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

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

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

1808-bandstandIt all started with a very nasty accident but with an outcome that, as I witnessed, was anything but accidental, namely a well-crafted concert by a rarely heard form of musical ensemble. As for the accident, it happened a few months ago. After one of their regular rehearsals, members of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir saw a woman riding her bicycle getting tangled with the streetcar tracks and being thrown to the pavement. Immediately, those choir members sprang into action like a well-practised team. They rendered first aid and took the victim back to her home at the nearby Christie Gardens retirement residence.

Over the ensuing weeks, those choir members and the victim, Bruna Nota, remained in touch and developed a strong bond of friendship. As her recovery progressed, Nota suggested that it might be appropriate for the choir to perform a concert for the residents of Christie Gardens. I had the pleasure of being a guest at that concert, my introduction to the work of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir, their director, Michele Jacot and several excellent arrangements for the ensemble, several by choir members.

Jacot grew up in Toronto in a house where there was constant good music. I asked her one of my usual questions: “Did you choose the clarinet or did the clarinet choose you?” Apparently the clarinet chose her, when she began music studies at Oakwood Collegiate. After undergraduate studies in music performance at the University of Toronto and a master’s degree from Northwestern, she returned to Toronto and embarked on a career of performing and private teaching. Now in its fourth season, the Wychwood Clarinet Choir was the brainchild of Jacot and a few of her adult clarinet students. It now numbers 20 regular members including her former teacher at Oakwood.

To acquaint audience members with the many diverse voices of the six members of the clarinet family, a sextet consisting of one of each instrument performed a very clever arrangement of What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor by choir member and former teacher, Roy Greaves. This was followed by one movement of a transcription of a Mozart serenade for wind octet also arranged by Greaves.

In the planning for this performance and their spring concert, the hunt for suitable arrangements led to another “happy accident.” It turned out that choir member Katherine Carleton knew renowned Canadian composer Howard Cable. Might he have written or arranged works for such a group? Yes he had. He hadn’t seen them for quite some time, but with a bit of digging, he provided two works. The first was an original 1964 composition, Wind Song, which he wrote for members of the Band of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado Springs. The other was an arrangement of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” from the 1940 Rodgers and Hart Broadway musical Pal Joey. So Cable was there to guest conduct these two works, mentioning that he had not heard either work in 50 years.

As a surprise for Cable, two former choir members, Harry Musicar and Sydney Gangbar, were invited to this performance. They were both schoolmates of his at Toronto’s Parkdale Collegiate and played with him in the school orchestra under Leslie Bell (who later achieved prominence as conductor of the Leslie Bell singers). In so many ways this concert really clicked for all concerned.

If you have never heard a clarinet choir with its many voices, it’s time to do so. Wychwood will be performing their spring concert at 3:30pm, May 12 at the Church of St. Michael-and-all-Angels in Toronto. While Cable has a prior commitment which will preclude his attendance at that spring concert, a bond has been formed with the choir. Rumour has it that he has already written a new work which will feature Jacot as soloist. We’ll be looking for him and that work at their fall concert.

Hannaford: April also saw the great Hannaford Street Silver Band’s annual three-day festival. The winner of this year’s Hannaford Youth Rising Stars Solo Competition was Jonathan Elliotson from Orangeville who has just finished second year in the performance program at U of T’s Faculty of Music. He played Jubliance by William Himes on cornet from memory. Elliotson has been the end-chair solo cornet in the Hannaford Youth Band this past season. The Hannaford Youth final concert of the season will be May 11 at 2pm at the Church of the Redeemer in Toronto. It will feature Andrew McCandless, principal trumpet of the TSO as guest soloist.

Speaking of Hannaford, at last year’s Hannaford Rising Stars competition, Jacob Plachta, now in third year trombone performance at U of T, won performing his own composition Sonata for Trombone and Brass. At this year’s HSSB festival, the Youth Band premiered Plachta’s new work for brass band titled Celebration. Another Youth Band member, Adrian Ling, has written a three-movement work titled Progressions for Brass Band, with one movement for each band of the Youth Program: Junior, Community and Youth. These three movements will be performed at their spring concert with the three bands set up in different locations in the church. Ling is a first-year composition student at U of T and started with the Hannaford Youth Program seven years ago. At the Junior Band’s Christmas concert, they performed a piece called Elf Factory composed by nine-year-old percussionist James Muir, about the elves complaining about working for “the man” who is of course Santa. It even has lyrics that are sung in the middle by the band members. At the Community Band’s February concert, they performed a piece written by grade nine tuba player Blaise Gratton called The Perfect Storm. This has lots of rhythm and percussion with lots of notes for the tubas. Who thought that composition was only for the old fogeys?

