth year. The group rehearses alternate Saturdays from 11am to 1pm at Dr. Norman Bethune C.I., 200 Fundy Bay Blvd., Toronto. We haven’t heard of any concerts yet. For information, contact them at

In last month’s column I mentioned attending a very special event in support of trumpeter Carlo Vanini. Unfortunately, I have to report that Carlo Vanini passed away peacefully on the morning of August 30 with his family at his side. Over the many years that I knew Carlo I had the pleasure of playing in many groups with him. Looking at the many photographs at the visitation, I learned one other connection that I had not been aware of: Carlo’s high school music teacher had been my cousin. One event I remember fondly was when I was in the audience for the year-end concert of his daughter’s high school band. His daughter performed as conductor for one special number, her teachers played in the band and Carlo was the trumpet soloist. He will be missed.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is bar line: what musicians form after the concert.

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 bandstand@thewholenote.com.



Cobourg Goesto Plattsburgh

bandstandAccording to my calendar summer is almost over. However, in my experience, it tried to start and then gave up some weeks ago. On the band scene my experience is quite similar. I had hoped to hear from quite a number of bands telling of their activities over the summer months when TheWholeNote was taking a breather. With a couple of notable exceptions, there was a deafening silence from the bands regarding their summer programming. If you are a member of a band, tell us about your activities. Whether they are highlights of recent events or announcements of ones coming up, we and other readers are interested. Having said that, we really prefer a simple release in the form of an MS Word document attached to an email. Trying to dig for gems of information in a multi-layered, colourful website, no matter how attractive, frequently yields little or no useful information.

We do know that there were many series of regular concerts at Victoria Park in Milton, at the Unionville Millennium Bandstand, the Orillia Aqua Theatre and other locations. Unfortunately, we have no anecdotes to report.

In past issues of this column the topic of programming, and specifically theme programming, has received some attention. In one case a band director admitted to settling for second rate music in order to adhere slavishly to a selected theme. This year it is a pleasure to report on a themed program, with a difference, which really worked. The Uxbridge Community Concert Band’s director Steffan Brunette produced a well-researched themed program this year which set a new standard. The program was simply titled “The Elements.”

In recent years modern science revealed to us how all matter on earth was composed of combinations of elements. In our elementary science classes we learned about the periodic table of elements and how they are combined to form all of the physical materials which we encounter in our daily lives. However in ancient times the perception was very different. The belief was that everything known in the world was made up of only four elements: earth, wind, water and fire. These concepts were inspired by natural observation of the phases of matter. Almost since the earliest forms of written music, composers have written works to convey emotions induced by human encounters with those four elements.

This concert took the audience on a musical journey through time with a broad range of musical impressions from those of George Frideric Handel in the 1600s to works of composers in the 21st century. In addition to Handel’s Water Music and his Music from the Royal Fireworks, there was Manuel de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance, excerpts from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and several works written within the past ten years. There was an interesting adaptation of the traditional African-American spiritual, Wade In The Water, by none other than Professor Adolphus Cunningham Hailstork III. There was even a musical impression of the volcanic eruption of Mazama in the state of Oregon that occurred over 7,000 years ago. It was a program that was musically varied, tasteful and kept the audience interested. Full marks go to Steffan Brunette.

One of the oldest brass bands in Canada, the Whitby Brass Band, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. The official celebration event will take place in Whitby, Friday September 27. That will be followed by a special anniversary concert on Saturday, September 28. Some months ago, as a part of their anniversary celebrations, the band sponsored a competition for young musicians to compose a concert march to commemorate this anniversary. First place went to Abundance by Marcus Venables of Toronto, second place toAlumnus by Gerry Murphy Jr. of Oshawa, third place toLegacy by Kristie Hunter of Uxbridge and fourth place to Heydenshore March by Sean Breen of Markham.

In Cobourg there is celebration and there is grief. Once again this year, the Concert Band of Cobourg will be travelling to Plattsburgh, New York, in their role as the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marine Association. However, this year, their longtime drum major, Tom MacMillan, will not be heading the parade. Tom succumbed to cancer in mid-August. Tom MacMillan joined the Concert Band of Cobourg over 30 years ago as its drum major and led the band in every significant parade since then. In the words of Paul Storms, director of music: “He was a big huge part, and he was the centrepiece of the band in everything we did over the last 30 years. He put the band on the map with his looks and his proud walk. Every time we did tattoos or parades, once he called the band to attention you could see him in his glory and how proud he was to lead us, and how proud we were to have him lead us.”

