It doesn’t take long for John Baker to set the tone at the first rehearsal of the Revelstoke Community Band.
“I’ve got some new jokes,” he said while the band members unpack their instruments and get handed sheet music. “The first line is your most romantic line. The second line is your most unromantic line.”
He then recited about a dozen lines, some hokey, some corny, some hilarious.
“My darling, my lover, my beautiful wife/Marrying you has screwed up my life,” went one verse. “My love, you take my breath away/What have you stepped in to smell this way, goes another.
“I’m working on new material,” he said at the end. “I didn’t say it’s good material.”
Baker is the amiable and talented conductor of the band. At the first rehearsal of the new season in the band room at Mount Begbie Elementary, he decided to start things off slow, with a tune called As Summer Was Just Beginning, which was written as a tribute to James Dean.
“He was the original rebel without a cause, as opposed to my grade nine students I used to nickname ‘rebels without a clue,’” Baker joked.
With that the band kicked off. “Close your ears,” Dennis Grey, the band’s organizer, warned me, seeing as how it was their first song after some time off.
The band, featuring 10 members on this day (normally there are 12), was audibly slightly out of sync, the various instruments not quite in unison. After a few moments, Baker stopped them.
“Let’s try that again,” he said. “Don’t forget to blow, don’t forget to make a noise. If you’re quiet, we can’t fix it. If you make a loud noise and it’s wrong, we can fix it.”
As the band played he would sing along, stopping the band occasionally to go over the rhythm of the piece. “It’s not a bad piece,” he said after the got through it. “You’re still breathing – good.”
The Revelstoke Community Band has been around in various incarnations since the 1890s. The latest iteration has been going since the 1980s, when a band was put together for the B.C. Winter Games.
“We actually brought about 40 musicians in the community together and it really went quite well until the last five, ten years, it started to dwindle,” Grey, a tuba player, told me.
The band is a classic brass band featuring trumpet, trombone, saxophone, tuba and percussion. Most of the musicians have experience playing in high school bands or some independent musical experience growing up, Grey said.
“The whole idea is to not only play our instruments and rehearse and improve, get some enjoyment out of it, but also to perform for the community,” he said.
Right now the band has 12 members and Grey hopes that number will increase to 18. “The maximum we can hold is 40 or 50, but boy, if we get up to that…”
To help get things going, a beginner band was started last year as a way of renewing interest in the group. No experience is needed but Grey said about half the people who came out did have some musical background, were looking to get back into playing or were looking to learn a new instrument.
Still, anyone is allowed to come and instruments can be rented for a monthly fee ranging from $15 to $40 per month depending on the size, said Grey. “We can find instruments too, we’ve done that in the past,” he added.
Several people from beginner band are now playing with the community band,” Grey said.
Back at rehearsal, the band geared up for it’s second song – Henry Mancini’s Great Waldo Pepper March. “I’ve been on a Mancini kick this summer and I’ve been looking for things that were odd by Mancini,” said Baker. “He wrote some really neat, jazz/Latin stuff that nobody plays.”
“Is there a reason for that?” someone asked.
“There’s a reason mostly because… I don’t know?” replied Baker. “Everybody knows Peter Gunn and Pink Panther but beyond that he wrote a lot of interesting stuff.
“This is probably the only March he ever wrote.”
And off the band went. Still slightly out of key but already tightening up. Baker stopped the band periodically, singing out the melodies for the different parts.
It was the first of regular weekly rehearsals for the band. They will play at Mt. Cartier Court and with the school band on Remembrance Day. As usual, they will set up outside Cooper’s around Christmas and are hoping to arrange another show at some point in the fall.
“The type of music we play could be anything from show tunes to classical to marches. Pretty well the whole realm that’s out there,” said Grey.
The Revelstoke Community Band rehearses every Tuesday from 7–9 p.m. at Mount Begbie Elementary. The beginner band starts up on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at 6 p.m. in the same place.