The ongoing journey for the Wallaceburg Concert Band

By Dave Babbitt – Special to the Sydenham Current

My last column explained how the Wallaceburg Concert Band came to be, and I would like to continue to explain our journey to where we are today.

After our first almost impromptu concert at the Oaks in December 2016, my goal was to raise our performance level and attract more musicians.

As I challenged our musicians with more demanding scores, Dave Elliot and the Arts Council worked hard to secure funding that would enable us to become independent from the School Board and its instruments that we were so dependent on at the time.

The first significant breakthrough came when we learned that we had been awarded a $25,000 grant from MusiCounts Canada, a music education charity that believes in the music education of young people.

With these funds, we were able to purchase the first of the big, expensive instruments that are beyond the reach of personal ownership for most.

To put things in perspective, an entry-level baritone saxophone or tuba costs more than $6000, a bass clarinet $3000, tenor saxophone $2,000, French Horns $4,000, etc., and in most cases, we needed multiple copies of each!

I knew where to find players of those instruments IF we could supply them with an instrument.

The MusiCounts grant was a good start, but we had several people hard at work searching for more funding sources as our needs were great.

As we were gradually awarded grants from a variety of sources, the citizens and businesses of Wallaceburg also stepped up in a huge way to help us.

Your support has been almost overwhelming.

It has been my goal since day one that all our concerts have free admission while providing the opportunity to donate if attendees are moved to do so.

We don’t “pass the hat” nor usually even mention donations at our concerts as we don’t wish anyone to feel obligated to do so, and we want to ensure that everyone can attend regardless of financial status.

As everything was progressing in a positive direction, word suddenly came that we would soon no longer have access to the music facilities at WDSS, as it was going to be remodelled for an after-school program, and the school also requested that the instruments we were using be returned.

Losing access to the School Board’s instruments meant that our Beginner and Intermediate bands were suddenly in jeopardy.

The many used instruments in the school inventory were perfect for our beginner and intermediate programs as it’s never prudent to put brand new, expensive instruments in the hands of the inexperienced, nor did we have enough funds to replace the loss of those instruments.

Our experienced band was in better shape as many members owned their own instruments and we had already purchased most of the larger instruments we required.

However, even if we were able to find enough instruments to meet our needs, we were now an orphaned organization with nowhere to rehearse.

There is so much more to that story that I cannot share, but the situation caused an uproar in the community and many people attempted to help reverse the decision, but it was not to be. Even Monte McNaughton couldn’t help us.

The writing was on the wall, once we were finished our concert in June, we would no longer have a home.

We started to search for a new home but came up empty-handed.

We even inquired about leasing the former Mark’s store, but they wanted a mere $14,000… a month!

Our situation gained great traction and suddenly, out of nowhere we were offered a new home.

The congregation at Community Fellowship Baptist Church not only offered us rehearsal space, but space for both an office and storage at no cost to us!

To use a Biblical analogy, this was like manna from Heaven.

Problem one was solved but now we had other major hurdles.

In being forced out of the school, we no longer had music stands, chairs, or sheet music to play.

Yes, the church had chairs, but it’s difficult to play instruments with arms on the chairs and downright impossible to play a saxophone off to the side.

While I don’t have enough space to explain every hurdle we needed to jump over, I can say that our people tackled them one at a time and through tenacity, we’ve jumped over every one of them.

We haven’t just stood with our hands out though, as we’ve engaged in a lot of our own fundraising in addition to seeking grant monies everywhere we can.

The unfortunate folding of the local Rotary Club was a boon for us, as the club was extremely generous to us when dispersing their financial assets.

Additionally, our local Councillors went to bat for us at CK Council and have secured annual funding that matches what the Chatham Concert Band has received for decades.

To date, we have purchased more than $80,000 in instruments, over $5,000 of print music, and an additional $52,000 in the equipment required for us to function, including security for our assets.

COVID of course had a devastating effect on many organizations, but we have survived royally.

During the lockdowns, I was continually engaging our members in an effort to keep us all connected, and to prevent members from drifting away so that once we were able to resume that we might return largely intact.

I initiated a project during COVID lockdowns that culminated in our “Million Dreams” project.

If you haven’t seen it, be sure to check out “A Million Dreams” by the Wallaceburg Concert Band on YouTube.

Our efforts to stay connected paid dividends, as once we were cleared to gather again, all but one member returned and as our stock continues to rise in the music world, we continue to grow.

We are currently the largest community band in the area, and I feel that we have considerable opportunities to grow even more.

Sheer numbers however do not a great band make.

Hard work, devotion, and high musical standards are what make a band great and our members have those in spades.

I’ve been so impressed with the musical growth of our bands and the continual raising of the performance bar.

Next time, some fun facts about who we are and how you might join us.

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