A Canadian brass band makes a comeback

The Canmore Brass turned a community event into a birthday party earlier this year. Inspired by the centennial of the Canada-U.S. border crossing in Fort McMurray, Alberta, the brass band headed to the British Columbia town of Timberlea for an outdoor concert. Two days later, with family and friends by their side, they gathered at their alma mater, Fort Macleod, to celebrate.

“It was really neat,” says violinist Doug Brooks, who will perform with the group Saturday as the Brass Band of Canada celebrates its 75th anniversary and its national tour with the new album, “Canadiana.” “I’m from a family that has been involved with the band for its 75 years, and they told their stories.”

Canada’s playing band is one of 11 in a coalition of all-volunteer groups. The Canadian Brass is a specialist in marching music; its six CDs are staples on music video channels. Brooks joined the band as an undergraduate after they auditioned him in front of his family at home. “People don’t realize you go to university to play an instrument,” Brooks says. “We’re auditioning to be a band and they think you’re a drummer.” Brooks admits he wasn’t the best high school dancer.

“Canadiana” marks the Brass Band’s highest volume and technical production to date, with guest musicians such as drummer Hal Mitchell and trumpeter Maxey Scoggins. Brooks explains: “We took our grand occasion and made it bigger by adding music, colours and fountains. We have an advantage now. This sounds better and bigger, in many ways.”

With the tradition of large-scale concerts developing in the American concert and marching band scene, as well as the number of candidates for the position of captain, Brooks recalls: “You get a list of 36 names that all come down,” he says. “It’s hard to get anyone to wear that little orange blazer.”

The new album is the band’s 108th, and it plays throughout the month of November, starting with stops at festivals throughout Canada and the U.S. and a performance on the floor of Canada’s Parliament on Nov. 30.

But first there’s Timberlea, a small town that until a few years ago didn’t have a single person with Canadian heritage. That changed when the Canadian Brass performed at a Canada-U.S. border crossing in rural Fort McMurray to mark its centennial. “Canadiana” marks its first engagement there.

Like Brooks, vocalist Marie-Claude Dias has been involved with the Canadian Brass since his freshman year at Mount Royal University in Calgary. He describes his years with the band as “relentless learning.”

“We’re all working hard to give something back to the country we love,” Dias says. “Canada can be proud of the greatness of their community and their music, and I like to participate in making that happen.”

Follow Elizabeth Herrera on Twitter: @eherrera2

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