This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

Something happened last Saturday night at St. Paul’s Centre, a new experience. Not that. It was at the Christmas Prelude. It has to do with the Orillia Concert Band. Specifically, how they sound.

They have always performed as a unit and sounded like a pretty good band, above average. Because of on my experience listening to other wind ensembles of the highest order I have found and wished there could be some kind of improvement. To qualify, the improvements I wished for are not complicated or difficult, they just take being aware, and rehearsing until it’s just part of an individual player’s way of performing.

For example, I have at times commented about the trumpets being too loud (not just with the OCB). It’s just part of being a trumpet player to overplay, often they have the melody and who doesn’t want that prominent? Except its not good if the trumpets don’t have the best timing, or some of them don’t know or play the passages as well as the others, or one or two believe they have to carry the load for the whole section.

Another issue I’ve already touched on, being able to play the parts. Flutes and clarinets often have some pretty busy parts and it only takes one person to muddy everything up if they can’t play the part. The smartest thing I ever heard a conductor say is, “If you can’t play the part, take yourself out, there are others in your section to carry the load.” Realistically, say you have 80 people in your wind section, will anyone be able to tell if only 70 are playing a particular passage? Assuming it’s not the entire 2nd trumpet section taking themselves out, no, no one will be able to tell if one trombone, or one sax doesn’t play 4 bars of music of an entire song.

What that does is improve the sound quality of the entire ensemble.

The other thing most useful to a wind ensemble is listening. This is what I think was operational on Saturday night. In fact Randy Hoover, the OCB conductor, told me so (after I had listened to the first half of the program); they had spent time on listening to each other.

It sounds simple, but it’s not, first you listen to the musicians on either side of you, but for what? Fitting in with the sound; mostly not playing too loud in comparison to your immediate neighbours. My rule of thumb has been, if I can only hear the players on either side and not me, then I’m in the pocket. The next step is understanding where your section’s parts fit into the overall score; is your section carrying the melody, or supplying harmonic support? Obviously the latter should not be louder than the section playing the melody. Along with that is realizing the 2nds should not be louder than the leads, and most often matching the level of loudness.

The side benefit of listening is the execution improves. That is the timing of the notes being played relative to others playing the same figures, and also starting and stopping passages together. Another rule of thumb, play on count one, not near one.

So, there I was sitting in my usual seat at the back, the band is about one minute into their opening number, a medley of Christmas tunes called Christmas Winds Overture. It’s a reasonably complex piece arranged to showcase the skill of a band. All of a sudden I was thinking, “Who are these people? Is this the same band I hear just a month and a half ago?”

They sounded like a completely different band from what I was used to hearing. The giveaway was the balance of sound. From the tubas up through to the piccolos the sound was blended uniformly. The trumpets and flutes weren’t too loud and I could hear the baritones, euphoniums, trombones and tubas as strongly and clearly as the rest of the band. They played loudly and quietly together without any sections sticking out of the soundscape.

I had never heard this from the OCB except in rare instances. The second and third pieces sounded similarly. The difference of the sound was like jumping from a grade 8 level to 11 or 12, a big leap in quality. I wasn’t the only one who noticed the difference, some other regular OCB concertgoers remarked to me how different the band sounded.

The band should feel good about what they achieved. It’s a level of unity few ensembles get to, and for most listeners is not generally recognizable unless they are accustomed to the old sound and then confronted with the new. It’s also worth commending Randy for guiding the band through the process of how to listen to each other. The results really are like night and day.

The Orillia Vocal Ensemble

Then the Orillia Vocal Ensemble joined the concert to sing a few tunes. They have a new conductor, Blair Bailey. They looked like they had more choir members, particularly men. One of the consistent issues with choirs is having enough male voices to compete with the women for space in the sound spectrum and Saturday night the choir sounded fuller. I could pick out the tenors from the sound.

If it was not having more male voices alone, it also has to be, and likely is, because the balance of sound was worked on. The OVE sounded to me like they had made a jump in sound quality or significant magnitude.

The rest of this month members of the OCB will be playing concerts at Champlain Manor, Trillium Manor, Sundial Lakeview Retirement Residence and Leacock Retirement Lodge

More OCB?
The Orillia Big Band

Sort of. The Orillia Big Band shares some musicians with the OCB and the OBB has a gig Saturday evening at St. James Anglican Church. The function is going to be in what used to be known as the Maple Leaf Club, which served as a dance hall for WW2 soldier/recruits who were doing their training here in town. We also know the room as the Stubley Auditorium.

Of course they danced to music by Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and of course, Glenn Miller. I’m not particularly stoked about Miller, if not for In the Mood  and maybe String of Pearls his repertoire would be regarded as second rate compared to Dorsey and Goodman and just about everyone else. His stuff was easy, safe, radio fare.

It was called the Swing Era, which begat the jazz of the 50s and 60s. The hardest thing any music ensemble can do is to play swing – together. All you need is one bass player or drummer to square things up and you don’t have swing anymore.

Last time I heard the OBB I heard them do several pieces that swung. I also heard Milli Schop singing with them and was floored by how she interpreted the songs from the period so possessively. She’s going to singing with the band this weekend.

The band is raising money for the church’s food programs. There is a cash bar and munchies and spot dances. Tickets are $30 and you can get them by emailing

The Shorts

  • Cloud Gallery, at Creative Nomad Studios, is having an opening reception Dec. 9 for the last of their fall series of exhibits. This time, instead of featuring the work of one or two artists, they have pulled pieces representive of the more than 30 artists they have attached to the gallery. Some of the artists featured will be on hand from 2 to 5 p.m.
  • The Opera House calendar has Lunch at Allen’s (Murray McLaughlin, Cindy Church, Marc Jordan and Ian Thomas) playing Dec. 8; Dec. 9 and 10 Duck Soup Productions is doing their own musical revue, We Rock. Get tickets for any Opera House show online.
  • St. Paul’s Centre has Canadian Fiddle Champion Scott Woods performing Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. it’s Aadsooke:The Mon of Storytelling with Jeff Monague, Heather McIntyre, Jennifer Brunelle and Shawn Corbiere. Ronnie Douglas, along with Steven Henry will be in to play some music from his Music Is Medicine album; admission is free, but they’ll take donations.
  • Quayles Brewery has Vince Therrien playing Dec. 8 and Ron Whitman Dec. 9; both start at 5 p.m. … Couchiching Craft Brewing has Chris Lemay playing Dec. 8 and Cam Galloway Dec. 9; both start at 7 p.m. … The Hog ‘N Penny has Shawn Steinhart playing Dec. 8 and Michael Martyn and John MacDonald Dec. 9.
  • Tomorrow would have been John Lennon’s 83rd birthday. Check in tomorrow for Part Two and the rest of the Shorts.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia and Images Supplied) Main: The Orillia Concert Band taking the stage for the 2023 Christmas Prelude at St. Paul’s Centre (Photo by Brady Aubin)

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