MacMillan retired from the Ontario Provincial Police in 1993, but it was his involvement with the citizens of Cobourg that made him shine. Over the years he won many awards from community service clubs, the town of Cobourg and the province of Ontario. From his blue town crier uniform complete with tiny rimmed glasses, to the white beard he wore when playing the role of Santa, or carrying the mace for the band, MacMillan was the definition of community involvement.

So, after a busy summer of weekly concerts, the band’s principal activity will be, as mentioned, their annual participation in the commemoration of the Battle of Plattsburgh on September 14. The theme of the weekend is the “Canadian Connection” which will feature them along with the Cobourg Legion Pipes and Drums of Branch 133. The bands will be featured in a parade, beat retreat ceremony and evening concert. In the concert the band will have the honour of opening the newly renovated Strand Theatre in Plattsburgh.

On another down note, I recently attended a benefit event at the Frenchman’s Bay Yacht Club to honour trumpeter Carlo Vanini. Well known in Toronto band circles and a regular for many years in the Bob Cary Orchestra at what was formerly the Chick ’n’  Deli, Carlo has been seriously ill. Hundreds of friends and family members were there to express their support. We hope to see him back soon.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is An-Dante: a tempo that’s infernally slow. 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 bandstand@thewholenote.com.

In last month’s issue I referred to a number of concerts by small ensembles. Since then I had the pleasure of attending a very different program by small ensembles. In the most recent of their intimate offerings, the Naval Club of Toronto hosted a return of members of the band of HMCS York. This band, one of several reserve force bands in Toronto, has amassed quite a talented group of musicians. Time was when the membership of such reserve bands constituted a mix of skilled amateur members along with one or two school music teachers. Today this band can boast that close to 75 percent of their members hold degrees in music, including some doctorates.

The program opened with a duet for alto trombone and harpsichord by an early composer that I had not heard of, a predecessor of Leopold Mozart and Michael Haydn. The trombonist, Leading Seaman James Chilton, holds a Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia and is one of a few who are introducing this instrument to their audiences. Three hundred years ago the alto trombone, and its larger brother the tenor trombone, enjoyed significant status as solo instruments. However, the use of trombones as solo instruments declined for almost 200 years. Beethoven didn’t use trombones in his symphonies until his Fifth, where they appear in the final movement.

In the 20th century the tenor re-emerged as a solo instrument, but with a few exceptions, the alto has languished to this day. It was great to hear of its return. (On my return home after that performance, I rushed to play a CD of concertos for alto trombone and orchestra by Leopold Mozart and Michael Haydn.)

The rest of the program consisted mostly of performances by various combinations of brass instruments. A trombone quartet chose lesser known works by 20th century composers including American Arthur Fracenpol and Briton Malcolm Arnold. A quintet brought us back to the present with their version of When I’m 64.

bandstand didgeridooOther than one oboe solo, it was almost all brass. I said “almost” because L.S. Chilton suddenly digressed from his various sizes of trombones to introduce an original composition, his Opus 1 for Solo Didgeridoo. The possibility of a naval musician in full uniform performing on such an instrument in public was beyond my wildest illusions, but there he was. For those not familiar with the construction or origins of the didgeridoo, it is a traditional instrument made by Aboriginal craftsmen in Arnhem Land in Northern Australia. While this was a factory-made instrument, the original native Australian instruments are made from the trunks of eucalyptus trees, the cores of which have been hollowed out by termites. He hopes to get one of those “termite crafted originals” in the future. While I once had the opportunity to make sounds on a didgeridoo, I can’t say that I ever came close to playing anything resembling music on it.

Traditionally, in concerts, naval bands always play their official “regimental march” Heart of Oak. This time, as a bit of a spoof, all of the participating musicians treated us to a vocal rendition of that in four-part harmony.

Since the concert at the Naval Club had such a significant trombone component, this might be a good time to recount a story of a special trombone in my life. Many years ago, having played a tenor trombone for most of my life, I suddenly had the urge to try a bass trombone. So I visited a dealer to inquire about such an instrument. The price of the new Vincent Bach instrument that I tried was beyond my budget at the time and I left empty-handed. That same evening, during a rehearsal, a total stranger who had been sitting behind the trombone section leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Do you know anyone who would like to buy a bass trombone?” I almost jumped out of my skin. When I asked for details, the gentleman handed me a piece of paper with his name “Tommy” and suggested that I phone him.