Ensemble time: It was gratifying this month to learn of a number of concerts by small ensembles. There is nothing like playing in a small group to hone one’s timing, tuning, phrasing and sense of cohesion with fellow musicians. This month, Western University professor Henry Meredith told me about a student concert set up to do just that, with pieces featuring students with like instruments, in ensembles with such clever titles as the “Majestic Trumpets,” the “Trom-Bonus” and the “Horn-Utopia.” Meanwhile, members of the four Toronto New Horizons bands organized an afternoon of “Chamber Sweets” where at least 17 small groups performed while audience members indulged their sweet tooths on the assortment of goodies provided. On May 25 the Milton Concert Band will present “Maytoberfest.” That’s their version of Octoberfest in May, complete with a full-course German dinner and a special musical treat: the guest small ensemble will be the Alphorn Choir of the Ein Prosit German Band of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Kudos: Our hats are off to the Newmarket Citizens Band for their performance at the recent Music Alive festival. This is a non-competitive adjudicated festival, and they were awarded the highest possible Platinum rating for their efforts. It takes lots of confidence to start off an adjudicated performance with a number like Amparito Roca to establish your credentials. 

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

BandstandBefore tackling the challenge of writing this April column, I would normally look out the window in anticipation of signs of spring and then settle down to report on spring concerts and festivals on the sunny horizon. However, even though my calendar says that spring is now due, mother nature disagrees and has decided to hide any indications that spring might be in the offing. Everything is covered with a white blanket. Unfortunately, several bands that we usually hear from are keeping their spring events hidden under a blanket of silence. In short, there is a dearth of news from the community band world.

Let’s have a look at what we have heard to date. For details of locations, times and ticket prices see the listings section. The first event on our band calendar is the Hannaford Street Silver Band’s annual Festival of Brass on the weekend of April 5, 6 and 7 at the Jane Mallett Theatre. The festival begins, as in previous years, with “Rising Stars.” This will feature finalists in HSSB’s annual Young Artists Solo Competition at the Church of the Redeemer on Bloor St. in Toronto. The winners of this competition then have the honour of performing their selected solos with the Hannaford Street Silver Band in the final concert of the festival on Sunday afternoon.

Rumour has it that Jacob Plachta, winner last year and the year before, may well be on the scene again this year. Last year Plachta not only won the competition, but did so performing his own composition Sonata for Trombone and Brass. Although we have no details in time for publication, I have heard that a number of members of the Hannaford Youth Band have now been bitten by the composing bug and have several compositions in the works. Plachta has apparently written a new work this year but we don’t have any details yet.

On Saturday, after masterclasses in the morning, it’s the “Community Showcase” where brass ensembles from the GTA and beyond compete for the annual Hannaford Cup. In past years there have been participating groups from as far away as upstate New York and Ottawa. On Sunday it will be guest conductor Alain Trudel on the podium for the grand finale of the weekend featuring winners of HSSB’s annual Young Artists Solo Competition and Festival Slow Melody contest performing with the HSSB. The show will conclude when the Hannaford Youth Band joins in for a massed band finale.

Of particular interest will be the North American premiere of Breath of Souls by the young British composer Paul Lovatt-Cooper. Having not heard of this composer before, it was time for a little research with the aid of such authorities as Google and associates. Coming from a Salvation Army family, he studied music at the University of Salford. After a stint as a percussionist with the renowned Fairey Band he is now “composer in association” of the Black Dyke Band. In recent years several of his compositions have been recorded by leading brass bands in Europe and the UK. His composition The Dark Side of the Moon was selected as the test piece for the third section of the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain 2008 regional contests. The same piece was selected as the test piece for the third section of the 2008 Dutch National Brass Band Championships at Groningen. Breath of Souls was selected as the test piece for the Championship Section of the 2011 National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain held at the Royal Albert Hall, London, in October. The following is a quote from a respected British source: “Ever since a young composer called Paul Lovatt-Cooper came to prominence following the world premiere of Earth’s Fury at Symphony Hall in 2004, the banding world has increasingly taken notice of his unique blend of fresh, inventive and downright enjoyable music making.”

On April 14 Wellington Winds, under the baton of Daniel Warren, will present “Jokes and Riddles,” a program of works by Strauss, Elgar, Ives, Rossini, Bach, Rauber and even P.D.Q. Bach. Guests will be the WW Brass Quintet. This will be at Knox Presbyterian Church in Waterloo. The program will be repeated April 21 in Kitchener.

