Prom and proper

It was 9 a.m. Monday morning, and the window onto the balcony was open as we
enjoyed our after-breakfast coffee. The radio was on, so it took a moment to
realize we were being serenaded live: a playful trombone led the way, then a
trumpet. We could have sworn the source was located directly below us, but a
survey revealed nothing but the usual traffic and scurrying figures. And the
bandstand in the park kitty-corner from us was empty. Yet the serenade
continued, and we followed the mixture of nonsense notes and melody to a
balcony a full block away. That Holiday Inn could have been a street corner
in New Orleans 20 years ago. As often happens, not everyone shares the same
sense of fun, and the morning fanfare was quickly shushed, the players no
doubt hustled away to breakfast and the day’s competitions. From April
21 to May 5, the Kiwanis Music Festival has taken over all available venues
in Edmonton. Participants have come from as far away as Manitoba, Ontario,
British Columbia. More good news: the competitions are open to the public,
and most of them are free. The Kiwanis Music Festival Association has the
lowdown. And as for those musicians blaring their high spirits out into the
clear air, my thanks. It was a wonderful start for my week. Sometimes we
forget the fun of playing (and listening to) music, worrying instead about
perfection, about first-place finishes, about being seen in the glamourous
places. It’s good to be reminded that the love of music is bigger and
better than just money and prestige and the star system. And no music group
has more fun than the Mill Creek Colliery Band, which offered its annual
tribute At the Proms last weekend at Convocation Hall. Just in case
there’s some confusion, we’re not talking graduation dances here;
we’re talking about one of those quaint English customs, like the
British brass band tradition itself. The Henry Wood Promenade Concerts Season
(nicknamed “the Proms”), which now includes over 70 main
concerts, started in the late 19th century as a single concert held at Royal
Albert Hall in London, England. Many in the audience at Convocation Hall had
been to the Proms themselves and applauded host Jeremy Spurgeon’s
account of queuing up for several blocks to get into Royal Albert
Hall’s arena section. “After all,” he said, “the hall
only holds 6,000.” Other Proms traditions include marches, singalongs,
unabashed British jingoism, fine soloists (on this occasion Matt Clark on
euphonium, Nancy McBride on cornet and Doreen Kuschminder on flugelhorn), a
wide range of music and an informal atmosphere. During the easy banter
between Spurgeon and the Colliery Band’s resident conductor, Malcolm
Forsyth, Spurgeon pointed out that “most people begin their careers as
organists.” The popular Edmonton organist also admitted he once played
the trombone. Though its season is ended, the Colliery Band hosts the Fourth
Annual Prairie Brass Band Festival on May 7 and 8. High spirits also mark the
current production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, which
opened last Saturday and finishes tonight (Thursday) at 7:30 p.m. at Jubilee
Auditorium. The production offers a blend of opera and musical theatre and
ends the society’s 40th anniversary season on a cheerful note. The
unveiling of the new season, which makes use of five temporary locations
during the renovation of the Jubilee, is also carefully staged. Much is made
of the cast in a production such as South Pacific. Sometimes we forget to
recognize the creative forces behind the scenes. Robert Shannon’s set
is as beautiful as it is brilliant, and costume designer Deanna Finnman and
lighting designer Bretta Gerecke deserve special mention as well. V

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