By Dave Babbitt – Special to the Sydenham Current
I’m lamenting this week because, as Bob Dylan wrote, “The Times They Are A Changin’.”
In this particular instance, I’m referring to music, and I’m lamenting the passing of the Big Band era as it plays its last few notes. And as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus said, “change is a constant,” and music is no exception.
Scholars have divided up music history into “eras” based on what style was most popular as the public’s taste in music changed through the years.
Our first historical records of music begin in the Medieval period with the Ars Antiqua and Ars Nova periods when the first attempts were made at a notation system that would allow music to be recorded and later reproduced.
Notation was to music what Gutenberg’s printing press was to print media.
After that came the Renaissance era, followed by the Baroque, Classical, Romantic eras, leading to today’s Modern period.
Regardless of when one inhabits this earth, I believe that most people, whether today or hundreds of years ago, hold the music of their youth closest to their hearts. That will always be “your” music.
Being in my upper 60s, the music of my youth was pretty much the 1970s. If you are a person in your 70s, the music of your youth was that of the 1960s and so on.
Also, keep in mind that if you were a teen in 1760, Mozart was likely a “rock star” to you, and not the stuffy old composer the youth of today may think of him as.
I consider myself, however, to be a lucky one because I’m not stuck in the music of my youth, as many are.
After picking up the trumpet in my youth, I eventually “discovered” the long-before-my-time era of the Big Bands, the mid-1930s through the mid-1940s, and fell in love with the music of that era.
That was the time when trumpet, trombone, and saxophone players were teen idols, just like the guitar players of today.
Today, I’m lamenting the almost completely forgotten Big Band era. Anyone who grew up on Big Band music is now in their upper 80s and more likely, their 90s.
Being a huge fan of the era, I originally formed the Brass Factory Big Band here in Wallaceburg back in 1982, and it has been around off and on since that time.
We had our heyday back in the 1990s when there were still a lot of people alive for whom that was the “music of their youth.” We sold out pretty much every concert or dance we played.
The absolute highlight of our existence was the Bob Jacks Tribute weekend back in 1995. (One can watch a video of that special weekend, along with many interviews on my personal YouTube channel)
When we struck up the first chart at the Saturday night dance, it was pure magic when hundreds of Big Band fans leapt to their feet, filled the dance floor, and didn’t stop until close to 1 a.m.
The Brass Factory still exists, but most of the people who faithfully attended our concerts and dances are now gone, so I don’t know how much demand for our music there is anymore.
I’ve stated before that I believe the Big Band format to be the best non-orchestral musical aggregation out there.
A Big Band is built around a rhythm section consisting of a bass player, drummer, keyboard player, and a guitarist.
Does anyone recognize that combination of instruments?
Yes, it’s a rock band!
It could be a country band, pop band, jazz band, etc.
That is a very versatile combination of instruments. Now, add an extremely powerful horn section consisting of trumpets, trombones, and saxophones, and a Big Band can play anything a pop/rock band can, only on steroids!
Big Bands are now called Stage Bands and still exist as the apex of almost all good music programs in schools across North America.
One usually is required to play in a school’s concert or symphonic band program in order to qualify for the school Stage Band, as it is rare that students are allowed to “cherry pick” the most coveted, best band in the program.
The Brass Factory will be re-forming this fall and hope to be part of a Big Band Christmas program in conjunction with the Forest Excelsior Band somewhere, on some date, as Christmas approaches.
I’ll let readers know about the concert if it happens.
It may be one of the few remaining opportunities to see and hear a live Big Band as they fade into the sunset.
I also lament the gradual loss of once proud wind instrument programs in many high schools.
I’ve recently taken in a couple of high school spring music concerts, and I don’t like what I’m seeing and hearing.
Large, once-proud wind programs are quickly giving way to larger, more popular guitar-drum based programs.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the guitar and drums, but I lament the gradual passing of wind instrument instruction.
Imagine Chicago, Huey Lewis and the News, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, or Earth, Wind and Fire without their horn sections!
Horns are the icing on the cake for many bands, and even if they don’t tour with a live horn section, listen closely to their studio recordings.
It’s amazing how many recordings have horns punctuating the best hooks and filling in the empty spaces.
I’m finished lamenting for now.
On to a more positive topic.
If you or someone you know may be interested in learning to play a wind instrument, or if you used to play but haven’t touched an instrument in years (or even decades), why not check out our Wallaceburg Concert Band Learn-to-Play program?
Our program is completely free, we will provide the instrument, and teach the requisite theory… even if one has never read a note of music.
If you are curious, we are holding an Open House at Community Fellowship Baptist Church on Monday, September 18th, at 6 p.m. or one can contact me through our wallaceburgconcertband.ca website.
My only words of caution are that we do not have continuous intake, and only take newcomers in September each year, so if interested, please come out next week.