If anyone had suggested that I would be taking part in a recording one day, I'd have told them to go buy Enron shares! One of my purposes that DROVE me to take up music was the desire to become good enough that I could "join in" wherever amateurs might gather to make some music. Well, I guess I got more than I bargained for...but whooooeeeeee! What a trip!
Here's what happened. About three years ago, two music majors at the local University decided to write a paper discussing some (any!) famous Canadian composer. Now I know...that's kind of an oxymoron....but is it? They decided to write about a guy named Howard Cable. Here's some of Howard's bio....
Howard Cable, CM, has been a leading figure in the musical life of Canada for over 50 years. He studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto with Sir Ernest MacMillan, Ettore Mazzoleni and Healey Willan. His early years were spent in radio when he succeeded Percy Faith on CBC in 1941. He has composed and conducted over 1000 radio dramas and variety programs. For several years, the Howard Cable Concert Band was heard nationally on the CBC and throughout the U.S. on the Mutual Radio Network. On television, he was musical director and arranger for many celebrated telecasts, including the highly popular “Showtime.”
Cable’s familiarity with a broad range of repertoire has kept him in demand as a composer and arranger, for the Elmer Iseler Singers, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Sharon, Lois and Bram, the Toronto Children’s Chorus, True North Brass and the Hannaford Street Silver Band. This has resulted in the recording of his compositions and arrangements on many record labels and performances worldwide.
His work in musical theatre has led to notable collaborations. On Broadway, he arranged for Richard Rodgers, Meredith Willson and Frank Loesser. In the entertainment world, he has conducted for Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Bob Hope, Victor Borge and Danny Kaye. In Canada, his theatrical credits include appearances as guest conductor at the Banff and Shaw festivals and he has provided numerous scores for the Charlottetown Festival.
His 20-year association with the Canadian Brass has resulted in his writing over 80 compositions and arrangements. He has arranged for the Canadian Brass collaboration with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as well as their Lincoln Center concerts with the New York Philharmonic Brass.
So you can see that those two students had some real material to work with. As it turned out, a few telephone exchanges took place and Mr. Cable agreed to come to the University of Lethbridge to conduct the Wind Orchestra. Somehow the Community Band got involved and, through a joint sponsorship, the event turned into a "joint concert" with the Community Band as well as the Wind Orchestra.
During a reception after the concert, a local gentleman who happens to own a rather large ranch (55,000 acres!) asked of Howard...why hadn't he written any music dealing with Western Canada. Howard replied "Because nobody has asked me to". The rancher said "I'm asking!" And that was that. Howard headed back to Ontario with a commission to write a piece of music with the central theme of western ranch country.
Over the intervening two years, Howard travelled back and forth several times to gather material, get a 'flavor' for what he was writing, and start working with our senior Community band. About the same time as this was happening, I was "promoted" from the intermediate band (where I had been learning what all those little "dots" on the paper meant and how to make them sound faintly like what the composer had in mind) to the senior band.
Now, it's not mentioned in Mr. Cable's bio but as a result of his visit and as an acknowledgement of his contributions to Canadian music, he was given an honorary Doctorate by the University. Some of the members of our community band had more than a small finger in the University selection (as did the rancher who is "no small beer" in town). It transpired that Howard had even had occaision to work with Roy Rogers and the "Sons of the Pioneers" when they'd come to Toronto for the annual Exhibition. In fact, as a token of his thanks to our band, Howard donated a 24X24 framed photo of he and Roy Rogers "working the gig" way back when and it's now hanging in our band room. (As if dedicating the piece of music, "McIntyre Ranch Country" to our band weren't enough!)
Anyway....... the music was finally hammered together, a mess of Mr. Cable's other works were sent out and we started practicing like crazy...for about 6 months! Finally the "World Premiere" took place. (OK...so it was a small premiere! LOL. Still, it WAS a premiere) Wow, and to think I'd only been involved in music for 5 years at the time. Well, Howard came out and conducted the band through all of his charts. The CBC radio came and recorded the concert which was subsequently aired. Then the word came down.....Howard and the rancher want to RECORD this piece! (oh...I guess I failed to mention that the rancher had always been involved in music himself and that his daughter is a professional mezzo-soprano?... me bad!..I even suggested to him that it wasn't too late for him to pick up his cornet again.)
More practice, some minor alterations in the music, and it was down to a two day session to do the CD. Take after take...sometimes as little as 16 bars, sometimes the whole 10 minute piece (plus several other pieces). The usual 'stuff' (somebody accidentally clunking his chair at the wrong time....someone coughing.....whatever). Amazing what those microphones pick up!
Between each take, Howard, our regular band director, and anyone who wasn't stretching out and relaxing would go off to the "board" to listen to the last take. We started at 6 pm and went to 10 pm on a Friday night, and then again from 10 pm to 5 pm all day Saturday. Catered lunch, lots of laughs, all interspersed with brief shots of VERY INTENSE music. Finally the "powers that be" decided that they had enough to organize something decent and we all went out for "the usual". It was some 5? months later when the CD was declared ready. Copies were bought and distributed for Christmas presents. At the CD release party, Dr. Cable was inundated with all these amateur musicians getting him to sign their copy of the CD (those were "keepers"...unsigned ones were gifts for others!)
So what did we get out of it? Well, for one thing, the band drew together and worked as never before. Nobody wanted to be the person to let the others down. I think it fair to say that none of us had ever dreamed of something like this happening...heck, we were doing this (band and music) for FUN! Is the CD any good? I think it is a decent representation of what a group of amateur musicians can accomplish given the willingness to dream, the desire to succeed, and the drive to see it through to the end. Sure, it's not perfect, but it's really GOOD STUFF.
Personally? I'd have to say it was the process which was, literally, a highlight of my life. Will the next one (there is talk of another!) be the same? I'm sure it won't. It'll be good, maybe even a great experience, but not "the same". Can "IT" happen to you? You bet your boots it can. Anything can if you are willing to work for it. Now, get back to practicing.
Edit: Oh yeah....have you ever heard any of Howard Cable's work? Well, if you've ever watched hockey and listened to the 'Hockey Night in Canada' theme, YOU HAVE!! He is the arranger of the full band score for that piece. And it's a blast to play too!!