Band Talk February 2009 February 18 2009, 5 Comments



An Interview with a Retired Military band Director of Music

By Jack Kopstein

This interview is the first in a series of interviews with Directors and band Commanders, Pipe Majors of military bands across a wide spectrum of both Domestic and International bands.

It is a distinct pleasure to present in this interview Major retired Leonard Camplin. He is a graduate of the world-renowned Royal Military School of Music (RMSM) Kneller Hall, in Twickenham England, a Fellow of London’s Trinity College of Music and Conductor Laureate of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra.

He began his musical career as a choirboy at St. Marks Church, London, and studied violin at the Guildhall School of Music. At age 17, he joined the British Army and was posted as an oboe pupil to the RMSM, Kneller Hall, and on completion of his studies was posted to the Royal Fusiliers Band in Germany. While there he continued his studies under Herbert Schmidt, oboist of the Berlin State Opera.

Four years later, in 1952, Camplin was selected as a candidate for the bandmaster’s course at the RMSM, Kneller Hall, where he completed the three-year course in 1955 and appointed bandmaster of the North Staffordshire Regiment stationed in Hong Kong. The appointment made him the youngest bandmaster in the British Army.

While in Hong Kong, bandmaster Camplin combined his army duties with performing principal oboe with the Sino-British Orchestra and the Hong Kong Concert Orchestra as well as performing solo recitals and broadcasts.

In 1957, the North Staffordshire Band returned home to England where the band was housed in the Tower of London from where it found itself busy playing at various functions: leading London’s annual Lord Mayor’s Show Parade, BBC live broadcasts and performing for Princess Margaret and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The year 1959 brought about the amalgamation of British regiments and their bands, and it was at this time that bandmaster Camplin decided to immigrate and accept a position of music supervisor in the province of Saskatchewan.

In 1961, he joined the Canadian Army as Director of Music and Commanding Officer of the Royal Canadian Engineers Band in Chilliwack, British Columbia. He subsequently became the Director of Music to the Naden Band in Victoria BC and later the Director of Music of the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry Band in Calgary before retiring from the Canadian Armed Forces in 1978.

During the 1960’s and 70’s Captain Camplin was in demand in the civilian music field both as an adjudicator and conductor. He has been guest conductor to the Kitchener-Waterloo, Saskatoon, Century Calgary and Vancouver CBC Symphony Orchestras and accompanied a great many of Canada’s leading solo artists.

He was music director of the Vancouver Metropolitan and Okanagan Symphony Orchestras and foundered the Kelowna Mozart Festival, the Kelowna Canada Day Concerts Society, and the Burnaby Symphony. At the age of eighty he continues to lead a fairly busy conducting life including yearly appearances in Australia.


SUPTB: What was your daily routine as a Director of music and Commanding Officer?

Leonard Camplin: I usually arrived at the band facility at 0800 and undertook the administrative tasks with my staff before beginning rehearsal at 0900. Rehearsals went to noon, and afternoons were spent studying scores and conducting interviews or participating in sports events. I had passion for making music with the musicians and continue that same enthusiasm to this day.

SUPTB: Did you select the music played on concerts and ceremonial events or was it done by committee.

LC: It is assumed that as the Director of Music that I always made the music selections based on the music which would be both popular and had intrinsic value. There was, however, opportunities for musicians to make suggestions or I made choices in collaboration with the assistant director of the band...

SUTB: Did you have to spend a lot of time making arrangements for Ceremonial performances?

LC: Ceremonial events usually spelled out within their parameters the type of music required such as regimental marches, inspections music and so forth. Music for these occasions was almost always done in consultation. There was a protocol within ceremonial requests. There was some obvious music however that we played for special arrivals such as for President Lyndon Johnson when he arrived at the Vancouver Airport as we played “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

SUPTB: Were auditions for new band members done in collaboration with section leaders.

LC: It was part of my responsibility to audition musicians for my own band and also other bands of the Canadian Forces, but section leaders were never called upon to provide input. I must say, however, that in hindsight that in today’s world I would have opened up auditions so that the principal players would be invited. I did call on my assistant to be present on several occasions.

SUTB: How important were recordings to you and the band.

LC: By nature recordings lack the spontaneity of live performances but properly engineered can leave a long lasting footprint of your work. We always had Canadian Broadcasting System technicians for our recordings and they are excellent lasting mementos of the military band performances. The recording is an idea of how the bands play.

SUTB: How important to you were the small ensembles which are often employed by military bands?

LC: They were very important because they would take responsibility for their own performance. There were always requests for the services of small dance bands, and I often was tasked to provide groups for various functions. In Britain, we would often have bands play for royalty.

SUTB: What is your view of the future of military band in Canada and in Britain?

LC: Bands do have tenure, but both in Canada and Britain bands are fewer and smaller and don’t have the resources to play music that could be played in the 60's, 70's, and 80's. Today, they do not have a second oboe or second bassoon and the much larger scores call for these instruments particularly the wonderful American compositions for band. The future is very hard to predict.

SUTB: What type of music do you feel most comfortable with-classical, jazz, popular Broadway?

LC I certainly do like the music of Broadway but I am devoted to symphonies and concertos. My love of classical music began when I was a student on violin and I had the opportunity to attend concerts at Albert Hall and heard the London Symphony, the Royal Philharmonic and the London Symphony on many occasions. When I joined the Canadian Army from 1961-78 I was moonlighting with a few orchestras and when I retired in 1978 I was appointed resident conductor of the Okanogan symphony where I retired in 1996. Since then I have had the opportunity to conduct and work with several orchestras including the Chilliwack Symphony, the Burnaby Symphony and to make gust conducting appearances in Australia.

SUTB: Briefly what is your opinion of the world of music today?

LC: Symphonic and band music continue to thrive in Europe today and remains consistent, places like Vienna, London. Paris still has large audiences attending concerts, but in North America there have been serious problems in attendance mainly because of pop music. It is sad to say that pop artist who very often lack training make huge salaries and orchestral musicians and operatic singers who have dedicated their lives to music are having difficulty eking out a living.

SUTB: On behalf of ALTISSIMO RECORDINGS AND DISTRIBUTION our sincere thanks for this wonderful opportunity to speak to you, and we wish you continued success.