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COLUMN: Trumpeting a 145-year tradition of stirring concert bands

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Phil Egan

It was twenty years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play…

The 20-year anniversary is correct but the bandmaster of the Lambton Concert Band is not one Sergeant Pepper, but the duo of Chris Coyle and Dave Parkes.

The two Lambton Central Collegiate teachers are the volunteer conductors of the band formed in 2000. Under normal circumstances, the Lambton Concert Band performs four concerts a year.

The 50-member outfit’s next performance was set for June 14, but with the Sarnia Library Auditorium closed and social distancing still in force, that’s not happening.

Concert bands, of course, have been providing Sarnia with stirring, uplifting airs for much longer than the current band’s 20 years.

In 1875, a few Sarnia businessmen, billing themselves as the Sarnia Independent Band, purchased some instruments and began playing at dances, parks and skating rinks. Its 20 members met weekly above the old Sarnia firehall on George Street, where Kenwick Place now stands.

Just four years later and under the direction of Arthur Clappe, the organist at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, it was recognized as “the third best band in the Dominion.”

During the 1880s the Sarnia Independent Band became affiliated with the 27th Lambton Regiment, and eventually became known as the 27th Regiment Band. In 1909, Watford’s much-celebrated William E. Brush became its bandmaster. A noted soloist, Brush later moved to Sarnia, becoming organist and choirmaster at Devine Street Methodist Church.

Sarnia’s 27th Regiment was disbanded (pun intended) in 1935 and the orchestra renamed the Sarnia Citizens Band. Brush continued on as conductor, as he would for 46 years, leading its musicians into the Golden Age of Concert Bands.

They played at open-air summer church services and in the old Victoria Park bandshell, which stood on the southern edge of today’s Veterans Park. Other well-known concert bands, such as the Salvation Army Band, Robinson’s Boys Band and the Pressey Boys Band, joined them there.

The Sarnia Citizens Band continued to perform at functions and parades until the 1970s, when it was renamed the Bluewater Symphonic Band under the multi-talented Art Christmas.

A teacher at several city high schools, Christmas also directed the Polymer Glee Club, later known as the Art Christmas Aggregation. This musical theatre group and the Bluewater Symphonic Band staged an annual show from 1972 until 1998.

Following Christmas’ retirement, today’s Lambton Concert Band was born, with 90 invitations sent to area musicians. Music teacher and flautist Tessa Catton currently conduct the band.

The Lambton Concert Band is the latest in a proud,145-year tradition, and when the pandemic is over, it will once again thrill Sarnians with a unique and inspiring sound.

Got an interesting tale? Contact columnist Phil Egan at [email protected]


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