On April 17 at Byron United Church, London’s own Plumbing Factory Brass Band will present “Celebrating Canada — Our Home and Native Land.” The program will open and close with two different marches both titled Bravura — a word which conjures up our national spirit of energy, pride and glory. Conductor Henry Meredith’s own salute to the Queen’s jubilee celebrations is his fanfare version of God Save the Queen, based on a 19th century harmonization with words describing “Our Native Land, Fair Canada.” Handel’s Coronation Anthem Zadok the Priest follows — it was performed 60 years ago at our Queen’s coronation in 1953. Howard Cable’s The Banks of Newfoundland is an arrangement of several folk songs from our oldest, yet newest, province, and the flora and fauna of Canada is depicted by Laurendeau’s Land of the Maple and Grumble’s popular Chanticleer Rag. Canada’s waterways are then portrayed by Clarke’s cornet solo The Maid of the Mist (named for the famous Niagara Falls tour boat) plus a world premiere performance of a composition commissioned by the Plumbing Factory Brass Band. Called On the Thames, the work by PFBB cornetist Kyle Hutchinson reflects the river Thames in London, Ontario, and its namesake in London, England. In April, Canada’s cold winter should be just a memory, so the band will be thinking of warm breezes when it plays Bach’sAir from Suite No. 3, and looking forward to such summer activities as weddings, jazz festivals and circuses. Representing those summertime events are the rarely heard Sousa waltz song, I’ve Made My Plans for the Summer, Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro overture, an arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s multimetric Blue Rondo a la Turk, in memory of the great jazz pianist who passed away last December, and Duble’s circus music, our second Bravura march for the evening.

In its program titled “Fiesta,” the Milton Concert Band will be exploring the many exciting facets of Latin culture brought to life in classical and contemporary music, on April 20 in the Milton Centre for the Arts.

On April 21 at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts, it will be “Silk, Spice and the New World” for the Silverthorn Symphonic Winds, with conductor Andrew Chung, as they explore music from the ancient Silk Road route. This program will celebrate the music of Asia, Europe and the Mediterranean. Camille Watts on flute and piccolo will be their guest artist. Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts,

Unlike most of the other community bands we have heard from, the Pickering Community Concert Band’s April 21 spring concert in Ajax will not be a “themed concert.” Conductor Doug Manning has selected quite a spectrum of works from Toronto arranger Eddie Graf’s arrangement of Clarinet a la Mode to the great British classic Mannin Veen. Paul Schwarz will be their guest vocalist. One week later at the Flato Markham Theatre on April 28, Doug Manning will be at the helm of the Markham Concert Band with a themed concert. “The Best of Broadway” will include selections from The Sound of Music, Mamma Mia, Jersey Boys and others.

More on the trend to themed concerts: In a recent issue I made reference to a trend to program what I referred to as themed concerts. Proponents of the concept argue that a theme is a way to attract an audience. Opponents argue that a “slavish” adherence to a theme can place significant restrictions on suitable repertoire. Personally, I have mixed reactions. Some of the best concerts I have heard in recent times have been skillfully crafted on themes. On the other hand, some of the worst have resorted to second rate selections to adhere to the theme. When I discussed the matter with one conductor, he admitted that he had found himself restricted by programming to a theme and then stated: “You end up servicing a concert with an arbitrary motif.” We would like to hear from readers, particularly band members. What are your thoughts?

More on changing technologies: In the past, much of the information we received on band activities arrived by email. It was almost always in the form of a straightforward press release from which it was a simple matter to extract much of the information. Recently, we have seen a significant change. Several of the submissions that we have received lately have been difficult, if not impossible, to deal with. We now frequently receive PDF files of posters. It is not possible to extract information from these. We could print them and then type in what we read, but this can be very time consuming. Even worse is a simple email message suggesting that we visit one or more websites to hunt for information. One recent submission had suggestions to visit no fewer than ten different websites. There was really nothing to indicate what we might find if we did so.

A different perspective: For someone like myself, steeped in the more traditional forms of music, it is interesting to hear the very different roles assigned to different instruments in the more popular genres of the day. In a recent CBC Radio One program reviewing the latest “Music Industry” awards, the reviewer, commenting on the performance of one “contemporary” group, stated: “They even had a trumpet. It was a nice little touch to have a trumpet.” How would that go over in the band world? 

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

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.

1806 BandstandThings 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

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

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.

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