The next day I visited him. There it was; a genuine New York Bach bass trombone. For those not familiar with the Bach instruments, Vincent Bach was an Austrian trumpeter who moved to New York shortly after the First World War and set up shop to make trumpets and trombones. In later years he moved to Mount Vernon and subsequently sold the business, whereupon the operation was moved to Elkart, Indiana. Those early New York and Mount Vernon instruments are coveted by brass musicians for their craftsmanship and tone quality. The asking price was surprisingly low. Tommy explained that he had suffered a stroke and could no longer play. He just wanted the horn to have a good home. (Some time later he confessed that he had an ulterior motive. Another individual in the same trombone section, who we’ll call Joe, had been hounding Tommy to buy the trombone. Tommy couldn’t stand Joe and wanted the instrument to be played beside him where Joe could eat his heart out.)

Over the years I have wondered about the history of the instrument. There is still the name Harry Stevenson — bass trombonist for the Toronto Symphony for many years — marked on the inside of the case. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to learn a bit more about my treasure. Tedd Waggoner, the Bach instrument specialist from Elkart, was giving a presentation on the evolution of the early Bach instruments at Long and McQuade in Toronto. I took my instrument to show to him. In this presentation he pointed out how Vincent Bach had maintained meticulous records of every instrument produced with all specifications, dates and names of customers. Waggoner had been able to convince the current management to retain these individual record cards on all of the early instruments. Shortly after his return to his office I received a copy of the card with all of the details. It was completed on April 22, 1941, and sold on January 16, 1945, to a Colin Campbell in New York. How and when did it get from New York to Harry Stevenson? Were there other owners? I feel like a genealogist trying to trace the ancestry of my treasure. Are there any readers who might shed some light? For the benefit of those who might wish to own such a horn, I already have a list of trombonists hoping to be mentioned in my will. Finally on the topic of trombones, the Sheraton Cadwell orchestras are looking for one or two experienced trombone players to join them. For details visit their website at sheratoncadwell.com.

So much for some of the musical events in my life these past few weeks. What is on the horizon for the summer months? Since there will not be another issue of TheWholeNote until September, I set out to determine what would be happening in the community music world over the next three months. With a few exceptions, the community bands in this part of the world served up a deafening silence as far as news of their activities was concerned. With a dearth of information at hand, I turned to band websites to see what they were reporting. In one case, the band in question greeted me with the news of their next great performance in October 2012. Another gave all sorts of detail about their forthcoming trip in September 2010. A third gave a list of every performance in the past three years, but nothing about the future. Come on folks, tell us what you are doing.

Here’s some of what we do know. Steffan Brunette and the summertime-only Uxbridge Community Concert Band will be performing their usual two concerts plus a ceremony with the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. The Festival Wind Orchestra will feature all movie music in their spring concert on June 22 at 2pm, at Crescent School. The Newmarket Citizens’ Band has a busy schedule, including the Veterans Day Ceremony at the Newmarket Cemetery (June 9 at 1:30pm), the Aurora Canada Day Parade (July 1 at 10am), the Newmarket Canada Day Fireworks Concert (Richardson Park, July 1 at 7pm), the Orillia Aqua Theatre (August 4 at 6:30pm) and a Clarington Older Adult Association concert (September 22 at 12 noon). The Concert Band of Cobourg is offering a Coronation Concert Celebration series with performances in Toronto June 2, in Kingston June 9 and in Cobourg June 15. As in previous years there will be a series of regular concerts by several bands at the Orillia Aqua Theatre in Couchiching Beach Park and on the Unionville Millenium Bandstand.

While it is definitely not a community band, there is a new small ensemble in Toronto that warrants some attention. Conductor Simon Capet is back in town with a new chamber orchestra with the very musical name Euphonia. There will be two main differences in their performances. They will be performing in small, non-traditional venues and will not be wearing any kind of formal attire.

Rather than viewing these small venue performances as an innovation, the members of Euphonia consider it a return to the past. As Capet points out, public concerts in the days when these composers presented their works were not in large austere concert halls. They were lively social gatherings in the taverns of their day, where the musicians were surrounded by their audiences as they enjoyed refreshments and conversations along with the music. As in those early days, the musicians will be in the centre of the room, not up some distant stage remote from their audience. Tentatively, these concerts will be on the second Monday of every month, with their next concert, consisting of music of Mozart, C.P.E. Bach and Haydn, at the Lula Lounge June 10 at 8pm.

Turning to happenings in September, it seems appropriate to return to naval matters. On the weekend of September 14 the Concert Band of Cobourg, in their role as the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Association (Ontario), will be travelling to Plattsburgh, New York. For several years now the band, and a considerable group of friends, have made an annual trek to participate in ceremonies commemorating the Battle of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain. Yes, there was a naval battle on Lake Champlain with no fewer than 30 ships involved. It took place on September 11, 1814, just before the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, and was the final battle of the War of 1812. I might just make the trip there myself this year.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is Antiphonal: referring to the prohibition of cell phones in the concert hall. 

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

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