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50 years of music and mayhem

The St. Albert Community Band's astonishing legacy
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3011 Band - St. Albert Ccommunity Band - Picture - Concert, 2014
The St. Albert Community Concert Band poses for the 2014 official public photograph.

PREVIEW

50 Years of Cheer

St. Albert Community Band and Saint City Big Band

Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m.

Arden Theatre

5 St. Anne Street

Tickets: $15 adults, $8 students/seniors. Call the Arden box office at 780-459-1542

It’s been 50 years since St. Albert Community Concert Band was an idea fleshed out over drinks at a bar. Since that time, hundreds, possibly a thousand or more musicians have sat together and shaped the musical fabric of St. Albert.

The popular award-winning concert band is the longest-running cultural entity in St. Albert. As a regular presenter, it never fails to lift the spirits and put a smile on patrons’ faces.

Once more, the 70-odd musicians join forces for their traditional winter concert titled 50 Years of Cheer, coming to the Arden Theatre on Wednesday, Dec. 4.

In celebration of this golden jubilee, the evening will be an indelible trip down memory lane to hear stories of things half-forgotten and beautiful music the musicians have cherished over the years.

The band’s high-energy performances often blend a mix of light classical, opera, fanfare pieces and marches to musicals, movie scores and contemporary works. No single genre has ever been discounted.

Perhaps the secret to the ensemble’s longevity lies in a few short sentences band conductor, Dr. Angela Schroeder, mentioned during a Gazette interview.

“I love working with this group of people. They’re the kind of people everyone wishes they had the opportunity to work with. They have a love of music and it’s joyful to be in this environment because of their love of music,” Schroeder said.

Enjoying her own milestone, Schroeder was hired exactly 10 years ago when former conductor Laurelie Nattress retired after wielding the baton for 14 years.

A local heavyweight, Schroeder is currently an associate professor of music at the University of Alberta, co-ordinates the winds and percussion, and conducts the Symphonic Wind Ensemble.

When she says the concert band has the work ethic and raw talent to keep their name in lights, people listen.

“They’re one of the top amateur bands in Alberta, and there are others – about 150. They’re in the top 10, easy.”

As part of the golden anniversary, Schroeder has programmed a variety of concerts for the new year, and is promoting an archival band book that former president and band clarinetist Gerry Buccini is writing.

Special guest

Adding another feather to its cap, the band invited American composer/trumpeter Frank Ticheli to lead a clinic in early May 2020 followed by a public concert.

One of his most famous compositions is An American Elegy, written in memory of those who lost heir lives at the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999. Ticheli considers the composition above all else an expression of hope and a tribute to their strength and courage in the face of a terrible tragedy.

“I love that people are playing it, but I’m uncomfortable with the reason they’re playing it,” said Ticheli from his California home.

It’s a stereotypical assumption that someone of Ticheli’s calibre would be in such high demand his schedule would not permit clinics with community bands. However, he quickly clears up any misconceptions.

“I love to wear different hats. Understandably, I love to wear the hat representing a professional orchestra or a choir. I also love wearing a hat for little children learning to play. I have 60 works representing every level of development because I get invited to appear at every level,” Ticheli said.

“And I love to work with people who want to be there. There’s a certain passion and joy working in a community band that you can’t get from any other group. For example, if I go conduct the Philadelphia Symphony, the moment the concert is ended, they forget about me. They go on to the next concert. Their schedule doesn’t allow it. But when you work with a community band, you make a longer lasting contribution.”

History

The community band was founded in 1970 at a bar after a gig at Telus Field. Jerry Wennes, then-conductor for Princess Patricia Light Infantry Band was short a clarinetist to play a mid-August concert. He invited Buccini. Over drinks, both musicians discovered they taught in St. Albert.

“Jerry said to me, ‘I’m forming a band and you’re going to be my first president.’ And that’s how I got recruited,” said Buccini.

The two co-founders somehow persuaded the Lions Club to foot the bill for instruments, and rehearsals started at École Father Jan and Sir George Simpson Junior High before moving to Paul Kane High in what became the band’s permanent rehearsal hall.

Initially, the ensemble wrestled to find an audience.

“More often than not, there were more people in the band than in the audience. It was a struggle to get people to come out. We fought for every inch,” Buccini recalled.

A determined lobbyist and band booster, Buccini persevered. Through the years, he recruited musicians from every walk of life – doctors, teachers, retirees, electricians, policemen, students and army personnel, to name a few.

Currently, they are a fixture at St. Albert’s summer farmers’ market. The band has also popped up at numerous community events, such as St. Albert’s 150th anniversary, the Roy Financial Mayor’s Walk, a tribute to the Grey Nuns and a PreTenor school fundraiser.

As the numbers grew from a dozen to nearly 80, the band increased concerts and competed in major provincial festivals, winning gold on numerous occasions and touring across North America during the summer months.

In 2015, Schroeder helped organize a 10-day tour to Germany and Austria where musicians and their families were billeted with locals when not playing at architecturally stunning palaces and cathedrals.

About a dozen musicians wrote about their most memorable tour moments where camaraderie was enriched and new friendships formed.

Donald Heitzman best summed it up, writing: “First, I know I felt like a rock star in Schladming on the street. The locals were so excited about band music; it was a totally different experience from Canada. Hearing all the amazing music, and then having everyone as excited as I was to hear it, well, that was an eye-opener for me.

Second, being hosted in Niederschopfheim was amazing. They were so happy to have us, and my host family (the Muellers) was so friendly and awesome. And their orchestra was so good, it was intimidating to share the stage with them. But they were so gracious, and they threw these awesome parties. I know I will never forget it.”

Although the tour was unforgettable, one other memory stands out as a major achievement: the 2005 visit of Queen Elizabeth to celebrate Alberta’s 100th anniversary and renaming of the Royal Alberta Museum. The band was invited to perform God Save the Queen.

“They could have picked any band from anywhere, but they selected us to play for the Queen, a major honour in itself," noted Buccini.

The St. Albert Community Band has built a passionate and powerful legacy through discipline, respect and pride in its accomplishments.

The upcoming concert Wednesday night is no different. Join the band for an eclectic evening of music as they share the stage with Saint City Big Band’s jazzy vibe.

A silent auction will start in Progress Hall at 6 p.m.


Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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