Just after the completion of last month’s column, we learned of the sudden untimely death in September of internationally renowned trumpet player W. Fred Mills. Renowned for his work over the years with the Canadian Brass, Mills died following a single-car crash while driving to his home in Athens, Georgia, from the Atlanta airport after his return from an engagement in Italy. He was 74. Most recently, he was a professor of trumpet and brass chamber music in University of Georgia’s Hugh Hodgson School of Music.
To learn more about this remarkable musician and his career, we spoke to a fellow musician who knew him well and worked with him for many years. As a founding, and still active, member of the Canadian Brass, tubist Charles Daellenbach came to know Mills very well during the 24 years that he played with that group.
Born in Guelph, Ontario, Fred Mills acquired his first instrument, a cornet, from a traveling salesman. Soon after, he had his introduction to the musical world in the Guelph Police Boys Band. While attending a youth music camp in upstate New York, he learned of the Juilliard School and set his sights on a career in music. While still at Juilliard, he was invited to audition for the renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski in that conductor’s New York apartment. Soon thereafter he was engaged as principal trumpet of the Houston Symphony. In the ensuing years he became a regular in orchestras in the New York area, and a regular at the Casals Festival in San Juan Puerto Rico.
Some time in the late 1960s, although very successful in the USA and internationally, he expressed a desire to return to Canada and was soon engaged as principal trumpet for the National Ballet of Canada. In 1967 he was lured away from that post to become principal trumpet of the newly formed National Arts Centre Orchestra. At about he same time he took up teaching duties at the University of Ottawa.
Meanwhile, Daellenbach, who was teaching in the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, teamed up with trombonist Eugene Watts to establish the Canadian Brass in 1970. With the inevitable turnover that such groups must face, by 1972 they were looking for two new trumpets, and invited Mills to join the group. Mills agreed, but with a condition: he recommended trumpeter Ronald Romm, a friend from his days at Juilliard. Soon it was a fait accompli, and the rest is history. The Canadian Brass put the brass quintet soundly on the world stage in the forefront of small ensembles. For the next 24 years, as the group toured the world, Mills’ dazzling trumpet work was featured in concerts and on dozens of records. During his tenure with the Canadian Brass, he arranged more than 60 pieces for Canadian Brass, many of which have since become standards in the brass repertoire.
After years of enduring the rigours of touring, Mills returned to academia and joined the brass faculty at the University of Georgia in September 1996. He was the first recipient of the William F. and Pamela P. Prokasy Professorship in the Arts, an endowed professorship that recognizes a faculty member in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences who has an outstanding national reputation. There he remained active in faculty and student brass chamber ensembles at as a performer, arranger and coach until his death. At about the same time as Mills’ departure from the Canadian Brass, Romm followed suit and took up a teaching post at the University of Illinois.
Mills recorded more than 40 albums with the Canadian Brass and was nominated for a Grammy award in 1992. The Canadian Brass website calls him a “Canadian treasure who changed the world’s musical perspective.” It goes on to say that he “spent over 50 years helping establish the trumpet as a beautiful, lyrical voice amongst solo orchestral instruments.”
The Hannaford Street Silver Band will dedicate their first concert of the season to the memory of Fred Mills, whom they describe as “their colleague.” The HSSB will pay tribute to him performing Canzon Trigesmaquinta by T. Massaino; Before thy Throne, I Now Appear by Bach (arr. Irvine); and a rousing version of Harry James’ Trumpet Blues and Cantabile. In recalling his association with Mills, the Hannaford Band’s executive director, Ray Tizzard, stated: “Twenty-six years ago Fred conducted the very first officially organized rehearsal of the HSSB, as well as the HSSB’s earliest public performances in parks around the City of Toronto.”
In Daellenbach’s opinion, one of Mills’ greatest contributions to Canadian music was his work as a coach with the National Youth Orchestra. He will be missed.
Closer to Home
Closer to home, we regret to have to report the passing of trombonist John Williams at the age of 87. Williams had been a personal friend for more years than I can count, and over the years, I had the pleasure of playing beside him in many ensembles. Until recently he played regularly in the Encore Concert Band and the Markham Concert Band. He was the last WWII veteran to play in the Band of the Royal Regiment of Canada.
On the home front, most community musical groups are now in full swing preparing for the fall concert season and many will already have at least one concert under their belts. On looking over the programmes one trend caught our attention: a number of bands are now programming original compositions by band members. Last year the Uxbridge Community Concert Band performed Eternal Flame, a work for band and soprano composed by their director Steffan Brunette. In a recent recording, the Band of the Royal Regiment of Canada included Promenade by conductor Lt. William Mighton. In their October concert, the Markham Concert Band featured two works by band members. Longtime member of the trumpet section Vern Kennedy’s latest offering is a number entitled Marmalade, while Sean Breen’s latest opus is The Woodworker. Is your group scheduling the performances of works by band members? Tell us about them!
In recent weeks we have received interesting information from Resa’s Pieces Concert Band and the Markham Concert Band regarding their activities. We hope to cover those in the next issue.
Coming Events: (Please see the listings section for full details)
– November 1, 3:00: Wellington Winds, First United Church, in Waterloo. One week later they repeat the programme at Grandview Baptist Church, in Kitchener.
– November 8, 3:00: The Hannaford Street Silver Band welcomes The Nathaniel Dett Chorale in the Jane Mallett Theatre. St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.
– November 18, 7:30: The Plumbing Factory Brass Band presents Musica Britannica at at Byron United, in London.
– presents A Tribute to Johnny Cowell– December 4, 8:00: Etobicoke Community Concert Band presents Christmas Pops, at Silverthorn Collegiate Auditorium – December 6, 3:00: The Markham Concert Band welcomes the Chinguacousy Concert Band for A Seasonal Celebration at the Markham Theatre.
Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments, and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at: email@example.com